Ladies, make a place in your watch wardrobe, right now, for the long-lost, ladylike gold bracelet watch. It’s the return of a 1980s icon, a symbol of post-feminist glamour, with a hint of fashion’s favourite 1970s flavour thrown in – not to mention an alternative to the sporty, oversized men’s watch that once dominated the market. Choice is everything at the moment in building your own look and mixing references however you like – and while the gold bracelet watch, with its retro-modern feel, chimes with the metallic mood running through this year’s clothes and accessories, it also offers a look that’s the complete opposite to the dressed-down athleisure trend. The new gold watch signals a reincarnation of a certain groomed, almost-bourgeois-but-supremely-elegant femininity: pleated skirts, pussy-bow blouses, long blow-dried hair, the signet ring, all radiating heritage and breeding. Think Lee Radziwill or Sofia Coppola.
As it happens, the watch that’s leading the charge is Cartier’s relaunched Panthère (£19,400) – for which Coppola has made a promotional film reimagining the 1980s Panthère de Cartier woman, free-spirited, independent, conducting her glamorous life and love affairs to an 1980s soundtrack. The original, a variation on the Santos men’s wristwatch, with its square dial and exposed screws, was launched in 1983, when Cartier was under the design direction of Micheline Kanoui, wife of the then owner Joseph Kanoui. As part of the fresh, young image Kanoui brought to the house, the Panthère combined the wristwatch with jewellery; Kanoui’s signature chain link tapped into the prevailing taste for yellow-gold jewellery, especially gold chains, capturing the essence of 1980s power dressing. The chain link referenced Cartier’s iconic panther, the emblem developed in the early 20th century by Cartier’s director of jewellery Jeanne Toussaint, which, in figural form, had become the badge of style and status for midcentury socialites and fashion leaders. The Panthère chain, used in jewellery too, was a modern, abstract distillation of the power, spirit and prowess of the big cat, composed of slender, slinky, extra‑flat brick-shaped links, superbly articulated to suggest the lithe, rippling movement of the panther. It was also designed and fabricated to feel good on the skin, delivering a sense of personal pleasure to the wearer. This sensuality combined with the square, masculine dial to reinforce the message that women could – and should – celebrate femininity as well as strength and independence.
The born-again Panthère is technically improved with a strengthened bracelet, wider case, silver dial and new clasp. With this high-profile relaunch, Cartier aims to revive its original spirit of freedom and glamour and, as in the 1980s, to attract a younger clientele. The signs are good – especially as the watch works well layered with other retro icons, including the jeweller’s Juste un Clou and Love bracelets, all with a fashionable hardware-focused industrial-chic vibe.
Jaeger-LeCoultre dipped into a different era of female liberation for its revamp of the gold bracelet watch, the lust-inducing Reverso One Duetto Jewelry (£54,000) – one of the few Reverso re-editions specifically for women. The bracelet, in rose gold accented with diamonds, is designed in an Odeon-esque style that recalls the architecture of the cinemas in the 1930s, when this now-iconic model was born. The superbly engineered links are decorated with a geometric chevron pattern, the lines traced in diamonds, continuing over the dial on the reverse, to form a lozenge shape. The characteristic gadroons, at the top and bottom of the slightly larger dial, are lined with diamonds to form – as Stéphane Belmont, director of maison heritage and rare pieces, explains – “an elegant connection to the bracelet; to create a single entity that is as much a bracelet as a watch – very precious, very feminine – to capture the original spirit”. In the 1920s and 1930s, women worked, danced and drove, and their liberating loose dresses showed bare arms that cried out for bracelets, worn several at a time. This element of feminine design is vital, Belmont says. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen the women’s market increase substantially, and so we will pay more attention to gold bracelets, extending the design of the watch into a jewel. Where technical content and complications have been important, now design is fundamental.”
The Reverso One Duetto Jewelry was launched exclusively at Harrods this summer as part of the Fine Watch Room’s Re-Editions campaign. “Recently, the aesthetic choices of our female customers, buying watches for themselves, have evolved to celebrate femininity and classic ‘ladylike’ elegance,” says Helen David, the store’s chief merchant. “We have seen an increase in bracelet models over leather straps and also a real resurgence in a taste for yellow gold over rose gold or steel.”
New watches from both Dior and Chanel also herald the return of the gold bracelet and the swing back to yellow gold. At Dior, Victoire de Castellane has conjured up a bracelet of woven gold for the Mini D de Dior Satine Tressée (£25,600) – an evolution of last year’s Satine model, with its Milanese mesh bracelet. In this year’s object of desire, the gold seems to have deliquesced into a shimmering ribbon, the fine chased-and-polished threads (handwoven or plaited in a herringbone pattern) into a supple and silky cloth of gold. Fabric is also the theme of Chanel’s new GoldBoy.Friend Tweed watch (£31,500) in “beige” or soft yellowish gold, replicating Mademoiselle’s original signature colour and the knobbly texture of her favourite tweed. The rectangular dial – echoing the shape of the Place Vendôme – is ornamented with opaline guilloché; together with the cleverly textured gold bracelet, it overlays the pure architectural lines of the watch with a fresh femininity. For architectural purity and texturing, it’s hard to beat Boucheron’s enduring classic, the Reflet (£18,700), with its rectangular dial set into a gadrooned case in a style that flows easily into the articulated gold bracelet.
Simplicity of silhouette is the defining feature of Harry Winston’s Emerald, launched last year, with a dial shaped to mimic the emerald-cut diamond that was Winston’s favourite, and the brand’s logo. The inclusion in the capsule collection of a model with a flexible rose- (£16,600) or white- (£17,900) gold bracelet of Milanese-style links was a departure for the brand, and a nod to the growing importance of the women’s watch market.
Patek Philippe’s hugely successful Twenty~4 watch (£30,380) – which references the Gondolo collection – was the brand’s first ladies’ bracelet watch, launched in 1999 in steel with diamonds and a year later in yellow, white and rose gold (it is still available in the latter). Designed expressly to take the busy female executive stylishly and easily from day to night, the strong, simple lines are art deco-inspired; the flexible bracelet of rolling gold links is the same width as the dial, creating a look of sleek, jewellery-like, contemporary elegance. Brian Duffy, CEO of Watches of Switzerland, says that the Patek piece has had a “fantastic year” with them because it “hits the spot” at a time when there is a definite move back to femininity in the category. Similarly, the classicism of the Rolex Pearlmaster (£34,900), launched in 1992, leads to very feminine styling, rounded contours and mother-of-pearl dials. “It is all about a watch that blends with the bracelet.”
But for those who feel the more masculine look is still the ultimate way to accentuate a slender wrist, there are, of course, enduring classics – many of them updated with a golden-jewellery flavour: Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Frosted Gold (from £33,300), with its softer, stippled, shimmering texture, designed in collaboration with jeweller Carolina Bucci and launched last year; Chopard’s grandiose Imperiale (from £20,320); and Chaumet’s Liens Lumière in rose gold and diamonds (£23,370), very modern in style and construction, with its gold “links” connecting the large, round dial to a gold bracelet of rounded, square-shaped elements. Then there’s Hublot’s Classic Fusion, this year with a bracelet in the brand’s rich rose King gold and a brilliant blue dial (the Bracelet Blue, from £23,100); and Breitling’s new rose gold version of the Galactic 32 Sleek Edition (£22,550).
If, however, you feel like treating yourself to dressier, more decorative wrist candy, then you’ll find plenty of choice as brands add more gold bracelets to their collections. Some of the most alluring include Boodles’ Blossom (£75,000), in rose gold lavished with diamonds, the stylised clover-like floral motif traced on the dial and in openwork elements around the bracelet; and Van Cleef & Arpels’ fabulous Bouton d’Or watch (£60,400), launched this year. A curvaceous and effusive abundance of little golden “boutons”, its motif – inspired by a 1930s paillette design of small overlapping sequins – was extended from last year’s jewellery collection onto this piece. The boutons are clustered into sculptural, frill-like elements, each pinned with a central diamond, massed around a pavé-diamond dial, so that the bracelet – with its hints of couture and affirmation of femininity – hugs the contours of the wrist. It is a joyful golden jewel that embraces a timepiece – or, as Victoire de Castellane calls the gold bracelet watch, “a ribbon that tells the time”.