Undoubtedly one of the most precious creations that combine the art of the jeweller and the watchmaker, jewellery watches are in vogue as a new generation of women track down the most refined ways in which to adorn themselves. So rare are jewellery watches that only a few companies excel at making them, and when you see a splendid example, there is no mistaking it.
For the past 60 years DeLaneau has been making women's watches that take the idea of gem-set watches into a new realm. DeLaneau's watches are not just dials adorned with diamonds but jewels in their own right, which has earned the house the reputation of 'the jeweller of watches'.
When I first saw DeLaneau's three Grace watches exhibited in London a few months ago they did, quite literally, take my breath away. Each of these watches is a one off, and once you see them it is easy to understand why.
The first I saw was the Grace Diamonds, a shimmering cascade of diamonds that appeared to float like ice on water on a bracelet that encircles the wrist. So light and near invisible is the setting that I was puzzled at how this sublime effect was achieved, which is exactly what a great jewel should do.
The pear-shaped rose-cut diamonds of differing sizes fit together as if gently guided by flowing water. Looking closely, I saw that the white gold mesh into which the 352 rose-cut diamonds are set is kept to an absolute minimum and so masterfully executed that it is hidden behind the stones. The centuries-old rose cut, with less facets and a flatter profile, has a less brash sparkle than the modern brilliant cut diamond, which is why the Grace Diamonds watch looks like a limpid Arctic scene. Placed in the middle of the diamond bracelet is an oval dial set with 268 diamonds, bringing the total carat weight to 44, a jewel by anyone's standards.
The Grace Stars is an exceptional combination of gemmological rarities and exquisite gem-setting. Star sapphires and rubies are unusual enough, but to see such a gathering is a first for me. The fact that they form the bracelet of a watch, rather than a more obvious necklace, adds to the unique nature of this piece. The star pattern seen in these cabochon-cut stones is due to needle-like inclusions that create a mesmerising six-arm star effect. The 118 star rubies and star sapphires that make up the tapered bracelet weigh 254ct. Selected for their beauty and varied hues, they are arranged in a harmonious whole, interspersed with 276 diamonds. The dial is a slice of ruby known as a ruby heart, surrounded by 58 diamonds.
I am not surprised that the Grace Rubies watch was chosen as a finalist in the 'Jewellery' category at this year's Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève. The 214 Burmese cabochon rubies of varying sizes weigh 222ct and are of such an intense colour that one alone would be a showstopper, never mind a wrist swathed in them. The assorted sizes and rich colours remind me of ripe cranberries sprinkled with sugar. In fact, 419 diamonds nestle amongst the rubies and a further 218 add sparkle to the dial.
Testament to DeLaneau's dedication to using the most precious crafts and materials to take women's watches to new heights, once you have seen jewellery watches like these it is difficult to forget them.