A Deeper Dive into the Best Bejeweled Releases from the First Half of 2024

Gemstone Adventures: A Deeper Dive into the Best Bejeweled Releases from the First Half of 2024

If there is anything I love, and I mean, truly love, it’s when my gemstone, jewelry, and watch worlds collide.

By Barbara Palumbo

Having grown up – almost literally – working as a metalsmith’s apprentice back in the nineties in inner-city Philadelphia, I was privy to information about gems, metals, and finishing that would make most of today’s watch journalists’ heads spin.

So, when my editor here at Watchonista brought up the idea of doing a piece on today’s popular (amongst all genders) gem-set timepieces and what sets them apart, I jumped at the opportunity.

Here are five featured, incredibly well-crafted gem-set pieces and collections released this year.

The Van Cleef & Arpels’ Lady Arpels Jour Enchanté

In my time as a watch journalist, there have been many times I’ve been sitting in the press room alongside some writer dude and asked if he had swung by the Van Cleef & Arpels booth to see the brand’s [insert year here] novelties.

Much to my chagrin, more often than not, their reply would be some form of, “Nah, that’s not really my beat.” And every time I heard this refrain, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”

That is because, putting aside my inner monologue’s hyperbolic nature, I think that, frankly, everyone – from press to enthusiasts to TikTokers (okay, maybe fewer of those) – should be up to date on what VC&A has going on, including the voodoo that was this year’s Lady Arpels Jour Enchanté limited edition watch.

As part of VC&A’s Extraordinary Dials collection, the Lady Arpels Jour Enchanté showcases a couple of things that have never been seen on a wristwatch:

• Enamel that takes on a sort of 3D form (in this case, resembling cabochon gems);
• Shaped enamel elements within metal so that it takes on the appearance of stained glass; and,
• Using the enamel to burnish set diamonds into the leafy parts of the watch dial’s “garden.”

Manipulating enamel in these ways has been tried over the years with little success, but VC&A managed to get it right with a new enamel process by the name of “Façonne Enameling,” which takes a lot more time as the heating process involves more forming and cooling than typical enamels used in watch design.

The Jacob & Co. Billionaire III Rainbow

I doubt anyone has ever looked at a gem set Jacob & Co. watch and thought to themselves, “Oh, that’s just over the top.” That is because we expect Jacob & Co. to be over the top. Over the top is what Jacob & Co. does, and it makes us in the media happy because we have something to write about aside from just round watch cases and questionable in-house movements.

This year, the brand introduced another “Billionaire” edition to add to its growing collection: the Billionaire III Rainbow, and as you can imagine, it was embellished with a multitude of “Roy G Biv” hued gems.

But how easy is it to find natural gemstones – particularly colored sapphires – that would make up the approximate thirty shades needed to decorate such a timepiece?

As someone who has spent almost thirty years of her life working with gemstones in some form or another, I can state, without hesitation, that it’s a near impossibility. And yet, as with most things Jacob & Co. does, the brand defied the odds with this timepiece, which contains 580 natural sapphires, taking years to match.

The F.P.Journe Élégante “Gino’s Dream”

We can always, ALWAYS rely on François-Paul Journe to be consistent when it comes to producing some of the most sought-after and intricately crafted watches in the modern era.

Still, if someone had told me that the brand would, at some point, issue a women’s watch with a rainbow-colored bezel made out of ceramic glass “gemstones” and set in titanium, I would have asked them how many gummies they ate that day. But as usual, the mind behind the F.P.Journe brand continues to pull rabbits out of his hat and surprise us with the unexpected and, sometimes, the uncanny.

The F.P.Journe Élégante “Gino’s Dream” is, first and foremost, a celebration of the life of Gino Cukrowicz, one of the original co-founders of the Journe brand. This particular watch, however, plays with materials to create the rainbow studded bezel in which the brand hasn’t previously dabbled: colored ceramic glass.

For those unfamiliar with the material, ceramic glass is made by controlling the crystallization of glass, which gives it properties of both glass and ceramic (and as we in the watch world know, ceramic is a sought-after material for bezels). One of the main properties of ceramic glass is that it is heat-resistant and can withstand high temperatures without breaking.

Of course, corundum (which is the mineral that makes up both sapphires and rubies) is also very high on the hardness scale, but colored sapphires would be, well, expected. And let’s face it, Journe tends to like to keep us guessing, does he not?

The Roger Dubuis Sunrise Double Tourbillon

Who here doesn’t love a good sunrise? Hell, I’m blind in one eye, but even I can still appreciate seeing the orangey-rosy-yellowish hues when the morning sun comes up in the summer over my backyard creek. It’s comforting.

And while Roger Dubuis isn’t exactly a brand to which one cozies up with a glass of warm milk, a teddy bear, and a favorite blanket, it does like to think outside of the box, yet, at Watches and Wonders 2024 in Geneva, Roger Dubuis surprised us by, well, to paraphrase the great 5th Dimension, “letting the sunshine in.”

For those unfamiliar with the musical “Hair,” that reference may be lost. But for those who are, you understand that before the sun can shine in, you’ve got to open up your heart and feel it. And when viewing the Sunrise Double Tourbillon by Roger Dubuis in Geneva, I’m telling you, the gemstone lover in me felt it. Like, really, really felt it. In my core.

Now, is it easy to find sun-hued gemstones that could make for a dawn/dusk-colored watch? It is actually not super difficult, to be frank. Garnets are fairly inexpensive gemstones.

However, Roger Dubuis has used varying types of uncommon gems in this timepiece, specifically pyrope (more commonly known as red garnets), spessartite garnet (which are mainly orange and come in shades from pale to deep), and yellow sapphires, which are a bit more common.

The combination of these gems and hues made for a subtle but welcome change to the rainbow of sapphires we see being done by nearly every other brand.

Cartier’s “Animal” Timepieces

I highly doubt anyone is ever surprised when Cartier releases its Watches and Wonders novelties, simply because we have learned over the years that Cartier always blows us away. And so it’s become the norm; it’s what we expect.

Okay, if Cartier came out one year with a stainless-steel sports watch on an integrated bracelet and with a blue dial, then, yeah, that would probably make all of our heads explode. Still, my point remains undiminished; over the years, we have come to expect the unexpected from the brand.

Case in point: this year’s animal watch releases, especially the Crocodile Jewelry Watch.

In my opinion, what makes these watches exceptional – particularly the Crocodile Jewelry Watch – is that Cartier has not only used a mixture of precious gems (mother-of-pearl, round brilliant cut diamonds, sapphires, and an emerald for the eye) and enamels, but the brand placed them into the design of the watch in a borderline mosaic-like way.

Yes, the gems on the Crocodile Jewelry Watch are set into standard prongs, but those prongs are crafted so well that they’re hard, nearly impossible, to see, making the gems look as if they float in the metal. Furthermore, its mother-of-pearl can almost be confused for enamel and vice-versa.

Every single one of the animal watches released in 2024 plays with the mind and makes us curious in the same way art does; they make us question textures and interpret what it is the eye is seeing.

This is part of what makes Cartier so smart. They keep us thinking while we continue to expect nothing but the best.

(Photography by Pierre Vogel)

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