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The Blossoming of Ladies’ Timepieces
New Models

The Blossoming of Ladies’ Timepieces

Friday, 24 April 2015
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Carol Besler

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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5 min read

In 2008, it was still big news when a ladies’ watch had an automatic movement. The focus of most discussions about ladies’ timepieces was on design and finish. Most movements were still quartz, but ladies’ watches were emerging as the perfect venue for the finishing crafts of watchmaking, and it was an exciting time.

Today, not only have ladies’ metiers pieces become entrenched as an important segment of the industry, quartz movements have largely been phased out. They are being replaced mostly by automatic movements, which are the most convenient, with some calibers created especially for women’s collections, engineered with micro-rotors and other elements that make them smaller and therefore more wearable.

The advances made in movements in recent years – silicon, anti-magnetic, non-friction components, ceramic bearings, etc. – were initially applied to only men’s watches in elite collections, but as production capacity increases, they are now being applied to ladies’ watches. Omega’s Co-axial calibers are now used in the ladies’ Constellation and Pluma collections. Chopard’s uber-tested L.U.C calibers are now being made for ladies’ L.U.C collections. The L.U.C XPS Esprit de Fleurier, for example, contains Caliber L.U.C 96.23-L, which is decorated with Fleurisanne engravings, an elaborate relief pattern native to Fleurier, where the watches are made. Other brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Graff and Manufacture Royale, make tourbillon calibers specifically for ladies watches.

Christophe Claret Margot
Christophe Claret’s exploration

Aside from that, the strongest trend in ladies’ complications is animation: linking the functions of a complicated movement with the crafts of gemsetting, enameling and other metiers, in order to animate decorated watches. It not enough that ladies’ watches are jeweled and enameled; now they rotate, vibrate, orbit and bloom. Christophe Claret was among the first to explore this trend last year when he created the Margot chiming watch, which plays an elaborate game of “He loves me, he loves me not” that combines a chime with the animated “plucking” of petals on the dial. It is essentially a gaming watch for women.

Richard Mille followed up in January with the introduction of the Tourbillon Fleur RM 19-02, with a floral automaton blooming over the tourbillon escapement. The cover – consisting of five petals designed to resemble the magnolia flower –  opens or closes automatically every five minutes, or on demand, to showcase the tourbillon. There are two barrels, one of which is dedicated exclusively to the blooming function. The petals, hand-painted over white gold, were made by the Geneva metiers atelier Olivier Vaucher.

At Baselworld this year, several brands followed up with moving timepieces. The Jaquet Droz Lady 8 Flower is also animated with a lotus flower that blooms under a sapphire crystal dome – like an objet d’art in a curio cabinet – on the upper dial. The lower half is set with blue sapphires and diamonds in the shape of a butterfly – another version, in a red gold case, is decorated with red lacquer. The automaton is driven by a mechanism separate from the movement, the automatic Caliber 615.

Fabergé Lady Compliquée Peacock
Peacocks, butterflies and scarabs

Fabergé likewise introduced a piece that moves, in the form of a retrograde minutes indexed by the unfurling feathers of a peacock’s tail. The hand wound Caliber 6901, was created by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of boutique movement design firm, Agenhor. In addition to exceptional jeweling, the Lady Compliquée Peacock has a jumping retrograde minute function on which the feathers of a peacock unfurl to indicate the minutes. Hours are indicated by the tail; it remains stationary while an engraved mother-of-pearl hour ring rotates. The case is platinum and set with 54 diamonds. On the dial are diamonds, Paraiba tourmalines and tsavorite garnets, in homage to the colors used in a Fabergé “Peacock” egg circa 1908. The peacock is engraved in 18k white gold.

Graff also adds power to flowers this year, with the Disco Butterfly collection. The butterflies’ wings are depicted with marquise cut diamonds, sapphires, emeralds or rubies, all set onto disks that rotate around the dial, a function that is powered by an inner rotor. Each butterfly also rotates on its own axis with the movement of the wearer.

The inverted movement, with the rotor positioned on the dial and decorated, was popularized a few years ago by De Grisogono and Dior. It is an ongoing theme at Dior, which has a proprietary Inversé caliber. This year it performs in the Dior VIII Grand Bal Pièce Unique Envol. The rotor is decorated to recall the spare modernist allure of the haute couture collections designed by Dior creative director Raf Simons. The marquetry on the upper, stationary, part of the dial is made from pieces of actual scarab beetle, which have a natural iridescent reflection. The oscillating weight, which does move, is composed of mother-of-pearl, gold, lacquer and baguette-cut diamonds or gemstones designed in a spiral motif. They combine to create maximum sparkle with every movement of the wrist. There are several one-of-a-kind pieces in the collection.

The Cartier Ballon Bleu Serti Vibrant
Even diamonds move

Retrograde movements with rotating disks have also become a popular way to add movement and drama to ladies’ watches. The rotating disks reveal changing scenery, usually over 24 hours for a night/day effect, rendered in gemsetting, marquetry and champlevé enameling to depict night and day scenes, such as the Blancpain’s Day/Night.  Gradations in the color blue deposited on the mother of pearl mark the change from day to night. The moon is composed of 50 diamonds and the sun, with 50 yellow sapphires. Yellow colored mother of pearl dots 14 diamonds represent the stars. It contains automatic retrograde Caliber 1163JN, a flyback chronograph modified for this collection. It has glucydur free sprung balance, two barrels and a power reserve of 100 hours. The day/night disk turns twice per day, with each change taking place over a four minute period. The setting of the time and the Day/Night disk are independent, so, there’s no possibility of the two mechanisms interfering with each other when setting the watch.

And then there were the en tremblant pieces, with diamonds set in ways that allow them to move with the movement of the wearer. It all began at SIHH with Cartier’s Ballon Bleu Serti Vibrant, the dial of which is paved with 123 diamonds that are set on tiny springs. The diamonds thus move when the wearer moves, in the same way as gems that are set en tremblant in jewellery – something Cartier has been doing since the 1920s. The Serti Vibrant contains the manual wound Caliber 430 MC. It is a limited edition of 20 pièces.

Breguet similarly took a page from jewellery setting techniques to create a watch with diamonds that move – in this case on hinges. The flower motif on the B Crazy Haute Joaillerie is created with an astounding 70 carats of baguette diamonds in rows that radiate from the sides of the case. The gold links into which they are set are hinged so that the diamonds move.
The evolution of ladies’ timepieces is not just about these show pieces. Everyday ladies’s watches are changing too, with more mechanical calibers and less elaborate decorative elements that are toned down for a look that is more classic, with a twist. More on some of these another time.

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