The Taj Mahal and the Swiss don’t really have much in common. But for a brief moment at Baselworld, the watch world’s biggest fair earlier this year, that Indian world wonder had its one minute of fame. And it has Boucheron, the Place Vendome jeweller, to thank.
The brand’s 69-year-old signature model, the Reflet (a favourite of French chanteuse Edith Piaf), has introduced the Bleu de Jodhpur. Produced in a limited run of 88 pieces, the watch comes in two colours: a blue strap and a white strap with a blue leather lining. The colours are an immediate nod to the Jodhpur, nicknamed India’s ‘Blue City’ for the paint job on its houses.
The dials, however, were the main draw. The blue version came with glittering aventurine stone in a Steven Klein blue. The white model sported a marble dial, sourced from the same Makrana quarry which supplied the marble for the Taj Mahal.
How brands are rocking it
The Reflet is just one example of how watchmakers have evolved the business of aesthetics in watches. Though the traditional idea of bling still involves plenty of diamonds and gems, the use of semi-precious and precious rocks and minerals and even extraterrestrial materials (more on that below) have become somewhat of an artistic “ah-ha” moment for watch brands.
On paper, Montblanc’s Heritage Chronometrie Exotourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama Limited Edition watch sounds like a mechanical machine. But the designers at the brand have given a romantic touch to it by using gaventurine – a translucent quartz – with its glittering specks to mimic the stars in the night sky. Dior, on the other hand, has gone big with using stones for its dials too, showcasing them in their full glory by not cluttering the design too much. At the most, there are only diamonds for the indexes.
Then there are those who take a maximalist approach with their stone dials. Van Cleef & Arpels worked with the intricate stone marquetry technique for its Lady Arpels Oiseaux Enchantes collection by using inlays of jade, turquoise and lapis lazuli. To top off the designs, the brand ropes in feather artist Nelly Saunier who adorned bird motifs with real plumage.
For something more novel, meteorite is a favourite among brands. Omega, for instance, incorporates a slab of the space matter for its Speedmaster Grey Side of the Moon Meteorite. According to the brand, between 2,000 and 5,000 meteorites of over 1kg fall on earth every year. What makes the ones used by Omega even rarer? 75 per cent disappear in the ocean and desert.
Blancpain takes on another rare material for its stone dials: Its Villeret The Great Wave features Mexican silver obsidian. Obsidian, is a semi-transparent volcanic rock and is commonly used in jewellery making. The material forms a stormy sky backdrop for the wave motif that’s been engraved from white gold.
In an e-mail interview, Swiss watch designer Anne Margot-Grosjean, who has created for brands like Vacheron Constantin, Girard-Perregaux and Longines, feels that using these materials on dials add value to a watch design. “Stones are hard to work with due to the difficulty of crafting these materials,” she says. “They are easily breakable.” The thickness and size of the stone, she adds, limits the ways a designer work with stones. Below, get a close-up glimpse of these stunning works of art.