“Jewels of Time,” by Roberta Naas

“Jewels of Time,” by Roberta Naas

Bling or Works of Art? A Flood of Sparkling Watches

New York Times, February 20, 2012

GENEVA — The 1975 Australian film “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” about a fictional group of students and a teacher who disappear during a St. Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900, includes a scene that, unlikely as it sounds, may resonate with modern lovers of bejeweled timepieces.

Beneath the mysterious geological formation that lends its name to the film and the novel upon which it is based, Mademoiselle de Poitiers turns to Miranda, one of the students, and inquires about her “pretty little diamond watch.”

“Don’t wear it anymore,” Miranda says sullenly. “Can’t stand the ticking above my heart.” But Irma, a classmate, begs to differ: “If it were mine, I’d wear it always,” she says. “Even in the bath.”

For more than a century, pretty little diamond watches have been coveted with a dreamy intensity to rival Irma’s, and for more than a century, watchmakers have been all too happy to oblige them.

While the recession put some of that business on ice, a flurry of new models dressed entirely in diamonds makes it clear that reports of the death of bling have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, the current crop of fully encrusted diamond watches seems to defy all post-recession logic.

From Roger Dubuis’ new Velvet High Jewellery watch, whose 1,300 diamonds totaling about 10 carats obscure a timekeeping mechanism distinguished by the prestigious Poinçon de Genève quality mark, to the always brilliant timepieces in the Graff Luxury Watches collection, the newest diamond-studded wristwatches take their stones as seriously as their mechanical pedigrees.

“There was a time when the diamond setting techniques weren’t as elaborately, meticulously and artfully done,” said Roberta Naas, author of “Jewels of Time,” a new coffee-table book about women’s wristwatches. “Years ago, we had mystery setting, channel setting and pavé setting. Now you have snow setting and all these other techniques that lend themselves to creativity and ingenuity, so you get watches with diamonds cascading over their bracelets and dials.”

The flood of sparkling timepieces is evidence of the convergence of jewelry and watchmaking, a phenomenon that is elevating the previously unsung work of the stone-setter to new heights.

“Some people think it’s all about bling, but the reality is that it’s a scintillating work of art,” Ms. Naas said.

If the amount of time required to set a diamond watch is an indication of its artistry, then the new generation of ladies’ watches being introduced next month by Chopard, called L’Heure du Diamant, or “The Time for Diamond,” deserves recognition.

“The jewelers and setters spend more than 750 hours on one piece,” Caroline Scheufele, artistic director and co-president of Chopard, said of the new line to be introduced at the Baselworld luxury watch and jewelry fair, opening March 8.

Most of the collection, about 80 percent, will feature mechanical movements, Ms. Scheufele said, alluding to a growing conviction at Chopard that timepieces need not fit precisely into either the watch category or the jewelry.

For example, Ms. Scheufele cited Chopard’s new Imperiale Tourbillon Full Set, an all-diamond watch with serious horological credentials.

“It’s a beautiful piece of jewelry that on top of it also tells time,” she said.

Cartier has taken a similar approach with its new Tank Anglaise model, introduced last month in Geneva. The collection, which builds upon the watchmaker’s series of Tank watches, a heritage that dates to World War I, includes a $655,000 full-cut diamond model and a full diamond pavé version that retails for a slightly more affordable $158,000 — not that affordability is the point.

“The main motivation is pleasure,” said Pierre Rainero, director of image, style and heritage for Cartier. “People, through our items, want to experience a beautiful object and the pleasure it brings them.”

Mr. Rainero added that fully encrusted diamond models were “regularly requested — and by the way, not just by women.”