A woman is not just a smaller version of a man, and likewise, a woman’s watch should not simply be a smaller version of a man’s watch. Over the past decade, the ladies’ wristwatch has evolved to assume its rightful place as the ultimate accessory. Transcending the simple task of telling time, it has reached its true potential as the perfect venue for the intriguing combination of high technology and high adornment. From diamond rotors to feathered dials, the ladies’ timepiece is the preferred ornament of the moment, and anything goes.
Four elements in ladies’ watches stand out this season. The first is complications. The boom in men’s mechanical watches has resulted in numerous advances in technology over the past few years, and at the same time, there has been a revival of the artisanal, hand-crafted approach to building a watch movement, which means greater customization. Many watch manufacturers now make their own components, from hairsprings to balance wheels, and one of the happy results of this is that more movements are being tailored to fit inside slightly smaller cases for ladies’ watches. Finally, female aficionados have access to the same elite complications that have long conferred status on men’s timepieces.
There has also been a renaissance in the habillage, or “dressing,” of dials and cases, in the process reinvigorating the metiers d’art of watchmaking — gemsetting, engraving, enameling and marquetry. Some of the finest examples of this craftsmanship are showing up in ladies’ watches, the natural venue for watchmaking’s decorative arts. This year, the elite brands have combined high watchmaking with the high craftsmanship of adornment, reversing movements in order to place the rotor on the dial and setting it with diamonds or other gems. Cartier’s diamond-set panther shaped rotor is a spectacular example of this conceit. Dior has also created some spectactularly set rotors, designed to look like the couture label’s signature ball gowns, and takes the concept to the next level in one case by setting tiny feathers on the rotor. Harry Winston also uses feathers this season, placing them on the dial and surrounding them with diamonds.
Jewelry watches are nothing new, but setting techniques have improved and designs have become spectacularly creative. Most of the brands that specialize in diamond watches, such as Chopard, Cartier and Breguet, have full gemsetting and cutting workshops on their premises, giving them the ability to custom cut diamonds in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit unique, complicated designs. Master jewelers are employed to set the diamonds microscopically.
Finally, now that the fashion industry is having a kaleidescope moment, color is playing a huge role in accessories, and has given rise to a renewed appreciation for the potential of a wristwatch to convey color: with vibrant straps, enameled dials and colored gemstones.
In terms of timing, it is now possible for women to have it all— even if it’s simply a scaled-down version of a favorite men’s classic.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous tourbillon with mother-of-pearl marquetry dial and 2.45 carats of diamonds on the bezel and lugs.
Chopard’s L’Heure du Diamant is the result of hundreds of hours of hand setting and cutting, set with just under 25 carats of diamonds cut in a mix of shapes, from navette to round brilliants.
The Rolex Datejust Lady in 18k white gold with a raised floral motif on the dial and a mechanical selfwinding movement.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ladies watch in 18k rose gold case and bracelet, with 40 brilliant-cut diamonds totaling just under 1 carat.
The Harry Winston Premier Ladies with a feather mosaic on the dial (choice of peacock or pheasant). It is set with 66 diamonds totaling 1.45 carats.
The ceramic Dior VIII Grand Bal Plumes, with diamonds and a feather-set rotor.
The diamond-set Breguet Marie Antoinette Dentelle is set with a 1.30 carat ruby matching the satin strap.
The Velvet High Jewelry watch from Roger Dubuis, with 1,300 diamonds totaling 9 carats. The numerals converge toward the center in a case that is both round and tonneau shaped. It contains an automatic movement.
The Hublot Big Bang Black Caviar, with black ceramic case and dial, set with baguette-cut red spinels on the bezel.
The Cartier Panthere Promenade, with a rotor designed as a stylized panther, set with diamonds and black enamel.