Watches moved beyond the status of a practical timekeeping tool relatively recently (since the dawn of the mobile phone), however the overlap between high jewellery and watchmaking for women has existed for well over a century. Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and others have all famously created high jewellery pocket and pendant watches for ages, including a couple of Patek pieces owned by Queen Victoria that have toured the globe as part of their museum collection. It’s still a small segment of the industry, but even now the watchmaking world’s best and brightest devote at least some attention to these statement pieces.
We’ve taken a look at some of our favourite brands in the space who walk the correct line—that delicate balance of fine jewellery setting and craftsmanship without sacrificing horological performance. Regardless of the specific selection, it’s quite difficult to go wrong with any of these. Not all high jewellery watches are created equal by any stretch, but the resounding connection between all of these pieces is being able to trust your maker. When buying a statement piece, you want something that looks fantastic but also need to trust that it’s built to the right exacting standard and will last longer than the year’s next big fashion trend.
Cartier Maillon de Cartier
Starting with an obvious legend, we can’t be in this space without talking about Cartier. In the case of the new Maillon, this compact beauty is a svelte 16mm across and 6.8mm thick, crafted in white gold and clad in 301 brilliant-cut diamonds. Tsavorite garnet and lacquer provides its green and blue accents throughout the bracelet, as well as on its gem-set dial, making it as much a piece of art as it is a timepiece.
The Piaget Altiplano is most well known for being one of the brand’s class-leading ultrathin watches, though this does not mean it cannot be a wearable piece of art as well. Part of a long series of more feminine-focused models, this reference features a translucent green grand feu enamel dial surrounded by baguette-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds on just about every available surface of its casing. Adding a point of contrast, the tourbillon of its hand-wound mechanical movement is exposed through an opening in the dial.
Rolex Datejust 31
When people think of Rolex, more often it’s the men’s Submariner and Daytona that spring to mind, but a deeper dive reveals a plethora of high jewellery offerings in their women’s collections. Believe it or not, this unique gem-set dial with mother-of-pearl butterfly motif is anything but out of the ordinary; Rolex has a knack for cooking up distinct yet tasteful dial designs in this category. With the stonework limited to only the dial and bezel of this watch, it comes across just a touch more understated than some of our other selections, but no less impactful.
Vacheron Constantin Egerie Moon Phase
Much like Piaget, the Vacheron Constantin Egerie Moon Phase proves that artful statement watches with complications are not defined by gender. Using a beautiful application of mother-of-pearl inlay, this piece displays the current moon phase to its wearer in an unconventional artistic manner. This display is powered by its self-winding mechanical movement, visible through a sapphire caseback. On the dial, an assortment of 802 round cut diamonds provides all the sparkle that one could ask for, paired with two quick-changing blue straps—one in alligator leather and the other in satin.
Dior Grand Bal Plume
For many, Dior is not a name you would immediately associate with quality watchmaking, but it’s actually a category where the brand has been excelling for a number of years now. Their watch division is about as unorthodox as they come, often mating non-traditional materials like feathers or even beetle wings into their dials in ways that none of us would have imagined. In the case of the Grand Bal Plume we see a green Malachite dial, complemented by a gold winding rotor that has been decorated with diamonds and white feathers. This design is a signature of Dior, where the winding rotor for its automatic movement lives between the dial and its watch hands. In this configuration, the design is meant to evoke the memory of a twirling white ball gown working its way across the dance floor.
Bvlgari Serpenti Jewellery Watch
The Bvlgari Serpenti is an icon in its class and an absolute gem of a watch from the Italian powerhouse. There are countless iterations available, but once you step up into the jewellery models you’ve reached the peak of the category. Designed (somewhat obviously) to look like a high jewellery snake that wraps up your wrist, its head contains the time display via a small quartz-powered movement. In this model we’re treated to textured red lacquer scales and an ample dose of diamonds, all set in pink gold.