Secret watches – The secret is out

Secret watches have been making a comeback in the past decade as a fashion statement, but originally these designs served a practical function.

Reverso limited edition by Jaeger-LeCoultre

It is hard to imagine anyone would tolerate such chauvinism today but 100 years ago and even into the 1950s it was not considered lady-like for a woman to sneak a peek at the time on their watch when they were in the company of a gentleman. Perhaps it was seen as a demonstration of the lady tiring with her companion’s company, and so was regarded as rude. 

As a result, women started wearing timepieces masquerading as high jewellery – mostly bracelets, brooches and sometimes sautoirs - this was the Roaring Twenties when long ropes of pearls and fabulous diamond Art Deco designs were all the rage. Hiding in plain sight, these dazzling watches thus became enormously fashionable, even though some dials under their pretty covers were so dainty as to be barely legible. One wonders how the wearer could read them at all, let alone discreetly.

Anya Taylor Joy at the EE BAFTAs wearing her cleverly disguised Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-vous Ivy Secret Watch. @Getty images.

Whilst that sort of attitude is a thing of the past in our more liberal society, the trend for secret watches has made a remarkable comeback over the past decade in haute horology, as luxurious statements of individuality. At the EE BAFTAs earlier this year Jaeger-LeCoultre ambassador Anya Taylor-Joy wore the Rendezvous Ivy Secret Watch cleverly camouflaged in an elegant diamond bracelet. A month later at Watches & Wonders in Geneva the luxury watch brand unveiled its exquisite Art Deco enamelled Reverso watch (originally a sporty timepiece designed for polo players) where the dial and case flipped over to conceal the time whilst revealing a decorative design on the back. A secret watch of sorts.

Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton Lion by Chanel
Hiding the time on Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Bouton is a gold lion’s head.

At the same event Chanel showcased its latest Mademoiselle Privé Bouton designs symbolically focused on the couturiers’ birth sign Leo. Crafted in their métiers d’arts workshops, a button adorned with the lion’s gold face slides aside to reveal the time on black titanium cuffs, a diamond and onyx sautoir, or a calfskin strap.

La D de Dior Dentelle secret watch by Dior
The all diamond La D De Dior Dentelle Secret Watch from the Dearest Dior collection.

A few months ago, Dior and Chaumet presented their newest secret watch designs. Chaumet’s Souveraine and Maharani designs are traditional wristwatches, but the twinkling aventurine dials are veiled by pear-shaped or pave-set diamond motifs that can be slid aside when necessary. Artistic director, Victoire de Castellane at Dior, meantime, drew on the maison’s couture dressmaking heritage to create lacy diamond floral covers for a flower shaped La D de Dior Dentelle watch on a diamond bracelet.

Moving away from quartz and utilising for the first time its ultra-thin and miniaturised movements, Bulgari’s new high jewellery collection Mediterranea includes secret watches notably a spectacular dual time Monete Canete with two ancient Roman coins concealing the two dials.

Mini Ludo Beauty watch by Van Cleef & Arpels
Van Cleef & Arpels’ gold and pink sapphire Mini Ludo Beauty with a spring catch lifting the flaps to reveal the dial.

Van Cleef & Arpels has been making secret watches since the 1920s and its more recent and popular Perlée secret pendant watches now come with emerald, sapphire or ruby set covers. In haute horology, it has revived the Ludo secret watch which was originally a gold belt-shaped bracelet design from the 1930s that honoured Louis Arpels’ nickname, Ludo. The first Ludo watch appeared in 1943, but ever inventive, the maison has updated it with a specially sprung mechanism that you squeeze to lift jewelled flaps to expose the time. How clever is that!

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