Sparkling creations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am


Judging by the gem-studded timepieces released this year, haute joaillerie watches remain ever popular among affluent consumers.

These new timepieces come with high-carat counts and even higher price tags, and its exquisite designs are created using some of the latest technological innovations.

'The trend for high jewellery watches has always existed, and dates back to the 17th century,' says Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot. 'The market is growing every year, especially for unique pieces and prestigious jewellery watches, and there is a strong trend for coloured stones such as sapphires, emeralds, rubies and amethysts.'

The increasing demand for haute joaillerie timepieces is particularly evident in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong.

For luxury watchmaker and jeweller Piaget, 'our Hong Kong and mainland clientele is very tuned in to our design talent and know-how', says Dimitri Gouten, president of Piaget Asia-Pacific. He adds that 'Hong Kong is the biggest market in the world for Piaget with regards to high-jewellery watch sales', although sales are slightly slower in the mainland due to high taxes. Piaget launched a new design this year within its Limelight Exceptional Pieces collection that features a gem-setting technique that dates back to the brand's innovations in the 1970s.

This newly enhanced technique allows the timepiece's baguette-cut stones to undulate, a particularly fitting feature for the new Limelight models, the case designs of which were inspired by women's petticoats.

Another setting technique that is increasing in popularity is snow-setting, Gouten says.

'It minimises the presence of gold between the stones, through the grain-setting of different stone sizes,' he explains. 'Piaget is using this delicate setting technique for more and more women's watches from its collection, notably the Garden Party collection that will be launched next year at Salon International de la Haute Horlorgerie.'

While Piaget focuses on its snow setting, Vacheron Constantin develops its flame-cutting technique. The brand has released the new Kalla Haute Couture ? Pampilles, following the Lady Kalla Flame and the Jalla Haute Couture ? Secrets. All three bejewelled ladies' timepieces are set with flame-cut diamonds.

'We introduced flame-cut diamonds in 2009, and it was a very exclusive official cut that is highly challenging in terms of watch design,' says Julien Tornare, managing director of Vacheron Constantin Asia-Pacific.

'Today, used for the first time in watchmaking, the flame cut has become a new signature feature of Vacheron Constantin creations.'

In addition to the flame cut, the brand is also seeing satisfying progress in its setting technique. Vacheron Constantin launched the new Malte Tourbillon Regulator this year, featuring the 'much sought-after invisible setting that few artists have mastered, which embodies a splendid alliance between high-end horological complications and high-end jewellery', according to Tornare.

Vacheron Constantin's most talked-about novelty this year, however, is undoubtedly the Kallania.

The jewellery watch was created to celebrate the legendary Kallista, a unique timepiece produced in 1979 which required more than 6,000 hours of work, and featured 118 stones and a hand-winding movement that was the thinnest of its kind.

The Kallania, created entirely from 18k white gold, is paved with 186 bead-set, emerald-cut diamonds and contains the hand-wound 1003 calibre, the world's thinnest mechanical movement at 1.64mm.

This exquisite watch is priced at HK$76 million.

Eight-digit price tags have been popping up with increasing frequency of late.

Hublot sold its two special-edition Big Bang models this year, for Euro2 million (HK$21 million) each. Brand CEO Jean-Claude Biver says the success of last year's US$1 million Big Bang models was a good indicator of the strong demand for high-value watches.

'After having produced and sold seven US$1 Million Big Bang watches in 2010, we were very strongly encouraged by our customers to go even higher than US$1 million,' Biver says.

'That gave us the confidence that we would also be successful with a US$3 million Big Bang [equivalent to Euro2 million the time].'

In order to meet this price tag, Hublot had to significantly increase the complexity of the watch by setting much bigger and heavier stones.

The brand succeeded and Biver says the resulting timepiece showcases 'the biggest stones that have ever been used on a watch'.

Only two of these multimillion dollar watches were produced, and both have already been sold.

Those looking for one-of-a-kind pieces will be spoiled for choice with the Mille et Une Heures de Cartier collection, offering 16 stunning bejewelled timepieces inspired by the rich culture and history of ancient India.

The most exquisitely decorated models are the ones influenced by animal motifs: the stunning Secret watch with Feather Motif is the picture of elegance, as is the Secret watch with Horse Motif, featuring 1,332 brilliants and 23 rose-cut pear and round diamonds for the equine head and body, while 69 emerald beads make up its mane. Boucheron's peacock-themed Hera timepiece combines the mechanical precision of a Girard-Perregaux's Three Gold Bridges Tourbillon movement with its own highly skilled craftsmanship.

The watch, named after the Greek goddess who was said to have placed the eyes onto the peacock's tail, is meticulously paved with more then 35ct of diamonds, Paraiba tourmalines and sapphires.

Graff's most bejewelled novelty this year takes its inspiration from another majestic bird.

The new Graff Swan is set with 832 white diamonds totaling 54.7ct. At the centre of the cuff bracelet, the swan extends a wing set with marquise-cut diamonds, under which the dial is hidden.

As other brands explore the elegance of fauna, Van Cleef & Arpels looks to flora for inspiration. The Dentelle watch from the brand's high-jewellery collection is a delicate timepiece that takes more than 80 hours to create. The bezel and dial are fully paved with diamonds, and the bracelet is a delicate design of linked flowers and leaves.

Chopard goes for the full package this year with its Imperiale Full Set high jewellery model, chosen to be the brand's first watch to contain a movement created entirely by the group's own workshops. The in-house developed and manufactured calibre Chopard 01.03-C is housed within a case set with baguette-cut diamonds and rubies.

Jaquet Droz's new Heure C?leste features a three-dimensional dial design on which spheres - in red gold or diamond-paved - appear to rise like bubbles to the surface of the black onyx dial. The red gold case is set with 272 diamonds, while 123 diamonds adorn the spheres on the dial.