Jewellery watches
Jewellery watches

Precious Time

Is it a watch with jewels or a piece of jewellery which also tells time? And how do we understand its worth?

What is the true worth of a watch covered in gold and diamonds? Note that I said worth and not value. Because, at least in this context and in the way we’re going to talk about it in this column, worth comprises the aspect of value as well. So then. What is the true worth of a jewellery watch? By which I mean a watch that has at least some aspect of precious metal and gemstones?

This is an important question for some buyers, and also a tricky one.

Jewellery watches are a major element of most brand portfolios. For some brands, such as Bulgari, Chopard or Cartier, jewellery is a core aspect of their wristwatch offerings. Such brands often tend to come from houses with a long history of making jewellery and working with stones, who have since combined these crafts with that of the watchmaker.

Then there are other brands with proven strength in horology that have small but important, and often triumphant, collections of jewellery watches. The most immediate example that comes to mind is Rolex’s new Cellini collection. At the Baselworld watch fair this year, Rolex unveiled new Cellini models featuring a subtle and beautiful jewellery element: a ring of diamonds around the bezel. Rado, a rung or two lower on the venerable Swiss brand hierarchy, also had very similar offerings this year—there were options in both the DiaMaster and HyperChrome families with the same diamond-set bezel.

But at the opposite end of the spectrum, Breguet, Jaquet Droz, Vacheron Constantin and Hublot are all watchmakers who also make astounding works of jewellery that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Works in which the timepiece itself is often an afterthought.

How does one approach these products?

The one approach guaranteed to end in confusion is to assume that the price of a jewellery watch is the price of the base watch plus a premium that is commensurate with the amount of gold and diamonds that go into the watch. In my experience, this is almost never the case. The easiest way to do this is to compare this “premium" as charged by a mid-range brand and a high-end one. High-end brands will almost always charge more for the same quantity of stone or precious metal than a “lesser" brand (that is, of course, presuming that you can figure out the weights and caratage). So beware, a gold watch isn’t always an “investment". You are much better off just buying a block of gold.

The other approach is to realize that most jewellery watches are yet another way of making products “more premium" and exclusive. In much the same way that brands use limited editions or numbered pieces. Why wear a normal Cellini when you can afford one with a delicate, tasteful ring of diamonds around the bezel? The stones don’t make it a better watch, but they do make it a better object of luxury. Mind you, there is nothing at all wrong with this approach. What is luxury but looking far beyond the essential?

The final approach is perhaps the best way to approach jewellery pieces and, indeed, any good timepiece—purely as an object of emotion and somewhat irrational satisfaction. For instance, one day, when I have enough cash, I fully intend to buy my wife a two-tone gold and steel Bulgari Serpenti watch. Perhaps with a smattering of small stones (I am a realist even in my dreams). Not because it is an investment. Or because it is somehow good value for money. But because I love the Serpenti watch. For me, it is one of the icons of luxury watchmaking. It is beautiful to look at. And I can’t imagine anyone not treasuring it.

And that is, ultimately, the point of buying any luxury product. Happiness. It is an entirely noble reason. Don’t ruin it with your gold prices and stone weight.