Complex horological technology has long dictated the outer design of luxury watches. A greater number of inner mechanical components means a fancy outer shell. However, the world of fine watchmaking now welcomes a new trend: the microsculpture watch, simpler in horological technology but more intricate and advanced in visual design.
Microsculpture watch dials have three-dimensional scenes that are highly imaginative in execution and theme. They are tableau vivant (living pictures) that catch the eye and amaze the viewer, while conferring a nod to the wearer’s sagacity and taste.
The following are some of the most ingenious microsculpture watches now or recently on the market. Each one, counted down to the priciest, is a world in miniature with a little "story" that makes us smile.
10 Chopard’s Peacock Watch: $24,290
Renowned Japanese artist Kichiro Masumura executed this gorgeous peacock dial using the old lacquering methods of Urushi and Maki-e. Enamel and 18k rose gold come together in what looks like a rich oil painting. The gold enhances the warmth and depth of the face’s many earth, green, and rose tones.
Peacock, flowers and vines all “pop” from the background. Textures are palpably true to life and, like their colors, describe nature’s luxuriance. Notice how the peacock’s bottom feathers almost overlap onto the majenta flowers. That effect also suggests abundance.
9 Boucheron’s Crazy Jungle Hathi Watches: $90,000
This year Boucheron has come out with a selection of opulent microsculpture watches that celebrate nature – the Crazy Jungle Hathi collection. The Crazy Elephant watch shown above symbolizes wisdom. The animal’s parade stands for the travel of time, life journeys and exploration.
Notice that the elephant’s carpet has a mini dial for show. This watch’s bright, luscious colors bring exotic cultures to mind: pink, orange, and yellow sapphires; rose gold; and a pink satin strap – all perfect for summer!
8 Cartier’s Promenade d’une Panthère: $92,000
In 2011 Cartier crafted one of its most refined watches featuring the house’s beloved icon – the panther. Like almost all its relatives, the Promenade plays up this big cat’s agility. He prowls on the inner rim, keeping pace with the passing hours. How is that so? The animal is physically connected to the inverted roter that winds the watch.
633 diamonds (6.8 carats), all set in white gold, frost Cartier’s elegant timepiece. Its icy components “pop” against the deep purple mother of pearl dial and black alligator strap.
7 Van Cleef & Arpel’s Pont des Amoureux: $116,000
Luxury jeweler and watchmaker Van Cleef and Arpels has been making microsculptural time pieces for decades. Every year the company comes out with new “Poetic Complications” that dazzle the eye and mind with their aesthetic and technical ingenuity.
2014’s Pont des Amoureux watch comes in two versions, one with a diamond band and another with a white leather strap. Each has a 38mm white gold case set with diamonds.
A contre jour enamel dial with a sculpted gold bridge is the setting for a romantic scene: two lovers stand apart on the famous Pont des Arts in Paris, France, but, thanks to a retrograde movement, they come together at midnight!
The man’s quick pace symbolizes the passing of minutes, while the woman’s slower progression stands for hourly duration. The message here is that the best times in life are those spent with loved ones.
6 Cartier’s Les Indomptables Crocodile: $150,000+
Cartier just came out with a new collection of sculptural time pieces called Les Indomptables. Most luxurious of them all is the crodile watch. True to theme, it’s strap is made of genuine alligator skin. The watch’s case is 18k yellow gold set with 214 brilliant cut diamonds (2.69 carats). A green rhodium-gold dial mimics reptilian skin and doubles as a giant lily pad for the crocodile himself.
Verdant enamel leaves embellish dial and rim, while bezel set diamonds sprinkle the face like dewdrops on a leaf. Notice how the crocodile’s tail respects the case’s curve and adds three-dimensionality to the watch’s edge.
Cartier’s majestic reptile can also be removed and worn as a brooch. His skin is textural, as it should be, but instead of scales, 541 brilliant cut diamonds (3.02 carats) cover his entire form. Plus, his mesmerizing eyes are made of genuine emeralds. They literally keep an eye on the hour – the dial’s hands!
5 Patek Philippe’s Matryoshka Doll Watch: $152,500
Patek Philippe’s new timepiece collection includes this adorable pocket watch whose cover displays three Matryoshka dolls. The entire tableau is made of transparent, opague and opalescent enamel. Master craftswomen and men combined cloisonné techniques with painterly effects (the hair, the eyelashes, etc.) to achieve the look of dimensionality. Notice how the dolls are, in true Russian form, nearly identical and overlap to suggest nesting.
The watch’s hands are yellow gold feuille. One briolette cut purple sapphire punctuates the crown, which is shaped like a Russian onion dome. Patek Philippe designed the Matryoshka watch as a collector’s piece; that’s why it comes with a gold and marble display stand.
4 Knights of the Round Table Watch: $217,959
Roger Dubuis has just come out with a series of Arthurian inspired watches. His most advanced is the Knights of the Round Table, whose face shows King Arthur and his golden knights holding their swords at the point of each hour. The dial (the table) is a clear canvas decorated with Old English lettering around its rim and inner circle.
What makes this watch so amazing is the painstaking detail on such small scale figures. Sadly, however, one can see the little hats, buckles, facial expressions, etc. only with a magnifying glass.
3 Cartier’s Panthère Granulation Watch: $260,000
Cartier’s Panthère Granulation watch just might be the house’s most technically advanced time piece. The entire face is made of thousands of 22k yellow gold granules individually fused together with a hand technique that dates back to ancient Etruria. The watch glows, shines, scintillates and sparkles from various angles, taking on deeper golden hues in dimmer lighting.
The panther’s head is highly dimensional and life-like. The materials of which he is made symbolize eternity, duration, and strength. One look at this watch and that panther’s stare is all it will take to win admirers!
2 Vacheron’s Masque Watches: $377,685
The inspiration for Vacheron Constantin’s limited edition (2009-2010) men’s watches were the original masques from Geneva’s Barbier-Mueller Museum. The price above was for a set of four (only twenty-five sets were available), whose high relief sculptures, or masks attribute four historic cultures: Chinese, African, Mexican, and Indonesian.
Complementary colors and a well-wishing poem written in French surround each head. Plus, every watch has a different type of precious metal (rose gold, platinum, yellow gold, white gold).
Vacheron’s watches are worthy as museum pieces in their own right. So, those who own them are definitely signing themselves as men of culture.
1 Alexander the Great Watch: $631,580
Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin’s epic time piece visualizes a battle between ancient Greece’s most illustrious king and his enemies. Each of the solid gold figures is dressed in precise costume (Alexander wears a cuirass and plumed helmet), and all strike active battle positions against a dramatic black backdrop.
It’s easy to imagine the battle’s progress, but for those who want more action clicking the minute repeater makes the fighters move!