Best picks Monday, October 1st 2012
The Piaget Time Gallery in Geneva presents "Jewellery Magic", an exhibition of some thirty timepieces that puts particular emphasis on gem-set watches for men.
Jewellery pocket watch in white gold set with 1094 round diamonds, gold dial. Piaget ultra-thin hand-wound movement 9P. 1964 © Piaget / Fabien Cruchon
Piaget has three galleries, in Geneva, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, where it presents retrospectives on the brand's expertise and collections. These exhibitions are staged over a period of months and travel between the three venues.
The Piaget Time Gallery in Geneva, which occupies the first floor of the historic boutique on Rue du Rhône, has the privilege of heading the list. It premiered Piaget, A Beautiful Story (now in Shanghai), then The Ultra-Thin Art (currently in Hong Kong). In May this year, Sylvain Auroux, director of the Swiss and Italian markets, and Alain Borgeaud, director of heritage, inaugurated Jewellery Magic, the fifth exhibition to open in the Geneva gallery. More sparkling, more colourful than its predecessors, this latest enterprise puts the emphasis on the brand's glamorous side, not least thanks to a fabulous sequence of jewellery watches for men.
The art of gem-setting
All the timepieces on display are from Piaget's heritage collection. The oldest is a pocket watch in white gold with baton hour markers, driven by the ultra-thin 9P movement (2mm high). Made in 1964, its cover is fully set with diamonds, proof that Piaget has long mastered the art of gem-setting, and has extended this skill to both its women's and men's watches.
Another piece catches our attention as it belongs to the "Polo" collection, still the company's best-seller. Made in 1983 and featuring the distinctive, alternating matt and shiny surfaces, it is part of a set with a cigar cutter and a lighter. Matching accessories such as these are characteristic of the brand, which at that time proposed a range of objects for gentlemen, including pens, cufflinks, pillboxes and signet rings, set with gemstones.
The visit continues with what Alain Borgeaud considers to be one of the highlights of the collection: an "Ermitage" pocket watch, adorned with 221 diamonds and 314 rubies in an invisible setting. Made in 1981, it houses a hand-engraved skeleton movement which can be admired in all its splendour through rock crystal. Surprisingly, this wasn't a one-off piece but proposed to customers as part of the collection, with various gem-setting options.
Piaget is nonetheless accustomed to making timepieces to order, and has responded to numerous commissions over the decades. Two feature in the exhibition, both of which set a record price at the time of their delivery. The "Phoebus" watch was ordered in 1982 by a Japanese customer who purchased it for USD 3.5 million (CHF 3.3 million / EUR 2.7 million). The bracelet, dial and bezel are paved with diamonds, while the numeral twelve is represented by a three-carat blue diamond. Like the "Trapèze Homme" watch, which sold for CHF 5 million (USD 5.3 million / EUR 4.1 million) in 2001, it embodies Piaget's interpretation of masculine glamour in the studied extravagance of precious timepieces.
Another outstanding piece, the 1981 "Tradition" watch houses an ultra-thin movement, with an articulated bracelet in white gold with a guilloché bark finish. The onyx dial is framed by a gem-set bezel. It is the masculine equivalent of what must be - given its illustrious owner, Elizabeth Taylor - the most iconic watch on display. Made in 1967, it has a yellow gold case and bracelet, and a white gold bezel set with 36 brilliant-cut diamonds for 0.7 carats. The movement is a calibre 9P. It was acquired by Piaget in December 2011, when Christie's New York auctioned the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor. The cracked opal dial has an inclusion which confirms the authenticity of the watch on photos of the actress.
The fifteen years that separate these two watches, one echoing the other, testify to the enduring nature of Piaget's style whose hallmarks have etched themselves on our minds: ultra-thin movements, hardstone dials and precious stones.
Alain Borgeaud, director of heritage
After training as a jeweller at the Geneva School of Decorative Arts, Alain Borgeaud gained his first experience in a renowned workshop that would become part of the Richemont Group in 1989. From that point on, his career would be inseparable from Piaget. Appointed project manager for jewellery watches and exceptional timepieces in 2000, he became project manager for jewellery in 2004, from where he moved to the communications department in 2006. As director of heritage, each year he adds some thirty new pieces to the brand's collection, which currently assembles 860 in total. ■
Anaïs Georges du Clos
Jewellery Magic at the Piaget Time Gallery in Geneva, until January 31st, 2013.