High jewellers and watchmakers devise secret watches that hide the time behind bejewelled animals and flowers

In vogue during the 1930s and 1940s when women were thought to have no need to tell the time, secret watches have made a comeback in the past few years.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 11:10am

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There may be nothing more delicious than a secret, especially when it’s encrusted in gems.

Back when women were thought to have no need to tell the time, watchmakers and jewellers would conceal a watch in a bracelet, ring or a pendant necklace merely as a design whim. Secret watches were in vogue during the 1930s and 1940s, and they have made a comeback in the past few years.

Piaget has a tradition of secret watches, and its Piaget Rose, available in white or pink gold, features a snow-set diamond rose on its 35mm case, set with a large diamond at its centre. The central petals form the lid, which flips up to show a simple dial.

Even more breathtaking is Piaget’s Limelight Secret Watch, which is a confection of diamonds inspired by nature. The white-gold case and band overflow with marquise, pear-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds. The hinged lid, in the form of two diamond leaves, reveals either a mother-of-pearl dial or a diamond-set dial.

Also in the Limelight collection is a contemporary secret watch with ribbons of diamonds coiling around a brown satin strap. Moving aside the central portion of the diamond ribbons reveals a mother-of-pearl and diamond marquetry dial. The Limelight Ribbon Motif Secret Watch is in 18ct rose gold set with 301 brilliant-cut diamonds.

Breguet created a stir with its Secret de la Reine watch in 18ct white or rose gold set with 432 brilliant-cut diamonds, a hand-carved cameo and a diamond-set dial. The cameo is a white rose; pressing on it moves the piece aside to reveal the dial with its striking blue hands. The cameo is surrounded by petal-like scallops, and the whole design is carried by a soft “cloth” of gold.

Chanel has presented some enchanting secret watches, including the Camelia Brodé, which features an openwork diamond camellia set with 283 brilliants on a black satin strap with a black dial. But this creation has been eclipsed by a new collection of secret watches, Les Eternelles. Each piece in the trio is handmade at the highest level of the jeweller’s art and features a different motif – a camellia, a comet or a feather – on a diamond-paved cuff.

On the flower cuff, which is set with 45ct of white diamonds, are three camellias. Pressing one of the smaller flowers moves the main flower motif upwards to reveal a dial set with 34 baguette diamonds. On the Comète Secret Watch, which is set with sapphires and diamonds, pressing one of the less prominent stars moves the comet to the left, uncovering a sapphire-set dial. And in the diamond and pink sapphire Plume Secret Watch, pressing the diamond-set feather reveals the pink sapphire dial.

Vacheron Constantin, meanwhile, has introduced a new Lady Kalla Haute Couture a Pampilles Watch in which a cascade of more than 34ct of diamonds, including the brand’s own flame-cut diamonds, hide a small diamond-paved dial. Only one of these timepieces will be made each year.

A few years ago, Harry Winston debuted the Rosebud Secret Watch that can be converted into a brooch or a pendant. It is set with 69ct of brilliant-cut, pear-cut and baguette diamonds. The house also offers a secret watch inside a compact in diamonds, sapphires and pearls.

Audemars Piguet moved away from traditional high jewellery styles with its Diamond Punk Secret Watch, which has a face hidden beneath a sliding cover on a snow-set diamond cuff with a pyramid contour.

There is also a whole animal kingdom of secret watches. The iconic Bulgari Serpenti collection includes a number of secret watches, which are revealed when the head of the serpent is lifted. All have a quartz movement, but there are different combinations of gems in each 40mm gold bracelet watch. The spirals of the snake’s body are set with brilliant-cut diamonds or coloured gems, with the eyes in semi-precious stones.

Cartier has many secret watches in its Bestiaire collection, including many with its iconic images such as the panther. One of the most charming is the Tortue, with its shell of diamonds or gemstones from which the turtle’s tiny head and feet protrude.

More spectacular is the Cartier Secret Watch with Phoenix Décor, which is a unique piece said to be valued at more than US$2.5 million. The great bird is encrusted with more than 80ct of diamonds and has emerald eyes.

One of the most delightful of recent releases is Boucheron’s Khepri à Secret. Measuring just 3cm, the maison has created a tiny masterpiece of jewellery and horlogerie. At a touch of the scarab’s head, formed by a blue sapphire cabochon, the two-part wings on either side of the insect rise smoothly to reveal the dial. The upper wings are of sculpted mother-of-pearl edged with diamonds, and the wings beneath are paved with diamonds and sapphires. To achieve this seemingly simple action, some 50 components are concealed in the tiny body. The hidden dial is diamond-set with sapphire markers, and the body is set with larger diamonds. There is a ruby version as well, also in white gold, set on a white satin strap with a diamond-set buckle.

The Chopard Animal World Collection includes a quaint Hedgehog Secret Watch, which uses moonstones as the animal’s spikes and sapphires as its eyes. The head is set with diamonds and so is the dial, held by a baby hedgehog, which is revealed by touching the brown sapphire snout.

Perhaps the most spectacular secret watch is Van Cleef & Arpels’ Carpe Koi. This piece is set with 8,000 gems and carries the Japanese connotations of love and life. The orange colour of the fish, fashioned in white and yellow gold, is intensified by diamonds, yellow sapphires, spessartite garnets and black spinels. The fish curves around the wrist, with a gentle touch on the tail to clasp and unclasp. The dial is hidden in the fish’s mouth, which is a cavern of gemstones. The piece is said to have required 3,450 hours of work by the maison’s craftsmen.