Watches & Wonders, the virtual watch fair that has stepped in to replace Baselworld and what was formerly known as SIHH during the pandemic, is currently holding its second edition. Bringing together the world’s most prestigious watch houses, including Rolex, Tag Heuer, Hublot and more, this is where the most exciting new timepieces of the year will make their debut – and they’re not just for the boys.
Women’s watchmaking has a long history of being somewhat overlooked. For years women with an interest in watches were forced to choose between basic quartz timepieces or oversized mechanical men’s models. Well no longer. While a quartz movement is still a mainstay in women’s watches – it is, after all, tricky to squeeze an intricate mechanical movement into a 20mm jewel encrusted case – Watches & Wonders 2021 has seen some truly great watchmaking aimed squarely at the female market. Here are the pieces you need to know about now.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
In 1921 Vacheron Constantin capitalised on the exuberance and opulence of the Roaring Twenties with a limited edition watch created specifically for the American market. 100 years later the house is reintroducing what came to be known as the American 1921 as a three-reference range, which embodies the playful spirit and vintage aesthetic of the original, with some truly modern upgrades beneath the dial.
Collectors will, inevitably, already be putting their names down for the 100-piece limited edition Collection Excellence Platine, which features a very smart platinum case and dial. For women, however, it is the white gold 36.5mm model which is of real interest. A scaled down version of the 40mm reference designed with men’s wrists in mind, it is powered by the same in-house 4400 AS calibre, which has been used by the house since 2008 and promises a 65-hour power reserve as well as a small seconds subdial. Aesthetically, it is also identical to its larger counterpart, with a quirky 45-degree offset dial and corner crown adorning a cushion case.
Piaget Limelight Gala Precious
The Piaget Limelight Gala made its debut in the 1970s and was inspired by the glittering parties the watch house would hold for its celebrity clientele, with attendees including Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Cary Grant and Jackie Kennedy. Since then, the Limelight has gone on to become the house’s signature cocktail watch – melding high watchmaking with Piaget’s expertise in precious stones – and continues to enthral on red carpets around the world.
It is this glamorous history Piaget honours, and undoubtedly hopes to continue, with the six new Limelight Gala references it introduced at Watches & Wonders 2021. Aside from one exquisite high jewellery piece, these are all additions to the Limelight Gala Precious line and characterised by a round face framed by precious stones. The entry level model, if such a term can be applied to a watch costing £21,800, is the Limelight Gala Mother-of-Pearl Palace. Powered by a quartz movement and limited to 300 pieces, it features a mother-of-pearl dial housed in a yellow gold case set with diamonds.
Elsewhere three new colours – blue sapphires for the morning sky, yellow sapphires for the midday sun and pink sapphires for the sunset – are found on models with in-house self-winding mechanical movements and limited to 18 pieces, eight pieces and 50 pieces respectively. The zenith of the collection, however, is the Limelight Gala Precious Rainbow. A startling feat of gem setting, it sees a rainbow of graduated tsavorites and coloured sapphires edge an engraved 18 karat gold dial and matching bracelet. Price is, naturally, strictly on application.
Chanel Boy.Friend Skeleton
As brands best known for their fashion collections go, Chanel has always been a step ahead in offering mechanical watches for women. Its hugely popular J12 provides an entry point to mechanical watchmaking for many women but it wasn’t until 2015, and the introduction of the Boy.Friend line, that Chanel really showed what it could do. The range, which takes its cues from Chanel’s signature men’s collection, incorporates complications and high watchmaking techniques usually reserved for a house’s most prestigious timepieces. Take, for example, 2021’s new Boy.Friend Skeleton watch. Incredibly aesthetically pleasing, with its rectangular diamond-set beige gold case and calibre 3 skeleton movement rendered in the same metal, it is a brilliant showcase of both form and function.
Hermès Faubourg Polka
Like your watches on the teeny tiny side? If you’ve yet to discover the Hermès Faubourg, which was first introduced in 2014, the newest addition to the line, the Polka, presents the perfect opportunity. Like all watches in the line, the five new Polka models measure in at a minuscule 15.5mm and blur the line between bracelet and timepiece, foregrounding jewellery-making techniques over haute horology. The size necessitates a quartz movement while the mother-of-pearl dial has, for obvious reasons, been kept minimal, eschewing numerals for four round indices at the compass points.
Instead, greater attention than usual has been paid to the unique bracelet, formed from interwoven dots and oblique lines, providing a graphic, almost Art Deco appeal to the round case. Available in white or rose gold, with gem-set bracelet and entirely pavé diamond versions available, this is cocktail watch making at its most contemporary.
Bulgari Serpenti Misteriosi Cleopatra
The highlight of every watch fair is undoubtedly the unique pieces watch houses create to show off their skills. The absolute epitome of high watchmaking, for men’s timepieces this often means innovative complications and record-breaking movements. For women, however, it more often than not means precious gems – and a lot of them. And, while we could argue this formula is a little retro, when the result is pieces like Bulgari’s Serpenti Misteriosi Cleopatra, it’s hard to complain.
An extension of the Roman watch and jewellery house’s long-term love affair with the serpent, this one-of-a-kind 18kt rose gold cuff takes its inspiration from Queen Cleopatra and Elizabeth Taylor, who famously portrayed the Ancient Egyptian ruler on screen and was a well-documented fan of Bulgari jewellery. Designed to evoke the scales of a snake, nine vivid hexagonal gemstones, totalling more than 50 carats, are surrounded by a cascade of 4,000 snow-set diamonds. The watch face itself is hidden beneath a transparent rubellite while each stone has been custom-cut to ensure perfect clarity and brilliance. Yes, this is a watch – but it’s also so much more.
Cartier Tank Must
While not officially showing as part of Watches & Wonders, Cartier unveiled the latest version of its own virtual watch fair – Cartier Watchmaking Encounters – this week. Among its new pieces are updates to the Ballon Bleu and Pasha collections, as well as some stunning new precious jewellery timepieces, but for something more everyday it is the latest additions to the classic Tank range that have caught our eye.
For 2021, Cartier has reissued the Tank Must, which first found fame in the 1970s, as a replacement to the soon-to-be retired Tank Solo. Based on the Tank Louis Cartier that debuted in 1922, the unisex form of the new Tank Must will be familiar to modern Cartier fans, even if the name is not. Available in three sizes, only the largest will be fitted with an automatic winding mechanical movement, while the smaller models will follow in the original's footsteps with a quartz movement that Cartier says will be good for eight years. The brand has also promised that an intriguing solar powered reference that won’t run out of juice for at least 16 years will be coming later this year.
Design-wise the core models are cast in steel (diamonds optional) with classic Roman numeral indices, blue steel hands and a variety of steel, calf leather and plant-based faux leather straps. The large model is also available in three colourful and highly minimalist options with unadorned burgundy, navy and green lacquered dials and matching alligator straps. We highly recommend completing the set and buying all three.