Alongside the beautiful mechanical timepieces that watchmaking Houses now design specifically for women, ‘fine’ or high jewellery watches continue to stun in a world of their own. And when jewellery and watchmaking brands show off the watches from their new high jewellery collections during Haute Couture week in Paris, we know we are in for some serious jaw-dropping moments. It all began in 2010, when a small circle of Place Vendôme Houses presented high jewellery collections during Haute Couture fashion week in the French capital. That circle has now expanded to include jewellers from beyond Place Vendôme and indeed beyond the nation’s borders. Twice yearly, in January and July, the best of the best reveal their latest marvels in Paris.
While some of the watches rightfully find their place in the universe of Haute Horlogerie, Haute Joaillerie timepieces are generally considered to be in a totally different category. Often unique pieces equipped with quartz movements, their level of creativity and expertise are such that even the most die-hard watchmaking purists cannot help but admire the sublime gem-setting and other ‘métiers d’art’ demonstrated with perfection on these keepers of time. Here, we are not referring to ‘simple’ diamond-set bezels, as beautiful and complex as they may be. No, with these beauties we are talking about extraordinary shapes and sizes of diamonds and emeralds, rubies and sapphires; of pearls and rock crystal; of enamelling, and engraving on gold, and how they are all worked together to become masterpieces. Months and years go into the making of these pieces, from the finding and acquisition of the stones and minerals to the designs and patiently executed handicraft techniques that take our breath away.
Adding to the charm of these creations are the themed environments that many brands install in spectacular venues with lavish scenery to present their collections. This time, we were literally transported to a funfair from days of yore at the Musée des Arts Forains for the Chaumet est une Fête collection and its theme of music. From the Hiver Impérial storybook setting of the Far North and a Russian winter by Boucheron, we travelled to ephemeral lush indoor gardens in the middle of Paris with Dior à Versailles Côté Jardins. Chanel took us on an imaginary cruise with the Chanel Fine Jewellery Flying Cloud collection. Piaget dazzled us with a Sunlight Journey, Van Cleef & Arpels enchanted us with the mysteries of Le Secret, and Graff presented fabulous coloured gems and diamonds in abundance. Here is a selection of some of the marvels we discovered…
Woman’s best friend, the adorable Laïka the Husky from the Lumière de Nuit chapter of the Boucheron Hiver Impérial collection, peers through a rock crystal lake to keep track of time. This exceptional work of art is composed of white gold, diamonds, sapphires, spinels, rock crystal and agate. An imposing timepiece measuring 88.00mm in height with a width of 35.50mm, Laïka is amazingly comfortable on the wrist.
Liberty for Gabrielle Chanel was suspended somewhere between the sea and the sky, and especially on the yacht of her dear friend Hugh Grosvenor, second Duke of Westminster. This Flying Cloud collection takes its name from the vessel, with pieces inspired by the shapes and insignia seen on board, as with this Chanel Fine Jewelry Azurean Braid Watch in 18K white gold set with 658 brilliant-cut diamonds.
Chaumet est une Fête! and this Aria Passionata watch inspired by the Teatro alla Scala di Milano aims to show it, with a mechanical flying tourbillon: Swiss movement CP12V-IX Hublot Tourbillon 1000 for Chaumet, with a power reserve of 120 hours. In pink gold with the passion of a Grand Feu enamel dial, the timepiece is set with 364 brilliant-cut diamonds, 78 baguette-cut rubies and one cabochon ruby.
Monsieur Dior loved gardens, and Dior’s artistic director for high jewellery, Victoire de Castellane, is an admirer of royal landscape architect André Le Nôtre. Her collection is an ode to the gardens of Versailles, combining luxuriance with geometry. This Clairière Emeraude High Jewellery Timepiece in yellow gold, with diamonds, tsavorite garnets, emeralds, pink sapphires, spessartite garnets, yellow sapphires, sapphires, demantoid garnets, Paraiba-type tourmalines and orange sapphire quartz is a colourful antidote to the passage of time.
Mother Nature also inspires Graff, with this diamond flower watch in 18K white gold. Twenty pear-shaped diamonds and 295 round diamonds for a total diamond weight of 14.91 cts surround a mother-of-pearl dial – one of the more than 200 pieces in total designed by Graff every month.
Piaget presented 127 pieces for the Sunlight Journey collection, of which no fewer than 30 timepieces. This Viva l’Arte Cuff Watch is reminiscent not only of the beauty of the Amalfi Coast that inspired it, but also of the first cuff watches launched and made famous by Piaget during the 1960s and 1970s. This staggering piece is in 18K pink gold with an integrated buckle. Its case is set with 44 brilliant-cut diamonds, the bracelet with 24 marquise-cut diamonds, and the dial is magnificently engraved. The quartz movement is a Piaget 56P.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Our final marvel, this 18K white gold timepiece from Van Cleef & Arpels, has a secret. Beneath the wings of the Papillon Secret Watch set with diamonds, black spinels, onyx and emeralds, with a central emerald-cut emerald of 14.57 cts, lies a white mother-of-pearl dial just waiting to be revealed by the touch of your fingertips. This butterfly also conceals a manual-winding mechanical movement.