Mysteries of mechanical time

While today’s jewellery trends favour pieces that can be worn in multiple ways, the secret watch has had the edge on this style for centuries.

By Debbie Hathway
Bulgari 2023 Serpenti Misteriosi

Women’s fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries periodically favoured wearing a bracelet incorporating a watch. Still, from the early 20th century, it was clear that the bracelet watch was no longer considered by Americans a “silly-ass fad”. According to the New York Times, which also reported from Paris in 1912, the wristwatch was the fashion of the hour, worn in the city by women who must work and those who play. The newspaper described it as “the most useful piece of jewellery that has been invented for many decades… The watch hidden away in the belt, or turned face downward on the bust, or swinging loose from a chatelaine pin, was an ornament but not always a help. As it was usually under one’s furs or topcoat in Winter, it was better to guess the time than to try to prove it.”

Today, a few esteemed watchmaking brands with high jewellery expertise produce secret watches in limited quantities at price points influenced by complexity, craftsmanship and precious jewels. 

These are a few of the latest releases, beginning with the Italian brands to coincide with YourLuxury Africa’s La Dolce Vita-themed October 2023 print edition.

At Geneva Watch Days, Bulgari revealed new models in the Serpenti Misteriosi collection, powered by the phenomenal Piccolissimo BVL 100 round miniature mechanical movement, the smallest on the market, measuring 12mm in diameter, 2.5mm thick and weighing 1.3 grams. The white gold version is set with over 33 carats of diamonds, while the rose gold model combines the chromatic depth of black lacquer with the spatial volume of navette-cut diamonds.

Moreover, Bulgari has masterminded the Monete Catene secret watches featuring gold, diamonds, and precious antique coins, curated for their historical significance. The two coins incorporated in the Monete Catene Dual Time wristwatch reference the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus and his empress Julia Domna, revered as a goddess. The Monete Catene watch features a single denarius, a silver coin bearing the effigy of Emperor Caracalla. Masterful and sophisticated creative skills achieve an aesthetic displaying ample volume, typically showcasing exceptional antique treasures of Ancient Rome and Greece in line with the Bulgari style.

Bulgari 2023 Monete Catene and Monete Dual Time

Meanwhile, Damiani’s Margherita Watch is nominated in the jewellery category of this year’s GPHG Awards. The Maison’s master goldsmiths have created a “refined and sophisticated jewel that houses a timepiece, with a design characterised by an essential element in gold and diamonds, which evokes the stylised shape of daisies on the one hand and the snow crystal on the other.” It’s a creation that honours the savoir-faire handed down from generation to generation. This splendid watch is adorned with 2 315 colourless diamonds weighing 12.80 carats and 55 fancy yellow diamonds adding up to 2.40 carats. It has a full pavé diamond dial, set in a white gold case, and fastened with a white gold bracelet.

Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled three exquisite high-jewellery watches integrating the signature Calibre 101. These new timepieces showcase the boundless creativity stemming from this unique mechanism and high jewellery fusion. The 101 Secrets is a new design in a pink gold setting adorned with over 1,000 diamonds totalling nearly 27 carats. This is the most precious Calibre 101 produced to date.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101

It features a concealed dial, only revealed at the wearer’s discretion via a discreet mechanism within the diamond rows. The 101 Secrets employs the incredibly minuscule (measuring 14mm x 4.8mm and 3.4mm thick) and enduring Calibre 101, weighing barely one gram. It remains one of the world’s smallest and oldest continuously produced mechanical movements by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and don’t miss out on regular updates from the YourLuxury Africa team on all things luxurious, beautiful and inspiring.