Although the women’s market still trails the men’s in the world of haute horlogerie, it is hard to imagine a time when it was actually frowned upon for respectable women to own a watch.
At the advent of the watchmaking industry, men carried pocket watches. Women, hampered both by the aesthetic lack of pockets on dresses and, more importantly, societal expectations for demure behavior, were discouraged from carrying timepieces. Not to be kept down, women turned directly to watchmakers for a solution. The result was timepieces as we know them today: wristwatches.
In 1810, Abraham-Louis Breguet produced the first-ever wristwatch on commission for Maria Carolina d’Austria, Queen of Naples. Masquerading as high jewelry bracelets, wristwatches allowed women to hide the time beneath a hinged cover over the dial. Although wristwatches did not truly catch on with men until the 20th century, they were an instant hit with women.
Here are two of our favorite modern-day examples of the 19th century tradition of secret watches:
Breguet’s 18K white gold Secret de la Reine timepiece was inspired by Marie-Antoinette à la rose, a painting of the Queen who ruled France from 1774 until her execution at the start of the French Revolution in 1792. The Secret de la Reine showcases Breguet’s mastery of an equally ancestral savoir-faire: cameo carving. A beautiful cameo engraved rose, which features a hidden hinge, opens to reveal the time.
The case of the Secret de la Reine is paved with 431 brilliant-cut diamonds and the silvered gold dial is set with 116 brilliant-cut diamonds. A Breguet medallion in white mother-of-pearl is inset at 12 o’clock on the dial. At its heart is the self-winding Caliber 586 movement, which boasts a 38-hour power reserve.
Chanel’s 18K white gold Cosmos watch is part of Chanel’s ‘1932’ collection, a tribute to the 80th anniversary of Gabrielle Chanel’s 1932 Bijoux de Diamants exhibition in Paris. The Cosmos is set with 537 brilliant-cut diamonds (approximately 4.2 carats), 29 fancy-cut diamonds (approximately 3.8 carats) and 31 princess-cut diamonds (approximately 0.9 carats). A diamond-clad star, a motif favored by Mademoiselle Chanel herself, swings open to unveil a diamond-paved dial underneath. Functions include hours and minutes. It is completed by a satin bracelet.
Photo credit: Haute Time.