THE VERY FIRST wristwatches were invented for women. Known as ‘wristlets’, they became popular among aristocratic women in the early 19th century, while gentlemen stuck to their traditional pocket watches. Ladies’ timepieces remained a booming market throughout the early 20th century, with some employing in-house enamellers and gem-setters to decorate their lavishly feminine designs, while others collaborated with prestigious jewellery houses.

It was considered impolite for a lady to be seen checking the time in public, so ‘secret’ watches, which masqueraded as bracelets or pendants and concealed a discreet dial, were especially popular. A glamorous finishing touch for the fashions of the era, secret watches enchanted and entertained their wearers, and watchmakers competed to develop ever-more ingenious mechanisms
by which to reveal the time.

The quest for smaller, thinner movements was also led by ladies’ watch designers, who craved dainty cases for their timepiece jewels. For her coronation in 1953, the jewel that glinted around Queen Elizabeth II’s wrist was not a diamond tennis bracelet but a watch, fitted with what remains the world’s smallest mechanical movement. And while the overall trend for watches veered more towards the functional and utilitarian, jewellery watches remained a beguiling niche, worn by silver-screen icons such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.

Fast forward to 2019, and Graff has created a collection of jewellery watches like no other. Some are unique pieces that stand alone as exquisite high jewels that tell the time. Others form seamless extensions of new and existing jewellery collections, with the aesthetic of the collection deftly woven into the very fabric of the watches. “Watches are not just for telling the time,” says Anne-Eva Geffroy, design director at Graff. “We consider them as jewels first and foremost.”

In many ways, Graff’s focus on ladies’ timepieces harks back to the early days of horology. Since its inception, Graff has created beautiful time-telling jewels, with watches dating from the 1970s featuring gem-set bracelets and dials to complement the era’s jewellery trends. Today, however, the exceptional consideration paid to their design elevates these timepieces to works of art.

Featuring pendants, rings, bangles and a jewellery watch, the recently launched Kiss collection is a resolutely modern expression of love. A contemporary ‘X’ motif unites the collection, with strands of custom-cut stones intersecting to form a playful kiss. “We experimented with several designs for the Kiss timepiece, but one immediately stood out,” says Geffroy. “By placing the pavé diamond watch face among rows of sapphires and diamonds, we created a dramatic pause in the crossover design – a detail that is mirrored in the solitaire diamond rings in the collection.”

New Peony secret watches have been designed to reflect the recently reimagined look of the Peony jewellery collection. Custom-cut stones are set side by side to form abstract embodiments of this romantic flower, clustered in sleek bouquets in necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets, and sliding seductively to the side to reveal a miniature pavé diamond dial in several new secret timepieces.

With their beguiling history and royal status, jewellery watches have long been objects of desire. At Graff, they offer a beautiful new perspective on the art of watchmaking in which timepieces play a starring role in jewellery suites, and design prowess, artisanal savoir-faire and gem-setting expertise come together in absolute harmony. A glorious reminder that, when it comes to diamond and gemstone innovation in watchmaking, Graff leads the way. 

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