By Rebecca Doulton
It’s one thing to set a couple of diamonds on the bezel, crown or dial to give jewellery watches a more feminine allure, but quite another to blanket it with different-sized diamonds to recreate the natural beauty of freshly fallen snow.
A relatively recent technique on the diamond watch scene, snow-setting was invented by the great Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre in 2002. It dreamed up the snow-setting technique for a high jewellery version of its iconic Reverso watch, known as the Reverso Neva. Christened after the Neva River, which glides past the wintry palaces of St Petersburg and also across the caseback of the Reverso, the creators of this diamond-covered Jaeger-LeCoultre watch wanted to evoke the way sunshine glistens on snow.
Instead of creating rows of uniform gems perched in gold claws, snow-set diamonds are selected from different-sized stones - from tiny 0.05mm to 1.6mm diamonds - and then set into a metal structure with hollowed-out areas that match the size of the stone. One by one, and in a position that will maximise its fire, each diamond is settled into position, up close to its neighbour, to reveal as little metal as possible. Even looking at these diamond watches under a loupe makes it practically impossible to see the setting. Like individual snowflakes, snow-setting ensures that no two watches can ever be the same, since the setting depends entirely upon a master gemsetter’s creativity and personal decision.
Snow-set diamonds work exceptionally well in the voluptuous Jaeger-LeCoultre La Montre Extraordinaire La Rose watch. The entire rose has been carpeted with 1,420 diamonds, which light up the delicate curves and instil the petals with a lifelike motion. Snow-set diamonds work to equal effect on the more geometric silhouette of the Reverso Cordonnet Neva, where a delicate sprinkling of diamond snowflakes settle on the watch case, dial and even on the cord bracelet, giving it an infinitely more feminine allure.
In the case of the magnificent Chopard Imperiale Tourbillon watch, the brilliant-cut snow-set diamonds on the dial contrast with the more rigid baguette-cut diamonds on the case and bracelet.
It’s almost as though Girard-Perregaux decided to see what would happen if it left one of its tourbillon complications out in the thick of a snow storm with the Cat’s Eye Tourbillon. These remarkable jewellery watches are covered with a flurry of more than 1,000 snow-set diamonds on the case, complemented by a unique mother-of-pearl dial with light-reflecting bubbles across its entire surface.
For a more radical take on snow-set diamonds, the Audemars Piguet Diamond Punk Haute Joaillerie watch wins hands down. Using the punky pyramid-shaped facets of the white gold cuff bracelet as its base, master gemsetters bored holes into the structure and snow-set 7,848 diamonds on the bracelet and a further 300 diamonds on the dial. That’s what I call brilliant attitude.
Read about our best high jewellery watches here