While a simple classic timepiece can speak volumes, some moments call for a more colourful conversation piece. Elsa Schiaparelli, who brought showstopping shades – including the “shocking pink” that became her design signature – to the fore in the 1930s and ’40s, observed a link between trying times in society and “outrageous fashion”, and her thinking chimes with a current trend in watchmaking. Leading marques are harnessing a whole spectrum of lively hues, giving their traditionally restrained classics bright, gem-studded bezels, and animating sombre straps with eye-popping primaries. For those seeking whimsy, escapism or just a little hit of joy, the wrist is where it’s at.
Hublot’s 39mm-diameter Big Bang One Click Rainbow King Gold in 18ct “King” gold (a redder shade of alloy developed by the brand) is adorned with 473 brilliant-cut stones – blue, orange, pink and yellow sapphires, rubies, amethysts, blue topazes and tsavorites – running from the dial to the case. Unashamedly flamboyant, this explosion of colour is driven by a self-winding movement with a power reserve of 50 hours.
“We wanted something full of stones, which is why we worked on both the dial and the case,” explains the brand’s CEO, Ricardo Guadalupe. “The most complicated element for this piece is to find stones that match perfectly: it requires a large quantity of them, which takes time to find. Every stone is analysed by eye and everything is handmade.”
Nowhere is this impeccable gem-setting more evident than in the 39mm Big Bang One Click Paraíba King Gold, which stuns in monochrome turquoise. “Hublot is the first watch brand to have baguette-cut Paraíba tourmaline stones on a watch,” says Guadalupe. “On average, a single Paraíba is mined for every 10,000 diamonds. Having them in a baguette shape is even rarer, as it requires stones of a perfectly uniform colour. Similarly, putting baguette-cut stones as we have done on the bezel of this year’s rainbow watches increases the level of difficulty – and rarity.”
Rolex introduced a limited edition rainbow bezel on its Daytona Cosmograph in 2012, which was hugely successful, and the trend has now become almost ubiquitous. Reined in, but no less captivating than its 2012 classic, is the marque’s latest play on the rainbow theme: the Rolex Day-Date 36. Available in yellow-, white- and rose-gold versions, the diamond-pavéd dial is set with 10 baguette-cut rainbow-coloured sapphires; the 36mm case is set with diamonds, all held by the marque’s revered President bracelet, created in 1956 when the Day-Date first appeared. The piece is driven by a self-winding mechanical movement (Rolex’s superb 3255 calibre, with a power reserve of about 70 hours).
Richard Mille’s Bonbon collection, which launched this year – a world of swirling ice cream and lollipop colours – was built on a “pretty cheeky concept: to reflect the incredible number of choices you have in a real candy store,” says the brand’s artistic director Cécile Guenat. “The idea was to create a watch-owning experience with all the joy of childhood and its secret pleasures, together with a large choice of colour combinations and themes.” There are 10 models, six in a fruit-themed line and four in a sweet-inspired line.
“I wanted to take the principle of creating a jewellery capsule collection and transpose it specifically to the world of haute horlogerie,” says Guenat, who originally trained in jewellery design. “Three models in the existing collection inspired me and evoked an almost instinctive connection to the world of confectionery.”
An estimated 3,000 miniature handpainted and lacquered sculptures were made for the watches. “Building on our experience of painting inside a movement, I had to take this a step further to research different paints and techniques to apply in the Bonbon collection,” says Guenat, who even went so far as to depict sugar flakes on some of the fruits.
“We targeted our younger clients,” she says. “A number of the watches are really feminine, but the collection is unisex in many aspects. It’s about the special kind of freedom that candy offers – one element of which is an emancipation from the strictures of ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’. There’s triumph in finding the sweet spot where male and female can agree.”
Chopard, meanwhile, has revisited its gem-studded Imperiale Joaillerie from 2016 – a piece with 581 sapphires, totalling 47.98 carats, that took more than 1,000 hours of work to select, cut and set – with this year’s more muted but equally imposing Imperiale 40mm. In 18ct rose gold, with a rainbow of sapphires and diamonds encircling its mother-of-pearl dial, it has rainbow sapphire indexes, rose-gold hands and a self‑winding mechanical movement with a power reserve of about 60 hours.
Dior’s colour-rich La D de Dior Cocotte, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of a summer garden. La D de Dior was the first watch designed by Dior jewellery’s artistic director Victoire de Castellane in 2003. The new 38mm Cocotte, with quartz movement, has a dial composed of diamonds in a classic blanket-like “snow setting”, but surrounded by a selection of vibrantly coloured stones – sapphires, tourmalines, garnets and rubies – in a variety of cuts: pear, princess, round, triangular and oval.
De Castellane’s playful influence stretches from Dior’s exceptional pieces to the everyday, and this year it can be found in the 19mm La Mini D de Dior Mosaïque. There is an interchangeable, woven-textile mosaic strap to complement each of the pastel-pink, yellow or duck-egg mother-of-pearl dials, which, in turn, are enhanced by a diamond-set bezel and crown.
Audemars Piguet has been raiding the paintbox, too, to give one of its all-time classics an electrifying colour surge. The 37mm Royal Oak Offshore, with its 32 diamond-set bezel, stainless-steel case and rubber strap, is beyond eye-catching in pinging shades: acid green, deep pink, zesty orange or luscious plum.
For those who prefer a single-colour punch, there’s De Grisogono’s voluminous Baby Grappoli SO4, a new version of which is expected later this year. For now, there are myriad dazzling colours, from deep magenta through to emerald, in the collection. “Colour and playfulness are essential elements of De Grisogono’s spirit: they are fundamental to the way we conceive our timepieces,” says the brand’s new CEO, Céline Assimon. The Baby Grappoli is a bursting bloom of briolette-cut stones, which, thanks to a unique setting technique, “appear to be floating in the air, giving movement and freedom”.
Carl F Bucherer has also brightened its Patravi ScubaTec Lady diving watch collection, introducing four new colours – sunset (coral) and ocean (blue) are the most intense – to this practical and robust group. The 36.5mm stainless-steel case with a protected screw-down crown, unidirectional bezel and Super-LumiNova coating on the indices and arrow markers gives it both great form and reliable function. This sporty-chic piece, powered by the CFB 1950 movement (with a 38-hour power reserve), can be taken to town as well as to 200m.
All in all, it looks like it’s high time to view time in full technicolour.