01/12/2024
 5 minutes

The Emergence of Jewelry Brands in the Vintage Watch Marketplace

By Aaron Voyles
ONP-777-2-1

In the world of horology, the idea that watches are essentially a type of jewelry is not a novel concept. While watches became mainstream (particularly for men) out of a necessity to perform tasks, they were initially a type of jewelry, and they have maintained that same quality over the decades. However, watches are typically made by specialist companies, i.e., watchmakers, whose sole focus is the creation of timepieces and nothing else. Just think of brands like Rolex, Breitling, TAG Heuer, Patek Philippe, and so on – they only make timepieces. But that isn’t to say jewelers like Cartier, Piaget, Chopard, Bvlgari, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, and many others don’t have rich histories in watchmaking. They certainly do, and their watchmaking heritage is beginning to be uncovered.

In fact, a recent trend has emerged, capturing the attention of watch enthusiasts worldwide: the rise of jewelry brands on the vintage watch market. Once primarily associated with high-end jewelry, brands like those mentioned above are making significant moves in vintage watch collecting. In this article, we’re delving into the intriguing realm where watches and jewelry seamlessly blend, exploring the popularity of Cartier’s timepieces, the allure of Piaget with their vibrant stone dials, and the recent emergence of watches like the Reflet from Boucheron and Cartier Tank-style watches from Chopard. In a wider sense, we’re looking at the growing acceptance of jewelry brands in the watchmaking world.

Are watches considered jewelry?

Before delving into the specifics, it’s crucial that we address whether watches can genuinely be considered jewelry. As mentioned, watches were traditionally regarded as functional timekeeping instruments, particularly when they became mainstream with men. However, the intricate craftsmanship, precious materials, and design aesthetics that define many timepieces have blurred the lines between watches and jewelry. Combine that with the fact that watches were originally jewelry for women and that they are now largely obsolete in terms of their functional roles, and it’s only fair to say that watches are indeed a type of jewelry. The recent surge in interest in watches crafted by renowned jewelry houses underscores the evolving perception of watches as not just utilitarian objects, but as expressions of art and style.

The Allure of Cartier

Cartier, a name synonymous with luxury, has been a pioneer in the intersection of jewelry and watches for decades. Famed for creating the first tool watch with the Santos, made on request for aviator Alberto Santos Dumont in 1904, Cartier has been an innovative player in the watchmaking industry for a long time now. However, this fact was lost on most people. Over the last few years, vintage Cartier timepieces have experienced a long-deserved rise in popularity as collectors begin to uncover the historical value and importance of their iconic designs.

A Cartier Must Tank Vermeil from the 1970s.
A Cartier Must Tank Vermeil from the 1970s

The enduring appeal of Cartier watches does not lie in their timekeeping precision, but in their iconic designs, which are primarily borne from Cartier’s work as a jeweler. The Tank collection and all of its spin-offs, typically characterized by clean lines and a rectangular shape, remain a favorite among watch enthusiasts; as do the Santos and Pasha collections. As a result, Cartier’s vintage models have become increasingly coveted collector’s items, admired for their timeless elegance and historical significance. Most notably, the Crash – an iconic and revered collection – has become one of the most desirable vintage watches on the market, with an original 1967 London-signed Cartier Crash selling on the online auction platform Loupe This for $1.65 million in 2022.

Piaget’s Stone Dials and Ornate Timepieces

Piaget is another esteemed jewelry brand (though their history began as a watchmaker prior to making jewelry) that has contributed to the rise of jewelers in watchmaking thanks to their historical emphasis on stone dials. Once an oddity that collectors would overlook, stone dials are now gaining traction with numerous manufacturers, including Rolex, as collectors seek something unique and visually distinctive.

Piaget 9025 with a tiger stone dial.
A Piaget 9025 with a tiger stone dial

Piaget’s stone-dial watches showcase the brand’s commitment to combining the artistry of jewelry-making with the precision of watchmaking. Their use of precious stones add a touch of glamour that has, in turn, made their vintage timepieces highly sought-after by those who appreciate both luxury and craftsmanship. Popularized through the Style-Selector program in the 1960s and 1970s, whereby customers could customize nearly every aspect of their watch, Piaget is now known as the brand that put stone dials on the map, and their vintage watches are experiencing a surge in interest as a result.

Beyond Tradition: Boucheron’s Reflet and Tank-Style Watches

The recent popularization of watches like Boucheron‘s Reflet, a model launched in 1947, also signals a departure from traditional watchmaking norms given its distinctive rectangular case and customizable straps that highlight its fashion-focused design. Where the Reflet couldn’t have survived the androcentric collecting culture that existed throughout the 2000s and until even just a few years ago, distinctive vintage watches from jewelry brands are quickly garnering more attention.

Boucheron Reflet
Boucheron Reflet

Additionally, the growing popularity of vintage Cartier Tank-style watches from other jewelry brands like Chopard, Chaumet, Tiffany & Co., and many others signals a departure from what we are used to seeing. Instead of focusing solely on brands or models, watch collectors are now chasing specific looks, akin to how fine jewelry collectors act, thus highlighting the fashionable aspect that traditional watchmakers have been wary to embrace, unlike their jeweler counterparts.

Pros and Cons of Jewelry Watch Brands

The allure of jewelry watch brands lies in their ability to seamlessly blend timeless aesthetics with horology. The use of precious materials, intricate detailing, and iconic designs often results in unique timepieces that transcend mere functionality. However, this fusion of jewelry and watches may come at a higher price point, and the emphasis on aesthetics may sometimes compromise certain technical aspects for the sake of design. It is not unusual for jewelry brands to use quartz or third-party movements, as the technical engineering typically plays second fiddle to the watch’s appearance, so just bear that in mind.

So, are jewelry watch brands worth a look?

Jewelry brands gaining traction on the vintage watch market is undoubtedly a significant trend. For watch enthusiasts, these timepieces offer an opportunity to own a piece of wearable art that reflects the heritage and craftsmanship of renowned jewelry houses. Whether it’s the classic elegance of Cartier, the opulence of Piaget’s stone dials, or avant-garde designs from Boucheron, the appeal of these watches even extends beyond gender stereotypes as men grow increasingly fond of smaller, stylish designs. As the boundaries between watches and jewelry continue to blur, exploring vintage timepieces from jewelers is not just trendy, it’s a journey into a world where horology meets haute couture. And I don’t think it’s just a passing phase, because jewelry brands continue to make headway with their modern timepieces in the wider world of watchmaking, too.


What do you think about this article?


About the Author

Aaron Voyles

I love everything about watchmaking, from the artistry of their design to the engineering hidden within their movements and the history that breathes life into their stories.

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