Wouldn’t you know it: The year Watches & Wonders brands introduce the most outstanding selection of women’s watches ever is the year we can’t see or touch the new introductions. The following watches, which would have been introduced in Geneva in April, collectively represent the best women’s watches have to offer today: state-of-the-art mechanical movements sized to fit women’s wrists; innovative gem-setting techniques designed to enhance sparkle; impressive metiers execution; iconic pieces with neo-vintage details; and imaginative modern design.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One
The Reverso started out as a sports watch for polo players who wanted to protect the glass on their watches in the days before sapphire crystal. But Jaeger-LeCoultre has been making women’s versions at least since 1931 — a piece from that era inspired the new Reverso One. The vivid red of the front dial is the result of multiple layers of lacquer over a sunray guilloché pattern, also known as flinqué. The combination of the two finishes is more shimmery than regular lacquer and brighter than regular guilloché. The matching red-wine-colored alligator strap makes it stand out even more. The stainless steel case is a very wearable 40mm-long by 20mm-wide by 7.9mm-thick, and it is given a fairly high polish. The reverse case side is blank, and that is deliberate — it can be personalized by the owner with an engraving of a significant date, special message, or a design of choice. A row of 27 diamonds totaling 0.3 carat line the gadroons at the top and bottom of the case. They are grain set, which means they are surrounded by as little metal as possible in order to allow more light return. The movement is quartz. It is priced at $5,350.
Hermès Cape Cod Martlée
Hermès borrows a trick from the jeweler’s bench here, inflicting a hammered finish on the case, a treatment that is usually done on gold, which is softer, but here is applied to stainless steel. The finish highlights the Cape Cod’s distinctive square-within-a-rectangle anchor-chain shape. The Martlée is named for the French word for the hammer-like tool that is used to make the indentations, which is much harder to do with stainless steel than it is with gold. The pitted finish creates an interesting light and shadow effect and gives every case a unique surface texture and patina. The dial is given the same hammered treatment and then is finished with a layer of translucent lacquer in graded shades ranging from anthracite to black. Like the case, each dial is slightly different. Even the chaîne d’ancre (anchor chain) half-links that attach the strap to the case are hammered. The Barenia calfskin strap can be either single- or double-wrap. The movement is quartz. Price on request.
Cartier Maillon de Cartier
Cartier headlined its Watches & Wonders releases this year with a reboot of the Pasha, the popular ’80s sports watch that originally launched as a men’s watch but quickly became the brand’s bestselling women’s line. But in terms of true novelty, the Maillon de Cartier is the real news from Cartier this year. The focus of the watch is the 18k-gold bracelet (maillon is French for “link”), a twisted take on the chain-link style, with offset links aligned on the bias. The angular, layered construction seems ideally matched to Cartier’s signature Roman numerals, and the watch works well as a piece of chunky jewelry. “We wanted to deconstruct the bracelet and transcend its design through a volume approach,” says Marie-Laure Céréde, Cartier’s timepieces creation director. Mission accomplished. The Maillon de Cartier comes in red, yellow, and white 18k gold, with a diamond bezel option. The white gold piece is fully paved. The yellow gold versions come with blue lacquer, tsavorite, or black lacquer dials and on the bevels of the bracelet links. The link fronts and bezels are set with diamonds. It is quartz. Prices start at $25,100.
Piaget Limelight Gala
Piaget’s Limelight Gala collection was originally introduced in 1973 but still looks fresh today. The distinctive design, with asymmetrical lugs that extend from each side of the case, is unchanged and seems made for gem-setting. The gems are set using the serti descendu or cut-down technique, in which the gold is carved away to form claws and grooves that grip the stone – the point is to have less metal surround the stone. That way, more light can enter the pavilion and then reflect out through the facets of the table. This is the process that produces a gem’s brilliance. The new models are set with diamonds and/or sapphires, and there is a high jewelry version set with 12.42 carats of round brilliant and marquise cut diamonds. The dials are mother of pearl or translucent blue grand feu enamel over gold. There are also three limited-edition models with aventurine glass dials and a one-of-a-kind piece with a dial made of Ethiopian black opal that is set with blue, yellow, orange, and pink sapphires for a total of 158 gems totaling 13.15 carats. The bracelets are engraved gold using a technique originating in the 1960s. It takes eight hours to engrave one bracelet. Prices on request.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon
The Traditionnelle Tourbillon is the Vacheron Constantin’s first tourbillon for women. It could be for men with smaller wrists — the case is 39mm-wide by 11.22mm-thick — because men are also buying diamonds now, which adds to the intrinsic value of the watch. The bezel, case, and tourbillon diadem are set with 291 diamonds totaling 3.57 carats. A full jewelry version is set with 559 brilliant-cut and baguette-cut diamonds totaling more than 6.5 carats. The movement, automatic caliber 2160, is slender (5.65mm-thick) thanks to a peripheral rotor. It has an 80-hour power reserve and a small seconds display that is so discreet you could easily miss it — a small blackened screw on the front bar of the tourbillon carriage counts the seconds as it rotates. You won’t know the exact second since, instead of an index, there is a row of diamonds set into the flange on the periphery of the tourbillon opening. The version with a mother-of-pearl dial and 291 diamonds is priced at $142,000. The jewelry version, with 559 diamonds, is boutique-only, priced at $197,000 and delivered on a blue satin strap and a second blue strap in alligator leather.