Hidden behind dazzling diamonds, stunning sapphires or opulent opals, high and fine jewellery secret watches – from Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to Bulgari – are finding artful new ways to masquerade.
The imagination and creativity that goes into concealing the face of a watch knows no bounds. Popular in the 1930s and 1940s, the secret (or hidden) watch is back. It requires a highly skilled and artful collaboration between jeweller and watchmaker. In their hands, a watch is transformed into a beautiful brooch, a delicate bracelet or a dainty ring – concealing time for a mere moment. It’s the mystery of the unknown and the sheer surprise that women find utterly intriguing. The relationship between the wearer and the watch ultimately becomes intimate and (more importantly) special.
Showcased at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, a few secret watches that were presented delved into their own archives for inspiration. Cartier has a long history of designing high jewellery secret watches. “If you do create a secret watch, everything has to be tiny. You have to make it invisible; if it’s too big, you can guess there is something hidden behind your object. It also has to be tiny to conceal how it is opened. And so, it’s even more of a challenge [to design],” says Pierre Rainero, director of style and heritage for the house. Primal, provocative and powerful, the Hour Tiger Décor watch is mesmerisingly majestic and modern. With a rhodium-finish in 18-karat white gold case, the tiger’s face is captivating. Hidden under the bracelet, set with 1,452 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling 15.01 carats, the silvered sunray dial effect can be seen. In similar standing, a timepiece made by the Van Cleef & Arpels house in 1945 inspired the stunning Ruby Secret watch today. Following in line with jewellery watches of that era, a secret dial is hidden in a sliding compartment under a bracelet set with 115 blood red Mozambique rubies (151 carats altogether). Comprising around 1,500 hours of work and excellent craftsmanship, each stone has been masterfully set into a bracelet. It may be over 60 years old, but the snake motif continues to inspire at Bulgari, too. As a limited edition, the double wrap-around bracelet captures the meandering movement of the reptile.
It’s no secret that snakes have always exerted a powerful attraction on the female psyche. From Elizabeth Taylor to the biblical figure of Eve, they have entranced women with their silhouette and playfulness toward the element of danger. With artisans based in Rome, the snake constantly sheds a second skin and is given a new lease of life time and time again by its Italian makers. The colours of these two models have been created using intense lacquers: The first shines in a sombre black with piercing emerald eyes, the second is comprised of a deep emerald green with contrasting, glittering ruby eyes. It comes alive as it coils around the wrist and up your arm. But, why have they made a contemporary comeback now? “Secret watches were born at a time when it wasn’t very elegant for a woman to look at a watch and be able to know the time…. And so, it took time for women to be allowed to be free to look at a watch; in fact, it’s at the end of 1910s and the beginning of the 1920s that more freedom was given to women,” says Rainero. And now, it’s being turned on its head. Women want it all: The freedom, the mystery, the mechanisms and the dazzling beauty. The secret watches of 2016 are capturing all of these elements.
Women want it all: The freedom, the mystery, the mechanisms and the dazzling beauty. The secret watches of 2016 are capturing all of these elements.
Pierre Rainero, Cartier
With flecks of citrus coloured stones, the Montre Les Eternelles de Chanel Signature Grenat watch is a cuff bracelet and watch in one. Having showcased at this year’s Baselworld, the collection is elegantly exquisite – set in 18-karat white gold set with a 39.9-carat cushion-cut garnet, 91 brilliant-cut yellow sapphires for a total weight of 2.5 carats, 79 fancy-cut orange sapphires and 87 brilliant-cut garnets. The white gold case is snow-set with 1,171 brilliant-cut diamonds.
Continuing with a theme of femininity and Piaget’s constant theme of allurement and elegance, the Rose Secret Watch brilliantly continues to capture it all. The rose, in all its delicacy and femininity, is a characteristic bloom of the famous Maison. Encased in 18-karat gold and paved with 668 brilliant-cut diamonds, the watch is beautifully discrete. Hidden underneath the 18-karat white gold folding clasp set with a 40 brilliant-cut diamond flower sits a watch face – all finished with a black satin strap.
Following on the success of the Audemars Piguet Diamond Punk watch of 2015, the Diamond Fury cuff packs a sparkling punch for 2016. Set with just under 5,000 diamonds, according to the manufacturers, it took Audemars Piguet’s watchmakers, jewellers, and gem-setters a total of 1,440 hours to create the timepiece. Two versions of this haute joaillerie piece are being offered: One with diamond and onyx, the other comprised of all diamonds. The daring architecture strays away from the traditional and immediately sets it apart from the crowd with a whole lot of edge and attitude. The pyramid facets of the geometric cuff bracelet are set with 7,848 snow-set diamonds, and the dial – hidden beneath a sliding cover – is set with a further 300 diamonds.
It’s fair to say that the magic and mystery of secret watches still captures our own limitless imaginations today.