Let’s start this jewel-encrusted Christmas by throwing discreet prettiness to the wind: ’tis the season for high-octane glamour, and if you want yours flavoured with a touch of bohemian beauty, then the newest cuff watches will do it all for you in one mega-statement spectacle. As the hybrid of bracelet and timepiece grows in creativity and popularity, the dramatic cuff, with its wide-open canvas inviting opulence and ornamentation, is this year’s most exciting jewellery watch.
The most covetable designs shift the balance further towards the art of the jewel, exploring the feminine power-play between tribal adornment and the urbane refinement of the gem-encrusted evening watch. All of this plays out to perfection in Audemars Piguet’s spectacular Diamond Outrage (price on request), which channels the armour-like power of the cuff and shows the new creativity of the haute joaillerie watch in full flight. The third and final piece in the brand’s trilogy of one-of-a-kind, eccentrically “out-there” cuff watches, following Diamond Punk, 2015, and Diamond Fury, 2016, the Outrage is designed to capture the icy, stalactite-studded winter landscape of the Vallée de Joux, home of Swiss watchmaking. Futuristic, architectural and strikingly sculptural, the cuff is spiked with towering, sharp-tipped spikes of varying heights, all snow-set – the technique of random pavé setting pioneered by the watch industry – with either diamonds or blue sapphires, with details in invisibly set baguette diamonds.
From mountain peaks to sandy beach and Piaget’s Sunlight Journey collection of watches and high jewellery – and its fusion of the two through innovative interchange of forms, techniques and materials. Piaget lays rightful claim to the cuff watch: in the 1960s, it jolted the deeply traditional Swiss watchmaking industry with a zany collection of high-fashion, avant-garde jewellery watches, including a wide cage-like textured-gold cuff watch. The manchette has been a Piaget signature ever since. Jean-Bernard Forot, Piaget’s jewellery and watch marketing director, explains that Piaget took a huge risk at the time, but, as now, the company had an instinctive grasp of shifts in society. “The manchette, with its strong couture inspiration and Wonder Woman associations, shows that the jewellery watch is no longer a trophy gift from husband to wife, but a watch a woman buys for herself and, importantly, one that’s wearable from day to night.”
In the Sunlight Journey collection, which nods to man’s earliest measurement of time by the movement of the sun across the sky, Piaget’s cuff watches are among the most strikingly contemporary creations. The overall theme is the glamour of life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast – the moods and colours of sea and sky at different times of day. The Sand Waves secret cuff watch (price on request) evokes a misty morning walk along the seashore, as textured gold, edged in diamonds, depicts sand ripples, in which is buried a white opal (covering the dial). The dramatic Verde Bisazza watch (price on request) captures the sun glinting on the sea, as an intense blue-green mosaic of emeralds and black opals emulates rippling waves that foam with diamonds as they recede. And the deep colours of nightfall are celebrated in Viva l’Arte (price on request), a rich yellow-gold cuff glowing with sunset-pink sapphires and red spinels radiating out from a central purplish-pink spinel – under which hides the dial.
Milanese heritage goldsmith and jeweller Buccellati’s cuff bangle is also a house signature – immediately recognisable for its generously rounded contours and hand-engraving, notably the rigato technique that gives the gold the sheen and texture of shimmering satin. Now, as the company embarks on global expansion, following last year’s acquisition of an 85 per cent stake by the Chinese Gangtai Group, the development of its small repertoire of exquisite women’s watches is a top priority. It was, says president and creative director Andrea Buccellati, a natural progression to insert a diamond-rimmed watch dial into the brand’s iconic cuff bangle, the silken gold of which is “embroidered” with small flowers. There has long been a demand from clients for a watch to complement the jewels, he continues, and with this in mind Buccellati has translated its gold Tulle cuff into an equally spectacular watch (£115,000). The wide band is composed of clustered radial “tulle” hand-pierced openwork cartouches and the dial is hand-engraved using rigato and segrinato (overlapping, cross-hatched lines) techniques – the finished piece is a masterpiece that requires seven or eight different artisans and skills and a full three months to craft.
In Hong Kong, Michelle Ong’s extravagantly creative and original jewellery watches for her boutique brand Carnet were also, she says, made in response to demand from her clients for an evening watch to complement their Carnet jewels. The wide cuff is a favourite form, allowing her imagination full rein: the Emerald Embrace (price on request) is a graphic fantasy that envelops the wrist in diamonds and emeralds caught up in a dynamic spiral.
The cuff is part of the Chanel story, too, in a very personal way, via Mademoiselle’s famous pair of Maltese Cross bangles; as Chanel’s high-jewellery collections are woven around Coco’s style and story, the cuff watch fits seamlessly into the mix. Not only that, but this year’s Flying Cloud collection takes its nautical theme from the Duke of Westminster’s yacht, on which Coco spent many summers. The Azurean Braid watch (price on request) encircles the wrist in knotted ropes of white gold and diamonds that centre on a small but dazzling diamond-set square dial. Coco would surely have approved of its effortless, practical elegance.
At Van Cleef & Arpels, president and CEO Nicolas Bos explains that the strong traditions of the cuff reach back to the Etruscans and that it features prominently throughout the maison’s history, especially in the 1920s and again in the 1960s and 1970s. Bos enjoyed playing with the cuff’s tribal style to create a dramatically modern jewellery watch that still resonates with the maison’s heritage. In this year’s Le Secret high-jewellery collection (where each creation thrills with a hidden surprise), the Papillon Secret watch (price on request) masquerades as a dramatic cuff bangle, with two emerald, diamond and onyx butterflies facing each other across a central emerald. The lower wings of one of the butterflies open to reveal a triangular mother-of-pearl dial.
Other jewellery houses and designers see the wide-open territory the cuff offers as an opportunity for extravagant creative expression, to go further in fusing gems and timepiece, and to set time free from the rules and codes of the classic watch. At Dior, Victoire de Castellane, inspired by the gardens of Versailles, smothers the wrist in a coloured-gem, floral fantasy in the Parterre du Midi Emeraude high-jewellery watch (price on request), the dial taking shelter under the central emerald. Also inspired by nature is the Feuillage Eternel secret cuff watch (price on request) in Chaumet’s La Nature de Chaumet collection, the high, rounded silhouette of which is overgrown with diamond-set oak leaves and branches. Meanwhile, maximising the “theatre” of the cuff, Boucheron stages a scene of high drama in the romantic Hiver Impérial collection: the Laïka le Husky cuff watch (£335,000) sees the sculptural dog paved in diamonds, sapphires and spinels, clambering onto a jade and rock crystal cuff, a discreet dial buried in its icy depths. The watch took 750 hours to create.
In Cartier’s Résonances de Cartier high-jewellery collection, which focuses on the energy vibrations of gemstones, the streamlined band of the cuff watch lends itself to the Serpent Graphique Doré design (£520,000) – the hexagonal serpent’s scales ripple around the wrist in a graphic composition of yellow gold, black lacquer, yellow and orange garnets and diamonds. In a parallel mood of graphic splendour, The Perfection cuff watch (price on request) by Graff enhances a rounded silhouette with curved lines of mixed cuts of diamonds, which ripple outwards from the diamond dial. And while Bulgari’s most iconic cuff takes the form of the articulated diamond-set Serpenti watch with its slithering serpent coiling up the arm Cleopatra-style, the brand also opts for colour and lustre in its Gemma watches (price on request), where the deep strands of the cuff are fashioned in mother‑of-pearl and mixed gems, and finished with a gem-bead tassel.
Lastly, for a cuff watch with a difference, to take you from day to night this party season, Fawaz Gruosi, creative powerhouse of De Grisogono, pours his usual joie de vivre into the Lovivi capsule collection. Named after his daughter, Violetta (known as Vivi), and paired with the word love, the cuff wraps the infinity sign around the wrist in meticulously carved amber, mammoth ivory (£48,700), jet or turquoise. As the curves twist over themselves, the large rectangular dial follows the contours, fully pavéd or scattered with diamonds, or with emeralds on the turquoise model.
This Christmas, the contemporary cuff watch will arm you with impenetrable glamour. Yves Piaget may have said it of his original 1960s designs, but this year’s still feel like an entirely new way to wear time.