Hidden in Plain Sight: 12 Secret Watches
For decades, secret watches have puzzled some, surprised many more and continuously teased the most curious minds. After all, what is more pleasurable for a woman than to keep a secret that no one else has access to? Here, we share in the magic of rare and precious secret watches from some of the finest watch and jewellery houses.
A concept born in the 19th century and only explored occasionally since then, the “secret watch” of the past stayed true to its name and completely disguised its horological intent. However, modern watch houses have taken a few liberties with the genre and adapted it to serve as a subset of high jewellery timepieces. After all, the original secret watches were able to use the larger “real estate” of pocket watches or even small clocks and thus benefitted from a much broader palette. Today, instead of a watch masquerading as a walking stick handle, a crucifix, a small pistol or a miniature skull, the very nature of a wristwatch as something to wear has confined the designer to a smaller canvas.
But to be pessimistic about this is to deny, for example, the sheer imagination of houses like Fabergé or Van Cleef & Arpels, inventive firms that can turn watch hands into butterfly wings or two lovers crossing a bridge. With the definition of “secret watch” thus expanded, even Queen Elizabeth’s Jaeger-LeCoultre 101 qualifies as one. Whatever the complexity, however far from convention or disclosure the modern secret watch may be, it is never short of the key ingredient to all such mysteries: the power to fascinate.
Backes & Strauss The Royal Jester
It may sound strange to name a dazzling watch as such, especially with the word “Royal” in front of it. But, when nine carats of immaculate brilliance illuminate one’s pupil, it is immediately obvious that this is not a joke. Established in 1789, Backes & Strauss is one of the oldest diamond companies in the world and the Royal Jester – offered as a bespoke timepiece – is a vivid realisation of what it knows best.
Available in 36mm and 40mm case sizes, the Royal Jester can be made with different colour options. The 1.01ct central brilliant-cut diamond can be replaced with a fancy vivid yellow diamond or one in intense pink or blue surrounded by invisibly-set baguette-cut diamonds. Time can be read instinctively thanks to the crimson hours and minute markers mounted on crystal discs, seemingly afloat amongst the circular lines of diamonds. Powered by a mechanical movement with a 36-hour power reserve, the Royal Jester will survive a dip in water down to 30m.
Boucheron Laïka the Husky
“Breathtaking” truly is the word that best describes the secret watch made as a cuff, where the Siberian husky is carved out of white gold studded with diamonds, sapphires and spinels and shown cuddling a piece of jade as if resting on a chunk of ice in the middle of Siberia. His blue eyes stare at the imaginary ice lake on which the time is reflected through rock crystal, carved out of a one solid block.
Creative Director Claire Choisne has proven once again the audacity of the brand in working with unusual materials, always using the most complicated techniques to create the finest aesthetics.
Bulgari Serpenti SedutTori
Bulgari’s Serpenti motif wasn’t used only in pendants, rings or clutch buckles: it began life as a wristwatch, and to keep the legacy alive, the brand has made the reptile into a full watch collection with sub-categories of products that led to satellite collections. The high-jewellery Serpenti versions, mostly a series of pièces uniques and set with many carats’ worth of diamonds, entwine the wrist up to three times and form a collection of their own. To keep it discreet, the Seduttori Collection – aptly named to seduce once again the fair sex – is an open bangle, a thin cuff and a secret watch all at once.
Set in red gold, the secret watch bracelet ends at the head of the bejewelled snake with a cabochon tourmaline. Two pear-cut emerald eyes keep the devilish look of the animal. Every inch of metal on the cuff is paved with graduated sizes of brilliant-cut diamonds in between trios of baguette-cut pink tourmalines, that represent random snake scales around the bracelet. Looking into the mouth of the golden reptile reveals a diamond-paved watch dial segmented by the rose-gold Bulgari snake motif, under which is found the Calibre B033 quartz movement customised for the maison.
Cartier Résonance Necklace
Magic, secret, and mysterious, the Cartier Résonance is all that, comprising a white-gold pendant set with five lines of emerald beads mixed with diamonds. A mechanical watch is hidden in the V-shape of the necklace atop the carved crystal-clear emerald: if admirers can’t see it, it doesn’t matter – only its wearer can, and that’s the beauty of it.
Chanel Les Eternelles de Coco Avant Chanel
Even more subtle than a secret watch is a secret watch pendant. The pendant imagined as a secret watch is set on a white-gold chain paved with a total of 29.26cts of brilliant-cut diamonds. The medallion features one single cultured pearl from Indonesia holding a 5.32ct pear-cut fancy light-yellow diamond. As if that wasn’t enough, surrounded by 26 Japanese pearls is a chunk of crystal meticulously cut in a pear-shape that has been hand-engraved following the inspiration of the Coromandel panels in Chanel’s private apartment. Providing a symmetrical mirror effect, the shape of a diamond-paved drop responds to the coloured pear-shaped diamond at the top of the medallion. At the heart of the pendant, concealed by the centre stone, is a small mother-of-pearl watch dial. A flabbergasting, unique piece… but what else could it be?
Chaumet Hortensia Aube Rosée Brooch
In line with its flower blossom-inspired Hortensia collection, when it came to a secret watch, Chaumet was determined to go that extra mile: a paved brooch with 345 diamonds totalling 3.7cts set in rose gold, clips onto a classic Hortensia watch-case to subtly display the time behind a delicate floral composition. Four marquise-cut pink tourmalines form the petals of the top flower, contrasting with the lower diamond-paved flower, whose pistil is made of a pink sapphire surrounded by five carved pink opals.
A detachable dangling 5ct pink tourmaline, cut in a faceted pear-shape, matches the fuchsia pink satin strap of the watch. Once assembled, the mother-of-pearl dial with double bezel, combining 42 diamonds and a perlée line of gold with sparkling beads of the precious metal, completely disappears to display a statement piece albeit not everyone can pull off. But we say don’t be too proper, it’s boring – dare to wear what others won’t.
De Grisogono Grappoli S05 Diamonds
Fawaz Gruosi built De Grisogono’s jewellery reputation on brilliance and opulence. Due to high demand, De Grisogono recently entered the bridal market by launching a line of engagement rings with matching earrings. On the watch front, the Grappoli is the only timepiece in the bridal collection and its emblematic design stands out comprising a combination of stingray bracelet with briolette-cut stones dangling on the edge of the bezel and a fully-paved dial with an overall tone-on-tone effect. The S05 is no exception: the full-diamond Grappoli isn’t a secret watch per se, but the 62cts of diamond briolettes, combined with the 585 snow-set diamonds on the dial, make it hard to find the grey gold Dauphine hour hands on it. It’s a tiny example of discretion just useful enough to keep a low profile when looking at your wrist during a boring social occasion.
Dior “Emerald South Parterre” High Jewellery Watch
Christian Dior’s private garden at his Granville home is where he spent most of his free time creating, thinking and drawing, surrounded by a multitude of flowers, plants and nature. Flowers were his thing and Victoire De Castellane has managed, over the past decade as Director of the Creative Studio, to make sure that most of the Dior Jewellery designs are faithful to the core values.
Last year, she introduced the Versailles High Jewellery collection, the very symbol of French art de vivre. This year, Versailles Côté Jardin marks Act II of her dazzling play. Focusing on the outside gardens, she cut stones in a way that reminds one of box trees, the serenity of lakes and the movement of the deep water. Studying the Parterre du Midi secret watch, you will notice a variety of flowers that even your florist would have a hard time naming and you’ll also note that each of them is set with a specific stone – 13 to be precise. All have been carefully set on three colours of gold.
Giampiero Bodino Mosaico
Giampiero Bodino was Creative Director at Richemont for 15 years before he launched his eponymous high jewellery brand back in 2013. Creative, talented, humble and stylish, his exquisite Italian touch is filled with coloured opulence and his trio of secret watches – Mosaico, Primavera and Rosa Dei Venti are his interpretation of what a watch should be.
Inspired by the Art Deco movement and the Italian Renaissance period, in each piece lies a quartz movement that transforms a bracelet into a secret watch. Bodino’s favourite piece is the Mosaico, a monochrome yet hypnotic piece set with white diamonds and black spinels on a white-gold mounting. Graphic and round with a genuine modern touch, it’s a creation that won’t be reproduced. Ever.
Graff Diamond Butterfly Princess
Over the years, it has become part of Graff’s modus operandi to include butterflies in its core collection, crafted as standalone jewellery designs, in their watch dial decoration or set as a complication. This year, Graff brought this to a new level when it introduced the Princess Butterfly: light, feminine and imbued with beautiful simplicity, what appears to be a shiny bracelet paved with diamonds is in fact a secret watch.
To see the time, simply push on one of the central diamonds to slide the wings open, which will unveil the mother-of-pearl dial. The Princess Butterfly comes in different versions, with the symmetrical wings paved with the precious stone of your choice: emerald, ruby, sapphire or diamonds.
Piaget Sand Waves
A masterful work in gold, Sand Waves is a unique half-cuff/half-secret watch in which Piaget rendered a mix of texture by playing with streaked, matte and shiny rose gold where uneven lines of diamonds undulated from one end to the other, making the 428 diamonds appear weightless. A cabochon-cut white opal of 10.45 carats reigns at the top of a mother-of-pearl dial under which a Piaget 56P quartz movement hides itself. When the warm hues of the Amalfi Coastline or Mediterranean Sea hit the golden texture of the timepiece as the sun slowly sets, the cuff’s beauty is enhanced and becomes a true ode to summer.
Van Cleef & Arpels Secret Butterfly
Playful and poetic, the eye instinctively drawn to the 14.57-carat Colombian emerald set in the centre of the Secret Butterfly, as if the gem were the beating heart of the bejewelled insect. If pushed towards the top, the lower wing enables a subtle mother-of-pearl dial to divulge the time, powered by a mechanical movement with manual winding. It’s like penetrating the back doors of a secret garden where suddenly the dark hues of black spinels and deep green emeralds take life in a whirlwind of diamonds, enhanced by a discreet dial partially hidden by the insect’s lower wings. The piece is a standalone, bejewelled fairytale.