We often think of Ladies’ watches as less horologically important than mens’ watches. Yet in many ways that is the exact opposite. We need to remember that watches and timepieces at their very beginnings were always badges of status and stature as much if not more so than they were time tellers.
Let’s take a look at Vacheron Constantin, the watchmaker whose unbroken length history is the envy of most others. They have documents dating back to the 1800s that show the intricacy and demand for watches at the time. They were usually bespoke models made on order for influential clients, and they were indeed signs of the times in terms of art, culture and technology.
In the 1800s, the watches ordered by the top of society were not yet worn on the wrist. They were meant to be held primarily in a pocket or a bag, and were looked upon as a work of art, a jewel that also told the time.
The fine artistry and craftsmanship of this pocket watch from 1815 has the artwork of a floral motif with garnets framing the simple mechanism. Take a look at three o’clock on the actual watch dial.
Even though timepieces of the time were such jewels or works of art, that did not mean they were not complicated or innovative. This yellow gold 1838 timepiece looks beautifully elegant and simple on the face, with different techniques used on the dial. It also houses something quite popular at the time, if you had the money. A striking mechanism would tell you the time by sound, in this case it was a quarter-repeater complication that used gongs to announce the passing of the segments. Remember there were actual tools of the era, in the years with no lights other than candles and torches.
Watches started moving more away from the pockets and bags as they approached the turn of the century, but still were primarily rather ornate examples of artwork and craftsmanship. This pocket watch from 1887 had clasps and could be worn as a pendant, a brooch or a chatelaine necklace. Hunter-type cases would allow ornate work on the cover that protected the dial and face, with the time only visible when you opened the hinged front. They were often meant to match particular dresses of the wearer, or show particular family crests.
When timepieces started moving more towards what we know them as today, they still kept their connection to artwork. This 1889 watch is the oldest “wrist watch” known to date from Vacheron Constantin, and was probably shown to the world at a huge event such as the World’s Fair in Paris. You might think it was more of a bangle that a serious wristwatch, especially with the two winged goddesses holding up the time. But it also had a surprising complication. Look carefully at the notching on the bezel just outside the diamonds. The movement was wound by rotating that bezel. Also note the use of red at 12 o’clock. Many enthusiasts think the red 12 indicates a military watch, which is clearly not the case here.
While that first wristwatch from Vacheron Constantin was a milestone, the wrists were still not accepted as the place to tell the time. As the movements got smaller or slimmer, watches were still made to be used as pendants and accessories more than on the wrist, such as this pendant watch from 1914.
It was in the 1900s that watches really began to be more wrist-worn than ever. This combined with increasingly global design and fashion trends and more modern techniques. Art Nouveau began to influence watch design, and often Vacheron Constantin would listen to their agents who had the most direct connection to the newer and more numerous consumers. Ferdinand Verger, their Paris agent, was quite influential in moving the watchmaker towards making the new watches more jewelry than ever. This combined with the Art Deco influences of the time to create watches in new and different shapes, often more beset with precious gems than ever. The 1923 white gold watch was almost more of a cuff or bracelet set with diamonds and sapphires around its hexagonal dial.
Non-wrist worn pieces were still in demand, though the trend was clear already. The house producing pieces such as the 1929 “surprise” watch in white gold set with 18 cabochon-cut rubies.
This white gold watch from 1937 clearly is more influenced by the jewelers aesthetic than before, with thin lines was created in platinum and set in several different cuts of diamonds. The tiny oval face required the house to produce a new movement shape, and Vacheron Constantin had begun creating small differently-shaped movements specifically to meet the demands of the new customers.
Then watches began to change. Modern industrialization may have pushed for more production numbers and less fine work, but the changes in style and design were still of course major factors. Watchmakers were using different shapes and different techniques to create pieces that were completely different but far more in tune with a newer younger market. This watch actually named “1972” was special not only because of the unique face but also because of the use of the intricate gold bracelet integrated into the case middle.
Even more smoothly integrated and “bangle’ like was this rather voluptuous 18k yellow gold watch from 1976.
Jewels were still an important market of course, but you could clearly see that the watch houses had to produce different pieces for different parts of the market. 118 emerald-cut diamonds were used in the “Kallista”
Ladies were becoming more active, and this is clearly reflected in the watches of time such as the 222 from 1981, a clean two-tone integrated sports watch. This look came to define the mainstream watch market for decades to come, and was released in both mens’ and ladies’ version.
Modern wristwatches are in many ways moving back towards the beauty and elegance of the early pieces. Sports watches have of course been making the news for many new buyers and beginning collectors, but ladies’ watches are again becoming more design-oriented and special rather than merely relying on the mens’ designs. But they must also incorporate the needs of the modern watch buyer.
The Égérie line of ladies watches from Vacheron Constantin takes many of the influences of the past while using modern designs and techniques. You can clearly see the influence of that earl chining quarter repeater in the newer line with details such as the subdial away from the usual 6 o’clock position. The smooth crown is also positioned differently, in a way that will avoid any poking into a soft wrist.
The dial of the new watch itself is also reminiscent of that early watch, with center decoration that allows detail in the center to combine with clear readability of the calligraphy-like numerals on the outer rim of the dial.
The subdial can be used for either the date indication or the moon phase. we love the latter most.
The subdial in this case can do different things, different from that early watch. The seconds hand here is positioned at the center. The subdial can be used for other things, such as the date indication or our favorite, the intricate and intimate moon phase.
The strapped versions come with easy-change interchangeable straps. Meant to match the color palette of the wearer, just like the earlier hunter-case models shown above.
You can also see other influences from earlier watches. Where the earlier examples of hunter-case watches with particular colors were made to match things like particular dresses, that pairing up is now done with a plethora of strap choices. Thanks to the use of a quick-change but very secure system, watch straps can now be changed by the user very quickly and with little fuss. Perhaps more importantly, with little worry of chipping a nail or marring a polish before a big evening event.
Vacheron Constantin takes design influence from Haute Couture and combines it with fine watchmaking knowhow to create a truloy interesting bridge between the two worlds.
The new Égérie is meant to combine two worlds, Haute Horlogerie and Haute Couture. Design influences from the world of high fashion can be seen in the details of the watch.
Vacheron Constantin uses a room full of vintage machinery to create patterns and designs that combine old world aesthetic with modern materials.
The inner dial design features a pleated pattern, more modern that the floral design of that earlier quarter-repeater and created in the Manufacture’s guillochage workshop and its astounding collection of classic and vintage designs and equipments. The historical “tapestry” technique in this case is created using a Pantograph-style machine from 1904 at the hands of one of the few very skilled craftsmen able to do such work.
Details such as the hands and the calligraphy-like numerals are meant to remind you of delicate lace.
The Égérie self-winding wristwatch is available in a 35mm pebble-shaped case of either 18K 5N rose gold or in steel, with the precious metal model coming with three interchangeable leather straps and the steel with a polished metal bracelet. The bezel is set with 58 round-cut diamonds. They are powered by the in-house 40-hour power reserve Calibre 1088, which is decorated with a hand-crafted Côtes de Genéve motif and has a delicate openwork rotor inspired by the Maltese cross, all visible through the sphere crystal glass of the rear. The crown is set with a moonstone.
The Egerie moon phase uses a slightly larger case at 37mm. It replaces the date window with the wonderfully-crafted stellar complication. It is also available in either 18k 5N rose gold or steel, with a bezel set with 58 round-cut diamonds. It uses Calibre 1088 L for the moon phase indication, equally well finished and visible. The crown is set with a moonstone. In the moon phase indication, the moon is 18k gold behind a mother of pearl cloud.
The Egerie moon phase diamond-pave brings everything to a higher brighter level. The 18k white gold case is adorned with 292 diamonds, while the dial has a shower of 510 diamonds meant to resemble precious embroidery. It comes with two straps with two white gold ardillon buckles each set with its own diamonds. And the crown this time has its own diamond as well. The moon phase indication has a mother of pearl moon behind a translucent sapphire crystal cloud.