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Ladies’ watches are the Belles of the Ball at SIHH 2019

Ladies’ watches are the Belles of the Ball at SIHH 2019

Thursday, 14 February 2019
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Carol Besler

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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7 min read

It was a great year all round at SIHH, and a banner year for ladies’ watches. New complications, purpose-built movements, new materials and virtuoso gem-setting rendered ladies’ watches from the show’s Maisons as technically impressive as men’s watches this year, and as aesthetically impressive as ever.

The all-round greatness of this year’s collections actually begins with the basics – and that means quartz, which is making a comeback among luxury brands that want to remain accessible to all and attract a younger audience. Cartier has been succeeding with this strategy, first with the relaunched Panthère and last year’s revamped Santos collections. This year it doubles down with a new sub-brand of Santos, the Santos-Dumont, with quartz, time-only models that are pared down compared to the existing Santos collection. The Roman numerals are thinner and more stretched out, and the chapter ring is in a different place, along the outside of the dial rather than inside the Roman numerals. Also, it is less expensive, and as quartz movements go, it has a top-of-the-line, high efficiency movement with a six-year battery life. Cartier’s strength is its design, and with this new collection, you’re getting that unmistakable Cartier look and quality finish at an accessible price.

Santos Dumont © Cartier
Santos Dumont © Cartier

Another winner in the quartz realm is the Galop d’Hermès, a new full collection from the métiers-savvy brand. In keeping with the Hermès signature equestrian design theme, the case is shaped like a stirrup. Hermès is also known for inventing new and interesting fonts; on this dial the size of the numerals varies with the undulations of the case, curving at the 10, 11, 1 and 2 o’clock positions. The numeral 8 represents an inverted stirrup. There are options in gold or steel, with or without diamonds, which are intended to have wide appeal with a broad price range (US$3,650 to over $15,000). At the other end of the spectrum for Hermès is the Arceau Oursin, which retains the Hermès stirrup lug design, but the case, dial, lugs and crown are set with 518 diamonds weighing 1.48 carats. In between is the Cape Cod Chaine d’Ancre, with the equestrian anchor chain motif set with gems on the dial. Both are also quartz.

Unique movements

The rest of the ladies’ watches introduced at SIHH this year were mechanical movements (excluding high jewelry watches), some of them new. Montblanc introduced a new perpetual calendar movement, the MB 29.22, in both a men’s and a ladies’ watch – for men in the Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100, and for women in the Boheme Manufacture Perpetual Calendar. This is a brand-new in-house movement with hours, minutes, day, date, month, moon phase and leap year indications, and an additional dual-time function and 24-hour indicator. The movement is made only of wheeled gears, instead of levers. This type of construction enables the user to adjust the watch via the crown in both directions, making it far simpler to set. The perpetual calendar is the most practical of all complications, and it makes a lot of sense for it to be put into a woman’s watch.

There were also some unique movements on show. F.P.Journe’s unisex élégante collection uses the watchmaker’s proprietary electromechanical movement that switches to standby mode when motionless, but reverts to the correct time when activated, thus sustaining an eight-year power reserve. This year Journe presented a new titanium-cased piece with an oxidation treatment called titalyt that improves the material’s hardness and corrosion-resistance. It looks great set with diamonds, but comes in two case sizes – 40mm and 48mm – so it is obviously meant for men as well.

Elégante by F.P.Journe Titalyt

Roger Dubuis feminized its signature openworked flying tourbillon caliber RD510SQ for the Excalibur Shooting Star, softening its harsh angles by setting diamonds into the movement and enamelling the star-shaped bridges and back plate. By scaling the movement down a notch, Roger Dubuis has transformed the Excalibur into a handsome ladies’ watch. Pink and blue versions will be made in 28-piece limited editions each.

It is impossible to avoid the traditional feminine motifs on timepieces, but sometimes they work, especially when they are harnessed to the movement.
Gem-set watches with taste

It is impossible to avoid the traditional feminine motifs on timepieces, but sometimes they work, especially when they are harnessed to the movement. Girard-Perregaux, for example, uses a flower on the dial of the Cat’s Eye Plum Blossom to indicate seconds as it rotates on its axis. Obviously, this watch is not a chronometer, where clocking the time down to the exact second is the goal; it serves a more decorative function. The dials are mother-of-pearl, aventurine or fully set with diamonds. The plum blossoms are either pink or gold-coloured. There is a pink gold version with an aventurine dial and a steel version with mother-of-pearl dial.

Cat's Eye Plum Blossom © Girard-Perregaux
Cat's Eye Plum Blossom © Girard-Perregaux

The best gem-set watches are not necessarily fully paved. The diamonds on the bezel of the dazzling Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Night & Day Jewellery watch are set in two rows, with larger diamonds on the outside and slightly smaller ones lined up precisely beside them on the inside row. Another row appears on the inner dial, above the ultra-thin automatic calibre 898B/1. The great detail here is that the diamonds are all prong-set, allowing the maximum amount of light to enter the pavilion and shine like a spotlight out through the table. Few watchmakers do it this way. Chopard has done it in its Happy Sport L’Heure du Diamant watch collections, and Patek Philippe uses a technique of carving out the gold on the side of the bezel to expose more of the diamond pavilion.

Rendez-Vous Night & Day Jewellery © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Rendez-Vous Night & Day Jewellery © Jaeger-LeCoultre

The Piaget Polo also got some special diamond treatments this year. Originally launched in 1979, it was refreshed in 2016 with a larger steel case and oblong bezel, retaining the signature dauphine hands, horizontal godroons and integrated bracelet. In 2018, Piaget introduced gold back into the new collection, and this year steps things up another notch by adding diamonds – 1.53 carats on the bezel-set version and 3.39 carats on the fully set model. Both contain the same in-house automatic caliber 1110P that was introduced with the redesign in 2016.

Delightfully extroverted creations

The Audemars Piguet Sapphire Orbe makes all the other jewellery watches look like dime-store trinkets. It resembles a miniature Frank Gehry building topped with a disco ball and set with 12,000 gemstones. The goal is more about adornment than timekeeping, but if you need to know the time, spin the mini disco ball to reveal a dial paved with orange sapphires. Inspired by a river in Le Brassus, where Audemars Piguet is located, the cuff is set with 27.93 carats of diamonds and 38.17 carats of sapphires in six shades of blue and orange, cut in 20 different diameters from 0.5 to 1.5mm. The gem-setting took 1,050 hours. It contains a quartz movement and is the only one of its kind, priced at CHF 895,000.

Sapphire Orbe © Audemars Piguet
Sapphire Orbe © Audemars Piguet

And then there is the always delightfully extroverted creations of Richard Mille. His 10-piece candy-themed Bonbon collection is based on candy, pastry and fruit motifs, presented in two collections called Sweets (Cupcake, Marshmallow, Sucette and Réglisse) and Fruit (Lemon, Strawberry, Blueberry, Litchi, Kiwi and Cherry). The openworked movements (CRMA1, CRMA2, RM16-01) and unique materials (coloured Carbon TPT and Quartz TPT) are not new for Richard Mille, but are certainly executed here in a way that has never been done before. The brand is also no stranger to colour: it uses 60 different shades in this collection, which is not made for introverts.

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