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The unstoppable rise of the jewellery watch

Milena Lazazzera
June 21, 2024
3 min

“Icons” is the term jewellers use to refer to the kinds of distinctive designs that function as miniature logos – and, due to that brand recognition, contribute to up to fifty per cent of their companies’ turnover. But what if some of these designs could be adapted into watches? Could they further amplify the resonance of a brand? Would they not add some impressive numbers to the balance sheet? This very concept is one currently being tested by some of the most renowned jewellers who are also professionals in the field of horology.

In 2021, Chaumet presented the Joséphine Aigrette watch. It featured a pear-shaped dial and gentle arches conceived in tribute to the Joséphine jewellery collection, which was first introduced in the early 2000s and is now available at various price points. That same year, Dior presented Gem Dior, an assortment of watches and jewellery that played with vertical bars arranged in an asymmetrical pattern – this was in order to mimic fabric swatches at the heart of the collection’s concept. More recently, after joining the stable of LVMH’s successful mega-brands, Tiffany & Co. has creatively adapted its iconic cockatoo, which was initially designed by Jean Schlumberger in the 1960s, into a range of products: including a pendant watch. This demonstrates the versatility of the motif beyond its original Bird On A Rock brooches, necklaces, and rings; what is more, Tiffany & Co. has extended the experiment to its HardWear collection, with models in both gold and steel.

Chaumet's Josephine Aigrette watch

“Adapting some of a brand’s best sellers into new product categories is a good strategy and a safe brand extension,” comments Benjamin Voyer, a professor of behavioural science at London’s ESCP Business School, about the strategy that underpins this combination of jewellery and horology. According to Voyer, such timepieces maximise the success of established motifs while broadening a brand’s appeal. Turning jewellery motifs into watches is particularly relevant for jewellers who wish to offer complete “parures” to their clients.

“The first Serpent Bohème watch was introduced in 2011 to answer a specific request of many Middle Eastern brides, (who want to) have matching sets of jewellery inclusive of watches on their wedding day,” explains Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, the chief executive officer of Boucheron, about the new launch within the Serpent Bohème franchise, an iconic collection first introduced in the 1960s. Since 2011, Boucheron has progressively added new models to the Serpent Bohème watch range, including in steel. Poulit-Duquesne observes that there is a growing interest in jewellery watches in general and that distilling a jeweller’s identity into a watch is within the expected remit of a jeweller with watchmaking expertise. “I think all watchmakers with a jewellery heritage should have a jewellery watch, as it encapsulates a brand’s DNA so well… It’s a jewel that gives the time,” Poulit-Duquesne says.

Leading this creative synergy is Hermès. Philippe Delhotal, the house’s creative director for watches, highlights the brand’s adeptness at reinterpreting successful designs across different product categories. From the transformation of the Kelly bag’s padlock into a watch, to the Cape Cod watch’s inspiration in the Anchor Chain motif, Hermès exemplifies how heritage styles can inspire contemporary timepieces.

Hermès Kelly watch in steel and steel and diamonds. Photograph © Mark Kean

“As a creative brand, it is our duty to imagine new shapes and new objects every year. However, it is important not to forget the past,” says Delhotal. “Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we should continuously revive designs from the past, as that can become tedious. But we have some ‘design princesses’ and we have to look after them.”

Laurent François of the luxury creative agency 180 Global in Paris observes the strategic value of this trend. “Familiar motifs work as a strong hook. They showcase a brand’s icons, and this is particularly useful for customers who do not know much about watches,” he says. He goes on to say that these distinctive timepieces not only strengthen a brand’s narrative but also benefit from the cult status of their jewellery counterparts, enhancing the allure for collectors and new customers alike.

The creative director emphasises his point with an anecdote. “On a recent work trip to Japan, I sold two new Kelly watches in metal to a married couple,” he recalls, emphasising the playful versatility of the watch’s detachable padlock and its ability to win new customers – in this case, an envious husband.

Van Cleef & Arpels' instantly recognisable Alhambra motif

Last year, Cartier showcased a jewellery watch adorned with studs and beads inspired by its Clash design. At the same time, Van Cleef & Arpels introduced several timepieces riffing on the house’s classic jewellery styles, including Ludo, Alhambra, and Perlée. “Many sources of inspiration have nurtured the imagination of Van Cleef & Arpels. They can be transformed into jewellery, watches, and extraordinary objects, or used to connect different kinds of art,” says Nicolas Bos, Chief Executive of the company.

For heritage houses, crafting timepieces inspired by recognisable jewellery motifs is an opportunity to celebrate their past – all the while introducing new horological functions for thrilling new futures.