Mineral and gemstone watch dials are rich in colour and intricate in detail, and are an emerging trend among the haute horology houses. Kathryn Bishop takes a look at the stones, their legends and how the luxury houses are making these ancient stones a must have today.
Names such as Lapis lazuli, jadeite, Paraiba tourmaline and malachite conjure images of ancient hunks of mineral and precious stone – just the type that the ancient Egyptians or Chinese dynasties liked to fashion small artefacts and objects from.
Today, however, they are being carefully carved for an entirely new purpose: to be used as the dials of luxury timepieces.
While stone dials might not be brand new – back in the mid 1980s Tissot paved the way with its Rock Watch collection, timepieces that had granite dials sourced from across Europe to offer variations of colour – today’s versions are much more lavish, featuring gold, diamonds, mechanical movements and numbered editions.
While the Rock Watches were fairly muted in their hues, today’s mineral and gemstone timepieces have clashing pop-colour dials in turquoise and lapis lazuli, as well as the more sugared tones of jadeite or clashing leather straps to add some fun to the wrist.
One of the brands leading the pack when it comes to stone dials is Jaquet Droz, which updated its Grande Seconde’s timepiece this year, launching its Minerals collection of fine timepieces, with slices of stones such as lapis lazuli, bronzite and red moss agate carefully carved to fit the striking figure of eight pattern created by the dials. With a bright, off-white dial dashed with green for the jadeite version and rich, rosy pink for the agate, the timepieces show how such delicate colours make an impact when applied in an unusual way.
When launching the range, Jaquet Droz pushed the PR message that such stones have always fascinated mankind because of the magic and emotion they impart and this positive imagery has been used by many other brands making watches with stone dials. The use of particular stones also links into the precious stones and healing stones markets, and the storytelling element of the gems; something that many consumers will find appealing and a retailer’s a key selling point.
Jaquet Droz explains that the use of such minerals in the making of its Grande Secondes watches can be fraught with potential problems. A block of stone might yield only one dial, or sometimes none at all, thus the stonecutters, or lapidaries, working the dials from hunks of stone face the challenge of finding the right orientation of the stone so that the materials are cut whilst respecting the characteristics of the stones, such as inclusions and angles of cleavage – that is, the natural way in which the stone will break or come apart if knocked. The stone must also be hard enough and scratch resistant to withstand frequent handling and wear, even when protected by sapphire crystal.
These rich colours perhaps reference the wintry seasons – the collection was launched, after all, towards the end of the summer – and also tap into a rustic nature theme with leaf greens, deep night-time blues and blood reds.
Continuing the run of similar colourways is Piaget, a brand that has also got to grips with nature’s minerals for an eye-catching new line of Altiplano dress watches. As a brand long known for its artistic timepieces and daring wristwatch creations, Piaget’s latest line, Hard Stone Dials, features 24mm, 34mm and 38mm models, tapping into both the men’s and women’s market.
While the Altiplano line has become synonymous with the brand’s ultra-thin movement, something that is carried over into this range, the Hard Stone Dials collection pays homage to watches from its past, with a nod back to its first stone dialled timepieces from the 1960s.
Back then the colours fitted the times – pea green jade and rich blue lapis lazuli – with stones carried onto the watch bracelets in later models. Today, akin to other luxury jewellery and watch brands using retro themes in 2012 collections, Piaget says it is “perpetuating its DNA” by revisiting its archive stones and bringing them up to date for today’s market.
The Hard Stone Dials range features a selection of numbered editions, something it has dubbed “miniature jewellery masterpieces”, housing its 430P movement which measures just 2.1mm thick.
While the most obvious use of the stones is for their bright colours or depth and inclusions, for Piaget the use of stones dials has also been a chance to tell a story, something that runs on a similar vein to Jaquet Droz’s use of stone dials.
In Piaget’s case, the brand is playing on the talismanic quality of the stones, based on the superstitions and beliefs of various cultures. Lapis lazuli, for example, is said to encourage harmonious relationships, malachite is thought to bring peace to its wearer, while opal has been used for the 24mm model for its healing connotations. Jade, naturally, and turquoise have also been chosen for their historic relationships with China and Asia, key markets for luxury watch brands.
Like Jaquet Droz, Piaget also placed a great deal of emphasis on the cutting of the stones, which is carried out by skilled artisans. It says that each of the stones is “extremely fragile and hard to cut, which means that working with them requires a combination of controlled gestures and considerable dexterity”. Each stone reacts differently to the cutting operations and will look different according to its thickness.
An alternative style of stone dial was unveiled this year by Dior, which has an artistic director for jewellery and watches, Victoire de Castellane, known to be a fiend for colour, texture and shape. With the brand’s rather lengthily titled La Mini D De Dior Colour Snow-Set range, a blizzard of cocktail colours were thrown at the wrist, settling as a collection of three fashion-forward but wholly luxurious watches.
The stones used for the collection are acidic and fun – pink sapphires, tsavorite garnets and Paraiba tourmalines – snow-set on the dial, giving the appearance of there being no metal settings between the stones and offering a blanket of shimmering, faceted gems, contrasted by pop-colour gem-set bezels and diamond encrusted crowns. While the colour of Paraiba tourmalines is coveted for its blue hue, these watches do not play on the alternative qualities of the stones. At Dior, it is all about the style.
The luxury elements of these timepieces are carried on through their 19mm solid gold cases and lizard skin straps. The tiny case size also taps into the trend, like Piaget’s 24mm models, for smaller dress watches that has steadily filtered down into the fashion watch market, with watch brands such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mondaine, Tissot and Bulova all offering smaller case sizes this season.
As the luxury markets have become ever-more polarised, the use of precious metals, stones and detailed handiwork has become the reserve of skilled artisans and the grandest of watchmaking houses. This is ultimately true of the trend for mineral dials, which seem to be the reserve of the haute horologists and sumptuous dress watches. While Tissot might have brought minerals to the mainstream back in the 1980s, it sadly ceased making the granite timepieces a few years later, but it seems that stone dials are far from being forgotten and are back making an impact as a striking and fresh way of combining the worlds of watchmaking, lapidary and fashion.
This feature was taken from the November issue of WatchPro. To read the magazine online. click here.