It’s one of my many fantasies: dressing for a black-tie party – hair, make-up, heels, shoulder-grazing diamond earrings (it’s that time of year, after all) – and, at the last moment, clasping my wrist in a fantastical bejewelled evening watch. It’s a dream generated by the realisation that a daytime watch just won’t do for formal eveningwear. And so I remove my watch and, to keep tabs on the time, try to cram a mobile phone into a tiny evening bag.
Style-wise, the jewellery watch offers a complete change of pace and persona, the diametric opposite of the big, boisterous boyfriend watch, where diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires take over from knobs, dials, rotors and bridges. It is the show-off star of the watchmaking world, redolent of the 1950s silk-rustling, cinched-waisted femininity and old-school soigné sophistication that are big in fashion at the moment. There’s a strong element of fantasy and escapism in the untempered extravagance of the jewellery watch, the joyful storytelling that takes over from prosaic timetelling. The jewellery watch is also the apogee of all the attention lavished by watchmakers on the fast-growing women’s market in the past few years. Women today take their timepieces seriously, often assembling impressive watch wardrobes of complications, with different styles for different occasions – and, like any wardrobe, eveningwear is an essential ingredient.
In its thriving Fine Watch and Fine Jewellery Rooms, Harrods has highlighted the jewellery watch for the past year, launching Boodles’ Blossom (the first of the genre for the brand) and De Beers’ Aria. Helen David, its fashion director, says, “Jewellery watches are at the top of every woman’s Christmas wish list.” Along with the taste for “hidden faces” or “secret watches” (covered by my learned colleague Nick Foulkes in September), she has seen an overwhelming trend for cuff watches, such as the Bulgari Serpenti and Cartier Panther models. To David’s trendspotting, I’d add colour – spearheaded earlier this month by Van Cleef & Arpels’ architectural vintage-inspired pink-sapphire-set Cadenas watch (price on request) and a new rigour and clarity that counteracts the usual jewel that happens to tell the time with a watch‑like watch that happens to be smothered in gems.
Chanel offers one of the best interpretations of the trend for business-like bejewelled watches in its two limited-edition Boy.Friend watches (price on request). The signature rectangular watch, with its Chanel No 5 form evoking the Place Vendôme, is framed in baguette‑cut diamonds around a diamond-pavéd dial; one model is in white gold, the other in beige gold, a softer version of yellow gold that references Mademoiselle’s predilection for casual beige. Both models have been specially made to celebrate the opening of the opulently revamped Bond Street Chanel jewellery and watch boutique, which now extends over three floors.
Piaget is the stellar Swiss watchmaker that pioneered the avant-garde jewellery watch in the 1960s and 1970s with wide, futuristic Courrèges-inspired cuff watches. Now, in a similar spirit, a dramatic cuff watch adds a finishing touch to Secrets and Lights, its latest high-jewellery collection: the diamond-set cuff (£231,000) is openworked in a geometric floral pattern with a small, round black-onyx dial.
If tradition and romance are your preferred style, Buccellati’s iconic silken bangle has been transformed into the divine Nefertiti Dahlia cuff watch (£37,500). A neat mother-of-pearl dial at the heart of an intricate diamond-set dahlia is planted in the centre of a wide white- or yellow-gold cuff bracelet, hand-engraved in the “rigato” technique that gives the metal a silken sheen. Buccellati’s range of one-of-a-kind jewellery watches starts with the dazzling all-diamond Milleluci (£145,000), a flower-shaped watch on a scalloped, lacy diamond bracelet. This is joined by the new Venus model, which draws on the classic square Buccellati Agalma watch (from £86,000). I’ve always adored the Agalma’s wide bracelet of engraved or openwork and diamond-studded gold; Venus is in the same spirit, but lighter and younger looking and available in yellow (£54,000), white or rose gold.
The jewellery watch represents a meeting of métiers, so that master jewellers with a serious watchmaking heritage, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Chaumet, are perfectly placed to maximise the mood, essentially creating a jewel that tells the time. For the elegant diamond watches in its Joséphine high-jewellery collection (prices on request), Chaumet draws on its history as jeweller and watchmaker to Napoleon. Each theme is completed with a jewellery watch, such as the Aigrette Impériale diamond bracelet watch, which echoes the form of a tiara, the hallmark of Joséphine’s imperial style.
Cartier’s Etourdissant collection takes inspiration from the crystalline light of the Riviera, with its sun-drenched colours and sultry shadows, but the name also refers to astonishing gemstones. A “toi et moi” openwork diamond-strewn bangle watch (price on request), has set on one of its open ends a diamond-rimmed rectangular dial and on the other an orangey-pink rectangular-shaped rubellite of blissful burnished tone and depth. As always, the Cartier panther prowls its way through the collection, this time resting on the diamond and onyx cover of a secret Panthère des Neiges watch (price on request) with a black-onyx dial.
At Boucheron, creative director Claire Choisne says it has been a natural process for her to take watches into new and daring design territory, linking them more closely to high jewellery in theme, material and technique. She explains, “Previously, high-jewellery watches had been somewhat reserved in their design, but now it seems clients are becoming more open to experimental larger pieces.” The new Soleil Radiant (price on request) part of the ever-evolving Hôtel de la Lumière collection, radiates modernism, its huge domed “pebbles” of rock crystal encircled by diamond ripples, while the Plume de Paon watch (price on request), in the latest Bleu de Jodhpur high-jewellery collection, is designed, like the necklace in the collection, as a stylised peacock feather in diamonds and white Makrana marble, as used in the Taj Mahal.
World-renowned diamond jeweller Graff is busy building its own watchmaking heritage, striding with typical audacity into the centre of the world’s watch arena. Its Butterfly watches (from £104,000), with their round-diamond-pavéd dials accented with coloured-gem butterflies, proved such bestsellers that this year there was a new animated Disco Butterfly watch: the little butterflies, composed of sapphires, emeralds or rubies, now dance, or flutter, over the pavé-diamond, gem-ringed dial. It is a perfect example of today’s winning combination of a round, distinctly watch-like watch dressed up in gems, with a touch of romance. Graff is increasingly setting off its diamonds with important coloured stones, and its newest dress watches combine elaborate diamond bracelets with Maharajah-style carved emeralds or succulent-looking rubellites through which the dial can be glimpsed.
Strong focal points of gem colour such as these are perfect for this festive season. Caroline Scheufele, creative director of Chopard, also relishes using coloured stones: “Emeralds are very much in fashion at the moment, and I also like to work with different colours of sapphires.” She suggests adding colour to an all-diamond watch with a changeable satin strap, as in the newest addition (price on request) to her Green Carpet collection of ethical, fairmined Red Carpet jewels and watches, its diamond-pavéd dial enclosed in a scrolling branch of marquise-diamond leaves.
Fawaz Gruosi, audaciously creative mastermind of De Grisogono, floods his enchanting Grappoli watches (£116,900) with intense, uninhibited colour: rubies, emeralds, sugar-pink sapphires with pink opals, blue sapphires with tanzanites, colour that envelops the curves of the bezel and drips off the edge in torrents of briolette beads. Dior’s fabulously fashion-themed yet seriously horological VIII Grand Bal Envol series of one-of-a-kind timepieces (prices on request) are also enrobed in swirls of gem colour, touched with iridescence, with scarab beetle wing marquetry dials and metallic-leather straps, while Victoire de Castellane’s La D de Dior watches (from £2,800) now come with dials made from slices of vibrant gems, such as turquoise or opal.
The colour that runs through the veins of Bulgari is the outstanding feature of its latest Geometry of Time series of high-jewellery watches in the Giardini Italiani collection. Based on the formal design of Italian gardens, bracelets and dials are rhythmic geometric compositions of specially cut stones: coral with amethyst, or emeralds with amethyst, turquoise and diamonds (price on request). They show how Bulgari now has its sights set on making the extravagant, gem‑set jewellery watch synonymous with the brand, having won the coveted Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last year with its emerald and diamond Diva watch (price on request), which continues to evolve in different permutations of gems.
A restrained, vintage-inspired elegance adds further choice to this season’s panoply of party watches, as seen in Van Cleef & Arpels’ A Cheval all-diamond high-jewellery watch (price on request), a remake of a design first created in 1981, or the Art Deco diamond watch (price on request) by Harry Winston. The delicate openwork diamond bracelet, designed as a series of stirrup-shaped motifs with an elongated hexagonal diamond-rimmed dial, conjures subtle connections to New York architecture, referring to Winston’s early days in the city in the 1930s. For me too there’s a strong 1960s vintage flair in Graff’s Halo secret ring watches (from £166,000) and Piaget’s diamond necklace watch (£384,000) in the Limelight series.
This vintage aesthetic has brought with it a certain architectural purity: watches classic in shape and form that do not masquerade as jewels, but are lavished with gems and glamour. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Rendez-Vous watch (from £6,650), launched in 2012, is the perfect example. Designed specifically for the fast-growing female market, it presents a very different face of femininity: modern, strong, clear and crisp, with subtle vintage echoes that give it a classic air. Rendez-Vous has proved a massive success that has bred a host of variations, many bejewelled and adorned, adding preciousness to practicality and mixing complications that increasingly appeal to women seeking after-dark glitz and glamour, as in the diamond-set Rendez-Vous Tourbillon (from £61,500) or the Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater (£203,000) with its cloisonné and guilloché ivy-clad dial and its pure crystalline sound. Jaeger-LeCoultre UK brand director Zahra Kassim-Lakha explains, “The sellout demand for Rendez-Vous has taken us by surprise. Now there’s much more of a design angle, telling a very different story.” She adds, “We’ve also seen a lot of interest, especially at the Venice Film Festival, in vintage-inspired pieces, with an understated 1940s/1950s look. The new jewelled Rendez-Vous models offer a more sensual experience that’s vital to women today.” An experience of elegance and excitement that is changing the face of the jewellery watch. This is the luxury of time.