We look at our phones, on average, 96 times a day, most often to check the time. So, where does that leave the humble watch? No longer just a functional device, watches are a statement of your personality and style, and nowhere is this shift more evident than in women’s timepieces. While chunky, masculine styles dominated in the noughties (and unisex designs are still popular), nowadays women are adding to their collections with dainty, feminine timepieces that have more in common with the earliest wristwatch designs.
In the 19th century, men used pocket watches; wristwatches were created specifically for women, and many of them were elaborately decorated in order to disguise their utilitarian purpose. Women were not ‘supposed’ to check the time in public during this period, so watchmakers concealed dials within exquisite bejeweled bracelets. But as the trend for ultra-feminine timepieces returns, this time it’s on our terms.
“Recently, there has been renewed interest in the creative, petite watches of the ’50s and ’60s,” says watch expert and editor of Telegraph Time, Tracey Llewellyn. “Back then, big watchmakers collaborated with jewelry designers, and houses like Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin and Cartier created unique pieces.”
“These brands have revisited their archives for inspiration and have brought in more jewelry artisans to their watchmaking facilities,” she continues. “Skills that had been almost abandoned were reintroduced in new and innovative ways and, as stunning new creations emerged, demand for them has fueled the creation of more exceptional pieces.”
Cartier has been making ladies’ wristwatches since the late 1800s. Its timepieces are seen on the most stylish wrists, making it the go-to choice even for women who don’t ‘do’ watches. With its supple 18-karat-gold bracelet that wraps the wrist once, twice or three times, the Panthère de Cartier is more jewel than timepiece, designed to be worn stacked alongside a wrist full of gold. The Panthère Manchette, meanwhile, is a statement on its own: a diminutive dial, perhaps hemmed by diamonds, nestles within a sumptuous cuff of white, rose or yellow gold, in one version evoking its namesake with intermittent links of black lacquer.
Piaget also has a long history of creating beautiful bejeweled timepieces. In the ’60s, it created a range of watches with precious stone dials including onyx, lapis lazuli, turquoise and tiger’s eye. Its gold bracelets were hand-etched in its gold-smithing workshops to evoke the texture of bark – a technique known as ‘palace decoration’. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore one of the brand’s distinctive watches, with an oval jade dial, and its latest women’s pieces pay homage to this golden era.
The house’s Limelight Gala comes in a dainty 32mm or even tinier 26mm, a dial of iridescent mother-of-pearl or glittering midnight-blue aventurine embraced by graduating diamonds: an object of beauty for your wrist. The Possession collection comprises sweetie-like colors – baby pink, cherry red, electric blue and white – to complement whichever gemstones are in your jewelry box.
Similarly, Buccellati’s Macri cuff watch frames a malachite dial with a bezel of ornately decorated gold – every millimeter is painstakingly engraved by hand. It’s a true celebration of craft to rival the most complicated mechanical timepiece. Hermès, meanwhile, has launched ‘très petite’ versions of signature models such as the Heure H and Nantucket, whose dials measure just 17mm, to cater for clients’ desire to miniaturize.
Traditionally, jewelry watches were reserved for evening events, hence the term ‘cocktail watch’. While any one of these time-telling jewels makes a chic accompaniment to an evening gown, in today’s era of high-low dressing, they also carry kudos when worn casually. A dusting of diamonds on the wrist, paired with jeans and a linen shirt, exudes effortless glamour.