As watch collecting and appreciation become more widespread, so does the job of watchmakers and designers become more challenging. It’s a very delicate balance. One is constantly expected to come up with ideas that are fresh and yet not so fresh as to alienate the customers.
The age-old métiers d’art have a lot to offer – who could say no to hand-painted grand feu enamel? – but, alas, they can also be prohibitively expensive.
So, a small and very fascinating niche has lately been carved – it’s a couple of notches below the traditional fine arts and yet comfortably above your garden-variety opaline black, silver or white dials.
Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique
First on the list is the Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique, a watch that turns the whole idea of time on its head. Completely unconventional, this ladies’ model only has one hand – a fitting metaphor perhaps, for how 21st-century women single-handedly manage career, family and self. Strictly speaking, though, this feature is not new as it goes back to 1982. What is absolutely fresh and inspiring here are the finishes on the watch.
The case in 18K white or pink gold is covered with satin-brushing and the Frosted Gold finish, which Audemars Piguet owes to Florentine jewellery designer Caroline Bucci. And the dial has a unique dimpled effect in shades of blue or brown. According to the manufacture, this is achieved through a hand-hammering process not unlike that used for the case, but ostensibly using a different chisel profile. The indentations are not perfectly uniform but rather than take anything away, it only underscores the handmade nature of the timepiece.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date
Hand-applied finishing is also found in the limited edition Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date. This 1970s tribute is a huge cult icon, especially among fans of the manufacture, and this classic model staunchly preserves the original watch’s most salient aesthetics. Little else is offered beyond the simple date display and a second crown controlling the inner rotating bezel.
But look a little closer and you’ll see a dial design that only Jaeger-LeCoultre diehards might notice. This watch draws creative inspiration from the 1970 Polaris II, which explains how it got the double-gradient dial that’s laden with a plethora of decorative finishes. Look through a loupe to see the hand-lacquering, sunray finishing, graining and opaline finishing. It’s all very mesmerising; the central disc and main dial offer a rich colour- change effect that moves from deep turquoise to brilliant royal blue.
Harry Winston Premier Hypnotic Opal Mosaic Automatic 36mm
Bringing the glamour of gem-set timepieces to a new level, is Harry Winston. Within a swirling vortex of precious diamonds and sapphires, its Premier Hypnotic Opal Mosaic Automatic 36mm presents a spell-binding profusion of iridescent hues. Baguette-cut gems join princess-cut diamonds, perfectly arranged as if inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. And see how the rich blue- green colours of the opal dial look just like the effect of Aurora Borealis on a dark night sky.
Breguet Marine Lady 9518
In a similar fashion, Breguet’s in-house artisans drew plenty of references from the sea as they created the new Marine Lady 9518. While the collection includes two beautiful models that feature traditional hand-guilloché on mother-of-pearl, this one stood out for its highly original lacquer-painted dial.
Mixing dark and light-blue lacquer, the swirls and colours of this dial are deeply reminiscent of the oceanic depths and of lapping waves along the Mediterranean coastline. Each one is meticulously hand-painted and so no two dials have exactly the same marbling pattern.
Glashütte Original Sixties
The dials of the Glashütte Original Sixties, however, are dedicated to the pursuit of perfection – that’s the best part of having your own dial-making workshop apparently. With a distinct retro-chic identity, these dials have a unique aesthetic found nowhere else. In addition to bold colours done in the degradé effect from yellow at the centre to orange and dark brown at the rim, there is a special low-relief pattern embossed using a 60-tonne press dating back to the 1960s.
IWC Portofino Automatic 34
Likewise, the new IWC Portofino Automatic 34 offers a fascinating silver-embossed dial finish. Echoing the sparkle from that single row of diamonds around its bezel, it reflects and refracts light in the way a disco ball dazzles a room. According to IWC, while the dial is made by a stamping process, the tool itself was manufactured with a hammering technique in order to achieve this multifaceted effect.
Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski
On the subject of facets, the latest Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski is angled in all the right places – so to speak. Evocative of the French artist’s style, the entire watch is covered with facets. Case, bezel and even the dial. In fact, this might be the first and only watch to date with a dial that’s so unapologetically three-dimensional. And the mirror finish does wonders to amplify the look that is, in no uncertain terms, not for the faint-hearted.
Chopard Alpine Eagle
Somewhat inspired by the past but updated with 21st-century features, the all-new Chopard Alpine Eagle delivers a rock-like textured dial inspired by an eagle’s iris. This aesthetic, however, is not totally unfamiliar as we’ve seen Chopard use it before in the L.U.C XPS Twist Qualité Fleurier Fairmined. Essentially a spiralling sunburst design with a slate-grey galvanic tone, it achieves the all-but-impossible feat of being understated yet brimming with detail.
The Alpine Eagle is a remarkable creation by Chopard – a feather in its cap, if you will. One that certainly deserves its own story, particularly relating to its use of ethical gold and steel, as well as the role it played in establishing the Eagle Wings Foundation. But, for now, we’ll yield to the profound depths of its piercing gaze.