CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: 1. From Vacheron Constantin, the Lady Kalla Haute Couture à Pampilles watch ($735,000) is set with flame-cut diamonds totaling 34.64 carats. The movement of the watch is manually wound.
2. This Chanel Camelia Brodé secret watch ($57,000) is crafted in 18k pink gold and is meticulously set with 275 round-cut diamonds to reflect the beauty of nature’s flowers.
3.Piaget’s Limelight Ribbon Motif secret watch ($220,000) in 18k rose gold is set with a total of 301 brilliant-cut diamonds and features a dial in white mother-of-pearl marquetry on a brown satin strap.
Secret watches—one of the most beautiful and fascinating categories of women’s timepieces—have roots that are centuries old. The finest brands continue to create these specialties, sometimes referred to as hidden watches, using artistic prowess with gemstones, diamonds, and precious metal sculpting to elevate them to the highest level.
Essentially, a secret watch is a timepiece that has a cover that can be flipped open or moved aside to reveal the dial and allow the wearer to see the time. While early portable clocks and 18th-century pocket watches utilized covers or lids to protect them, modern-day watches use materials and technologies that are so progressive that timepieces are less subject to damage, making the covers predominantly decorative.
In the latter part of the 19th century, when many beautiful covered timepieces emerged on the scene in the form of pendant or brooch watches, it was generally believed that a woman did not necessarily need to know the time. Thus, a covered, hidden, or secret watch allowed her to wear a beautiful piece of jewelry and still have time on the wrist. While that old-world thinking has long been lost, the mystique and allure attached to wearing a secret watch have remained steadfast.
“Secret watches have a long [history], but today they remain very mysterious and discreet,” says Hugues de Pins, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, North America. “In the past, it was considered rude for a woman to check the time, so having a piece of jewelry that let them slyly see time made sense. Today, the multifaceted woman loves a secret watch for the beauty and craftsmanship of it.”
Vacheron Constantin, a brand with more than 250 years of history, has been making secret watches since its inception. The newest addition is the Lady Kalla Haute Couture à Pampilles watch, which is crafted using more than 34 carats of diamonds, including flame-cuts that are unique to Vacheron Constantin in the watch world. Just one of these timepieces will be made each year because of the enormous amount of time that goes into assembling the perfectly matched and cut diamonds and setting them.
The watches with closed covers to hide the dial.
“High-jeweled watches like these depict several crafts,” de Pins says, “from the secret watch with cover to the different diamond cuts and the unique technique of setting them, which we developed in-house.”
A handful of other brands have also mastered the secret-watch creation, unveiling stunning works of art and haute joaillerie. Among them are Piaget and Chanel. Today, these brands continue to delve eagerly into this realm, creating watches that offer hidden time, often in the form of covers that mimic nature, animals, birds, flowers, or sometimes just beautiful, ultrafeminine ribbons. Generally, these watches are bedecked in diamonds and gemstones that make an important statement of individuality.
Piaget has long been a master at creating secret watches and offers many with nature-inspired themes, feminine ribbon and bow themes, and animals.
“Secret watches are all about mystique,” says Larry Boland, president of Piaget North America. “You can choose whether you want to share that secret with someone or just keep it for yourself. Personally, I think it’s always better to share, as ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ are pretty much guaranteed.”
Because secret watches have hinged covers that slide aside or open, they are not at all easy to create. The mechanics of the case and cover are complex, and so watch brands opt to parallel the technology with equal parts beauty and elegance. It should be noted that because these watches are typically quite elaborate in design, they often require hundreds of hours of diamond or gem setting or enamel painting. As such, they are usually made in limited numbers and can command top dollar for the result. A secret watch can retail for as little as $25,000 to upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the embellishments and the craftsmanship.
No matter the time it takes to build them, or the exquisite detail in design, these timepieces are noted for their ability to allow time to pass by in a secretly seductive manner—and as such, they have a mysterious hold over watchmakers and watch lovers alike.