Gems, dazzle, diamonds and pizzazz. This year we have seen a delectable tableau of precious stones within, around, and pavèd on some of the flashiest new watches shown at Watches & Wonders. And while the entire Phygital viewing experience does leave a lot to be desired, the top maisons have managed to convey the blend of haute gioallerie with horology to a greater extent then I had ever imagined. Sadly my bank manager does not agree.
The perhaps most interesting fact of the mesmerising dials on this list, is that all except one are aimed straight at both sexes, the only thing stopping men being wrist-shyness and self-confidence.
Zenith DEFY 21 Spectrum collection
As one of an unbelievable range of four gem-set references, this takes the green trend and turns the volume up to 11. Comfortably strapped to our wrist, the Zenith DEFY 21 case sits in angular contrast to the soft, rubber green textured strap, a comfortable yet strong presence in its 44mm non-retro shape. Its remit is one of being the technological masterpiece of the Zenith sports range, a breathtaking whizz of the chronograph seconds hand timing at 1/100th second with a separate 360,000 vph escapement. No, that’s not an extra zero typo, this is real. This mechanical one-upmanship is usually enough for the DEFY 21 to stand out in a rather large crowd of now positively lethargic column wheel chronographs, with its intrinsic open-worked dial detail. But no, that’s not even half. Main plates and rotor are a bright apple green, a particularly fresh version of the colour of Watches & Wonders, and then the case, oh the case. The muscular body has a full pavè diamond treatment to the ends of the case, accentuating the elegant lugless design, while the bezel is set with emeralds. A stand-out piece even for Zenith, and should you not have the taste for green there are also delectable shades of orange, blue and purple candy. Price: $35,900 USD
Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeater Tourbillon Sky Chart – Leo Constellation Jewellery
The frankly breathtaking complexity of this dark blue minute repeater from Vacheron Constantin is in itself a piece of horological art, merely underlined by the sublime touch of precious stones. Les Cabinotiers, the laboratory of hand crafted horlogerie within Vacheron is responsible for one of the best gem settings of a case I’ve come across. The white 18K gold becomes intense in light refraction when polished, and the slender lugs of the 45mm case, like the bezel, are set with baguette-cut sapphires.
The five baguette cut stones are set with such precision that I can see a mere millimetre-wide sliver of white gold in the sweep of the traditional lugs. The arched minute repeater slide is also set with a row of sapphires, and the crown itself around its circumference. The dark mystery of the constellation-motif dial, is surrounded by a bezel also set with the dark indigo stones, framing an off-set dial design with a diamond-set constellation. The dark universal calm of the dial, is marked by hand applied guillochè representing the Leo constellation, with inset diamonds for the stars. Suffice to say, that with the aural magic created by a minute repeater, this is simply a calling card for Vacheron as a top tier manufacturer, and difficult to describe without resorting to the odd clichè. I’ll simply conclude that this piece of wrist-worn art is simply what horological dreams are made of, a minute repeater with an utterly hypnotizing tourbillon at 6 o’clock, to be viewed as an example of what Vacheron Constantin can achieve for a true connoisseur of the brand. Price: POA
Bulgari was a jeweller first, and one of the top maisons in world, irrespective of the stark minimalism of the matt titanium Finissimo in our niche world of horology. The charm lies in discovering the other world of the Roman jeweller’s spirit behind the brand, a spirit that embodies the luscious world of the gem-set Serpenti, and this Allegra, as the counterpoint to the clean-cut futurism of paper thinness. The Allegra does the mundane job of telling the time, but is jewellery made art first and a watch second. The sheer vibrancy of this garland of jewels is the sparkly antithesis of monochrome, and that’s why I love it. Put on some big Gucci shades and simply take in the brilliance of more than 80 diamonds, some traditionally set as indices on the lacquered mother of pearl dial while others encircle it in an explosion of colours. Its case is like a planet orbited by glowing satellites, organic shapes from blue topaz to peridot, dazzling purple amethysts and rhodolite. Each are trying to outshine the neighbouring stone, interspaced by curved deep petals of gold with pave diamonds. Whether in rose or white gold, not much can outshine the 36mm Bulgari Allegra. Would you dare? Be prepared to be the unbridled centre of attention as dazzle it does. Big time. Price: not yet confirmed
Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon High Jewellery
As their first foray into the Integrated Bracelet category, the angular approach of the Hublot Big Bang Integral was refreshing. Nothing like the sleekness of a Royal Oak, Nautilus or Laureato, but built from the same ethos of boldness as the Big Bang and Fusion range, with a muscular angular language. Eschewing the plebeian 316 or 904L steel, Hublot’s range of braceletted watches follow their strong emphasis on materiality with titanium, King Gold and ceramic, lending them a lightness and design integrity. At Watches & Wonders this time, they pushed the boat out, all the way, with a pure sapphire version, and this dazzle of diamonds. The Tourbillon High Jewellery version of the tough sports watch is the undisputed star of wrist-bling, hewn from 18K white gold, with no less than 484 baguette-cut diamonds.
With a hypnotizing fully open worked movement, this is a testament to Swiss craftsmanship and gem-setting expertise as much as mere horology. Like a celebration of the Big Bang Integral design language, the combined light reflection power of the diamonds underline and accentuate each detail. From the smallest square baguettes on the inner rehaut, through to the square diamonds filling the 18K bezel, it almost feels as a battle for eye-catching supremacy. The tourbillon, a star ballerina of any dial, twirls slowly trying to ignore the pure glitz of the diamonds, all vying for your attention like spoilt children at a family party. But the end result is nothing but magic, and yes, it also tells the time. Price: $685,000 USD
Patek Philippe ref.5711-1300-001
Well, I don’t know about you, but my eyes are close to exhaustion from the barrage of refracted light in the other wrist-dazzlers on this list, so here’s a quieter, more refined way of merely underlining a classic design. To be frank, this one I would seriously contemplate myself, should I have the years of patience – or exorbitant budget it takes. But with the new mid-olive green dial Patek Philippe Nautilus, it might all be worth it. With a quiet elegance only years at the top can afford, the slim baguettes inset in the classic broad Nautilus bezel makes it a picture of understated elegance. While I lamented the loss of the 5711 in its blue guise, and do not have the funds for this veritable exit watch, I applaud the move. Still the same goldilocks 40mm x svelte 8.3 case, slab-like perfectly brushed bezel, and now the olive tone for the striated and now even more sharp dial. Within the porthole case resides the trusty Calibre 26-330 with its Patek seal, solid gold rotor and 212 components. But this is a story on the best gem set wristwatches of Watches and Wonders, and how better to celebrate the arrival of the metallic olive sheen than perfectly set baguette-cut diamonds. The ref.5711-1300-001 is a discrete poster boy for the way perfectly cut diamonds can improve – not compromise an already balanced design, and might just be my rather discrete favourite in this story. Price: $94,624 USD