3 Scintillating Watches For 2020 Highlighting Just How Much Difference Diamonds Can Make
by Martin Green
At watch fairs and exhibitions, out of personal interest, I keep a keen eye out for diamond-set watches.
Diamond-set watches aren’t reported on very widely, and I suspect that one of the reasons is that they are created for a demographic not very active in the international online watch connoisseur community.
Another is that not everybody understands diamond-set watches. Many see a very extroverted watch with a steep price tag, and these two points become the topics of discussion, relegating many stunning diamond-set watches to a quiet corner, rather than putting them on the center stage they deserve.
Diamond-set watches can be objects of art, and here I’d like to highlight three recent launches that caught my eye.
Of all three watches in this article, the Vacheron Constantin is perhaps the most traditional in its gem settings: the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Jewellery features classical pavé diamond setting, but what makes this one special is that it’s a Vacheron Constantin.
While most of the top-tier brands can hold their ground when it comes to diamond-set watches, Vacheron Constantin holds a unique position as the brand that brought us the Raymond Moretti-designed Kallista in 1979 set with 118 visually impressive emerald-cut diamonds.
While this watch was a unique piece, it was followed by a range of timepieces in which diamonds were definitively put on center stage. Ever since that moment, diamond-set watches received an even more prominent place within the Vacheron Constantin collection than before.
That Vacheron Constantin has cherished its skills in making these types of watches becomes evident in the new Traditionnelle Tourbillon Jewellery. By setting the diamonds on different levels, they create a real sense of depth.
An added advantage is that they now also capture the light at slightly different angles, which has a positive effect on the fire and scintillation we see. By working with brilliant-cut diamonds of different sizes, including one “rebellious” row of trapeze-cut diamonds, the dial becomes very interesting to look at – that diamond-set ring around the tourbillon catches the light because is sloped.
Along with a pavé-set case, this is as good as diamond-set watches get for me. The Traditionnelle Tourbillon Jewellery’s proportions are spot on, in part thanks to Caliber 2160/1. At a height of 5.65 mm, it is pleasantly slender and allows Vacheron Constantin to keep the overall height down to just 11.2 mm.
Diamond-set watches are not about being the slimmest, but a slim form adds to the sense of the exceptional. The manufacture movement leaves little to be desired.
One closing argument that I would like to make is that some brands still feel they need to mention whether a diamond-set watch is aimed at women or men. While I understand this urge, and with a watch like the Maillon de Cartier (below) there is indeed little doubt about the intended target group, my fascination with this topic has taught me that the clientele buying these watches marches to its own beat, basing decisions on a completely different set of criteria than most.
A simple switch of a strap can turn a women’s watch into one for a man and vice versa. Even diameter isn’t a defining factor, as men walk out of stores with 39 mm on the wrist, while a woman might do the same with a 42 mm watch (or larger).
And all of these diamond watches look good on any wrist.
For more information on this Vacheron Constantin, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/en/watches/traditionnelle/traditionnelle-tourbillon-jewellery.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Jewellery
Case: 39 x 11.22 mm, white gold; bezel, crown and case set with 209 brilliant-cut diamonds
Movement: automatic Caliber 2160/1, peripheral rotor, one-minute tourbillon, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, 80 hours power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds (on tourbillon carriage)
It is easy to make a case that a watch like the Purnell Escape IIS doesn’t need diamonds to excel because it is the truth. Its twin triple-axis tourbillons, captured in cages of blued titanium, are nothing short of a spectacle. Rotating in opposite directions, each of the innermost cages makes a full rotation in eight seconds, the middle cages in 16 seconds, and the outermost cages need 30 seconds to make one full rotation.
It is these tourbillons that are the undisputed stars of this Purnell watch: what can diamonds possibly add other than a higher price tag? The answer: plenty!
The reason for this is that Purnell set the spherical blued-titanium cages of the tourbillons with a total of 304 brilliant-cut diamonds. While they make no contribution to the precision of this watch, and perhaps even marginally take away as the diamonds add weight, they offer quite a spectacle. Because of the constant and rapid motion, there are always a few stones that catch the light just right to show fire and scintillation.
Purnell also did well not to rival this effect in any other way, using only baguette-cut diamonds for the dial, case, and folding clasp. They are more understated as they don’t reflect light with the same enthusiasm as brilliant-cut diamonds. That doesn’t make them any less stunning: well-set baguette-cut diamonds can create the bedazzling illusion that the case is covered in scintillating precious gemstones.
This is precisely the road that Purnell takes, and especially on the right side where the diamonds follow the curves of the crown guard: the result is awe-inspiring. While most people talk about the price and carat weight of these diamonds, I am always stunned by the craftsmanship needed to correctly cut and set them in a watch like this.
To me, this also makes the Escape IIS Treasure Baguette such an exceptional watch: it unites so many crafts from within the watch industry and excels in all of them.
For more information, please visit www.purnellwatches.com/escape-II.
Quick Facts Purnell Escape IIS Treasure Baguette
Case: 44 mm, white gold, set with 326 baguette-cut diamonds on the case and crown (20.26 ct)
Dial: set with 46 baguette-cut diamonds and 11 baguette-cut blue sapphires (1.04 ct)
Movement: manual wind Caliber CP13 with dual triple-axis tourbillons, six mainsprings in four barrels, two triple-axis tourbillons set with 304 brilliant-cut diamonds, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 32 hours power reserve, adjusted in 12 positions
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Price: CHF 1,090,000
At the 2020 digital edition of Watches & Wonders, three diamond-set watches in particular caught my eye, the first being the Maillon de Cartier. What this Cartier proves is that diamond-set watches are all about balance. It is not a matter of putting as many diamonds on a single watch as possible, it is the way that you do this that makes the difference.
The Maillon de Cartier was my highlight of Cartier’s new products for 2020. This may sound strange as the brand re-introduced one of my all-time favorites, the Pasha, and also made the Santos Dumont even more desirable by fitting it with an ultra-slim hand-wound movement.
What sets the Maillon de Cartier apart from these watches is its bracelet and that sets it apart. Cartier has always been a master when it comes to bracelets: the brand fit the first generations of the Pasha and the Panthère with the comfortable Figaro bracelet and also had in the past a wide variety of different bracelets available for the Tank Louis Cartier.
You see this heritage in the Maillon, its links set so that the bracelet itself becomes a three-dimensional aspect of the watch rather than something simply to secure the case to the wrist.
While there are three versions of this watch with diamond pavé setting, it is the fourth that I consider a stroke of genius: it is here that Cartier combines brilliant-cut diamonds with turquoise and dark blue-colored lacquers and tsavorites. These tsavorites are cut like cabochons, which gives them a slightly rebellious look that works so very well in this watch.
That a quartz movement powers this watch might upset a purist or two, but let’s be honest: what’s the added value of a mechanical movement in a watch like this? The tiny crown makes winding and setting the watch troublesome, and the small dimensions of the case prevent it from being fitted with a worthwhile movement from a technical perspective.
Usually, these watches are also purchased by women who don’t wear them on a daily basis, underscoring the choice of a quartz movement.
For more information, please visit www.cartier.com/en-us/collections/watches/women-s-watch/maillon-de-cartier.
Quick Facts Maillon de Cartier
Case: 16 x 17 x 6.8 mm, white gold; bezel, bracelet, dial and case decorated with lacquer and set with 96 tsavorites and 301 brilliant-cut diamonds (4.85 ct); crown set with a brilliant-cut diamond (0.07 ct)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 20 pieces
Price: on request