Mini watches that make a big statement
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
First popularised in the 1920s and ’30s, miniature mechanical watches have long made a subtle but scintillating addition to ensembles. But over the decades they have become far rarer as a category, since making them requires such a high level of skill.
Tiny dials need tiny mechanisms. The smallest calibre in the world remains Jaeger-LeCoultre’s classic 101, which was first created in 1929. A masterpiece of micro-mechanical engineering, the watch was devised so that the wearer might discreetly check the time, as the minuscule dial was set inside a diamond bracelet. It revolutionised horology, fusing both watch and jewel, and Queen Elizabeth II chose to wear the watch for her coronation. In its latest fourth-generation incarnation, the 101 is found in the new Snowdrop high-jewellery watch with a dial framed in pear-shaped white diamonds forming a flowerhead from which diamond petals float around the wrist.
Bulgari’s diminutive new Piccolissimo calibre is the smallest round movement on the market. The “brain” of the lusciously bejewelled Serpenti Misteriosi secret watches, the dial shelters inside the fanged mouth of the serpent’s head.
Part of the appeal of the mini watch lies in the fact that it works so well with bracelet stacks that are all about personalisation and individuality. Beth Hannaway, head of fine watches and jewellery at Harrods, has seen the shift towards smaller watches over the past few years. She thinks a small watch both celebrates femininity and signals “a beautifully democratic point of view that any size goes”.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ first Perlée watch, launched this year, is small, sweet and edged with the gold bobbly beads that are the Perlée signature. Hermès, too, has been offering its petite, perfectly formed Faubourg since 2014. A modern take on a pure round dial, it measures only 15.5mm in diameter, can be worn with a gold or leather strap, and comes in rose, white and yellow gold. Philippe Delhotal, artistic director of Hermès Horloger, says: “At Hermès, we always believed in small watches. We don’t try to follow trends, we follow our own path. We were delighted to reinvent the Faubourg in 2021 with the Polka line.”
Chopard’s Happy Diamonds comes in a mini version, with a smooth rose-gold case and mother-of-pearl dial. Similarly, Chaumet’s sweet Hortensia Eden watches go effortlessly from day to night, with tiny diamond hydrangea blossoms perched on the side of the diamond-rimmed dial.
La Mini D de Dior was conceived by Victoire de Castellane in 2009 as a more jewel-like, cocktail version of her original D de Dior. Perfectly proportioned and always thrillingly embellished, the latest model, aptly named Cocotte, has a diamond-smothered snow-set dial in a frame of rubies and pink or blue sapphires. Graff’s diamond Tilda’s Bow watch also has a generous stream of diamonds and is available on a black satin strap or an all-diamond bracelet, while Harry Winston’s Mini-twist jewellery watch trails marquise-diamond leaves – a Winston signature – around a delicate trellis-band bracelet. It is a theme that pays homage to the late Ambaji Shinde, one of Harry Winston’s celebrated designers, who epitomised the glamour of the ’50s and ’60s when a cocktail watch was de rigueur.
Not everyone is going round in circles. Take Gucci’s G-Frame, for example, the square or rectangular case with deep bevelled sides, and Cartier’s enduring design icon, the Panthère de Cartier, which comes in a delightful mini-model, in rose gold with diamonds. As Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of heritage, image and style, explains: “We concentrate on the principal beauty of each object. Our clients decide how they wish to style our creations.”
Chanel, too, is making shapes with a series of three, limited-edition watches that shrink the house’s classic Première, which mimics the shape of the No 5 perfume bottle. The new 19mm x 15mm styles are set into maximalist designs: a stacked leather and chain cuff, an oversized diamond-set curb chain and a leather and chain bangle hung with medallion charms. A mini-maxi moment in time.