The Bling and I: Collecting Jeweled And Decorated Timepieces
“There’s a fine line between accessory and upholstery,”
Greg Hinds, my longtime clothier, on the topic of formal wear.
Watch collecting should be fun! Yes, it’s important to show the proper respect for the designers and makers of the watches we all love, but at the same time, I think it’s completely appropriate to go beyond somber and traditional daily watches and give a bit of free rein to one’s desire for more flamboyant timepieces.
At the same time – as with Day-Glo cummerbunds – there are perhaps watches that go a bit too far on the bling scale.
As I’ve built a collection that includes a number of jeweled and decorated watches, and most recently with the addition of the Patek Philippe Reference 5170P to the mix, I have from time to time contemplated whether and where I’ve in fact gone a bit too far.
Let’s take a look and you can judge for yourself!
Bling: the early years
I suppose that I started honestly on the path to timepiece ornamentation, as the watch that first captured my imagination when I was a young lad was my grandfather’s engraved pocket watch.
Already we’re getting into definitions here, and since it’s my article I’ll set the boundaries of “bling” to include not only the use of jewels, but also engravings, fine skeletonization, and other métiers d’art that engage the eye.
While my grandfather’s watch set the stage, it was well into my collecting journey over the past 25 years that I added another watch to my collection falling within these boundaries: the unique Fighting Time in platinum by Peter Speake-Marin with a fantastic mokume-gane dial and gold dragons intricately engraved by Kees Engelbarts.
As blingy watches go, this is a pretty meaningful one: in its visual story, the mighty dragons chase each other endlessly in a counterclockwise direction amidst the swirling of the universe, yet even they can’t turn back the clock.
The message of the watch struck a chord with me at a time in my life when I’d lost some people very dear to me, and that had a great deal to do with my purchase; but at the same time, I couldn’t get over how the watch popped on my wrist!
Down the slippery slope
Within a year or so, I had added to the bling quotient in my collection by buying a watch I’d stared at in the watch store case for months, the Malte Squelette by Vacheron Constantin.
The Malte Squelette is completely impractical as a daily-wear watch due to its ornate design and perhaps a bit small in diameter by today’s standards, but I absolutely love it.
It’s the ideal watch for a formal dinner or an evening at the opera, and an additional benefit of its size is that my wife also wears it from time to time. In addition, openworking is one of the great strengths of Vacheron Constantin as a manufacture for me, and it’s a pleasure to include one of its skeletonized watches in my collection.
And if openworking was good, surely jeweled openworking must be better!
While browsing an auction catalog, my eye fell on a startling ultra-thin, jeweled skeleton pocket watch by Audemars Piguet. And in my first auction bidding success ever I was able to have it for my own – for about a week.
Once it arrived at our home, MrsGaryG quickly moved to claim it for herself on the grounds that it was “too feminine” for me.
And with the addition of a Victorian-era chain and custom-fabricated bail it became a horological pendant that never fails to draw compliments, especially at watch gatherings where it has drawn praise from luminaries the likes of Philippe Dufour.
One small loss wasn’t going to stop me, though!
When our local “watch gang” commissioned six chronographs from Kari Voutilainen (see Commissioning A Watch: My Journey With The Kari Voutilainen Masterpiece Chronograph II), I placed a high priority on having mine include an officer case back engraved by Eddy Jaquet, who had done the engraving work on several of Voutilainen’s decimal repeaters.
The result was an engraving of Chronos, the Greek god of time, which, with its backdrop of the creation of the universe, extended the story of Fighting Time to encompass eternity and boundless space while at the same time evoking memories of my grandfather’s watch with its fine lines and rose color.
And if that’s not quite blingy enough for you, the watch also has a cabochon sapphire atop its winding crown!
Up to the present
With this backdrop, perhaps it is no surprise that I was an early fan of the 40th Anniversary Patek Philippe Nautilus Reference 5711P with its baguette-cut diamond indices when others were highly critical (see From Zeroes To Heroes: The Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1P And 5976/1G Anniversary Watches).
When I saw a similar diamond index treatment on Patek Philippe’s Reference 5170P at Baselworld 2017, I immediately requested an allocation.
Yes, there are diamonds there, but this watch is the epitome of under-the-radar bling as in most light it’s quite difficult to determine whether you’re looking at diamonds or super-polished metal.
The reactions I’ve received to this piece both in response to posted photos and in person have been pretty much universally positive; while I’m not sure that will encourage me to step out even further on the bling scale, it does give me the courage of my convictions as I consider watches with dramatic appearances.
Accessorizing the accessory
It’s not just in the realm of watches that I have yielded to the siren song of bling! While I rarely wear so much as a simple right-hand ring at watch events, when it comes time to go out on the town I have a variety of other accessories that complement my engraved and jeweled timepieces.
With my 5170P, it might be the jeweled floral pin whose accompanying fitted box identifies it as having been made in 1889 in Paris by F. Soufflot et fils.
When I strap on the Voutilainen chronograph for a night out, it’s often accompanied by a more recent Parisian creation: my bespoke Boucheron “tiger” cufflinks.
The Vacheron Constantin Malte Squelette? With that one, it’s usually my very favorite bit of lapel bling: a Victorian-era lizard pin in silver and gold adorned from head to tail with Russian mine-cut diamonds and with two bright green demantoid garnet eyes.
Mr. Lizard was a wonderful gift from my wife, and it’s great fun to display him on a lapel or partially hide him inside of a breast pocket so that only his head and shoulders are visible.
Even my Grandpap’s watch has its appropriate complement: a family heirloom diamond ring with a “Belcher” setting. The Belcher style refers to a setting whose claws are cut away from a solid piece of metal, leaving open spaces around and below the stone and allowing the stone to be set nearly flush to the top of the ring while still being visible from the sides.
While the Belcher setting is from the late 1800s Victorian era, it is an American style named after designer Thomas Belcher.
This leads to a bit of mystery, as my grandfather didn’t come to America until about 1915; it seems unlikely that it would have been an item that was acquired by his European forebears, so it may well be that he bought it pre-owned after he established himself here.
At this point, I’m not really sure! I’m guessing that my taste for a bit of flash won’t subside any time soon, but by the same token I seem to have a pretty good inventory of bling already at my disposal – and the examples noted above don’t even include dramatically styled items like the Romain Gauthier Logical One and Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1 that are “blingy” in their own ways.
There is one thing of which I’m fairly certain, however: I won’t be adding anything like the sapphire-encrusted Rolex that began this article or the all-diamond Vacheron Constantin in the photo below.
What’s your bling experience? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Also published on Medium.