Secret watches gained popularity in the 1920s as a way for women to discreetly tell time at social engagements without being impolite (the same way it’s now considered impolite to check the time on your iPhone). During this time, slender watches were becoming more popular and jewelry and watch brands were creating sleek, modern timepieces as an alternative to clunky pocket watches. In an era when it was thought women didn’t need to know the time, jewelry maisons began creating secret watches exclusively for women that were disguised as bracelets. Essentially, a secret watch is one with a cover over the dial that can be flipped open or moved aside to reveal the dial and the time. While early pendant, brooch and wrist watches utilized covers or lids to offer a discreet way for a woman to tell time, today’s secret watch covers are predominantly decorative. Below are three of the most luxurious secret watches to have been created by powerhouse jewelry companies Harry Winston, Bvlgari, and Cartier.
Indeed, secret watches have a mysterious allure to them. Additionally, most are so highly decorated that they hold special places of honor in the world of haute horlogerie and joaillerie. Often, secret watches are created with covers that mimic nature, animals, birds, flowers, or sometimes just beautiful, ultra-feminine ribbons.
Similarly, the jewelry brand that creates stunning works of haute joaillerie and horology, Harry Winston has regularly released stunning secret timepieces. One of the most famed – and perhaps more versatile – is the Rosebud watch. First unveiled to the world a couple of years ago, this watch continues to enjoy the spotlight thanks to the fact that it confers from wristwatch to brooch to pendant. The Rosebud Secret watch is set with 69 carats of brilliant-, pear- and baguette-cut diamonds in magnificent Harry Winston style. However, this isn't the only watch to beautifully hold a secret.
Italian jewelry house Bulgari is synonymous with the serpent motif, which in Ancient Rome represents wisdom and everlasting love. It was in the 1940s when Bulgari’s Serpenti style was born, but jewelry featuring the motif was exceptionally popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the serpent symbol can be found on Bvlgari’s watches, bracelets, rings, belts, handbags, and more. There are many iterations of the Serpenti Secret Watch, and this beautiful piece in rose gold features 517 jewels made from diamond, pink sapphire, amethyst, and lapis lazuli (as the eyes). The double-spiral bracelet coils around the arm, like a snake, and the serpent’s mouth opens to reveal a quartz watch with an hours and minute hand. The watch dial features even more precious gemstones, because go big, or go home, right?
Cartier is no stranger to secret watches (it began producing them as early as the 1900s) and has opulent pieces, from a diamond-encrusted phoenix to a diamond cuff. This high-jewelry timepiece features small strands of 416 rubellite beads and a rhodiumized 18K white gold case and bracelet. The lacquered sunray-effect dial is surrounded by rows of diamonds and is concealed by an engraved rubellite cabochon stone. Rubellites, which have a different chemical composition than ruby, have a similar look albeit with a more pinkish tone.
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