Pavé-ing The Way: 5 Brands That Are a Cut Above the Rest in Their Use of Diamonds
Today, we’re looking at five watch brands that take gem-setting and gem-cutting to a whole new level.
Conscientious watch buffs pride themselves on knowing and understanding every nook and cranny of their favorite models and complications. However, the techniques behind setting the diamonds and gemstones that embellish some of their mechanical masterpieces often get little to no attention.
That’s an unfortunate blind spot because there’s plenty of problem-solving imagination to be found there, too.
Luckily, once you get a primer on some of the standout uses of diamonds and gems in contemporary watchmaking, it’s easier to appreciate how the magic happens.
The best way to show off a diamond’s wattage is to set it in motion, thus sending light ricocheting off its facets. And that’s exactly what Chopard did with the creation of its first Happy Diamonds model 48 years ago in 1976.
Ronald Kurowski, a designer for the brand, set out to replicate the appearance of light as it illuminated water droplets descending from a waterfall, a phenomenon he witnessed walking in Germany’s Black Forest. He achieved the effect in a watch by sandwiching a collection of small diamonds, each in a bezel setting within a gold capsule, between sapphire crystals.
The patented design – first offered in a cushion-shaped men’s model (despite rumors to the contrary, diamonds provide gender-neutral thrill) – allows the stones to constantly skitter, spin, and rotate around or, in the case of the Happy Sport, atop the dial. It’s a fanciful effect that takes the intimidation factor out of high jewelry models that might cost as much as a mortgage.
In the decades since its introduction, the Happy Diamonds line (which saw a model from the brand’s Haute Joaillerie workshop become the collection’s first-ever finalist in the GPHG “Jewellery” category this year) and subsequent Happy Sport collection have become pillars of its catalog.
Of course, along the way, updates like incorporating prong settings, larger diamonds, colored gems, and motifs (a crescent moon, an apple, a star, etc.) that feature the Happy treatment have come into the fold. Luckily, this constant change is fitting for a technique that keeps gems on the go.
As you can see, its dial is kitted out with six concentric circles composed of 123 round brilliant diamonds, resembling a most spectacular bull’s eye. And while their potential to move isn’t apparent when stationary, each diamond subtly pulses yet remains rooted in place whenever the watch is jostled.
Unfortunately, the brand hasn’t released the exact details on how the mystery works but cited the en tremblant technique from the jewelry-making world as an inspiration.
Initially used in the 18th century, the en tremblant technique entails mounting jeweled elements atop a springy metal support, just the thing to amplify a jewel’s twinkle by candlelight. And with the diamond cutting and craftsmanship advancements of the intervening centuries, the Ballon Bleu de Cartier Serti Vibrant sets off fireworks under any light conditions.
Watch manufacturers are, on occasion, the source of diamond-setting innovation that jewelers come to borrow. A prime example of this is when, in 2001, Jaeger-LeCoultre, in collaboration with a gem setter from Vallée de Joux, developed a new method of placing diamonds that has become a mainstay in jewelry and watchmaking: snow-setting.
Two releases from 2002 – the Reverso Neva and the Reverso Floral Tiare – were the first models to exhibit the snow-setting technique, which places diamonds or gemstones of different sizes in a seemingly random pattern (while similar to snow-setting, pavé setting requires perfectly aligned rows and stones of the exact same size). Meant to recall the look of the sun glinting on snow, the glistening effect almost entirely obscures the metal surface of the watch.
Jacob & Co.
After decades of decking out A-list celebrities (i.e., Cristiano Ronaldo, Rihanna, and Jay-Z, to name a few) in diamonds of every shape, size, and color, it came as no surprise when Jacob & Co. developed a bespoke cut of its own called the Jacob Cut; it debuted with the launch of the Astronomia Tourbillon in 2014.
Each of the carriage’s four arms features a complication of precisely the same weight as the others to ensure the movement can function: a triple-axis tourbillon, a sub-dial for the hours and minutes, and a magnesium globe. The final arm holds a spherical one-carat round diamond with 288 facets and rotates on its axis every 60 seconds.
On occasion, it’s the under-the-radar use of a diamond that feels radical. This is the case, for instance, with rare watches that feature a diamond (rather than a sapphire) crystal. Even more robust and scratch-resistant than sapphire crystal, a diamond crystal certainly has the functional bona fides to serve the purpose, though its price stretches into the stratosphere.
However, not just any diamond cut is suited to deflect the slings and arrows that might despoil a dial while providing maximum visibility. Only near colorless portrait cut diamonds, ultra-thin, highly polished slices with faceted edges, will do.
Also called lasque diamonds, portrait cuts (so-called due to their early use as protection for miniature portraits) are an ancient and perhaps even the first form of step cutting, with the earliest examples found in India. And in the watchmaking world, they are most likely to be spotted on bespoke pieces.
For example, in October, a bespoke Patek Philippe Ref. 3843 featuring one of the largest portrait cut diamonds ever recorded surfaced at the Christie’s “Watches Online: The Dubai Edit” auction. Made by the brand circa 1991, this deceptively simple-looking watch includes a triangular crystal made from a 13.43-carat diamond that came from the commissioning client’s collection.
The unique Reference 3843-1G, with its 31mm 18K white gold triangular case, sunburst blue dial, and integrated white gold bracelet, sold for $882,000. (A Harry Winston jewelry watch with an octagonal portrait cut diamond crystal, plus a bracelet set with 193 emerald-cut diamonds, seems a comparative bargain; it sold for $685,500 at Sotheby’s in 2021.)
Sometimes, the biggest flex of all is a diamond watch so stealth that only the most trained eye would know what it is at all.