There are two kinds of high jewelry watches: the “fully set” version of an existing model, with diamonds in neat rows, as if it were the logical continuation of a diamond bezel; and one that is designed and made as a piece of jewelry, with a creative motif, high quality gemstones, high carat values and a one-of-a-kind cachet. Baselworld this year was full of the latter.
Gemsetting, particularly on a high jewelry watch, is the one metier that can be categorized as strictly feminine. And if a watch design must be based on a feminine motif, such as flowers or butterflies, that motif is surely at its most interesting when rendered in diamonds and gemstones. The butterfly is, for example, to Graff Diamonds what the panther is to Cartier, presenting it regularly in a gem-set format. This year it appears on the Princess Butterfly, one of several new secret watches from a brand that knows its way around a jewelry bench. The sculpted wings are outlined with invisibly set baguette gems, with a surface covered in pavé gems, in three versions: sapphires, yellow diamonds or white diamonds. Pressing the upper and lower diamonds together in the center pops the wings open to reveal a dial surrounded by baguette diamonds.
The Big Three Gems
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel began introducing secret watches in the 1930s as part of her jewelry collections. Today, the company remains faithful to the founder’s design cues and, at Baselworld, introduced several secret watches set with rare, large gemstones, including a 43.6-carat morganite, a 17.2-carat Padparadscha sapphire, a 39.9-carat garnet and hundreds of smaller diamonds and gems. The designs pay tribute to the brand’s quilted motif.
For the most part, the big three gems – sapphire, ruby and emerald – figure prominently in high jewelry watches. There are some rare finds among the so-called semi-precious gems that may be priced higher than the big three, but in general, a fine ruby, sapphire or emerald hold their value and command higher prices than other gemstones. That is the reason Art Deco jewelry – heavy on the big three – is prized over other period jewelry. Top watch brands, mindful of this, tend to favor the big three in their jewelry watches, either together or individually. The new piece from the Precious Chopard collection, for example, is set with over 33 carats of sapphires, surrounded by diamonds. The composition mixes round, baguette and pear shaped sapphires and diamonds, set to resemble lace work and the swirls of fabric on a couture dress. They are prong-set on the case and bracelet and invisibly or snow set on the dial.
Highly Valued Gems
The Harry Winston Twist, with the automatic Caliber HW2008, is set with 170 marquise-cut rubies weighing 10.12 carats, five brilliant-cut rubies weighing 0.27 carat, 302 baguette diamonds totaling 11.85 carats and 148 marquise-cut diamonds weighing 6.74 carats. It was inspired by the Emerald Twist bracelet made by Harry Winston in the 1960s.
De Grisogono’s Fawaz Gruosi also favors corundum in his new collection. The dials and bezels of the new Retro collection glow with blue and pink sapphires, aligning with Pantone’s top two colors of 2016 – pink and blue – with polished galuchat (stingray) straps to match. There is also an emerald version. Hermès likewise uses sapphires, rubies and emeralds in its new Faubourg Manchette Joaillerie watches. In this case, tapered gemstone baguettes are color-matched with mineral dials. Emeralds are paired with dials made of malachite; sapphire is combined with lapis lazuli; and brown sapphire is paired with a tiger’s eye dial. All are fitted with color-matched leather straps, showcasing the brand’s original specialty.
Even gems that resemble one of the big three are highly valued. The sultry design of Bulgari’s Serpenti Incantati collection is enhanced this year with glowing red rubellite, a variety of tourmaline with the bright color saturation of ruby. In a tourbillon version, the rubellite is color-matched to the bridge on a skeletonized tourbillon movement, combining high jewelry with high mechanical watchmaking.
Although they don’t qualify as high jewelry watches, four gem set models by Chanel, Harry Winston, Hublot and Dior demonstrate the emerging couture theme in ladies’ metiers watches. The bracelet of the Chanel Boyfriend Tweed has a gold or steel bracelet shaped in a tweed pattern. Likewise, the new Dior D De Dior Satine has a mesh-style bracelet that is meant to resemble a satin ribbon. The Harry Winston Premier Precious Weaving uses a rare Japanese weaving technique called Raden, using silk threads woven with slivers of mother-of-pearl to create a tapestry effect. The collection includes four versions, all with dial and lugs set with diamonds. They contain the automatic Caliber HW2008.
The dial strap of Hublot’s Tutti Frutti Linen collection are actually made of linen, sewn onto rubber. The dial is also covered with linen. The bezels of Hublot’s Tutti Frutti Linen collection are set with blue or orange sapphire, topaz or amethyst. The linen elements reinforce the color without adding to the carat count, making these watches more accessible than fully set jewelry watches, and appropriate for daily wear.