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.
See also: An Insider's Guide Live From SIHH 2017
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.
Browse the slideshow below for the latest, most outstanding high jewellery watches:
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.
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.
Van Cleef & Arpels
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.
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 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.