The jeweled watch, such a long history
There was a time, admittedly a long time ago, when the professions of watchmaker and jeweler were one and the same. The appearance of the watch indeed dates back to the end of the 15th century, and at that time time timepieces were actually jewelry worn on clothes as signs of wealth and power, adorned with fine stones, painting on enamel from the 16th century ... The very fine work of metals is prioritized over the precision of watches, until the invention of the regulating balance spring (which allows the balance to oscillate evenly) by Huygens, in 1675. The first watches can therefore be described as jewelry watches, until the intervention of a certain John Calvin.
In 1541 indeed, the Protestant reformer who had been living in Geneva for five years, purely and simply prohibited, in the name of morality, signs of wealth and the wearing of decorative objects. The consequence was twofold: jewelers and goldsmiths retreated to the watchmaking business, which was developing widely in Switzerland, but watches adopted a purely functional role, telling the time without any ostentation. This period sees the birth of the Maîtrise des horlogers de Genève, the first watchmaking corporation, and the development of the Swiss watchmaking, which remains today the reference in the sector. At the same time, it signs the mothballing of jewel watches. The silence will last a century.
The first real decorative watches indeed appear in the middle of the 17th century. The dials were painted and enameled, hemmed with fine stones. A leap in time then takes us to the 19th century, and the great fashion of collar watches, pieces in which high jewelry and high watchmaking (finally) meet. As an example and for illustration, let's mention a watch with a mechanical movement with manual winding by the crown, whose case is made of 18-karat yellow gold is encrusted with pearls and the dial enameled with white.
The pioneering jewelry watch houses
The lady's watches will finally renew a close link between watchmaking and jewelry, starting in the 20th century. The pioneering House is logically in Switzerland, and it is Piaget, which creates watches for women and men from the 1930s, but prints the first of its jewelry expertise. Valentin Piaget created gold wristwatches and jumpers adorned with precious stones and gemstones. The jewelry comes to drape the movement imagined in the Côte-aux-Fées manufacture, including the hand-wound 9P caliber, which signs for Piaget the advent of the ultra-thin with its 2 mm thickness.
The Maison Piaget thus made jewelry watches a trademark, with major firsts such as the stones assembled in the dial of the 20th Century Collection, as early as 1963 or, for men, the Polo watch made entirely of gold launched in 1979. Even today, the use of ornamental stones in watchmaking is a Piaget signature. Witness the recent Limelight Gala collection and its gold and diamond watches for women. The Polo watch has been revisited in a chronograph version with a white gold case set with diamonds and a pavé dial, as well as in a high jewelry Piaget Polo Skeleton version.
The importance of the colors and aesthetics of the watch has not escaped the House of Jaeger-Lecoultre, either. In fact, it was to incorporate it into its jewelry watches that the watch manufacturer developed the 101, the world's smallest hand-wound mechanical caliber, in the Roaring Twenties. Imagine 98 components in a case weighing only 1 gram and no bigger than a fingernail! Today, it is the Rendez-vous collection that pays tribute to these exceptional jewelry watches.
Iconic jewelry watches get on the clock
Watchmakers adorning their watches with precious stones and metals, jewelers putting their expertise into timepieces: the Luxury Houses, whether Swiss, French or Italian, have jumped into the breach opened by these pioneers. Thus, Bulgari's iconic Serpenti becomes a timepiece, in a tubogas version with a steel and rose gold bracelet, rose gold bezel set with diamonds and silvered opaline dial, as in a spectacular "secret watch," a rose gold cuff set with coral and diamonds on which the snake, whose emerald-eyed head conceals the time, coils.
Among other jewelry icons, Cartier's panther is also transformed into a collection of jewelry watches with quartz, mechanical or automatic movements. Chopard's Happy Diamonds start dancing on the dial of watches, when the same Maison combines watchmaking and the art of claw-setting in the L'heure du diamant collection. Van Cleef & Arpels, again, is using its emblematic Alhambra motif in a series of precious watches or - conversely - adorning its famous padlock watch with extraordinary dials, bringing the art of enameling up to date.
"When two exceptional worlds come together in this way, it is clear that jewel watches, which currently represent 10% of the market, have a bright future ahead of them.