The Best Bejewelled Timepieces for Ladies


Back in 2005 when Vacheron Constantin celebrated its 250th anniversary, the Swiss watchmaker released five new models — a superb ‘secret’ pink gold clock shaped like a globe that was hand-engraved with a sky chart, and four wristwatches, including its award winning Tour de l’Ile, which featured an unprecedented combination of 16 complications and astronomical indications. But there wasn’t a ladies timepiece amongst them, “something that would be completely inconceivable today,” admits Christian Selmoni, creative director of the brand. Fast forward to its 260th anniversary celebrated last year when the maker released several watches including two timepieces for ladies, both with complications: one a chronograph and the other a dual time model with a new self-winding caliber, which won the 2015 Ladies watch of the year prize at Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève.

“For several years now we’ve seen fine watchmaking attracting more and more ladies. I think this trend started maybe 10 years ago when we saw ladies, particularly in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, wearing very masculine watches, borrowed from their friends or husbands,” Selmoni remarks, adding that today, ladies’ watches represent 20-25% of the brand’s sales.

“More than the number, what is most important is the change in the product mix,” Selmoni tells Blouin Lifestyle. “Ten years ago, we had a majority of quartz watches for ladies. That’s no longer the case; women have shifted to mechanical watches, at least for our brand.”


The increasing interest among women for complications is now being catered to by many luxury watch brands and at the recent Salon International de l’Horlogerie in Geneva, the brands were falling over themselves to please this increasingly discerning high-end clientele. While bejeweled offerings remained de rigueur for many, they were often complemented by technical complications that would now make them the envy of men.

With its opulent red carpet glamour and 10 mannequins elegantly dressed in outfits by Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, and Chloe, the Roger Dubuis stand at SIHH 2016 proclaimed it loud and clear: 2016 is the year of the “Velvet Diva.” In the words of the brand’s CEO, Jean-Marc Pontroué, she is “the kind of woman who stands out from the crowd, who sets trends instead of following them, who turns heads, but never allows success to turn her own head.”

Creative director Alvaro Maggini aimed to recreate the atmosphere of the Cannes film festival and it famous stairs to premiere 10 new Velvet creations embodying different facets of the Roger Dubuis women.

In an interview, Lionel Favre, product design director at Roger Dubuis, said he first created the Velvet in 2011 with a femme fatale or diva in mind. Favre added the new ladies line answers customers’ demand, and noted that although it has not been heavily promoted it has become quite successful. “Without communication around its initial release, we’ve had a huge success with this watch, and now the Velvet collection is the second pillar for Roger Dubuis with Excalibur for men’s watches,” Favre said, adding ladies represent around 30% of the brand’s customers.


The watchmaker was offering several innovations for the ladies series: the Black Velvet, the first timepiece to set gems in carbon, a material usually associated with sporty masculine timepieces, along with the Velvet Secret Heart, a double-retrograde date function with a bi-retrograde display, the first complication in the Velvet collection. Favre’s favorite this year is the Blue Blossom Velvet, “because the final piece is actually nicer than the design.” The watch uses grand feu enameling and engraving, with the raised floral motif showcasing the watchmaker’s jewel-setting expertise: each flower has a small diamond at its center.


Elsewhere, independent watchmaker Christophe Claret conceived the Marguerite as a more affordable version to its 2014 award-winning Margot timepieces (still the most complex watch for ladies). The new timepiece is another romantic complication around a white daisy in lacquer, but this time two butterflies track the time — an open-winged one moving around the petals indicating the hour and one ‘in flight’ moving every second for the minutes. Meanwhile, a sweet note (“he loves me passionately”) appears and disappears on the release of the pusher.

“For me it’s very important to create complications exclusively for women, and not just adapt a complication from a men’s watch,” notes brand founder Christophe Claret. Customers will have the opportunity to customize the dial’s message. “What’s more romantic but that, to offer a watch with a personalized and secret message,” he muses.

Cartier strategically opted to release a bevy of glittering watches for women with its renowned Mysterious setting, more usually associated with its clocks. The Mystery clocks with hands that seems to float on the dial, were invented by the illusionist Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, who created the optical illusions by attaching one watch hand to a large crystal disk with serrated metal edges hidden in the sides of the clock, but Cartier bought the illusion to new heights in the 1920s and 1930s with lavishly decorated designs that are still highly collectable.

While the brand had previously recreated the Mystery setting on a wristwatch for men, this is the first time it has applied it in a bid to go all out for women, said Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of image, style, and heritage. “The miniaturization of the mystery setting is a great opportunity for interesting jewelry creations to play with the dial, in this case snake, dragon, or panther encircling the dial,” he says.


Cartier is also hoping to woo female customers with a whimsical complication in the Panthères et Colibri, where a gold baby panther appears from behind its diamond-set mother on demand, chasing away a gold-winged hummingbird (a three-day power reserve indicator — how far the bird travels towards 12 o’clock indicates how much power remains), and has also launched a completely new line for women with Hypnose, a jewelry watch with a classic oval dial and a layered shape.

“Our first oval shape appeared in 1912. Here we wanted to play with the difference between volume and lines. It’s really a work on geometry and abstract shape, and a search for a kind of aesthetic purity,” Rainero explains.

Piaget, which already sells as many ladies’ watches as men’s, is launching a complication created especially for its ladies’ watches with the Piaget Limelight Stella. International watch marketing and creation director for Piaget, Franck Touzeau, says the new timepiece was conceived for everyday use “for a lady with a strong identity.”

The watch displays on its dial a diamond-adorned moon phase indicator at 12 o’clock with an enlarged fan-shaped aperture to showcase the astronomical moon phase — a traditional complication that tracks the lunar cycle. “After launching so many complications for men, the market is very mature, whereas ladies started to come to the watch segment only more recently. Although we’re launching a true complication we’re still capitalizing on a true jewelry, feminine design which is probably the most legitimate territory for Piaget,” he says, pointing out the brand is also unveiling a new version of its Limelight Gala with an intricate and supple Milanese mesh strap.

Several of Piaget’s offerings for women this year also fall under its Art & Excellence métiers d’art collections, with the Piaget Rose dial created in feathers, wood marquetry, or wood and mother-of-pearl marquetry, the latter giving added brilliance to the design.


Other brands also aim to attract female customers with a display of crafts excellence: Audemars Piguet used gold and pearls, and onyx and diamonds on the dials of its Millenary to create graphic patterns, with the design of the balance wheel and bridge an integral part of the decoration; Parmigiani Fleurier is offering the Toric Quaestor Grove, a minute repeater with Cathedral chimes, which has a dial decorated with engraved gold needles and pine cones on top of a black mother of pearl dial, gently dusted with gold power; while Hublot is reprising its embroideries series with new eye popping colors andVan Cleef & Arpels continues with its exploration of Complicated Poetry, with a new feminine piece sporting animated butterfly and showcasing time in an unusual manner.

Richard Mille is offering an unusual and highly technical dial for its automatic RM 07-02 Lady Pink Sapphire. Here the movement, which in a first for the watchmaker is made of red gold, is protected by a case sculpted from a block of pink sapphire, a technical feat that requires almost 40 days of machining and finishing. The transparent case showcases the base plate set with hundreds of tiny diamonds, while the variable geometry rotor, visible through the caseback, can be widened or narrowed to counter the possibility of over-winding.

With the watch industry under pressure in the current harsh economic times, the trend to increase sales by applying complications to ladies watches could herald a new era of innovations.