Secret watches are bejewelled statements offering wearers the best of both worlds
Modern women have allowed special watches to come out of hiding, writes Joanne Lam
There was a time when wristwatches were considered to be a man's privilege.
Women had the pearls and the diamonds, but watches were a man's domain because it was generally believed that a woman had no need to tell the time.
Thus came the dawn of the mystery watch. Also known as a hidden watch or a secret watch, the dials were covered by lids giving women the ability to discreetly tell the time.
While the taboo of women wearing watches has clearly disappeared, mystery watches continue to appeal to ladies of today. Combining the technical know-how of fine watchmakers with beautiful designs, dazzling diamonds and gemstones, these hidden watches are coveted by women all over the world.
Continuing with tradition, many of the finest maisons will launch several mystery watches each year. Brands known for their haute joaillerie are at the forefront of this fascinating object of desire.
Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled the Pavot Mysterieux High Jewelry Timepiece, inspired by one of the maison's favourite themes: nature and, specifically, the poppy flower.
Since the 1950s, when the mystery watch would still have been all the rage, the poppy has appeared in Van Cleef & Arpels' collections. The latest rendition of the flower feature petals in "Mystery Set" rubies, in pink gold and round diamonds, and a pink-gold leaf set with snow-set round diamonds. The heart of the flower opens up to reveal the time.
Cartier is another example. Last year, the brand launched the Les Heures Fabuleuses de Cartier collection at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. The theme of the collection centred on the very concept of a mystery watch and its slogan - "This is not a watch" - emphasising the dual nature of a mystery watch.
The collection takes the concept of mystery watch beyond the wrist. Dials are tucked away in rings, hidden in jewels in necklaces and in a truly transformable feat as part of a tiara, a brooch and a bracelet in the aptly named "Secret watch, tiara and brooch".
At Watches&Wonders this year in Hong Kong, the maison continued to show off its technical expertise, with the dial being hidden by the brand's signature panther.
Piaget is another brand known for its intricately designed mystery watches. This year, the maison launched secret watches at the Biennale des Antiques.
The highlight of the collection is the Extremely Piaget Secret cuff watch, available in a delicately lace-like cuff crafted out of 18ct white or pink gold, with the dial gently tucked away under a hand-engraved sapphire, amethyst or emerald.
BaselWorld 2014 also offered the world a host of new secret watches. Breguet unveiled a new version of the Secret de la Reine, introduced last year.
A hand-carved floral cameo pivots out to reveal a silvered gold dial paved with 116 brilliant cut diamonds.
And at BaselWorld, it's hard to forget Hallucination, Graff's US$55million multicoloured diamond watch, but the maison also showed the Secret Carved Emerald and Diamond Watch at the fair.
A head-turning timepiece, it features diamonds, totalling more than 45.2ct. Concealing the dial is a 33.70ct carved emerald.
Opting for sapphire at the Biennale, Graff launched a sapphire and diamond double brooch secret watch. Hidden behind tassles of sapphires, the timepiece pays tribute to the art-deco era.
For a more colourful and fun take on the secret watch, we can turn to Chopard.
This year, the brand unveiled a new mystery watch as part of the Animal World collection. Featuring a snail, crafted out of subtly graded shades of brown and Cognac-coloured diamonds, the dial is tucked away and protected by its shell.
Whether classic and minimalistic, or quirky and colourful, the allure of these secret watches is no mystery. It offers women the best of both worlds - beauty of high jewellery and the functionality of a watch.