French Watches Enchant Collectors
by roberta naas
1. From Dior Timepieces, this Dior VIII Grand Bal Resille watch ($26,900) is inspired by the accents of the design house’s haute couture dresses. Offered in a limited edition of just 88 pieces, the 33mm automatic timepiece is crafted in white ceramic with pink sapphires on the bezel and the patented Inverse rotor.
2. The 18k white-gold Charms Extraordinaire Lotus watch by Van Cleef & Arpels ($73,000) is a superb blend of arts—its case is set with diamonds and Paraíba tourmalines, while a meticulously hand-painted champleve enamel flower dial also has a gemstone setting.
3. Cartier’s 18k pink-gold Tank Anglaise watch ($36,200) recalls the brand’s first Tank watches but with updated styling. Set with brilliant-cut diamonds and featuring a silvered, lacquered dial, the timepiece houses the quartz-caliber Cartier 057.
France has long been a mecca for creative expressions in art, music, literature, design—and, naturellement, fashion. Many of the most iconic brands have stemmed from this land of unbridled luxury, among them Dior, Hermès, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Over the years each of these great French houses have forayed into watchmaking—always remaining firmly entrenched in their heritage to turn out unusual works of art and time.
In 2011 Dior released the first watch from its now much-coveted Dior VIII Grand Bal collection, clearly inspired by the details of fine couture. With the patented Inverse caliber developed by Les Ateliers Horlogers Dior in Switzerland, Dior Timepieces is able to display the mechanical watch rotor on the dial and bedeck it in jewels and lavish designs that recall the sway of a ball gown, all in an effort to emulate the hypnotic spell of Dior’s sartorial creations.
Chanel’s ceramic timepieces deftly recall the bold black and white statements for which the house is known. The brand’s premier watch line is inspired by Place Vendôme and by the Chanel No. 5 bottle stopper. Chanel also creates haute-horological specialty pieces with enamel dials inspired by the Chinese screens from Coco’s legendary home on the Rue Cambon, and offers gemstone, pearl, and gold-chain accents on watches to remain true to its roots.
1. Hermès’ elegant Heure H watch ($23,900) is inspired by the brand’s beloved H logo. The watch is crafted in 18k rose gold with an alligator strap.
2. From Louis Vuitton, this steel and diamond Tambour Monogram watch ($7,950) features a dial with a graduated sunray pattern on the outer portion. The Louis Vuitton logo discreetly forms a circle that engulfs the center of the dial.
3. This 38mm automatic Swiss-made J12 Moonphase watch from Chanel ($23,450) is crafted in top-quality ceramic with a diamondset bezel. The dial features a stunning moonphase indication at 6:00, rimmed with diamond brilliants.
Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels have long been ranked among the world’s finest jewelry brands, of course, so translating their artistry to watches was a natural step. Cartier began creating watches at the turn of the 20th century—the first was built by Louis Cartier for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, who used to fly his dirigibles around the Eiffel Tower. Cartier’s watchmaking legacy grew to include many memorable designs, including the Tank watch for men and women, which has been coveted by society types for generations.
Van Cleef & Arpels debuted its first watches more than a century ago to sate the demands of its gratin clientele. Today, the house offers diamond, gemstone, enamel, and special haute-horology watches that are inspired by French tradition. Its most memorable timepieces include Parisian scenes like those found in the Poetic Complications series, as well as amazing renderings of flora and fauna such as the expertly rendered enamel flowers on the Charms Extraordinaire Lotus watch.
Louis Vuitton and Hermès started their legendary ascents by crafting fine leather goods—Vuitton was a maker of the world’s most-coveted trunks, while Hermès was firmly entrenched in saddlery. Today, Louis Vuitton’s timepiece collections feature its LV motif on the straps and the dials, nodding to its pedigree as a luggage maker. Hermès also stays true to its history by utilizing detailed saddle stitching on its sumptuous leather straps. “The top French brands are known for their quality and heritage, for their designs and their unusual thought processes,” says Robert Peterman, vice president of fine timepieces for Hermès. “Our French roots require us to keep a close handle on quality and craftsmanship, and Swiss watchmaking helps us do that.”
by roberta naas, styling by terry lewis