Leather and lace, feathers and tweed, a hint of shimmer and bags of style… women’s watches look beyond the classical canons and prove they are front-row material as haute couture flamboyance makes a seamless transition to cases, dials and straps. A strong sartorial influence emerges in the textures, patterns and techniques that watchmakers are borrowing from the fashion world.
A newly released collection of ladies’ watches from Vacheron Constantin, Égérie finds inspiration in the rarefied world of haute couture. This isn’t about fashion or trends; it is, instead, an exploration of the refinement that prevails in the ateliers of the great couturiers. These qualities appear first on the dial, the centre of which is embellished with a pleated design, reminscent of fabric. Vacheron Constantin obtained this elegant motif thanks to a rare technique known as tapisserie, reproducing a large pattern in miniature by means of a machine that is over a hundred years old. Still more sophisticated details allude to haute couture. Both the date display on the Égérie Self-Winding and the off-centre moon phases on the Égérie Moon Phase are fringed with a circle of diamonds, while the Arabic numerals have been calligraphed especially for the collection to suggest the delicacy of lace.
For those brands that came to watchmaking after exercising their talent in fashion, haute couture or ready-to-wear lines provide a wealth of ideas that are readily transposable to dials and straps. The supple texture of Chanel’s signature tweed is reproduced on the strap of the Boy•Friend Tweedy, on the Grand Feu enamel dial of the Boy•Friend Tweed Art, in two colourways or a muted gradient of greys and black, and again on the dial of the Boy•Friend Neo Tweed, all three models presented in 2019. Carrying on this theme, the maison recently unveiled the Tweed fine jewellery collection of 45 unique pieces. Designs include secret watches that brilliantly imitate this distinctive hand-woven wool fabric — as synonymous with Chanel as Mademoiselle herself — through intricate settings of diamonds and other gems.
Couture is a natural inspiration for Dior, too, and particularly the magnificent ballgowns that swish and swirl across the dials of the Grand Bal watches. Embellished with silk threads, mother-of-pearl or diamonds in a lattice setting and powered by the 11½ calibre inversé which wears its rotor on the dial side, the collection brings a multitude of possibilities to life, all inspired by Dior couture. The latest to date, the Dior Grand Bal Supernatural N°1 offers the spectacular sight of colourful feathers brushing against a backdrop of shimmering opal, embracing the wrist with the elegance and flamboyant beauty of a ballgown.
The fabric of time
Couture houses aren’t alone in introducing the tropes of fashion to their watch designs. Brands with no immediate connection to the catwalk have also picked up on trends as well as fabrics. In 2018 Hublot draped its Classic Fusion Chronograph in cloth chosen by Italia Independent designer Lapo Elkann from the archives of the Italian tailoring firm, Rubinacci. Dressed in houndstooth, a stylish pinstripe or a Prince of Wales check, the dials and straps of these limited editions were given full sartorial treatment. This was also the year Hermès launched the Carré Cuir in head-to-toe leather.
Animal print, a perennial fashion favourite, takes on a new guise at Cartier for the visually striking cuff of the Panthère de Cartier, a weave of gold links spotted with black lacquer. At Breguet, the many blues on the dial of the Reine de Naples 8967 bring to mind tie-dye fabric’s multitude of shades. Mounted on a blue denim strap, it pairs beautifully with the tie-dye trend that was all the rage in the 1970s and a hot favourite on the runway last year.
While fashion’s influence on watchmaking is evident in the borrowing of materials such as leather, denim or feathers, the sophistication of a couture garment finds its equivalent in the very specific techniques watchmakers employ. Finely wrought gold — a speciality for which Piaget is renowned with its woven or delicately engraved bracelets — suggests the texture of soft jersey fabric or the shimmer of lurex. Rarely out of style, flower prints blossom on the dial of Chopard’s L.U.C XP Esprit de Fleurier Peony thanks to a combination of gold engraving, miniature painting and mother-of-pearl silhouetting. Gold is also at the heart of the Slim d’Hermès Cheval Ikat. The horse motif is brought to life using a dyeing and weaving technique, originally from Asia, known as ikat. Hundreds of gold threads, each a third of the width of a human hair, are woven onto the dial to stunning effect. From runway to wrist, watchmakers have got it all sewn up.