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20 ans d'horlogerie - High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

20 ans d'horlogerie High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

It is no secret that high-jewelled timepieces are among the most luxurious and indulgent form of watchmaking art

Colour takes Centre Stage

As the second decade of the millennium rolled around, we witnessed the emergence of a new realm of important developments. Among the most vibrant: the enhanced and overwhelming use of coloured gemstones.

Black diamonds – previously shunned in the jewellery and watch world – were receiving acclaimed attention thanks to the jewellery designs of Fawaz Gruosi, founder of de Grisogono. Previously, black diamonds were considered too impure for use in jewellery, but Gruosi elevated their status by incorporating them into dramatic designs in platinum and gold settings. He then worked his magic on watches, unveiling a black diamond Lipstick model and other black diamond timepieces. Slowly the black sheep of the diamond family became a status symbol, and brands such as Chopard, Louis Vuitton and Hublot all launched incredible all-black beauties.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Skull with black diamonds © De Grisogono

With black squarely on the map, other vanguard watch brands delved into the creation of solid-colour watches. Until this time, most of the gemstone watches on the market had been paired with diamonds. Few brands were brazen enough to go out on the proverbial limb and create a solid-coloured gemstone watch. But by 2010, 2011 and 2012, we were witnessing the release of full-set monotone gemstone watches: ruby, emerald and sapphire watches made dramatic statements. Each seemed more sublime and breathtaking than the previous piece. Time was firmly draped in Earth’s most scintillating and rarest gems, and the result was mesmerising.

This highly saturated colour trend encouraged brands to begin mixing multiple treasured gemstones together on a single watch in new and unusual ways. The new concept was to bring a painter’s palette of hues to the forefront. Suddenly, rainbows of gemstones flooded the senses. A single bejewelled timepiece could flaunt an entire spectrum of Nature’s colours. Some watches seemed randomly set with colours, while others emulated a specific motif such as checkerboard or harlequin patterns. Slowly this further evolved into the beloved animal prints, with dials and bezels emulating leopards composed of yellow and orange sapphires and citrines, or zebras with onyx or black diamonds and white diamonds.

Nature Stories

As brands began experimenting with new ways of showcasing gemstones, they found it wasn’t enough to simply pave the dials with them. Today’s customers were looking for more. They wanted stories and sentiments on top of colour and drama. Daring brands sought to break the rules. Their quest was to rise to the challenge of creating stories on the dials, and inspiration was often drawn from nature. The finest brands, including Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff and others looked to the wild for inspiration and carved animal motifs on dials using mother-of-pearl, carnelian, lapis lazuli, onyx and other gems. Dials became highly sculptured works of art with polar bears, seals, lions, insects, butterflies and more – all engraved or sculpted from Earth’s various beloved stones.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Lady Arpels Extraordinary Humming Birds © Van Cleef & Arpels

These creations often called for new master craftsmen, including lapidarian experts who know how to work the stone to get the most of its intense inner vibrancy. These watches seemed to pull at heart strings as well as purse strings, and brands expanded.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Lady Arpels Extraordinary Humming Birds © Van Cleef & Arpels

Desiring even more seductive motifs, brands such as Chopard and Boucheron began sculpting cases in the likeness of alluring owls and other animals. Some created entrancing bird sculptures that intertwined around or somehow held the case and dial in their clutches. Even Bulgari re-introduced its beloved Serpenti with updated, more modern, flair thanks to multi-row highly feminine bracelets and straps.

Wild and Uncanny Designs

Midway into the second decade of the 21st century, independent watch brands and those with extensive haute joaillerie experience continued to spread their creative wings. Where else could they possibly place diamonds and gemstones? Concurrent with the ongoing important watch trend of skeletonising movements, these brands began adorning movement components with new sparkle. Diamonds and coloured gems were meticulously set into watch bridges and rotors, yielding powerfully eye-catching allure. While all gemstone setting is demanding, this particular adornment is no easy feat, as brands must be careful not to weigh down the rotor and moving parts so that they lose precision. Additionally, the setting on the rigid parts, such as bridges, must be exacting so as not to interfere with the moving of the hands. Companies such as Corum, Cartier, Roger Dubuis and others became masters at this expressive art.

Just as the world began to wonder where these incredible diamond and gemstone timepieces could go next, certain brands answered the unasked questions. No longer were companies content to create mega-carat diamond watches with smooth edges and flat-set stones. Adventurous brands yearned to showcase their skills and create the truly audacious watch. Audemars Piguet was a leader here with a trio of watches (Diamond Fury, Outrage and Punk) that featured startling three-dimensional diamond settings with diamond and gemstone pyramids and other structures standing straight up and sideways off of the bracelet and case.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Diamond Punk, Outrage and Fury © Audemars Piguet

Suddenly, there was a new challenge. Who could be more intrepid in their designs? Who could reach beyond the limits and create the next exciting conversation piece? It was a race not only to prove one’s creative, technical and masterful abilities but also – in the long run – to advance the art of high-jewelled watchmaking.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Diamond Punk, Outrage and Fury © Audemars Piguet

Thankfully, as the first 20 years of the millennium were coming to a close, another great watchmaking trend of the 21st century – sapphire cases – opened up a whole new realm for high-jewelled timepieces. These bold three-dimensional sapphire cases – now made possible by advances in machining and micro- and nano-technology – yield an extraordinary view inside the watch. This open stage became an invitation to the most creative brands to fill it with an orchestra of Earth’s treasures. Brands such as Jacob & Co., Bovet and others used the space to create moving gemstone sculptures such as globes and planets that revolved inside miniature astrolabes for the wrist.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Astronomia Flawless © Jacob & Co.

Always searching for the next dimension, master artisans continue to experiment with Earth’s gifts. Certain brands are even showcasing stones that, while used in jewellery, have rarely been introduced in watches. These include the incredibly rare pink, yellow and blue diamonds, as well as the astounding aqua-hued Paraiba and rich green tsavorite, among others. In 2019 alone, brands such as Hublot and Jacob & Co. turned to unusual gemstones to make new statements and capture new hearts. Similarly, Graff, Tiffany & Co., Chopard and others released heirloom-quality coloured-diamond triumphs that could easily hang on the walls of the most famed museums.

High-Jewelled Triumphs: Part 2

Big Bang Tourmaline Paraíba © Hublot

Each and every new high-jewelled work of art for the wrist is a stroke of genius that commands praise for its creative license. Each holds the passion and soul of its master craftsmen in its myriad of metal cuts and scrupulously set stones, and each is a statement not only of extravagance and glamour, but also of imagination, determination and pure passion.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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