The hanging clock has its roots in the 17th century – and it sparked several waves of popularity over the years, including the 19th century’s beautiful era, and the Art Nouveau period of the early 20th century and 1970s.
Now style is back, with luxury watchmakers from Jaeger-LeCoultre to Chanel offering designs inspired by history but with a modern twist.
“If you look at the beginning of portable watches, the hanging watch really started as a matter of convenience, a way to move a watch in a way that was like jewelry and made a statement,” said Paul Boutros, vice chairman and president of the Americas watch division at Phillips Auctions in New York City.
Back then, all watches were handmade and very expensive – so it was the wealthy men who devised ways to attach their watches to chains or lengths of strap so they could be worn around the neck or hung from a belt for all to see.
By the 19th century, women had watches and began to associate them with long, wobbly necklaces, called sautoirs in French, which were often decorated with diamonds and other precious stones.
Then Mr. Boutros said, “In the 1960s and especially the 1970s,” watchmaking brands that make jewelry also introduced some elaborate hanging watches. For example, in 1971 Piaget made an automatic watch with a tiger’s-eye dial and beads on a gold chain that sold in 2015 for CHF23,750 (now the equivalent of $26,515). At a Phillips auction.
“Sautoirs combine Piaget’s mastery of ultra-thin watch movements with expertise in goldsmithing,” Jean-Bernard Foreau, president of Piaget Heritage, said during a telephone interview from the company’s headquarters in Plan-les-Oats, outside Geneva. “It shows in the pendant industry of the 1960s during an amazing period of creativity. We called these long pieces “Swinging Sautoirs” and they became the perfect catchphrase for the beautiful jet-setting community of the time that kept asking for more.”
At 2023 Watches & Wonders Geneva, the brand revealed three one-of-a-kind Piaget Sautoir watches (prices upon application) as well as updates to some of its most evocative designs from the past.
One Piaget Sautoir is an 18K yellow gold twisted chain, which took 130 hours to create, and features an oval cabochon-cut Zambian emerald weighing 25.38 carats, an 18K yellow gold oval quartz watch, a malachite dial, and a bezel set with diamonds and emeralds.
The second is decorated with turquoise and the third, a special challenge for the craftsmen, is an 18-carat gold braided chain with 6.41 carats of diamonds. According to Mr. Forot, it took seven months to make the third Sautoir because the brand had “lost the technique since the 1960s. They patiently found the techniques again, threading the gold by hand into these little chains and adding the modern eye to it to make it more perfect.”
Often, the modern hanging clock is also considered a secret watch, which is the industry term for clocks with covers that can be moved aside to reveal the time. The pattern allows the dial cover to be decorated with diamonds and other precious stones, engraving, inlays, or other artistic motifs to increase the sense that the piece is real jewelry, as well as a watch.
This year, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, and Jaeger-LeCoultre all introduced long necklaces with hidden ports.
Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé Lion collection, which debuted at Watches and Wonders Geneva, features a pendant watch in 18k yellow gold with a black lacquered dial, topped with a lion face set with diamonds on a black background that can be moved sideways to reveal the time. The quartz watch is set with 336 diamonds totaling 7.90 carats and is suspended on a black onyx, gold beads and diamond necklace. Only 20 will be made (price upon request).
“A model that secretly tells time,” Arnaud Chastaingt, director of Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio, wrote in an email, “means a lot of creativity to incorporate a caliber, to mask the dial, and to operate the hinges.” “
The brand said the lion shape was chosen because the lion was the astrological sign of its founder. “The personal world of Gabrielle Chanel remains a true inspiration to me endlessly,” Mr. Chastingett wrote. “I love the idea of this lion’s face, so dear to Mademoiselle Chanel, so beautifully and discreetly that it keeps time.”
Also at Watches and Wonders in Geneva, Van Cleef & Arpels presented six variations of the discreet tall watches in the Perlée collection. Each one has an 18k gold chain measuring 90 cm (35.4 in) in diameter, culminating in a 25 mm round discreet watch with a mother-of-pearl dial surrounded by a gold bezel set with diamonds.
Three different shapes feature gem-encrusted dial toppers. two in 18k yellow gold set with emeralds or sapphires; The third, in 18k rose gold, has a sapphire. The other three use cabochon-cut gemstone slabs to cover their dials: pale blue garnet with 18k white gold, rose quartz with 18k rose gold or blue sodalite with 18k yellow gold.
“At Van Cleef & Arpels, we see watches from a jeweler’s perspective and combine time reading with the idea of adornment,” Nicholas Boss, the house’s president and CEO, wrote in an email. This leads to necklaces, brooches, bracelets, and sometimes rings with enamel.”
Mr. Boss noted that Perlée’s first discreet pendant watches were introduced in 2019, but are inspired by the style’s 17th-century origins as well as the lapel watches and châtelains (sets of chains for hanging keys and other household items) made by Van Cleef & Arpels in the past.
“Today,” he wrote, “these references lead to subtle and unexpected interpretations with creations that allow for a playful vision of time, one that is both personal and secret.”
Bulgari also capitalized on its history this year with the unique Secret Watch Cameo Imperiale necklace, which was presented in May during the fine jewelry event in Venice.
Inspired by Monete Bulgari’s 1960s collections, which included ancient Roman and Greek coins, the house had craftsmen in Torre del Greco, Italy, a traditional center for cameo carving, create a cameo portrait of Cleopatra. Then the image of the Egyptian queen was surrounded by diamonds and pink and blue sapphires, creating a watch case that looked like an elaborate coin.
This manual wind watch has an in-house Tourbillon Lumière BVL 208 skeletonized movement, visible through a transparent sapphire crystal. The 56mm case and chain, both in 18k rose gold, are set with diamonds and a sapphire (price upon request).
“Coins are symbols of evolution, an authentic and tangible part of our history, captivating because they go back so many centuries,” Fabrizio Bonamassa Stegliani, Bulgari’s executive director of product creation, wrote in an email. “At Bulgari, we like to play with things, approach them differently and create new ways to wear jewelry and watches. This pendant watch is a fusion of jewel and timepiece.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s iconic Reverso watch, first created in 1931, has a secret watch concept in its design: a rectangular watch whose case can be pushed to one side, flipped over and then snapped back into place to display the other side.
In the case of the Reverso Secret necklace, a limited edition first introduced at Watches and Wonders Geneva, the case-back is set with diamonds and onyx with a geometric floral pattern, while the dial-side is presented in rose gold, diamonds and black onyx. The rectangular watch is powered by the brand’s Caliber 846, a 93-part manual-wind movement from the Reverso line (price upon application).
The 90 cm chain, in 18K rose gold and set with diamonds and black onyx beads, is inspired by the black twisted cord sometimes used as a strap for women’s Reverso watches in the 1930s. Diamond-set lariat-style lugs hug the watch, which has two diamond-set tassels and long onyx drops.
In total, the brand said, more than 3,000 18-carat diamonds were used in the Reverso Secret necklace, and it required more than 300 hours of gem-setting work.
“With Reverso’s strong heritage, and historical knowledge of outstanding watches, we see that there is still a strong market for exclusive timepieces that combine the worlds of fine watchmaking and fine jewelry into one,” said Catherine Renier, CEO of the brand, during an interview at Watches and Wonders Geneva. “The Reverso Secret necklace has reopened a creative world at Jaeger-LeCoultre, so we will continue to design and create more expressions of the Reverso Secret Necklace in the future.”