As we approach this year’s SIHH, Europa Star looks back at the origins of the ladies’ watch. There follows a selection of past ladies’ models from brands that will be present at the exhibition, and a comparison with current models, reflecting the evolution of ladies’ movement design and characteristics.
Tiffany Repeater, 1894
“Since its earliest days, Audemars Piguet has created feminine watches that marry elegance with fine mechanics. Their history reflects a perpetual quest for perfection, punctuated by spectacular technical achievements.
From the early 1880s, the key to this quest was miniaturisation; where ladies’ models were concerned, the epitome of refinement, in those days, was synonymous with absolute discretion. In the space of just a few years, Audemars Piguet established itself as the master of diminutive minute repeaters, in one twenty-five-year period producing 47 movements with miniature gongs, the smallest of which measured barely 18 mm in diameter!
They demanded such virtuosity that their value exceeded that of grand complications. Among the rarest pieces that can be found on display today at the Audemars Piguet Museum is a brooch with minute repeater created by the Le Brassus watchmakers for Tiffany New York in 1894. A superb example of the juxtaposition of technical wizardry and ornamentation, its mechanism can strike the hours, quarter-hours and minutes on demand, while its 18-carat gold case is embellished with translucent royal blue enamel over a guilloché ground, framed with a row of diamonds, and topped by a finely worked, enamelled and jewelled brooch.
At the beginning of the 20th century the bracelet watch gradually conquered women’s wrists, before vanquishing the men’s. Audemars Piguet was one of the first and only houses able to equip their very small cases with mechanical gong movements. Each was capable of playing 720 different melodies, equivalent to one every minute for twelve hours!
At a time when every watch made was one of a kind, a number of clients asked Audemars Piguet to transform their 19th-century pendant watches into wristwatches.” François-Henry Bennahmias, Audemars Piguet CEO
Royal Oak, 2014
“The Royal Oak 41 mm was introduced in 2014. It comes in a rose gold case set with 166 diamonds. The dial is carpeted with 345 diamonds (1.07 carats).
The watch is driven by an automatic manufacture movement – the calibre 3120 – which displays hours, minutes, seconds and the date. The strap is made of grey alligator.”
Bracelet watch, 1889
“Vacheron Constantin’s tradition in ladies’ watchmaking dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. The company archives contain a number of requests from ladies for pocket watches. As a rule, the small diameter of these timepieces suggests that they were intended to be worn by women, although we have no pictures. It was around that time, in fact, that the first pocket watches designed specifically for women appeared.
They were smaller than men’s models, and also more whimsical; they required miniaturisation techniques and decorative talents that very few watchmakers of the day had been able to master. Vacheron Constantin was one of them. One of the house’s first ladies’ creations, a quarter-repeater pocket watch dating from around 1810, proves that watchmaking complications weren’t a solely male preserve. In 1889, the manufacture created a ladies’ bracelet watch (Ref. 10531).
In keeping with the company’s reputation for fine craftsmanship, it features a revolutionary system for winding the watch and setting the time by simply turning the bezel, thus dispensing with the need for a crown. The watch made its début at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.”
Traditionnelle moonphase and power reserve small model, 2014
“Introduced as part of the Traditionnelle collection, which proudly proclaims its ties with the purest watchmaking traditions and a timelessly classic spirit, the new Vacheron Constantin ladies’ model features gentle curves and a delicately gem-set case. The hand-wound calibre 1410 beating lightly at its heart, entirely developed and crafted at Vacheron Constantin, drives one of the most poetic of all Haute Horlogerie complications: moon phases.
Equipped with a high-precision gear train, the sophisticated mechanism of this function – also referred to as an ‘astronomical moon’ – requires a single-day adjustment only once every 122 years. In addition to displaying the hours, minutes, small seconds and moon phases, this manufacture movement offers a pointer-type indication of its over 40-hour power reserve.”
Source: Vacheron Constantin
“For a hundred years, women have been an incredible source of inspiration for our House, and our history has been marked by many iconic Baume & Mercier ladies’ timepieces. The popularity of our models with women is closely linked to their ability to reveal the different sides of their personality.
This tradition, initiated by Louis-Victor Baume in 1869, when he gave his daughter Mélina a gold pocket watch, turned into a genuine love story when William Baume and Paul Mercier joined in 1918 to form Baume & Mercier. From that time on, they began to create jewellery watches that were emblematic of the Art Deco period, when the fashion of wearing them on the wrist and their inspired forms reflected the greater freedom women enjoyed.
One of the first platinum and diamond creations appeared in the 1920s; it contained a miniature rectangular movement known as a ‘baguette’ and was worn on a slender cord.
Its design elegantly incorporates diamonds into the palm leaf motif that is so redolent of the Art Deco period. Generously-proportioned hand-painted Arabic numerals draw the eyes to the dial. Today we are perpetuating this tradition with an intensely delicate and timeless collection, a genuine ode to femininity: Promesse.
Referring back to the jewellery watch via a case that reinterprets its rounded form, the design of Promesse draws inspiration from the opulent ladies’ models to be found in the Baume & Mercier museum collection.”
Source: Baume & Mercier
Pendant Watch, 1890
Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater, 2014
“Jaeger-LeCoultre has always paid particular attention to ladies’ watchmaking creations, in terms of both their aesthetics and their mechanics. One of our earliest women’s pieces is a very old pendant watch. Made in the 1890s, it reflects the watchmaking skills and craftsmanship within the manufacture at that time.
The watchmakers perfected a very small movement, the Calibre 10HP. The alliance of artistic crafts and watchmaking technique is apparent in this watch, which combines a small-sized LeCoultre calibre with extremely refined decoration, featuring a carved translucent burgundy enamel caseback and diamond-set floral motifs. The design of this pendant watch inspired us to create the Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater, which was launched in September.
The white gold dial is embellished with a sunburst guilloché motif and enamelled, and the ivy leaves that decorate it are adorned with snow-set diamonds, a technique invented by Jaeger-LeCoultre.” Daniel Riedo, CEO
“The Arkade, whose launch coincided with the Lange manufacture’s return in 1994, contributed to the resurgence of the sophisticated ladies’ watch. The Arkade tells a charming story, with love taking centre stage.
Its shape, which could not be further removed from that of a stereotypical timepiece, can be traced back to the earliest days of the Lange watchmaking dynasty, and reflects the architecture of the arcades in the courtyard of Dresden’s royal palace, where the paths of two famous Saxons – Gutkaes, court watchmaker, and Adolph Lange, his apprentice and future son-in-law – were to cross.
The Arkade could be considered a monument in miniature to Adolph Lange’s love for Antonia Gutkaes, the daughter of his master and mentor, mirroring the passion that was born beneath the arches of the royal court. This architectural jewel, built by artisans of the Italian Renaissance, is an important landmark in the history of Saxony.
The nation enjoyed its artistic apogee under the reign of Augustus the Strong, whose admiration for the arts and masterpieces of precision engineering was equalled only by his passion for the fairer sex!
”Source: A. Lange & Söhne
Jackie Kennedy Watch, 1965
Extremely Piaget Collection, 2014
“Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was a woman who symbolised both elegance and the new freedoms women demanded in the 1960s. She became a legend, to the point that she is still known universally as ‘Jackie O.’
Her name is associated with a particular look and fashion accessories. Her elegance, her simplicity and her beauty made her one of the most popular and most photographed First Ladies. She rose to public prominence in 1960, when her husband John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. _She became a queen of tragedy when her husband was assassinated before the television cameras, in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Five years later, she stunned the world once again when she remarried one of the richest men on the planet, Aristotle Onassis. Already a legend in her own lifetime, Jackie O.’s legacy continued to grow after her death in 1994. Jackie owned a Piaget watch created in 1965.
Its green jade oval dial is set with emeralds and diamonds. The watch has a very flexible gold bracelet, whose links are embellished with a ‘palace’ décor. Our 2014 collection includes a number of models inspired by this watch, which are now part of Piaget’s heritage.” Alain Borgeaud , Piaget’s director of heritage
Automatic Calibre RM007, 2005
“Modern ladies’ watchmaking is just as entitled to sophistication, complications and technology. Richard Mille was a pioneer in this domain. In 2005 our house launched the RM007, the first ladies’ watch in the collection.
Its breathtaking harmony and balance, and its taut and edgy lines, provide a magnificent lesson in watchmaking. We wanted to produce the women’s calibre to the same exacting standards as the men’s collection, incorporating unprecedented technical innovations such as a gold rotor with micro-ball bearings.
The grade 5 titanium movement, despite being a highly technical solution, is designed for daily use. The cases, in gold or titanium, are embellished with baguette-cut diamonds, brilliants or rubies.
The precious stones are showcased to produce a range of different harmonies. Each watch becomes an exceptional creation, where fine jewellery and Haute Horlogerie work together.” Richard Mille, founder and CEO
Automatic Calibre RM 07-01, 2014
“The RM 07-01 is the perfect mechanical synthesis between the elegance of Haute Horlogerie and the strength of the modern materials used in this new ladies’ watch. Launched in 2014, the RM 07-01 is driven by the new CRMA2 house calibre, an automatic skeletonised movement specially developed for the RM 07-01. With a baseplate and bridges machined from grade 5 titanium, the CRMA2 also includes a variable-inertia balance in order to maintain exacting long-term performance, and a rotor in 5N 18K red gold with variable geometry in order to optimise automatic winding according to the wearer’s activity. In addition to the 18K red or white gold versions, the tripartite case is available in white or brown ceramic, a first for the Richard Mille ladies’ range, both with a red gold caseband.” Richard Mille, founder and CEO
Les Heures Merveilleuses, 2013
Bohème Perpetual Calendar, 2014
“Montblanc’s first ladies’ watch collection to come from our Villeret Manufacture is Les Heures Merveilleuses, presented at the 2013 SIHH and produced in a limited edition run.
It was particularly appreciated for its links with the craftsmanship of movements by the Montblanc Villeret Manufacture, its gemsetting and the workmanship of the watch dial.
Its design combines the Haute Horlogerie expertise that has continued to be a feature of the Montblanc Manufacture in Villeret since 1858, and the beauty of fine jewellery. The collection went on sale in 2012 and 2013. Our latest ladies’ watchmaking range is La Bohème, launched in 2014.”
Radiomir 1940 Oro Rosso
“Panerai watches were originally created from 1936 onwards for the commandos of the Italian Navy, and all the characteristics of the models that make up the contemporary collections of Officine Panerai today are still derived from that original function.
Solid and reliable, with large dimensions, and remarkably readable even under conditions of very low light, they have a strongly masculine character but are nonetheless also much appreciated by the female public for their strong personality and the purity of their design.
The Radiomir 1940 Oro Rosso – 42mm, with its simple, elegant lines and its warm-toned red gold cushion case, is also perfect for a lady’s wrist, particularly when fitted with a coloured alligator strap. The watch is equipped with the P.999 mechanical calibre made in the Officine Panerai manufacture in Neuchâtel.” Angelo Bonati, Panerai CEO
Stirrup Small, 2009
“For Ralph Lauren, a watch, whether for a man or a woman, must convey elegance, refinement and timelessness. Above and beyond these essential elements, a women’s watch must also embody grace and glamour. It is an expression of her personality as well as being an item of jewellery.
In 2009, Ralph Lauren unveiled its Stirrup collection on an equestrian theme, a unique and immediately identifiable collection that embodies the universe of its creator. It also represents a resoundingly feminine refinement and sophistication. The Stirrup Small in white gold, entirely encrusted with diamonds, is a perfect example. Its design is impeccably crafted, from its transferred Roman numerals and white lacquered dial to its perfectly cut, contoured sapphire crystal.
In 18-carat white gold, the timepiece is set with 297 diamonds ( 1.61 carats). Its crown is also set with a diamond. At its heart is a manual-wound Swiss movement developed by Piaget exclusively for Ralph Lauren. Its balance oscillates at a frequency of 21,600 beats per hour, ensuring perfectly balanced operation.
The Stirrup collection enhanced its feminine credentials further with the introduction of Stirrup Links. This bold innovation includes four different case sizes and bracelets with interlocking links for guaranteed flexibility.
In white gold, rose gold or steel, with a white, black or mother-of-pearl dial, with or without diamond embellishment, there are currently 11 models of Stirrup Link.” Nicolas Sestito, COO of Ralph Lauren Watches and Jewellery
Stirrup Petite Diamond Link, 2014
“In 2014 Ralph Lauren added a new size to the Stirrup collection: the Stirrup Petite Link. There are thus six new models with cases measuring just 23.3 x 27 mm and chain-link bracelets offering even greater flexibility for the more delicate wrist. _ The Stirrup Petite Diamond Link is probably the most extravagant of the new models. In 18-carat white gold, this timepiece fitted with a quartz manufacture movement is completely encrusted with diamonds.
It has transferred Roman numerals against a lacquered white dial, and an 18-carat white gold click clasp integrated into the bracelet with a security mechanism.”
Nicolas Sestito, COO of Ralph Lauren Watches
“Lépine-Damenanhängeruhr (ladies’ trailing hours) with brooch, 1903. 18-carat gold-plated, decorated with an emerald-and-diamond dragonfly. Enamelled dial with Arabic numerals and ‘poire corps renflé’ hands. Gold-plated IWC calibre 63-12-H4, 15 jewels, three screwed chatons, bimetallic balance wheel, Breguet hairspring.”
Source: Europa Star December - January 2015 Magazine Issue