When we say complications regarding Haute Horlogerie, many immediately think of tourbillons and minute repeaters. Although rightfully so, other accomplishments, like ultra-thin movements, may proof to be just as difficult to make. The same goes for diamond set watches. While not everybody’s taste, the technical complexity of creating them is nothing short of fascinating.
This complexity lies first of all in the fact that you need to bring together a wide variety of different expertise to make them possible. Not only gemologists, cutters, polishers and setters, but also watchmakers and engineers. The more complex the setting of the gemstones is, the more you need to rely on them. While a diamond set bezel is not too challenging, things go to a different dimension when the watch features a pave setting.
To accomplish this, you need to place a lot of diamonds very closely together. To make room to set these diamonds, you need to drill in the case of the watch. This is a delicate procedure as the structural integrity of the case needs to be preserved. To accomplish this the setter and the engineer map out each diamond in a CAD-program, and determine precisely where and how much material needs to be taken away to accommodate the setting without compromising any of the other aspects of the watch. This is also the main reason always to purchase a diamond set watch from the original manufacturer and not buy one set after-market. Without knowing exactly how much material to take away, punctured cases are all too common, allowing moisture and dirt to enter the case and potentially damage the movement.
Recent trends have also greatly increased the complexity of diamond set watches. Up until the 1990’s brilliant cut diamonds where often the cut of choice for a pave setting. Today the baguette cut is more favored. This has various reasons, as it has a slightly more understated look to it, which is ironically countered by the fact that the carat weight is much higher because they are not cut into a point as brilliant cut diamonds are. When set on the watch they can be placed flush against each other, creating a seemingly uninterrupted diamond setting. This is very difficult to set, and since the cases of most watches are not that straightforward often the cut shape of certain diamonds has to be modified to fit one specific place on the watch.
If that doesn’t make things challenging enough, a few watch brands have also started to set their movements with diamonds. Most notable in this matter is Piaget, who takes one of their ultra-thin calibers, skeletonizes it, and then set all the remaining bridges with diamonds. This is like walking a wire between two skyscrapers and requires an exceptional skill of all involved to create.
While this most likely not change the opinion of those who are not in favor of diamond set watches, it might create a better understanding of what it takes to make them.