A diamond-set bezel? Pfft. Baguette-cut diamonds? Don’t think so. Brilliant-cut diamond indices on the dial? You must be joking. Where high jewellery watches are concerned, the more basic and classic variations must now compete with what are essentially baroque sculptures in miniature. In order to justify their existence and stand out from the crowd, brands are using precious stones as others would use clay or marble. To hold your place (or secure it) in the rarefied world of high-jewellery watchmaking, you have to aim extremely high. Better take your oxygen tank. Better still – learn to breathe pure ether. These days, you need to do a lot more than merely be generous with the gems – however superior the quality – if you want to be noticed. The stones must be artfully and imaginatively staged in a 3D theatre, sometimes pushing the boundaries of good taste.
As far as price is concerned, once your watch is entirely set with diamonds, there’s really nowhere else you can go. With case, bracelet and dial entirely paved, it’s all about abundance, but it’s also about the technical skill required to make the base material (gold or platinum) disappear entirely beneath its cloak of light. But the race is no longer about value – price tag alone is largely irrelevant at this point. While Graff looked to settle the argument once and for all with several models decorated with coloured diamonds (a house speciality) worth over 40 million dollars each, the competition has moved elsewhere. It’s all about creativity.
Audemars Piguet latched on pretty quickly. For the third year running, this rather conservative watchmaker has launched a high-jewellery piece that’s certainly not afraid of the spotlight. The Diamond Outrage unveiled at SIHH 2017 is a spiky bundle of diamond and/or sapphire-set points. The conical protrusions may look punk, but they are inspired by the fir trees of the Vallée de Joux.
Diamond remains the queen of stones, partly because it is so easy to wear. Breguet has chosen diamonds to clothe the generous petals that emerge from the case of its aptly-named Be Crazy. These articulated jewels are designed to catch the light – a diamond’s best friend – and have fun with it.
Graphical harmony is essential if a piece is to stand out, and light a spark that will fire the imagination. Chopard has placed its bets on the spiral, with one piece in its Green Carpet collection. The pear-cut stones are arranged like the grains in an ear of wheat furled around the dial, growing gradually bigger towards the tip. Its asymmetry and general shape also bring to mind the leaves of the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival, which Chopard designed.
The figurative register is another strong theme; an everyday object can become an expression of artistry in the hands of a gem-setter. Van Cleef & Arpels has gone for a ribbon, tied in a simple bow. The Ruban Secret watch is entirely paved with closely-packed brilliant-cut diamonds, the watch face hidden behind a movable knot.
Colour lies at the heart of the language of gemstones and high jewellery. But the staging of a central stone, regardless of whether it is framed by a backdrop of smaller gems, is no longer enough to capture the attention. It has to be baroque, theatrical, whacky!
De Grisogono clusters several rows of sapphire teardrops around the case of the Grappoli, whose case and dial are both densely set with gems. A hint of movement is another essential ingredient. In the heart of the diamond-set case of the RM 026, Richard Mille has inserted two snakes clothed in coloured gemstones, bringing the watch to life.
Snakes are a favourite source of inspiration for Bulgari, which has just unveiled the Serpenti Seduttori. The snake’s head, topped with a cabochon, opens to reveal the time.
In its Panthère Joueuse, Cartier Watches Men Replica has succeeded in capturing the dialogue between the real and the precious. The big cat (hours) plays with a little ball (minutes). It might not be the most spectacular, or the most bejewelled, but it says something quite important about jewellery watches. And that is, that it’s not the number of carats that counts, but the strength of the idea and its ability to fire the imagination.
Entire books have been written about Cartier as well as about the Cartier Tank watch itself, and also the basic story that Louis Cartier established the Tank design on the form of WWI tanks found in the Western Front is most likely familiar to many readers. Cartier made clocks, pocket watches, and women’s wristwatches earlier wristwatches for men began to catch – and when guys did start to wear wristwatches, Cartier played a significant part in their wider adoption and the Cartier Tank was an increasingly important part of the transition out of pocket into wrist.The initial wristwatch for men is occasionally said to be the Cartier Santos from 1904, designed by Louis Cartier – at least this began to help popularize men’s wristwatches. It was certainly among the first watches made as a wristwatch, rather than a pocket watch accommodated with straps for the wrist, or “strap watch.” In 1916, The New York Times admitted that wristwatches were a passing fad, and WWI watched soldiers starting to strap watches for their wrists for sensible reasons.Louis Cartier (1875–1942) designed quite a few watches that are still part of Cartier’s lineup now, including the Santos, Tank, and Tortue. At the time Louis perhaps thought the future of wristwatches supposed non-round cases. This would also help distinguish them in the round pocket watches which had just been adapted to your wrist. The very first Cartier Tank watch was made in 1917 and the story goes that those initial models were given to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force and his officers. Back in 1919, a total of six Tank watches were produced, however an icon had been created, and new variations have followed frequently since – you can see more about early twenties along with other early Cartier men’s watches here.