One of the subtle undercurrents of Baselworld 2017 was the fact that companies are reducing prices or revising product development strategies to boost lower-priced categories and putting the brakes on new high-horology showpieces. In this scenario – two straight years of declines in Swiss watch exports, with the first two months of this year still tanking – jewelry watches have become the new showpieces of Baselworld, especially when combined with complications. Adding diamonds in a creative way has become one of the best means to update an existing complication and add value to a luxury watch. From Harry Winston to Chopard – and even Patek Philippe this year – here is a look at some of the standout jewelry watches from Baselworld 2017.
Patek Philippe had a good year, with the incredible Ref. 5320 and 20th Anniversary Aquanaut, but they are almost overshadowed by the Haute Joaillerie Ref. 4899/900, presented in the beautiful, curvy, classic case of the Calatrava. I have seen set watches from Patek, with impressive carat content and perfectly executed invisible setting, but never have I seen something this creative, and so Patek. It is spectacular without being over the top, set with perfect gems. It contains 149 flawless diamonds and 182 pink sapphires in various shades for a total aggregate weight of 4.35 carats. The natural pink mother-of-pearl and 18k gold hands are engraved in a feather pattern. It contains the ultra-thin automatic Caliber 240 with an integrated rotor, silicon-based components and a 70-hour power reserve. Patek celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 240 this year, originally created in 1977 when men’s wristwatches were much smaller than they are today, and which has evolved ever since. It is perfect for this watch, allowing space for the jeweler to work his magic.
More than just a watch with gems
Chopard and Bulgari introduced pieces that demonstrate how the jewelry watch has evolved to become more than just a watch with gems lined up along the bezel and dial. Chopard’s Green Carpet collection is an ongoing endeavor to combine sustained luxury (i.e. ethically sourced gold and gemstones) and red carpet glamour. This year’s collection includes a high jewelry watch set with 11.7 carats of Gemfields emeralds set in Fairmined gold. Most of the gems are marquise-cut and prong-set in 18k white gold, in a design that resembles the Cannes Palme d’or. Bulgari continues its love affair with the serpent motif with the high jewelry Serpenti Seduttori, studded with diamonds, emerald eyes and a giant pink tourmaline cabochon. The watch dial is set creatively into the mouth of the serpent.
Ladies’ watches are the perfect venue for combining high watchmaking with the métiers d’art. Graff, for example, introduced a tourbillon for ladies this year with enameled flowers on the dial that rotate on their own axis. It is not the first animated dial from Graff, which has more than proven its ability as a technical watchmaker for both men and women. One dial of the Floral Tourbillon takes 50 hours to complete. Graff also introduced invisibly-set ruby and sapphire versions of last year’s introduction, the Princess Butterfly secret watch.
No fashion brands
Another advantage of a ladies’ haute horology watch is that it can be a pendant watch, something Cartier demonstrated beautifully at last year’s SIHH with the Tourbillon Mystérieux Azuré. Harry Winston does it with the Divine Time, a jewelry piece that can be worn as a wristwatch or a pendant. The dial is paved with 188 round brilliant diamonds and six marquise diamonds, which also serve as hour markers. They are prong-set slightly above the dial in order to allow light to pass through the pavilions and return through the table. The case is set with 28 brilliant-cut diamonds with larger baguette and marquise-cut diamonds at each end. The total diamond weight is 2.46 carats.
And a final word about “fashion” watches. Dior is often dismissed as a fashion brand because it is a couture house and its watches often contain quartz movements, but this is a misconception. Fendi is a fashion brand, Guess is a fashion brand, Dior certainly isn’t. The new Grand Bal Pièce Unique is set with 420 diamonds totaling 2.42 carats. Some of the diamonds are set into the crystal, a delicate process with a high breakage rate. The rotor (the brand uses Zenith automatic movements) appears on the dial side, and is also decorated. One of the Grand Soir Botanic watches, a series of eight unique pieces, is set with 7.24 carats of diamonds, 1.07 carats of yellow, blue and pink sapphires, as well as rubies and emeralds. The mesh-textured strap is made with the same technical fabric used on Dior’s Fusion sneakers.