Ladies’ watches are back in a big way, but they’ve been saying that for years – at SIHH 2016, it was no idle boast…

 CARTIER Pantheres et Colibri watch

“Elegant.” “Chic.” “Sophisticated.” You could exhaust a thesaurus of such adjectives when it comes to describing SIHH – the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie – held in January by the luxury group, Richemont. As the jewel in the crown is Cartier, and other exhibitors include Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels and 20 equally prestigious brands, some showing both watches and jewellery, how could it be otherwise?

Unlike most events for ‘the trade only’, SIHH seems like a salon privée for coddled high-rollers. Even the press is made to feel like royalty when being shown the latest “novelties”, as the Swiss so charmingly describe the new models. The most rewarding aspect of the event is the opportunity to try on the pieces. One soon learns that a photograph of a watch does nothing to convey how it feels in situ.

A perfect example is the round Petite Promesse from Baume & Mercier, a new take on an old style – the extra-long wraparound strap, as well as the introduction of one of the most supple bracelets we’ve seen in years. The leather editions are offered in blue or orange, while the bracelet emulates the scales of a serpent. On the wrist, it feels like fine jewellery and the sheer comfort is unparalleled.

Baume & Mercier Petite Promesse

Petite Promesse from Baume & Mercier

Offered with a diamond-set bezel, either full or partial, the Petite Promesse, with steel case of 22mm, combines modern clarity and a heady dose of 1970s “cocktail watch” retro. Its size falls in-between the tiny “ladies” watches of the past, as one’s aged auntie might have worn, and the massive, a-wee-bit-too-macho men’s watches which dangle from so many ladies’ wrists in Milan or Paris.

The dials on all versions are made of mother-of-pearl, with single diamonds set at 6 and 12 o’clock. The overall effect is a perfect mix of dressy and sporty. The hard part is deciding which to buy, as the strappy versions favour jeans, while the bracelet would suit an LBD. We think you could probably reverse that and get away with both!

Thoughts of comfort lead us to the delicious Milanese bracelet fitted to Piaget’s Limelight Gala Milanese. Milanese bracelets have been enjoying a revival for the past few years, but the modern versions tend to consist of heavy woven links, better suited to massive men’s watches. So fine is the mesh of Piaget’s bracelet that it feels more like cloth. The model was revived in 2013 with a satin strap, but the move to precious metals has be achieved without any loss of litheness.

Piaget Limelight Gala Milanese

Piaget’s Limelight Gala Milanese

A design classic born in the 1970s, the Limelight Gala features a round, 32mm case fitted with two dainty, asymmetrical lugs instead of four, and closed with a sliding clasp for a perfect fit. The look provided by only one lug where one expects two is a bewitching trompe l’oeil, because surely a strap cannot be supported only at one point?

This asymmetry embraces a bezel set with 62 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling approximately 1.75cts. They surround a silvered dial, with slim Roman numerals in the colour of the case and bracelet. Offered in either 18ct yellow or 18ct pink gold, the Limelight Gala Milanese is powered by a quartz movement.

Van Cleef & Arpels expressed its usual sense of wit and charm with a host of models, from fully-pavée watches to a bracelet covered with 115 rubies and containing a timepiece in a secret compartment. In keeping with the romantic storytelling of previous Lady Arpels models, 2016 commenced with the Jour Nuit Fée Ondine and the Ronde des Papillons, each with its own animation.

Van Cleef FeeOndine

Jour Nuit Fée Ondine from Van Cleef & Arpels

Jour Nuit Fée Ondine’s contains a scene in which a nymph’s day unfolds before the wearer’s eyes, enacted to the movement of the sun and moon. The fairy, Ondine, made of gold and rose-cut diamond, sits on a lily pad, toes in the water. This colourful image is created with a mix of Champlevé enamel enhanced by perfectly-set tsavorite garnets of intense green, pink sapphires and yellowy-orange spessartite garnets. Van Cleef & Arpels’ artisans enhanced the effect with grains of gold.

Animation arrives through the dial’s rotating disk – which completes a full circle every 24 hours. The sun fashioned of yellow sapphires dips below the horizon, replaced by a full moon made of diamonds, against a sky of subtly painted mother-of-pearl. This mini-drama continues around the caseback.

Van Cleef RondePapillons

Van Cleef & Arpels’ Ronde des Papillons

For the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons watch, a 38mm case in white gold, its bezel set with diamonds, mother-of-pearl and engraved gold, the scene features an aerial ballet between three coloured butterflies. Indicating the minutes, each butterfly appears in turn between the clouds, then disappears to make way for another.

For the hours, a swallow points the tip of its wing at the hours scale before returning to its initial position. To increase the delight afforded by this fauna, the user can activate on demand via an animation of approximately 10 seconds. At the push of a button, the butterflies dance around the clouds, finally resuming their flight.

For Roger Dubuis, 2016 is the year of the Velvet Diva. The models included gem-clad pieces with floral motifs, fully pave models and a collaboration with Maison Massaro, its gold-coloured strap evocative of a stiletto’s heel stitching. Cartier (see top image) showed a rose gold version of the Crash Skeleton, and an animated watch with a Panther and cub, the baby appearing between its mother’s paws.

Roger Dubuis Velvet by Massaro Rita

Roger Dubuis’ Velvet Diva in collaboration with Maison Massaro

IWC has completely revised its pilots’ watches. This is, you should know, a brand that once proudly advertised that it only makes watches for men. They have, however, taken note of the way some of us have no qualms about wearing our partners’ watches. But they couldn’t bring themselves to admit that the women’s market for fine timepieces is growing.

Pilots’ watches are inherently and inescapably masculine, but look wonderful with casual attire. When he’s hunting for another watch to keep the rest company, hint that he might like what IWC coyly describes as “the choice for watch lovers who prefer timepieces to be slightly smaller and more elegant.” They mean women.

With a case measuring 36mm in diameter, the Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 is the smallest in the manufacturer’s current collection (see image below). But it’s handsome, like a Belstaff jacket. And it’s the ideal way to get in touch with your inner Amy Johnson.

IWC Lifestyle

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