The Fashion Memo

The watch icons you need to know now

‘Ballon Bleu’ watch, Cartier; earrings, Pippa Small; top, Jacquemus

Let us introduce 2021’s most coveted timepieces, as CHARLIE BOYD decodes their prestigious pedigree and explains their irresistible allure


Cartier ‘Ballon Bleu’

Icons are not always ancient. First designed in 2007, Cartier’s ‘Ballon Bleu’ was met with rapturous applause by both the watch world and the fashion set alike – it was impossible not to be enchanted by its seductive volume, thanks to its domed dial and case back. Nestled in the palm of your hand, it sits like an objet d’art – you have to feel it to believe it. At 40mm, the newest addition to the ‘Ballon Bleu’ family is a serious and sizable timepiece that flaunts its voluminous curves. Crafted in 18-karat rose gold, this new iteration is adorned with scintillating diamonds and the watch’s signature cabochon sapphire crown. That flash of opulent blue has become the timepiece’s iconic calling card – instantly recognizable and often spotted on the wrist of the Duchess of Cambridge. If you, too, have a sapphire engagement ring, this is the timepiece that will marry perfectly with your wedding jewelry, or perhaps serve as a self-gifted symbol of success.

‘Arceau Soleil’ watch, Hermès Timepieces; earrings, Suzanne Kalan; dress, Gabriela Hearst

Hermès Timepieces ‘Arceau Soleil’

The round ‘Arceau’ watch, with its stirrup-inspired lugs, was first conceived in 1978 by Hermès designer Henri d’Origny, who is now into his seventh decade of creative service at the iconic luxury maison. The new ‘Arceau Soleil’ model, which deftly plays with light, shadow and depth, showcases a graphic sunbeam motif on its dial. This sunshine design was originally created by Swiss artist Fred Rawyler and printed on an elegant silk scarf, but it is now recreated in a haze of lustrous, translucent lacquer. At 36mm, the case sizing hits the sweet spot of ‘just right’ for most wrists, and the petrol blue alligator strap is crying out for a splash of Hermès’ iconic orange alongside it – we suggest tying a chic silk neckerchief around your wrist and away you go.

Jaeger-LeCoultre ‘Reverso’

Originally conceived for the polo field, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s ‘Reverso’ could have been an unlikely icon for women’s watch design, but it is perhaps the most iconic of all. The flippable case, first designed for sportsmen to pop out and whizz over in order to protect their watch dial during play, soon revealed its incredible versatility and scope for imaginative design. Before long, it was reinterpreted with dustings of diamonds, secret inscriptions and, with two dials within the one timepiece, dual-time potential. The ‘Reverso’ has been interpreted in innumerable models since it was first conceived in 1931, and this latest creation is a testament to its enduring appeal, 90 years later. Featuring both a white and a black face, and presented on a coffee-hued leather strap, this latest model is a timeless incarnation that will lend itself to easy-going casual wear just as easily as smarter styling.

‘Reverso’ watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre; earrings, Octavia Elizabeth; dress, Proenza Schouler

IWC Schaffhausen ‘Portofino’

An icon of understated glamour in the watch world, the ‘Portofino’ is the jewel in the crown of Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen. First launched in 1984, the design referenced the classic round-dialed watches of the 1950s and ’60s, and was named after the sleepy, sunny town of Portofino, where the rich and famous would (and still do) spend their summers. The epitome of casual elegance, this year the ‘Portofino’ has been reimagined in a decadent shade of olive green with gleaming gold hour markers. A remarkably neutral canvas, this indulgent hue makes it the perfect companion for vivid colored gemstones, blinding white diamonds and all metal tones – this is a sophisticated chameleon for every watch wardrobe.

‘Portofino’ watch, IWC Schaffhausen; dress, Christopher Esber
From left: Cartier, Hermès Timepieces, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin

Piaget ‘Limelight Gala’

The ‘Limelight Gala’ watch was anointed with its glamorous name after the famed parties that Piaget would host in the 1970s, where Salvador Dalí, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant and Sammy Davis Jr. were regulars on the guest list. Wearing a watch to black-tie events is no easy feat – in fact it’s a bone of contention for many stylists – but Jessica Chastain schooled the world on the Golden Globes red carpet in 2018 by selecting a ‘Limelight Gala’ timepiece, as had many glamorous partygoers before her. The sensual S-shaped design was cemented as the perfect partner for contemporary eveningwear, but its ethereal dial and rose-gold case speaks of a much longer legacy – Piaget is one of the few houses whose jewelry craftsmanship equals that of its watchmaking expertise. The newest model showcases a mother-of-pearl dial that has been hand-engraved with the maison’s legendary Palace Décor technique, creating shimmering and dappled relief that makes each dial entirely unique.

‘Limelight Gala’ watch, Piaget; earrings, Octavia Elizabeth; dress, JW Anderson

Vacheron Constantin ‘Historiques American 1921’

Celebrating its 100th year, the ‘Historiques American 1921’ is a striking timepiece with quirky charisma and trailblazing charm. Harnessing the unbridled creativity of the Roaring Twenties, the ‘Historiques American 1921’ was a groundbreaking moment for wrist watches – Vacheron Constantin took a classic watch face and twisted it by 45 degrees to enable diagonal reading of time. While dance halls were filled with Charleston dance music and surrealists dominated the art scene, pocket watches were being abandoned in favor of imaginative wristwatches with miniaturized movements, including the ‘Historiques American 1921’. Although first adored by driving enthusiasts, who could more easily read the time while at the wheel, another notable patron was American writer and clergymen Samuel Parkes-Cadman, famed for his fight for racial equality and anti-Semitic campaigning, who would discreetly discern the time at a glance during his motivational sermons. While most of us will be employing it for more humble enterprises, the rich history of the timepiece lives on in this newest white-gold model, emboldened by a luxurious burgundy leather strap.

‘Historiques American 1921’ watch, Vacheron Constantin; earrings, Anita Ko; top, The Row; skirt, Paco Rabanne