CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT: From Harry Winston, this Premier Ladies 36mm watch ($51,700) features a distinctive mother-of-pearl dial with a beaded effect that adds depth and dimension. It is set with brilliant-cut diamonds. This Baume & MercierLinea limited-edition day watch ($6,800) features a mother-of-pearl dial with marquetry like sun rays with diamond-set relief waves running through it. It also has an interchangeable satin strap.Van Cleef & Arpels uses a mother-of-pearl deftly cut into a complex shape for its Alhambra Talisman ($32,200), a 40mm timepiece featuring diamonds set in 18k white gold.
Mother-of-pearl, otherwise known as nacre, has been used in the making of jewelry since ancient times, when tribes trolled the seas for shells and abalone to hang around their necks as trophies. Today watch enthusiasts with an eye for this fiery rainbow shimmer can explore the world of fine watchmakers that are turning to this abundant gem of the oceans to make mother-of-pearl watch dials.
The creation of those dials is no easy feat, since the delicate material often breaks or splits on cutting or setting. The sheer thinness (often the thickness of a sheet of paper) of the final dial makes it prone to chipping with rough or improper handling. Depending on the complexity of the dial, the entire production process involves 15 artisan steps and takes between four and six weeks. Savvy brands have devised ways to make mother-of-pearl even more inviting, by adding back painting for color, etching it for depth and even setting it with diamonds.
“It has become a bit easier to create mother-of-pearl dials due to the technology used in the initial cutting machines, but still, the delicacy of the work is time-consuming and requires a high level of craftsmanship,” says Rudy Chavez, president of Baume & Mercier North America. “Creating these dials is so worthwhile because women do love beautiful timepieces.”