A magnificent new trend has (re)-emerged in watchmakers’ ranks. Disguising a watch face as an article of jewelry may seem a bit impractical when it comes to the conventional usage of timepieces; however, these brands have found a way to turn horology into opulence. Sit tight and enjoy the best of what Haute Joaillerie watch has to offer.
Hypnotic in its allure yet elegant in conformity to the wearer’s outfits, these jewel-encrusted timepieces can be seen from Cartier to Bulgari and have taken the accessories industry by storm. Secret watches rose in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s when Art Deco was prevalent, and the economic focus was on modern styles combining rich materials and exquisite craftsmanship.
Initially providing women with discreetness in the act of checking the time, these secret watches soon evolved into artistic masterpieces.
If you are at all familiar with Italian luxury brand Bulgari, you know that the serpent is a signature design element for the firm. Whether coiled around the wrist or heading the clasp of a leather clutch, the iconic serpenti design is a company emblem and unequivocally Bulgari.
Representing rebirth, fertility, and protection in times of ancient Roman culture, Bulgari has produced striking pieces over the years, including the Serpenti Secret Watch shown above. Made in Switzerland, precious and semi-precious stones combine to beguile spectators and extend the wearer the secret pleasure of time.
But when was the secret watch first invented? Just as a locket is worn around the neck would conceal a lover’s portrait, or an inventor’s desk would tuck away unknown treasures in secret compartments, horologers developed enchanting ways to shroud their time-telling devices beneath a cover. Firms such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget were at the forefront of this trend in the early 20th century, and several watchmakers and jewelers soon followed suit.
One of the more contemporary pieces, Vacheron Constantin’s Kalla Haute Couture à Pampilles, encapsulates true timelessness with over 28 carats of gems crafted into a floral ornament that hangs off the wrist. Using proprietary techniques, flame-cut diamonds are uniquely arranged to amplify the vibrance of the piece. Released in 2009 as a 30th-anniversary celebration of the original Kallista watch – which garnered over 6,000 hours of workmanship and was carved from a solid gold ingot – this dazzling model is only produced once per year at a hefty price tag of over $700,000.
Fine jewelry has always had its place in fashion and lifestyle. Motifs such as flowers, animals, insects, and ribbons have been ever-present in the luxury industry, and intricate gem placement techniques have allowed Maisons to showcase their creativity and expertise while designing glamorous garments and accessories for their clients.
For example, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Ruban Secret Saphir’s Roses Watch boasts over 250 white diamonds and 888 pink sapphires set in 18-karat gold. A popular Art Deco motif, the encrusted bow slides away to reveal an inconspicuous watch face, similarly decorated with precious stones. Discretion and mystery are paramount in the construction of secret watches, and Van Cleef & Arpels demonstrate their technical genius with this piece.
Although these pieces may fetch exorbitant price tags, the sumptuousness of each hand-crafted piece serves as a reminder that this grandeur will simply never go out of style. These delicacies are heirloom-quality gifts that will persist from generation to generation. Due to the detail and precision that is born into these timepieces, most styles are released in limited quantities – so if you have an opportunity to add one of these to your collection, don’t waste time!
More recently, renowned watchmaker Audemars Piguet chimed in with their rendition of the secret watch. A hybrid of punk-style jewelry and ultra-chic regalia, the diamond era for Audemars came in three parts over three successive years. In 2015, the Swiss manufacturer debuted the Diamond Punk watch – a futuristic, diamond-studded bracelet with an outward-sliding panel unveiling an AP watch face. In a nod to the Alpine countryside of Switzerland, the model features triangular-raised segments flushed with stunning diamonds with segments of black onyx. The next year brought another masterpiece with more pronounced ridges and a dial enclosed within a shield of brilliant-cut diamonds under the namesake Diamond Fury. The final and most powerful piece in the trilogy is the Audemars Piguet Diamond Outrage. Over 2,500 hours of meticulously placing diamonds to imitate the icicles of the brand’s hometown of Vallée de Joux, the Outrage was introduced in 2017 and was released in all diamond or all sapphire.
Thousands of hours were spent creating each piece of Audemars’ Tour de Force Collection, and quantities were extremely limited at release. Although secret watches nowadays are predominantly decorative, the allure of a wearable hidden compartment cannot be denied, and modern pieces are true works of art in terms of technique and gem-setting prowess.
Bracelets are not the only pieces of jewelry that double as exquisite timepieces. As an honorable mention for this article, we present Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé BOUTON Décor Byzantin Ring – a secret watch that pays homage to one of Chanel’s prominent symbols – the button.
Concealed under the lid covered by symbols of opulence, the watch dial sinks into a gold and diamond setting that will fit on your finger. This collection was released in 2021 and was limited to 5 numbered pieces.
We are currently seeing a resurgence of secret watches by some of the industry giants. However, the era of craftsmanship has come and gone, and we are moving towards the age of smart technology and automation. It is intriguing to see how far horological advancement has come, and we are excited to see what the next few decades will bring.
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