Unique amalgamations of design and functionality usher in a new wave of horological complications that serve to elevate the humble dial.
Do you remember the early 2010s, when tourbillons and perpetual calendars represented the epitome of high watchmaking? How times have changed. Today, innovation is measured by how far watchmakers can venture into unchartered territories and constantly reinvent the wheels of watchmaking.
Innovation no longer just occurs under the hood. Instead, the dial has become the hero, the canvas upon which watchmakers reveal ingenuity via unique complications that drive a narrative. This can be seen in the way “traditional” movement constructions have been reimagined (a la Cartier), or even the way time is displayed (hello Van Cleef & Arpels).
The dial is where the magic happens, and no, we’re not simply talking about static artworks created using esoteric metiers d’art techniques. Instead, artistry and technical knowhow collide, resulting in dials that serve more than just a canvas for time-telling.
Here, we highlight some recent launches that embody this ethos.
Cartier Masse Mystérieuse
It would not be an overstatement to say that Cartier has become one of the most prolific and innovative watchmakers in recent years – the French maison has consistently sought to push the horological envelope, whether through singularly unique metiers d’art, or inventive technical solutions. It once again stupefies us with the Masse Mystérieuse, one of the highlights at this year’s Watches and Wonders fair.
Released just in time for the centennial anniversary of its Mystery clocks, where time literally seems suspended, the Masse Mystérieuse fits the entire floating movement within the winding rotor. There is not enough real estate here to delve into the technical details, but suffice to say, the fact that the timepiece was eight years in the making reveals the sheer complexity of such an undertaking.
The platinum watch measures a hefty 44mm but boasts elegant details that cement Cartier’s reputation as the king of jewellers. The sapphire dial is surrounded by a sun-brushed ring whereby Roman numerals have been engraved. A ruby cabochon serves as the crown, adding a pop of colour to this silver-toned beauty.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Dazzling Star
At first glance, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Dazzling Star might look like a typical, albeit stunning, women’s watch. Diamonds, plenty of them, stud the inner and outer bezel, as well as the lugs and dial. When paired with the aventurine dial, the sparkle is almost blinding, replicating the effect of a night sky.
But like the night sky, it reveals a surprise if you stare at it long enough. A shooting star streaks across the dial at random, replicating the natural phenomenon. It occurs four to six times an hour, activated by the winding rotor that’s influenced by the movement of the wrist. It is this unpredictability that enhances the magical experience.
Measuring 36mm, the watch comes with a midnight blue alligator strap, or if you’re feeling more decadent, a fully diamond-studded rose gold bracelet.
Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales
Van Cleef & Arpels has long upheld the notion that mechanics serve the design, and this ethos is seen time and again in its Poetic Complications. The French maison never fails to bring a smile on our face for its whimsical take on time-telling, whether it’s the kiss of two lovers meeting on a bridge, or a fairy fluttering her wings. Its imagination remains untethered, and this can be seen once again in the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales.
On the mother-of-pearl dial, a lush garden ripe with vines, flowers and butterflies comes to life using a range of artistic skills, including miniature painting and gem-setting. The canvas is not artistic for the sheer sake of artistry: if you’re wondering how to tell the time, the flowers bloom at random every hour, revealing the hours. The minutes can be read from the retrograde counter on the case band.
There are two versions available: the Heures Florales is encased in a white gold case with a palette of blue and green, while the Cerisier is pretty in pink, finished with a rose gold case.
Roger Dubuis Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon
The Knights of the Round Table have long represented the fight of good versus evil, light versus darkness. What are they doing in a horological context, you might ask. According to Roger Dubuis, the 12 knights protect the monotourbillon at the centre of the timepiece from the evil effects of gravity. Gimmicky, perhaps, but the proof lies in the pudding. Cut away the marketing fluff, and the timepiece once again demonstrates that Roger Dubuis is a master of technical mastery and artistic savoir faire.
This edition marks the eighth time that the knights have appeared on a Roger Dubuis watch – as always, the attention to detail lavished on the construction of the 12 knights is unparalleled. Hand-forged in sculpted gold, each of the 12 knights is unique, with distinctive warrior poses and fighting techniques. They stand guarding the monotourbillon at the centre of the dial. Blue, red and purple Murano glass blocks interspersed with gold time indicators appear to float mid-air, revealing the time as they rotate around the dial.
Tag Heuer Carrera Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph
The big debate about lab-grown versus natural diamonds seems to have reached peak crescendo with Tag Heuer’s latest watch. This is the first time (as far as we recall) that lab-grown diamonds have made an appearance in watchmaking, and Tag Heuer has pulled all stops to make sure that the Carrera Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph becomes the talk of the town.
To be honest, Tag Heuer’s use of lab-grown diamonds is not surprising – they’ve been seen on stars such as Rihanna and Zendaya, and are becoming increasingly popular with the young, conscious generation, who form the bulk of Tag Heuer’s target audience.
This being Tag Heuer however, it wasn’t enough for the watchmaker to just replace a typical, diamond-set bezel with lab-grown ones and call it a day. Instead, lab-grown diamonds are the star of the Carerra Plasma Tourbillon Nanograph. They appear in a geometric-like construction on the sandblasted anodised aluminium case. The crown, too, has been cut from an entire lab-grown diamond, weighing 2.5 carats.
As if that weren’t enough, the dial features a single piece of polycrystalline diamond, the result of all crystals being grown as one. Baguette-cut lab-grown diamonds serve as the indices. The timepiece comes with a five-figure price tag and represents the start of Tag Heuer’s journey into the use of Diamant d’Avant-Garde plasma technology.
Gucci G-Timeless Planetarium
The question of the legitimacy of luxury fashion brands that have ventured into watchmaking is no longer relevant. Brands such as Chanel, Hermès and Dior have proved their mettle time and again with timepieces that are technically astute and true to their brand identity. In the past two years, Gucci has become a worthy contender, making its own mark on horology and producing irreverent and quirky timepieces that embody designer Alessandro Michele’s aesthetic. This year, the brand has released the Planetarium collection to mark 50 years of watchmaking at Gucci, when it first opened the doors to its manufacture at La Chaux-de-Fonds. In 2021, the brand launched its first high watchmaking collection, and this second collection is just as evocative of the Italian brand’s audacious take on watchmaking. We’ll be honest – much like Gucci today, the timepieces are not for everyone, but there’s no denying that they’re statement-making, and offer a new perspective on horology.
The G-Timeless Planetarium is one such timepiece, where the complication serves to reinforce Gucci’s playful nature. The timepiece features a flying tourbillon smack in the middle of the dial, topped with an asymmetrical star. Surrounding the tourbillon are 12 gemstones, that perform an enchanting dance on their own axis and around the dial at the push of a button. Available with tsavorites, tanzanites or beryls.
Images courtesy of respective brands featured, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.