Curating luxury for the discerning traveller



There are many types of behaviour that used to be deemed by society to be “unbecoming of a lady”. If you were a Victorian woman, the mere flash of an ankle would be enough to cause an attack of the vapours among censorious older ladies; bad language was frowned upon and there are still even those who believe that drinking pints of beer isn’t something that the fairer sex should be indulging in. And there was even a period when looking at one’s watch in public wasn’t the done thing either.Despite wristwatches having originally been intended for female wrists, in the first half of the 20th century timepieces generally had to be concealed because it was considered incredibly improper for a woman to be seen wearing, let alone checking, a watch in public. Mildly ridiculous as this is, thanks to necessity and invention having a well-known maternal relationship, it led to the vogue for secret watches, which featured clever ways of disguising the dial beneath a bejewelled cover so the timepiece looked like a bracelet, or even, if a Maison was feeling particularly inventive, like a brooch, ring or pendant. These exercises in ingenuity are socially obsolete now, but that hasn’t stopped brands such as Graff from continuing to make them.

Since 2008, this British fine jewellery institute has been making watches that combine its haute joaillerie expertise with all the knowledge that comes from basing your horology arm in Switzerland. Given that the secret watch by its nature flirts with a line between being a timepiece and a bracelet, it isn’t surprising that it has been a staple of Graff’s collections. The brand has covered dials with butterflies, concealed them beneath carved emeralds and this year, at the Baselworld watch fair, it showed one of its most ambitious pieces to date.

Jun 4th 2018
Watches & Jewellery

With a rumoured price tag of more than $1m and set with 35 carats of fancy-cut diamonds, Graff’s latest secret watch was only made possible thanks to an increasing reliance on technology. Leading the way is Sam Sherry, the brand’s head of technology, whom Graff has relied upon more and more to trial its increasingly complex unique pieces. Sherry was the one who developed the 3D-printed prototype of the 300-joint lattice design that formed the ribbon-supple bracelet of its 2016 Graff Snowfall watch and he has worked his magic on this latest diamond-encrusted creation. “Many days were spent perfecting the CAD designs, making microscopic adjustments to ensure each bracelet, which is comprised of multiple parts, is comfortable to wear; each diamond setting is as discreet as is technically possible; and each secret watch mechanism opens with sublime smoothness,” explains Sherry. “Once the designs were finalised, resin prototypes were produced on Graff’s 3D printer to check the mechanisms were correct and to ensure the watches looked and felt exactly as they did on screen.” However, Graff hasn’t eschewed traditional techniques completely – while the piece may have been borne on a screen, it is made entirely by the hands of Graff’s master craftsmen.

You can certainly see the hand of the craftsmen in Chaumet’s breathtaking Feuillage Éternel secret watch, part of the La Nature de Chaumet collection, which is inspired by the form and symbolic meanings of oak, lily, laurel and wheat. Chaumet is renowned for its concealed dials, often using complex floral creations to cover the watch element. As involved as they are, the work on this exquisite cuff is on another level. Oak leaves are layered to make the body of the bracelet, with the strength of the oak emphasised by the setting of the leaves made up entirely of diamonds, the strongest material known to man. One of these stone-set leaves lifts to reveal the stone-set dial beneath, a detail that makes it feel as though you’ve discovered something no one else knows about. When it comes to keeping secrets, Cartier is a master, which isn’t surprising considering this is a brand that excels in both watchmaking and high jewellery. While its core timepiece collection can feel somewhat serious, its forays into concealment are anything but. It has used a panda sliding down the case, the touching bodies of two tiny birds or simply a sizeable 2.68ct diamond. Cartier has even hidden a watch in the top of a pen, for the ultimate in discretion.


Brands such as Cartier, Chaumet, Graff and Dior, which unveiled its gorgeous La D de Dior Précieuse à Secret at Paris Couture earlier this year, represent the more decadent expressions of the secret watch; however, there are other options that are more suited to everyday wear.One of the most iconic examples is the Bulgari Serpenti. Beloved of Elizabeth Taylor, this slinky wrist companion is where the Italian powerhouse’s watch and jewellery expertise meet. “Bulgari plays with the concept of metamorphosis, so ingrained in the snake imagery as well as in the natural woman’s attitude of changing her look without losing anything of herself,” explains Lucia Boscaini, Bulgari’s brand heritage curator, when asked to explain the enduring appeal of this design. In its secret form, the Serpenti hides its dial beneath the serpent’s head. With the ‘mouth’ left open and the dial on show, there are connotations of Eve’s temptation in Eden; a notion that deliciously hints at the deception inherent in the reasons for the secret watch’s creation.

Bringing the concept right up to date, and in a typically pared-back fashion, is Chanel with a timepiece it unveiled last autumn. Before its launch, Nicolas Beau, global head of watches and fine jewellery business development at Chanel, said that he had something up his sleeve, something that he hoped would be to the Maison for the next 30 years what the Première had been for the previous three decades. That watch is the Code Coco – a watch that is part bracelet, part timepiece, but not fully either. It is inspired by the clasp of the iconic 2.55 handbag and features a tiny bar set in between two black lacquered squares, which, when twisted from vertical to horizontal, reveals the watch in the lower one. The bracelet is a sinuous length of steel in the Maison’s legendary quilting, which appears to have no discernible clasp. It is a cocktail watch that flirts with that line between watch and jewellery in a thoroughly modern way. And given Mademoiselle Chanel’s proclivity for keeping secrets and flouting societal conventions, she would no doubt have approved. | |



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