14 of the best gem-set timepieces from Watches and Wonders 2021 (2023)

Thanks to lockdown and the cancellation of real life events, last year’s inaugural Watches and Wonders, a hybrid of Switzerland’s two biggest annual watch shows, involved little more than a drop of press releases and images. On the whole, the brands played it safe with design and technology, and anything worthy of fanfare was held back for more social launches to happen post-lockdown.

Of course, that time still hasn’t come. So, for Watches and Wonders 2021, the show’s organiser,the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH),and all 38 brands involved, decided to go all out with the now familiar ‘phigital’ format – combining physical and digital interaction. Watches were unveiled with a mix of video and live presentations from CEOs and directors of marketing, design and heritage, live Q&A sessions were organised across the board and samples were sent out to journalists’ homes or offices for the all-important look, touch, and try.

With watches there will never be a truly good alternative to seeing them in the metal – and thankfully for watch buyers, retail doors are now open again, albeit in a new, more organised, Covid-safe way– but as Watches and Wonders proved, the situation, both current and future, is looking bright. There is already talk of live fairs happening in the second half of this year and little was held back in terms of new launches this April with existing themes including vintage styling remaining strong and emerging ones such as sustainability and corporate responsibility taking centre stage.

In anticipation of better times to come, there was also a plethora of launches featuring dazzling gemstones – both diamonds and rainbow brights, on models from cocktail to high tech. Below is a selection of the shining lights from 2021.

A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moon Phase

Known more for technical excellence and beautiful finishing than extravagant stone-setting, A. Lange & Söhne has, for 2021,offered a diamond-set option to its new Little Lange 1 Moon Phase. Inspired by a bright night sky, the 36.8mm white-gold case of the watch houses a silver dial coated in midnight-blue aventurine containing a galaxy of sparling gold 'stars'.

An off-centre hour and minute dial sits at nine o’clock, its three, six, nine and 12 Roman numerals punctuated by gold star indices. Lange’s signature big date is at one o’clock, a power reserve indicator runs through three, and there is a white-gold moonphase disc at five. In this special version, the bezel is set with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds. Within the case beats the L121.2 manually wound movement.


Bulgari Allegra Rose Gold

A house known for flying in the face of the adage ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, choosing instead to highlight coloured gems, Bulgari has introduced four new cocktail watches that put time at the heart of a rainbow explosion.

With a hint of the mid 20th century flair that made Bulgari a favourite among the emerging jet-set, the new Allegra Pink Gold features a harmonious mix of gems in different cuts including citrines, amethysts, peridot, blue topaz andrhodolite, as well as 82 round brilliant-cut diamonds. At the centre of this kaleidoscopic frame is a mother-of-pearl dial with diamond indexes powered by a high-precision quartz movement.

£24,200, bulgari.com

Cartier Reptilis Watch

Year-on-year, Cartier revisits its ample archives, bringing us replicas of lesser-known variants of classic designs, as well as reinterpretations of age-old house themes. This year was no different with the brand presenting one of the most universally acclaimed collections at Watches and Wonders.

The snake, an inspiration for many watch and jewellery brands, has been associated with Cartier since the 1960s, when Mexican actress and fashion icon María Félix commissioned several serpent-based pieces of jewellery from the house. For 2021, the snake is back in several forms, none more glamorous than the geometric cocktail Reptilis Watch, its tiny, paved, rectangular dial surrounded by deco-style chevrons that undulate as they wrap around the wrist.

Price on request, cartier.com

Chopard L'Heure du Diamant

Queen of the Cannes red (and green) carpet, movie postponements and lockdowns did not stop Chopard from delivering in the high glamour stakes this year. With its L'Heure du Diamant timepieces, the brand unites all of its experience in goldsmithing, jewellery work and watchmaking.

'Shape'is at the centre of the designs, with Chopard going beyond the expected, often calling on forms that werepopularised in the 20th century and rarely seen today – as the collection's name states, however, diamonds are always at the heart of the watches. The bark-textured bracelet is made from Chopard’s ethical white gold, the milky mother-of-pearl dial is framed by almost 4.5cts of brilliant-cut diamonds, and within the 30.8mm rounded-square case beats a Calibre 09.01-C self-winding movement.

£61,200, chopard.com

Hermès Faubourg Polka

Known more in recent years for its complex shapes and precision details, this diminutive cocktail watch from Hermès is both a surprise and a delight. Based on a design first seen in 2014, at the centre of the new quartz-powered Faubourg Polka is an unassuming, round, mother-of-pearl dial, the three, six, nine and 12 indicated by diamond markers.

Framed by a pretty diamond-set bezel, everything is fairly standard until you come to the bracelet that is constructed from an apparently random jigsaw of diagonal links and circles of gold. Five different models in either white or rose gold, feature varying degrees of gem-setting, the abstract arrangement making this a timepiece in the finest traditions of Hermès.

From £16,620, hermes.com

Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon High Jewellery

Proving that a gem-set watch doesn’t have to be a miniature cocktail piece, this 43mm, technical masterpiece, the latest addition to Hublot’s 14-year-old High Jewellery Collection, follows the philosophy that more surface area means more space for bling. For the brand, the idea is to take its watchmaking beyond its usual parameters, creating timepieces that surprise for their mastery of disciplines not normally associated with Hublot.

This latest piece focuses on the brand’s recent integrated bracelet and involves the setting of 484 invisibly set, baguette-cut diamonds, totalling 31cts. Here, the diamonds are more than glitzy partywear for a simple quartz movement, the watch being powered by Hublot’s manufacture automatic tourbillon calibre, which can be admired dial-side thanks to the sapphire-crystal face.

£567,000, hublot.com

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Precious Flowers

Celebrating 90 years of its signature flip-case Reverso model in 2021, Jaeger-LeCoultre showcased the design in full glory at Watches and Wonders. Not only did the brand introduce the uber-complicated, four-dialled Hybris Mechanica, but it also showed a different side to the Reverso with four stunning high jewellery versions that highlight many of the artistic skills that the brand specialises in, including enamelling, engraving and gem-setting.

Taking inspiration from art deco jewels, the Precious Flowers celebrate nature and the beauty of flora with two white gold and two pink gold watches. Pure, white mother-of-pearl dials contrast the hand-decorated casebacks. Just 10 examples of each design will be made.

Price on request, jaeger-lecoultre.com

Louis Vuitton Vivienne Bijou Secret

Happily doing its own thing in horology for more than two decades, Louis Vuitton has made it impossible for the watch world to dismiss it as a fashion house playing at making timepieces. Watches like 2020’s Geneva Seal Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon and the new Tambour Carpe Diem with jumping hour and retrograde minutes on-demand, are proof of the technical prowess of Michel Navas’s team at La Fabrique du Temps.

But, the house is also taking on the best in jewellery watch production with pieces like the elegant and quirky Vivienne Bijou Secret. A symbol of the house, a gold Monogram flower, snow-set with brilliant-cut diamonds takes centre stage, twisting upwards to reveal a 21mm mother-of-pearl dial embellished with a Monogram flower pattern. The watch is available on a choice of straps but is at its finest on a bracelet made up of four diamond strands.

Price on request, louisvuitton.com

Patek Philippe Nautilus Haute Joaillerie ref. 7118/1450R-001

Watches and Wonders became something of a celebration for the iconic Nautilus, with Patek Philippe announcing four new models, the sparkliest of which is a new high jewellery version where gem-setters work to the dictates of the stones, allowing their size and shape to determine the final random pattern.

In this way, each paved watch is totally unique. The new model features a case and bracelet in rose-gold, the 35.2mm case, bezel and bracelet all snow-set with diamonds. The dial is finished with waves of more diamonds, bringing the total gem count to 2,553, with a combined weight of approximately 12.69cts. Despite the decadent embellishment, the time is easily read via the luminous, rose-gold Alpha hands and indexes. Within the case is the self-winding Calibre 324 S movement.

£282,340, patek.com

Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Zenith

A touch of summer is brought to this Piaget signature shape thanks to a sprinkling of yellow sapphires nestled among an icy carpet of white diamonds. The 32mm case and bracelet are crafted from white gold and totally encrusted in stones invarious cut and settings.The bezel hosts 32 brilliant-cut yellow sapphires weighing almost 5cts, and 10 brilliant-cut diamonds totalling nearly 1ct.

The snow-set dial features a further 289 diamonds, while the bracelet has 276 more, as well as 124 brilliant-cut yellow sapphires set in an apparently random arrangement reminiscent of computer display pixels. Unusually for a high jewellery watch, the movement is a self-winding mechanical 501P1 movement that is visible though the sapphire-crystal caseback.

Price on request, piaget.com

Purnell Escape II Treasure Baguette Rainbow

With a mission to bring ‘more future than past’ into its watchmaking, Purnell is a watch brand that has been adopted by a new generation of watch buyers looking for something innovative and ground-breaking. The Swiss brand only works with tourbillon movements and the 48mm Escape II Treasure Baguette Rainbow is no exception.

At the heart of the timepiece is Purnell’s Double Spherion, triple axis tourbillon movement, designed with master watchmaker Eric Coudray. The tourbillon cages are painstakingly set with 304 baguette sapphires, rubies and tsavorites that dance when the calibre is in motion. The large rose-gold case is set with 247 baguette diamonds (25.1cts) and 41 baguette rainbow sapphires, rubies and tsavorites (2.87cts).

Price on request, purnellwatches.com

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36

Rolex's Day-Date 36 is a watch with a proud and illustrious past. Launched in 1956, and made exclusively in precious metals,it boasts a position ofprestige and timelessness that, along with its popularity among successive POTUSs has led to its nickname'Rolex President'. Featuring the daywritten in full in an aperture at 12 o'clock and the date at three, 2021 sees the latest glamorous incarnationsin white, Everose and yellow gold.

The cases and dials are set with diamonds that showcase the skills of the brand's gemologists and setters and each watch has a contrasting colour for indices– turquoise for the white gold, burgundy for the Everose andcoral for the yellow (pictured).Perhaps to avoid an overdose of bling, the new trio foregoes the iconicPresident bracelet, replacing it with shiny alligator-leather straps that correspond to the colour on the dial.
£66,200 (for yellow gold), rolex.com

Vacheron Constantin Égérie Self-winding Diamond-pavé

Vacheron Constantin unveiled the latest versions of its Égérie at Watches and Wonders –diamond-pavéd models in white or pink gold, featuring the now familiar asymmetric dial layout, interchangeable strap system and an automatic movement. Following the house’s 2021 theme of ‘Classic with a Twist’, Égérie takes its design cues from archival watches, as well as from the world of haute couture.

While previous models have featured delicate ‘pleated’ dial patterns, the high jewellery versions focus on light and reflections created by the diamonds set into the dial, bezel and lugs of the 35mm case. The offset date runs in an arc from one o’clock to two, while italicised, Arabic numerals and thin gold hands make time-telling completely legible. An exhibition caseback provides a perfect view of the manufacture Calibre 1088.

£54,000, vacheron-constantin.com

Zenith Defy 21 Spectrum Series

Zenith has been experimenting with colours that reflect its high frequency 1/100th second El Primero 21 chronograph movement for some time now, but with the Spectrum series, the brand has taken it to a precious extreme. In five new models, colour appears everywhere from the movement to the set bezels and rubber straps.

Each of the chosen colours has its own light frequency, changing the look and feel of the 44mm stainless-steel watch. The case is set with 288 brilliant-cut white diamonds with bezels featuring 44 baguette-cut precious stones – green tsavorites, orange sapphires, blue sapphires, amethyst or black spinels. Each model is limited to 10 examples, exclusively available from Zenith boutiques.

£29,300, zenith-watches.com

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