When a high jewellery watch hits the mark, it can stop you in your tracks. Something about the combination of two disciplines – time telling and jewellery craftsmanship – somehow manages to make the impossible feel possible. Over the last 12 months, we’ve witnessed some striking new jewellery watch launches, including pieces by Bulgari, Dior, Van Cleef & Arpels and Audemars Piguet. Here is my pick of the best:
Florals were an important theme across high jewellery watch creations this last year. Using the watch as their canvas, brands brought to life vibrant exotic blossoms through coloured gemstones. Perhaps one of the most precious high-jewellery watches created in 2022 was the Giardino Dell’Eden Tourbillon by Bulgari. With over 6,500 gemstones totalling 223 carats, this astonishing piece evokes the beauty of a Mediterranean garden filled with flowers in full bloom. Various gemstones were used to recreate this lifelike scene, including cabochon Paraiba tourmalines, emeralds, garnets, pink tourmalines, opals, rubies, multicolour sapphires and diamonds. It comes as no surprise that this watch required more than four thousand hours of work to complete.
Another brand to take inspiration from the world of florals is Hublot. No stranger to collaborations, the brand joined forces with famed Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami to recreate one of his famous floral smiley faces on the dial of its Classic Fusion model. The Takashi Murakami Sapphire Rainbow Classic Fusion watch features 487 gems, including rubies, pink sapphires, amethysts, blue sapphires, tsavorites, and yellow and orange sapphires, set across 12 colourful petals that rotate around the classic Murakami smiley face design. Dior’s latest high jewellery watch, the Dior Grand Soir Herbier N°2, plays on the house’s emblem of the rose. A favoured source of inspiration for founder Christian Dior, this model showcases a dial created from pressed sheets of white mother-of-pearl, outlined with white gold lines and dew-drop diamonds to bring to life the image of a rosebud frozen in winter’s chill.
Secret watches were one of the first timepieces women could wear. They enabled a woman to show off her wealth and social status whilst discretely being able to keep track of time. This year, two secret watches caught my eye. The first is the Cartier Tutti Frutti secret watch, whose carved emerald surface unclasps upwards to reveal a hidden dial. As one of the Maison’s most iconic design codes, the Tutti Frutti theme first rose to prominence in the early 1900s when Monsieur Jacques Cartier first began designing jewellery in the Indian style. Tutti Fruitti typically uses a trio of gem colours - green, blue and red - through emeralds, sapphires, rubies, spinels and diamonds to create opulent sculptural beaded jewellery pieces.
I was also impressed with the new Perlée secret watch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Using its signature design of golden beads combined to create one solid structure, this watch elevates this well-known motif by injecting a welcome dose of intense colour into the design. Both ends are set with colourful ornamental stone slabs like a torque bangle, and one slides to reveal a dial.
The pavé gemstone setting is possibly the most common and expected way to set precious gemstones into a watch. However, four brands used an intriguing selection of gemstone colours, cuts and patterns to put a spin on this “common” setting in 2022. For example, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its iconic Royal Oak model, Swiss Haute Horlogerie brand Audemars Piguet reinvented its traditional rainbow gem-set model with 12 ‘pure’ colourways using one gemstone per watch. My favourite, limited edition piece features 790 baguette-cut yellow chrysoberyls set across the entire face of the timepiece, totalling 29.3 carats. To match the architecture of the Royal Oak case, bracelet and dial, these gemstones have been individually cut into 153 different baguette sizes.
Geneva-based watch brand MB&F’s latest creations, two limited edition Legacy Machine FlyingT models, include diamond pavé to evoke the sparkling brilliance of snow. In collaboration with Parisian-based jeweller Emmanuel Tarpin, the brand uses the pave setting to recreate the swirling of falling snow and icy stalagmites. Limited to just eight pieces each, this diamond detailing adds a poetic design element to this complex timepiece.
Vacheron Constantin’s full diamond-set Égérie Moon Phase Jewellery watch uses a classic white diamond pavé to evoke the brilliance of the stars in the night sky. What gives this watch a modern feel is that each of the 1,377 diamonds is set into rose gold, adding some romance and warmth to the traditional pavé setting.
Finally, let’s not forget the Ondes et Merveilles de Chaumet Escales watch that boasts myriad multi-coloured gemstones, ranging from red garnets to Paraiba tourmalines. Recreating the image of the Florida Gulf stream against a sandy beach, the most intriguing aspect of this piece is its dial with red garnets and burnt orange pavé gemstones.
Hard Stone Details
Hard stone dials are one of my favourite design elements in high jewellery watches because I know the mastery needed to create them. One of the greatest experts at this,
Piaget soared to new heights with its Piaget Solstice Extravagant Touch watch this year. Using the Savoir Faire of the Maison, its in-house craftsmen managed to set a slice of rare black opal on top of a flying tourbillon movement to create a dramatic dial backdrop.
Chanel looked to its first-ever timepiece, the Première watch, for inspiration when creating the Hors-Serie Première Chain Charms watch. Inspired by the gold chain of the original timepiece, the small black lacquer dial is set flush against a black velvet ribbon interlaced with a similar gold chain. However, what makes this watch special is the added carved onyx charms that hang from the chain. Each of these spherical pendants is stamped with a symbolic motif of the Chanel Maison: the number 5, a lion, the camellia flower, the face of Gabrielle Chanel, a comet and the byzantine motif. These hard stone charms bring an air of whimsy and opulence to a classic little black watch.
These are my top 10 picks, but of course, there were countless others I admired and would have happily added to my treasure chest. With this level of innovation and intricate craftsmanship, I cannot wait to see what watchmakers will do in 2023.