Every year, the Salon International Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) showcases complex timepieces with minute repeaters, tourbillons, perpetual calendars and what not, with a smattering of bejewelled watches to keep ladies happy. But this time around, it was happy hour all the way for women, especially those looking for more than just good looks.
In the past, women’s mechanical watches came with few complications for the simple reason that they were too tiny to accommodate anything other than a quartz battery. That problem has clearly been surmounted, for this year’s SIHH saw the world’s top watchmakers presenting women’s collections with technological breakthroughs in compact, high-performance calibres. These were mechanical watches that combined haute horology/precision timekeeping with high jewellery.
So extensive were the offerings for women that when men entered the Vacheron Constantin booth at SIHH, they were most disappointed. Because, in a brave move, the luxury Swiss watchmaker only had women’s novelties on offer; that is, women with access to a platinum credit card.
Here are the details on what the watchmakers thought up for women this year:
Vacheron Constantin’s latest manual-winding Patrimony Traditionnelle Lady has a 33-mm case and a 40-hour power reserve. The calibre 1,400 movement bears the Hallmark of Geneva. The watch façade consists of pink or white gold and incorporates 54 round-cut diamonds within the bezel, elegantly lining the opaline silver-toned dial. While this model relies on the subtle sparkle of the exterior, the high jewellery collection from Patrimony Traditionnelle is truly spectacular. The 40-mm dial is, wait for it, fully paved with 16.2-carat claw-set baguette diamonds. Even the white gold case, dial and clasp are fully encrusted with diamonds. The round-cut diamonds spiral outwards via the centre of the face.
It’s not all about glitter. The mechanical manual-winding watch (with the same calibre) can be seen through the clear sapphire-crystal case back. The finish of this movement is done entirely by hand following a tradition passed down through the generations since 1755 and according to the most exacting rules of the art of watchmaking. All in all, the watch is a fine example of great craftsmanship in horology.
Montblanc has been kinder to men. It has issued a ‘couples’ watch, Seconde Authentique Pour Elle & Lui, featuring its own manufactured automatic movements. But it has also introduced a ladies-only timepiece with a mother-of-pearl dial and a diamond-set bezel and crown. Known as Seconde Authentique Diamonds, the watch is set with 144 diamonds on the bezel. Both the couples’ and ladies timepieces come equipped with the MB M62.00, a manually wound movement with small seconds. Measuring 24 mm in diametre and 3.9 mm in height, this is probably the smallest movement from Montblanc.
Even for brands with a long history in watch-making, crafting women’s mechanical models (which are smaller in size than men’s models) is no mean feat. There is a significant challenge in making smaller watches in that the watchmaker must achieve the perfect balance between size and performance. In the 1920s, very small ladies wristwatches were all the rage, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s first mechanical wristwatch is said to be actually made for women. However, the extreme miniaturisation inevitably led to the loss of reliability and precision.
The horologers at JLC solved this problem by creating the Duoplan watch, whose parts were arranged on split levels. It led to the creation of the world’s smallest movement, the Calibre 101. The case was an extension of the 18-ct pink gold ‘chain’-type bracelet. The glass protecting the copper-coloured Art Deco dial was shaped like a Roman roof-tile. This model was one of the very first watches to be signed Jaeger-LeCoultre as it was made only a year after the fusion of LaCoultre and Jaeger.
Less than a century later, the watch brand continues to attract women’s watch connoisseurs. This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Grande Reverso Lady Ultra Thin Duetto Duo has an impressively sleek 8.87-mm case fitted with two dials. Its calibre 864A is equipped with a balance oscillating at a frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour.
Piaget and Audemars Piguet have taken a different route—instead of creating new models and movements, they have adapted iconic men’s watches for women. Piaget has broken new ground with its commitment to delicacy, strength and the creation of statement pieces by updating its signature ultra-thin Altiplano men’s watch for women. Gem-setting has been done not only on the decorative elements but on the skeleton movement, the entire gold main plate and functional parts that feature approximately six carats of diamonds. The 18-carat white gold case with a 40-mm diameter houses Piaget’s innovative Calibre 1200D, which is only 3-mm thick. With a 6.1-mm thick case, the world’s thinnest automatic diamond-set skeleton watch—a fine mix of jewellery and movement—can’t be anything but a hit with the ladies.
Meanwhile, the horologers at Audemars Piguet are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Royal Oak sports watch with the creation of two mechanical models with a 37-mm diameter case, for women. The limited-edition Royal Oak Offshore Ladycat Chronograph houses a mechanical self-winding movement with a 40-hour power reserve and is equipped with an 18-ct gold oscillating weight. Its feminine white gold case is paired with a blue alligator leather strap and 2.46 ct diamonds on its dial, bezel and clasp. All of this may sound like mere embellishments but, truth be told, it’s not. Taking an iconic watch design like the Royal Oak and recreating it with a smaller dial while keeping balance is a challenge. But it works.
The brands best known for jewellery, like Cartier and Van Cleef and Arpels, have created pieces that drip diamonds as usual. But the pieces also come with mechanical movements. They display an unrivalled aesthetic ability by blending high jewellery with fine watch-making to create powerful feminine collections that reiterate the fact that women’s timepieces are an important aspect of the horological industry.
Van Cleef has debuted the latest of its ballerina line, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée—a half-dancer, half-butterfly creature that floats up at the push of a button to become the hands of the clock. The 18-ct white gold watch case is 40.5 mm wide and comes attached to a white strap, making for a bold yet feminine look. The face of the watch is engraved gold and champlevé enamel baked with a lavender tone. Tones of purple and blue decorate the lower wings of the butterfly. Mixed with the femininity are themes that cater to Asian customers: snakes, dragons and cartoons. Fitted with the brand’s Poetic Complication, the double retrograde movement (inside this watch is a manually wound mechanical movement inspired by a pocket watch), with time on demand, lends to this watch a poetic vision of time. When the user presses a button at the 8 o’clock position, the ballerina’s tutu comes to life. The veil indicating the hours rises first, followed by the second veil which positions itself against the minute scale. They remain in place, enabling the time to be read, then return simultaneously to their positions. One of the feats of this complication lies in its fluid movement: the ballerina appears to move her wings gracefully.
Cartier has reintroduced a model from 1967—redone for ladies. Legend has it that the Crash watch came about after the company’s vice-president in London was caught in a serious car accident in late ’60s. The Crash melted his oval Cartier Bagnoir Alongee which, in turn, inspired Cartier to create a watch that resembled the melting timepiece.