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Fine Jewellery Watches: A Marriage Made in Elegance

Feature: Long Read
Words by Eleanor Hibberd

History tells of a period in which elegant ladies were not expected to know the time. Until as late as the 19th Century, fine timepieces were reserved for men alone, taking the form of pocket watches, while women of society were restricted to the more decorative spectacle of jewellery. Thankfully, these days were numbered – yet, for many years, watches remained a gendered accessory. For women, whose elaborate gowns were not created to accommodate traditional pocket watches, an alternative way to wear one’s timepiece was required. Enter the wristwatch.

Today, they’re the most recognisable style of timepiece for men and women. But it’s true: wristwatches were, in fact, a female-led design. Among the first historical citations of a watch being worn on the wrist is Queen Elizabeth I, who it’s said sported a delicate clock charm on a bracelet. In the 1800s, Parisian manufacturer Breguet laid claim to one of the first dedicated wristwatches ever made – a commission for Caroline, Queen of Naples, which still serves as inspiration for the maison’s Reine de Naples collection.

Model wearing Chopard Fine Watch

Jewellery and watches made for natural bedfellows and remain as such to this day. Launched in 1976, Chopard’s Happy Diamonds collection is a modern icon of fine jewellery watchmaking – framing dainty dials with free-moving ‘dancing diamonds’ that bring the timepieces to life in a twirling waltz. From a practical perspective, the alliance between jewellery and horology enabled society women to wear their watches disguised as pieces of jewellery – whether around the wrist, as a necklace or suspended from a ‘chatelaine’ chain. More than mere instruments to tell the time, these pieces offered elegant alternatives to the more cumbersome pocket watches of the day.

Once watchmakers began designing timepieces for women, they unlocked an artform that combined two exquisite crafts: haute joaillerie and haute horlogerie.

Chopard

Jewellery and watches made for natural bedfellows and remain as such to this day. Launched in 1976, Chopard’s Happy Diamonds collection is a modern icon of fine jewellery watchmaking – framing dainty dials with free-moving ‘dancing diamonds’ that bring the timepieces to life in a twirling waltz. From a practical perspective, the alliance between jewellery and horology enabled society women to wear their watches disguised as pieces of jewellery – whether around the wrist, as a necklace or suspended from a ‘chatelaine’ chain. More than mere instruments to tell the time, these pieces offered elegant alternatives to the more cumbersome pocket watches of the day.

Unexpected ways of wearing one’s timepiece endure even now, influenced equally by the world of high fashion. You’ll see exquisite examples at Dior and CHANEL – because who knows adornment better than couturiers? A new creation from Dior Jewellery’s legendary creative director Victoire de Castellane, the Gem Dior Medallion references fabric swatches with its unusual asymmetric case and vivid malachite dial. Meanwhile, CHANEL’s signature Akoya pearl strings replace a traditional bracelet on its Première Mini watch, made to be worn wrapped around the wrist or neck as you see fit.

Model wearing holding a green Dior fine watch necklace
Model wearing Chanel Fine Watch and Fine Jewellery

Transformative pieces are among the pinnacles of fine jewellery watches. At Harry Winston, the iconic Ultimate Emerald Signature epitomises this. Its impressive, bejewelled case conceals a watch face behind a majestic 1-carat emerald-cut Paraíba tourmaline and supporting surround, which swivels to reveal an icy, embellished dial. More than 100 hours were taken to set the stones by hand. If that wasn’t enough of a conversation starter, Harry Winston’s shapeshifting centrepiece can also be detached from its silk strap and worn as a brooch or pendant, suspended on a chain.

The notion of hidden watches is time honoured. Just as jewellery has been used to conceal private, precious mementos – miniature portraits, locks of hair – secret watches were originally created as a discreet way for women to check the time. Such conventions are long outdated, but the mystical allure of hidden watches endures. Why? Perhaps it’s the seduction of something that’s ‘for your eyes only’. While onlookers admire a piece of jewellery, only you know its ulterior purpose.

Buccellati

Buccellati

Reminiscent of Renaissance styles, Buccellati’s dazzling Ring of Time obscures a compact Swiss Quartz watch beneath a domed moonstone, set in the brand’s signature lace-like ‘tulle’ surround.

Model wearing Buccellati Fine Watch and Fine Jewellery

Buccellati

Among the most magnificent modern interpretations of this genre, Graff’s emerald and diamond secret watch is a testament to the harmony between horology and jewellery, and the craftspeople behind each discipline. Working in tandem, Graff’s masters meticulously arrange each gemstone – more than 42 carats of emeralds and over 27 carats of diamonds – across a bracelet, hiding a kite-shaped diamond dial at its centre. Ingeniously, an oval emerald acts as a ‘button’ to open and reveal the watch face.

At Cartier, tactile scales of moonstone and diamond disguise a hinged shield on this high-jewellery watch, which is crowned by a trio of magnificent pink sapphires.

But the allure of a secret watch goes beyond playful conceal-and-reveal mechanisms. Jewellery that seamlessly integrates a timepiece amid its design – hidden in plain sight – offers another sublime demonstration of discretion. Case in point: an immaculate watch is camouflaged within the Art-Deco filigree of Bulgari’s Divas’ Dream cuff, where it sits in lieu of a kite-shaped emerald. Created in honour of the Platinum Jubilee and requiring nearly 1,000 hours of painstaking work by five master artisans, the piece is befittingly regal – an apt illustration of jewellery timepieces as the crowning glories of a fine watch collection.

Bulgari
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