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Time: Time as Spectacle

Carol Besler

The beauty—or tragedy, depending on how you view it—of Audemars Piguet’s $2.25 million Springtime Charm watch and earrings suite, currently sitting for a limited engagement in the window of its flagship store in New York City, is that there is and will be only one. The company provides a written guarantee that the pieces will never be reproduced.

 

A timepiece of this stature, says Michel Faure, vice president of sales and marketing, is, above all, “an expression of prestige.” And true prestige is not easy to come by. Such pieces demand an inordinate investment of time, skill, and money. The one and only Springtime Charm watch, for example, required several hundred hours to craft and contains a whopping 456 diamonds. Because these watches are usually purchased by men for women as presents, important presents, they “have to reflect the impact of the emotion behind the gift,” he says. “They must be very valuable.”

Such is the nature of the exalted jewelry watch, that hybrid of high, high jewelry and elusive timepiece that is only vaguely concerned with the telling of time. The genre is the haute couture of the watch world, pushing the limits of design and extravagance beyond the realm of typical jewelry watches, which are often gem-encrusted variations of existing models. These tours de force serve as testaments to the design prowess and daring of the houses that create them. And similar to haute couture’s role in the fashion world, their purpose is twofold: to produce a sense of awe and to set a creative and innovative tone that can trickle down from the extreme pieces into more salable collections. 

First and foremost, these watches are pieces of jewelry, so who better than a jeweler to create them? Cartier has produced only two of its new $255,000 Tutti Frutti jewelry watches, a design that harks back to the house’s renowned Tutti Frutti collection from the 1920s and ’30s. The modern Tutti Frutti is a virtuoso work of Art Deco design set with sapphires, rubies, and emeralds that are carved to resemble foliage. The demure trapezoidal dial is discreetly placed adjacent to an elaborately carved, 60-carat emerald, where it is barely noticeable. But who really cares? The jewelry watch conveys a message, on behalf of its wearer, that is far more interesting than anything as quotidian as the time of day.

 

“Your watch says something about how you value time,” says Stanislas de Quercize, president and CEO of Cartier, which has been making jewelry watches for 150 years. “Time is of the essence. It is important to think about how you spend it—who you talk to, what you are doing—so when someone wears a watch that is precious, it says a lot about how they value time. It’s an expression of self-confidence. It says you are in control of your time.”

Like most watchmakers with a pedigree in the jewelry realm, Cartier balances its métier of unique pieces, which elevate the creative bar, with more moderate jewelry watch collections that broadcast a similar message to a wider audience. “Doing one-of-a-kind pieces is part of the tradition,” says de Quercize. “We are jewelers, so designing a watch as a piece of jewelry is in our DNA.” De Quercize says Cartier shares the same goal with its clients: to surprise. He qualifies this design philosophy with the proviso: “A surprise... but with legs.”

The company’s new Déclaration marches to the tune of that directive. Priced from $16,600 to $33,200 (depending on the number and size of diamonds), Déclaration is one of Cartier’s most accessible jewelry watches. The name alludes to romance—a declaration of love—or to the aforementioned element of surprise, as in a declaration of individual style. As billed, Déclaration celebrates the unexpected. Ten diamond-studded rings are engineered to scroll up and down the titanium case, exposing at one end the time, and at the other, a diamond solitaire. Depending on the position of the rings, the time often may be partially obscured. Cartier literature describes the design as “a watch that breaks the rules so that time is merely suggested.”

 

While Cartier aims to surprise, Piaget embraces audacity. “We are known for having the courage to explore unique shapes and unusual designs at the very high end,” says Michel Ferracani, director of Piaget’s watch marketing division in Switzerland. The new Resille cuff watch, inspired by haute couture fashion, is made to measure with delicate square-shaped openwork patterns fashioned like fishnet mesh. The $337,000 piece, containing 307 diamonds, was conceived as a modern interpretation of the brand’s emblematic cuff watch from the 1970s. “The spirit of Piaget,” he says, “is to dare. Our designers have a lot of liberty.”

The fluid, undulating quality of the new Cascade jewelry watch, distinctive as it is, stands as an exception to this philosophy. It represents an endeavor to harmonize this year’s high jewelry watch introductions with the brand’s Magic Reflections jewelry collection, which was inspired by water.

“This is the first time we have tapped the same source of inspiration for both jewelry and jewelry watches,” says Ferracani. It is a natural amalgamation; the company’s Atelier de Haute Joaillerie includes 46 expert craftspeople who create both the jewelry collections and the jewelry watches. Traditionally, however, Piaget produces what it refers to as its “exceptional” pieces—jewelry watches in the $500,000 to $1 million range—to stand on their own. Only four or five exceptional pieces are produced each year, and at least two of these will be one-of-a-kind, says Ferracani.


Chopard is another watchmaker that builds on its jewelry expertise to advance its designs—from unique pieces to more moderate collections that maintain a creative edge. The house’s new $171,000 Cuff watch, designed by Chopard Vice President Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, consists of multiple rows of what appear to be haphazardly stacked gold matchsticks dotted with 706 diamonds.

What Déclaration is to Cartier’s Tutti Frutti, Chopard’s Golden Diamonds collection is to its Cuff. Priced at around $26,000, Golden Diamonds watches are more accessible, but hardly ordinary. Golden Diamonds was conceived as a jewelry collection by Gruosi-Scheufele, who was working with a large yellow diamond for a custom piece and wished she could work with oversize gems more often. “I love big stones,” says Gruosi-Scheufele. “But of course, there is a certain price tag associated with them. And then I thought, ‘We could make our own.’ Even though gold usually holds a diamond in its claws, why not reverse the roles: give pride of place to the precious metal by transforming it into a diamond?”

It took a year and a half to perfect the technique and tooling required to facet, polish, and finish the gold to resemble a giant gem. Because the gold is finished with a thin layer of chrome or titanium depending on the color of the gold (18-karat gold is not scratch-resistant), it radiates a mysterious glow that is characteristic of gold jewelry.

Applying this concept to watches presented some challenges—not the least of which was fitting a gem made of gold with a watch movement. The dial of a Golden Diamonds watch comprises two pieces of gold, each about 1.5 millimeters thick, with the movement encased in between. Each of three shapes—round, rectangular, and square (or in diamond-cut parlance: round-brilliant, emerald, and princess)—will be produced in quantities of 1,000. By special order, these watches can be made in white, yellow, or rose gold and trimmed with white, black, or brown diamonds.

Neither numbers nor markers clutter the sleek golden surface of the Golden Diamonds watch. This is not uncommon in jewelry watches, where design reigns supreme. Indeed, in many cases, not only is it difficult to read the time, it is nearly impossible to find the dial, which is often hidden or obscurely placed so that it does not intrude on the creative performance of the piece. But this comes as no surprise. For while time is certainly of the essence, in a jewelry watch it is emphatically not the point. 
  
Audemars Piguet, 888.214.6858, www.audemarspiguet.com
Cartier, 800.CARTIER, www.cartier.com
Chopard, 800.CHOPARD, www.chopard.com
Piaget, 877.8.PIAGET, www.piaget.com

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