Luxury magazine:
watches & jewellery edition

Delicious jewels; Baselworld’s finest; the dark truth about the Koh-i-Noor diamond;
and tiaras through the ages

‘Each piece has its own secret to share and story to tell’

The true beauty of a gemstone lies in the stories it has to tell – as any expert will tell you, the people, places and historic events that a jewel has played witness to are just as important as its size, colour and lustre.

No gem has a tale quite as enthralling as the Koh-i-Noor diamond. But as British author William Dalrymple realised when he set out to chronicle the journey of this infamous stone, stories, just like gemstones, can be slippery things. Separating truth from fiction and gossip from fact can be a mammoth undertaking. Dalrymple found that much of what is known about the gemstone is conjecture – a classic case of history being written by the victors.

As we discovered when we read Dalrymple’s book and spoke to him ahead of his talk at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, to unravel the story of the Koh-i-Noor, one must travel all the way back through India’s history, to 1739, when, in the first real-known reference to the Koh-i-Noor, the gem is stolen from northern India by an invading Persian king. What follows is a tale of torture, violence, bloodshed, theft, betrayal and political intrigue that reads like a Game of Thrones plot line.

Intrigue also sits at the heart of the latest high-jewellery collection by the House of Dior, which takes its inspiration directly from the Palace of Versailles. Victoire de Castellane, artistic director of high jewellery for Dior, has looked to the historic French site on two previous occasions, but this time around, she honed in on the unknown aspects of the palace – its secret passageways, hidden nooks and clandestine meeting points.

These are reimagined into intriguing pieces of jewellery that are never quite what they seem. So a diamond pivots on its axis to reveal a stone hidden beneath a stone; and a rectangular ring features a concealed compartment that slides out like a drawer. Each piece has its own secret to share and story to tell.

Today, the Koh-i-Noor diamond forms part of the British Crown Jewels, and sits, the very picture of innocence, in the Tower of London. But as Sarah Maisey says in her story: “We might like to view our jewels as being benign and pretty, but the Koh-i-Noor is anything but.”

There’s nothing benign about the pieces that are showcased in our feature on men’s jewellery. Gender stereotypes surrounding jewellery are falling to the wayside – where in the old days, your average man might only sport a simple watch and a pair of cufflinks, gentlemen are becoming increasingly bold in their jewellery choices.

While the pieces seen on the runways of Gucci and Alexander McQueen are unlikely to make their way into the mainstream anytime soon, there is an undeniable shift in perception under way. If you’re looking to get in on the action, British jeweller Stephen Webster has some simple advice: “A statement ring. It really sorts the men from the boys.”

* Selina Denman, editor

Hidden depths

In the late 1600s, when Louis XIV decided to transform a relatively modest château in Versailles into his primary palace, he knew that architecture could be an effective tool in communicating power. The Palace of Versailles was made into the home of the French court, and went on to become an enduring symbol of the opulence and decadence of Louis XIV’s reign.

The palace has acted as a source of inspiration for the House of Dior since its founder designed his first-ever haute couture collection. More recently, Victoire de Castellane, artistic director of high-jewellery for Dior, has used the palace to inform her own creations. Her latest collection, the final part of a triptych dedicated to the French monument, hones in on the hidden parts of the palace – the private passageways, clandestine boudoirs and other unseen aspects.

De Castellane’s first homage to the French palace, dubbed simply Dior à Versailles, saw her “imagine Versailles by night when gemstones sparkle in the candlelight”. As such, chandeliers are referenced in the diamond drop of a necklace; a curtain tie-back from the royal apartments is reimagined as a pair of earrings; and a bow is taken directly from a piece of decorative Rococo-style furniture.

The second part of the triptych, Dior à Versailles, Côté Jardins, or Versailles, act II, celebrates the palace’s expansive gardens, drawing inspiration from its flower beds, groves, ponds, statues and sandy walkways, in a colourful concoction overflowing with gemstones such as pink sapphires, black opals, emeralds, garnets and sapphires.

The final act, Dior à Versailles, Pièces Secrètes, is laden with intrigue. Unusual stones are paired with playful opening mechanisms that pay tribute to the idea of love tokens, such as the Vanité Emeraude necklace (pictured). Elsewhere, a diamond pivots on its axis to reveal a stone hidden beneath a stone – much like a concealed doorway that unexpectedly offers up a whole new vista.

Cachette Tiroir Diamant is a weighty rectangular ring topped with a pear-shaped diamond that calls to mind a tiny, intricate chest. It features a concealed compartment that slides out like a drawer. Meanwhile, miniature crowns top mismatched earrings crafted from diamonds and green beryls; and are to be found hidden behind a white opal in the Cachette Opale Claire ring. Rubies, emeralds, blue and pink spinels and yellow diamonds are offset with white diamonds to create a collection that is as opulent as its namesake.

“I wanted to use chiaroscuro stones in shades of faded rose, reds verging on purple, iridescent moonstones and more intense sky blues,” says de Castellane. “The colours themselves seem a little mysterious, like antique silks.” www.dior.com

* Selina Denman

Jewellery-inspired tomes

De Grisogono: Daring Creativity

Showcasing the vision of Fawaz Gruosi, founder of the Swiss jewellery house, this book presents the brand’s unexpectedly bold and vibrant collections.

Jewels of the Renaissance

Exploring the pivotal role jewellery played during the Renaissance, this tome by Yvonne Hackenbroch has been reworked to include additional details.

The Pearl Necklace

Royalty and members of high society have treasured pearls throughout history. This book, by the brand Mikimoto, explores the unending appeal of these precious beads.

The Impossible Collection of Jewelry

A visual journey through the last hundred years of jewellery, Vivienne Becker presents creations from Europe’s leading brands. 

Rosy future

High in demand and low in supply, pink diamonds make for a great investment, writes Panna Munyal

Estimated to command more than 10 times the price of their colourless counterparts, pink diamonds are pretty, precious and highly priced, and this all comes down to one overarching feature: scarcity.

“Even within the rarefied category of coloured diamonds, pink diamonds are extraordinarily rare,” says David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s international jewellery division. “To give you an idea, of all the diamonds submitted for testing at the Gemological Institute of America each year, fewer than 0.02 per cent are predominantly pink. As such, the finest examples have achieved some of the highest prices in the jewellery category at auction.”

Paul Zimnisky, an independent diamond analyst based in New York, adds: “If you are going to invest in a diamond, a nice pink is the way to go. The world’s primary source of pink diamonds, the Argyle mine in Australia, will be ceasing production by 2020 as its economic resource has been exhausted. This will keep supply limited and prices high.” Cases in point: the flawless fancy vivid Pink Star, which, at Dh261 million, became the most expensive diamond to ever sell at auction in April last year; the Dh169.5m fancy intense Graff Pink described by jeweller Laurence Graff as the most fabulous diamond he has seen in his career; and the Fancy Light Pink by Harry Winston, which sold for Dh47m.

As with all diamonds, colour, cut, clarity and number of carats greatly influence rate and resale value. Of these four factors, colour takes top honours when it comes to a pink stone. The trick is in the description: pink diamonds range from light to fancy, intense and finally vivid, which is the highest grade. Bennett reveals: “It is more and more important for collectors to make sure they have certificates for diamonds, and in particular a report from the GIA, because ultimately, the colour grading that the organisation gives is the most important.”

Hue is so crucial in this niche market that it’s even recommended that collectors sacrifice clarity and size for a better colour quality. One reason for this could be the tricky and sometimes subjective process required to identify precise shades. Stephen Wetherall, CEO of Australia’s mining company Lucapa Diamond, explains: “Estimating the exact shade of a coloured diamond is not that straightforward, even for an expert, let alone a normal consumer. Not everyone sees the same intensity of colour, and pink diamonds regularly have a second colour. For instance, you could have a browny pink or an orangey pink. Generally, two-colour pinks are sold for less than single-colour pinks. Clarity, which in a white diamond is very important, tends to be less so in a fancy coloured diamond with a very strong colour. There is also a large price difference between a fancy vivid and a fancy intense pink diamond.”

This would explain the high value of a flawless fancy vivid, such as the Pink Star. The Pink Promise ring, meanwhile, sold for Dh7.8m per carat in large part because it was enhanced from an intense to a vivid colour grade. Diamonteer Stephen Silver, who undertook the risky responsibility of recutting the stone, explains the thought process behind “improving” the diamond to increase its worth. “When I first examined the Pink Promise, I could see that the stone’s cut was not maximising its colour. The challenge in recutting the stone was to improve the colour grade, without losing too much material. We ended up cutting away about half a carat more than I had planned, but we achieved the vivid grade, which probably added about 25 per cent to its value.”

Loose stones, too, are a worthy investment. Last month, Lucapa recovered from its prolific Lulo mine in Angola, a 1.9-carat pink stone alongside other rough diamonds. “While this is not the largest pink diamond recovered at Lulo – we have found a 39-carat light fancy pink in the past – we consider it to be in the top colour range. That is, the best diamond to be polished from this stone has the potential to be vivid in colour,” explains Wetherall.

He sheds light on the process behind getting the stones from mine to market, and what collectors should look into before purchasing a coloured stone. “To clean diamonds with internal dirt, dirt in cracks or harsh colour stains, we use a deep boiling technique. This involves placing the diamonds in a tantalum container, sealed in a special mix of chemicals and putting them in an oven at high temperatures for up to 12 hours. The acid vapours penetrate the inclusions and cracks and clean the diamond properly. This process is commonly used for white diamonds. However, for coloured diamonds, this process has been known to lighten the intensity and, generally, a less harsh acid and shorter cleaning process is used, or the stones are placed in ultrasonic baths.”

The four Cs and cleaning tactics aside, when it comes to choosing a pink diamond, experts also recommend looking out for the provenance of the stone and the profile of the jeweller, if you’re buying a ready piece. The value goes up, explains Bennett, “if the mount or setting bear the signature of an important jeweller, such as Graff, Harry Winston or Cartier. And, of course, if a stone or jewel have an interesting historical, noble or royal provenance, this often adds to their appeal for collectors.”

David Warren, international senior director of Christie’s jewellery department, cites the example of Le Grand Mazarin, which comes from India’s famed Golconda mine. At 19.07 carats, the light pink diamond is by no means the most extraordinary in the colour or size departments, yet it sold at an auction last November for a little more than Dh53m. “Le Grand Mazarin has the most extraordinary historical provenance,” says Warren. “The stone belonged to seven kings and queens of France [including Louis XIV]. Its story goes back to Cardinal Mazarin, known to have been a collector of the very finest diamonds, and on his death, it passed into the possession of the French royal family and was part of several crowns until the late 18th century, when the stone was bought by Boucheron. Plus, the Golconda mine stopped production over 200 years ago – so these stones represent a real treasure hunt,” he adds.

Once the stones have made their way to market, collectors and the experts who guide them can and must consider as many of these details before signing on the dotted line. And to all this, Bennett adds a final tenet. “Always buy something you like. You will get pleasure from owning a diamond that has personal appeal for you. And if you like it, there’s a good chance that others will too, should you one day decide to sell.”

The trend: Kaleidoscopic earrings

Liali

Purple amethyst and rose gold match beautifully in these drop earrings, while white diamonds add an extra frisson of glamour.

Roxanne Assoulin

Mismatched Swarovski crystals are a fun way to wear coloured stones. These are ideal for those who prefer not to take their jewellery too seriously.

Sylvia Toledano

Turquoise and yellow gold is a classic combination, and these elaborate hoops are made to catch the light as they move.

Monica Vinader

Cool blue and yellow gold look elegant when shaped into long earrings, with the irregularly shaped stones making sure it doesn’t look too try-hard.

Ben Amun

Vivid lines are the hallmark of the malachite stone, and here the patterning is really brought out by loops of gold, which in turn enrich the shade of green.

New horizons 

The first handbag to become part of Chopard’s four-decade-old Happy Diamonds collection, this cheery red purse pays tribute to the maison’s jewellery and watchmaking prowess.

Its quilted design is an homage to the collection’s namesake gemstone, with the swirling pattern designed to evoke the facets of a diamond. The lines etched along the full-grain leather naturally draw the eye to the rose-gold-plated clasp, which is inspired by the watches in the Happy collection, pieces that, famously, have precious stones skittering around the dial. Accordingly, five freewheeling pink opals spin between two sapphire crystals, while the pink-gold-plated guilloche rosette background also resembles the sun-like face of the timepieces.

The Happy handbag is but one of numerous new objects that the brand unveiled at Baselworld last month. Extensions of the same collection include: Happy Dreams pendants and rings with a textured mother-of-pearl backdrop; bracelets and bangles from the Happy Hearts line rendered in black Tahitian mother-of-pearl and silvery opal; and a 25th-anniversary edition of the Happy Sport timepiece, newly available with a blue or pink dial.

Chopard also launched a 30th anniversary iteration of its Mille Miglia timepieces, named for the famed car rally that the Swiss brand has partnered with since 1988. The 2018 Race Edition features a dial and counters inspired by the dashboards of historic race cars. This year’s Red Carpet high-jewellery collection, meanwhile, celebrates Chopard’s collaboration with the Cannes film festival – the maison has crafted the Palme d’Or trophy for 20 years. It includes a bracelet composed of faceted tanzanite with an opal that slides away to reveal a hidden dial; and a choker with brown and cognac diamonds, inspired by the glamorous outfits and jewels worn by women in the 1920s, as immortalised in F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, The Great Gatsby.

Additions have also been made to the Ice Cube collection, a line that Rihanna contributed to last year. While the singer opted to render the signature rectangular cubes in a shade of jungle green, inspired by the lush gardens of her island hometown of Barbados, the new asymmetrical earrings and necklaces take on a two-toned pattern, rendered in 18K rose and white gold this time around.

Most importantly, Chopard made waves at Basel when it pledged to become the first global watch and jewellery house to use only responsibly sourced gold, starting from July. The brand’s Green Carpet collections have been promoting the use of Fairmined gold since the initiative was first launched by firebrand artistic director Caroline Scheufele in 2013, in association with Livia Firth, the founder of Eco-Age and the Green Carpet Challenge. Also, as a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, in October 2015, Chopard pledged to buy 100 per cent of the gold extracted by two ethical mines in Bolivia and Colombia, and has done much in the interim to responsibly source its gold and diamonds whenever possible. This recent announcement, then, is a natural step forward – but one that’s in keeping with both Chopard’s ethical aesthetic and the growing interest in conscious consumerism and sustainable luxury. www.chopard.com

* Panna Munyal

My luxury life: Amina Ghali

Azza Fahmy’s youngest daughter joined her mother’s eponymous jewellery brand in 2005, and is now the company’s head of design. She studied contemporary jewellery in Italy’s Alchimia school, and then attained a BA in jewellery design and silversmithing from the University of Central England

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?
I’d be on a blue beach with wonderful yellow sand and a beautiful atmosphere.

You are sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, whom are you with and what are you eating?
I’m on the beach with interesting company – it doesn’t matter if I know them or not, as long as they are interesting. I’m eating pasta, my favourite dish.

Where do you like to shop?
I don’t like malls; I prefer streets that have a mix of cafes and shops, so I can do my shopping and then catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee.

What is your favourite piece of jewellery?
An old tribal cuff that I got from India, which is more than a hundred years old.

What three things do you always have in your bag when you travel?
My diary, the novel I’m reading at the time and my airport companion – which is my iPad – as it has all my movies and series on it.

What was your first-ever luxury purchase?
I recall the first couple of times I wanted to pamper myself. I saved up and bought myself a designer bag that I really wanted. The second time, I saved up for a beautiful tanzanite stone.

Are you collector? If so, what do you collect?
I collect movies, old music, books and diaries. I also like to collect jewellery, like my mother.

What’s your next holiday destination?
I’d love to visit South Africa.

What does your dream home look like?
It’s a one-floor house, with lots of windows and open spaces, right on the seashore. It has a chimney and a huge library, and is filled with plants and paintings. All spaces are utilised, nothing is unused, and it has a wonderful open-plan kitchen and a big walk-in closet.

What is your favourite city in the world?
Different cities offer me different things. London, Delhi and Cairo have always been home to me, while Florence is the most beautiful city aesthetically.

What’s the best book you’ve read?
I have many favourites. In Arabic, I love Naguib Mahfouz’s Children of Gebelawi and Mohamed Mansi Qandil’s A Cloudy Day on the West Side. In English, Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and Amin Maalouf’s Leo Africanus.

What the best advice you’ve ever received?
Always be true to yourself.

What is life’s greatest luxury?
For me it’s to be blessed with what you want, not just what you need.

And what is the most overrated luxury, in your opinion?
Any luxury item that comes in excess becomes overrated.

* Selina Denman

How the tiara came out on top

A tiara is a jewelled crown that wraps around, but does not fully encase, the head – so while it is undeniably striking, it lacks regal significance. The metal base of the ornament is usually set with white diamonds and is designed so that the gems sit at level with the face of the wearer – all the better to allow refractions of light to illuminate one’s features.

The word tiara is interchangeable with diadem, and is thought to have originated from the Persian term for the high-peaked headdresses worn by kings. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore gold wreaths, while the Scythians of Iran wore headpieces that stood high above the head (and resurfaced as the inspiration for the headpiece worn by Natalie Portman in Star Wars).

By the late 18th century, the emergence of neoclassicism brought about a renewed fascination for tiaras, led by Empress Joséphine, the wife of Napoleon, who turned to Chaumet to design hers. Since 1780, the Paris-based high-end jewellery house has made more than 2,000 tiaras for royals and members of the aristocracy. As with all jewellery, the first step is to draw out a design, and Chaumet has an archive of more than 400,000 sketches, which draw inspirations from romanticism, naturalism and belle-époque and art deco styling. Although weight and balance are crucial for all jewellery, they are even more important when it comes to tiaras, particularly if the wearer needs to be able to dance without misplacing her gems. Today, Chaumet estimates that it takes 500 to 1,500 hours and up to six months to create a made-to-order piece. It’s a multifaceted, entirely hand-crafted process, in which the tiara is first drawn out, then made into a volume model, then shaped, dismantled, engraved, assembled and finally polished.

The house of Cartier is another name that deserves a mention. In the late 19th century, founder Louis Cartier was inspired by the art nouveau movement to create fluid jewellery, pioneering the use of platinum, which was prized for its strength and flexibility. This enabled Cartier to use tiny, almost invisible settings that allowed light to play across more facets of each stone. Known as the garland, the style became a Cartier signature. For her wedding to Prince William in 2011, Kate Middleton wore a Cartier tiara dating back to 1936. Bought by King George VI as an anniversary gift for his wife, Elizabeth, it features close to 1,000 white diamonds and was presented to Queen Elizabeth II for her 18th birthday in 1944.

Interestingly, the Duchess of Cambridge has worn a tiara only a handful of times over the course of her royal duties. Another piece she’s been spotted in was the property of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, called the Lotus or Papyrus tiara, and was once worn as a necklace by the Queen Mother. In 2017, Kate wore the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, a piece created in 1913 by E Wolff & Co for Queen Mary, a consort of King George V. It was said to be one of Princess Diana’s favourites.

Conventionally, the tiara worn by a bride on her wedding day would have come from her family’s collection, before she moved on to wearing pieces owned by her husband’s family. While Kate did not follow this tradition, Diana did. Even though she had been loaned the Lover’s Knot tiara by Queen Elizabeth II, Diana wore her family’s Spencer tiara for her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. Composed of various pieces, the central part of the tiara was originally given to Diana’s grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, at her wedding to the future 7th Earl Spencer, while the ends come from a piece that belonged to the last Viscountess of Montagu. The tiara took its present form in the 1930s, and in addition to being worn by Diana, it was also sported on the wedding days of both her sisters, and by her sister-in-law, Victoria Aitken, née Lockwood. Rumours abound that Meghan Markle will wear the Spencer tiara when she marries Diana’s younger son later this year.

The tiara has not been restricted to royalty, however, and has often found favour among high-profile actresses as well. The Mike Todd tiara was originally created circa 1880, and was presented by producer Mike Todd to his wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1957, when his film Around the World in 80 Days won the Oscar for Best Picture. Made with nine mine-cut diamond scrolls and spaced with mine-cut latticework mounted on platinum and gold, it was sold at a Christie’s auction in 2011, as part of the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor. Although estimated to fetch US$80,000 (Dh293,800), it sold for an astonishing $4.2 million (Dh15.4m).

Audrey Hepburn wore a small tiara with her Givenchy black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and again in Roman Holiday. Nicole Kidman wore one in the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge; Cate Blanchett wore several spectacular specimens for the Elizabeth films, designed by Alexandra Byrne. In 2013, Cartier made a replica of Princess Grace of Monaco’s tiara for the film about her life. Elton John, not one to be left out, named his 1997 documentary Tantrums & Tiaras; and even Princess Aurora donned a golden headpiece in the 1959 Disney cartoon Sleeping Beauty.

The fashion crowd was not far behind, with labels such as Louis Vuitton, Rodarte and Miu Miu sending sparkling tiaras down runways. Of course, a handful of brands bent the rules as only fashion can do. Case in point: the grunge tiara made for spring 2016 by Saint Laurent, then led by fashion rebel Hedi Slimane, who wanted to create a crown inspired by the alternative rock music genre, and that could “be worn with anything”.

* Sarah Maisey

Watching the watchmen

Fresh from Baselworld’s thronging pavilions of all things ticking and sparkling, Alex Doak and Laura McCreddie-Doak present their picks of 2018’s finest mechanical timepieces for men and for women

Was it the unseasonably freezing weather, when Basel in March should be the harbinger of a long-overdue springtime? Was it the continuing exodus of brands to January’s rival Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, with higher-profile exits rumoured to come? Or was it simply the lack of sustenance beyond a rickety veal-sausage stand next to the tram stop? Either way, this year, there was a unusually cautious atmosphere hanging over Baselworld – still, it should be said, the world’s most spectacular watch and jewellery expo, comprising approximately two Place Vendômes, a few Bond Streets, one Fifth Avenue and a Dubai Mall, all bolted together beneath one roof.

To be fair, the future viability of any vast global event like this, especially in our digital age of lightning connectivity and hyper-localisation, is being questioned across all manner of sectors. But strange vibes aside, Basel still represents 80 per cent of Swiss watch exports, and hosts five of the six biggest revenue-generating Swiss watchmakers, so what about the watches themselves? Well, that at least is an easy one: 2018 is seeing the best and most even spread of horological launches in years. With exports on a steady trajectory once again, the dreaded smartwatch settling into a non-threatening niche of its own, and watchmakers rediscovering their contemporary touch after years of defaulting to retro, the wristscape has rarely looked so bright and breezy – even if the weather outside didn’t.

Timepieces for men

Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Racing Bird

When it’s not crafting instruments for the wrists of fighter pilots or Paris’s Swat units, Bell & Ross hones its slick aesthetic via what-if concepts in high-speed transport – and then creates the companion watch. It started with a B-Rocket motorbike straight from Judge Dredd, and continues this year with the BR Bird, a rocket-like V12 Rolls-Royce-powered monoplane, fit for the daredevil Reno Air Races. It’s the brainchild of Bruno Belamich – the Bell in Bell & Ross – who claims to have everything ready to go, should the right aeronautic entrepreneur step forward. Meanwhile, satisfy your low-altitude taste for danger with the accompanying chronograph – a crisply appointed flying machine that’s pure Dan Dare raffishness.

Tudor Black Bay GMT

There seems to be a pattern developing. Just like last year with its swoon-inducing, Breitling-powered Black Bay Chrono, Rolex’s little brother Tudor yet again sets itself apart from the mother ship with another doozy that wins Baselworld. It’s a second-time-zone “GMT”, designed in subtle allusion to Rolex’s famed Pepsi dial blue and red configuration of the 1950s, but equipped with a brand-new, in-house integrated movement. This means that the mechanics required to adjust your home time hand separately from the local time are part and parcel of the whole engine, rather than bolted on top – not only a far more reliable, let alone prestigious state of affairs, but a bargainous one, too, at just £2,570 (Dh13,260).

Raymond Weil Calibre RW1212 Skeleton

Ever since Omega and Breguet’s parent group, Swatch, announced in 2002 that its movement maker, ETA, would be drastically cutting supplies to third-party brands, an initial panic has blossomed into a flurry of in-house innovation at the entry-level of luxury Swiss watchmaking. Previously ETA-dependent names – Tudor, Baume & Mercier, Oris – have stepped up to the plate, developing affordable, proprietary mechanics. Raymond Weil is also on the list now, as its movement partner Sellita (usually in the business of supplying ETA clones) has worked up the 1212, framing the ticking balance wheel with a window at 6 o’clock, maximising enjoyment of your investment. A thrill that gets turned up to 11 this year, with the exposure of every intricate facet whirring away inside.

Porsche Design 1919 Chronotimer Flyback

It’s easy to underestimate the significance of Porsche Design in Swiss watchmaking – especially in the early days when, having left his eponymous sports car marque, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche applied the same design nous that birthed the 911 to watches. He coated a watch in black PVD before anyone else and made the world’s first titanium watch with IWC. Now, back in collaboration with the family firm, the engineering side of things gets a serious shot in the arm with a new in-house-developed chronograph movement, equipped with instant-reset “flyback” mode for timing laps. Initially kept back for petrolheads buying a GT2 RS or Turbo S Exclusive Series, the Werk 01.200 now powers this machine, mounted in an espresso-hued titanium chassis.

Nomos Glashütte Autobahn

It’s always cheering to step onto Nomos Glashütte’s sunny pavilion at Basel, even without discovering, in the process, the most unexpected release of its 28-year history. The German purveyor of Bauhaus purism, where form and function remain in perpetual balance, may toy with layouts, typography and colour, but everything has always been in strict service to the task at hand: telling the time. So what’s the deal with the new Autobahn’s luminescent semicircular motif? Nothing much more than decoration, and allusion to night-time driving, but it does work. Especially in concert with a dial contoured like a miniature skatepark and some gorgeous colouration. Its four years in gestation at the hands of Werner Aisslinger really have paid off.

Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde

These days, the teeming thoroughfares of Baselworld can’t boast the sort of horlogerie fireworks found at SIHH, where Vacheron Constantin, A Lange & Söhne, Richard Mille et al tout their complicated wares. But there are two particular exceptions, found opposite each other in the heart of Basel’s Hall 1.0: Breguet and Blancpain, each dating from 1700-and-something and each an enduring bastion of the ancient handcraft. The latter’s highlight is a whirling tourbillon, displaying the hours digitally through a round window. They jump to the next, just as the minute hand itself jumps from 60 to 0, all in the blink of an eye.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that Rolex harbours a fiercely passionate following from collectors and trainspotter sorts the world over. As with so many cults, a lexicon has arisen from the chattering forums, all in fond reference to the countless iterations of Rolex’s surprisingly few core products. The GMT-Master alone commands at least eight beverage-related nicknames, thanks to the chamaeleonic evolution of its duo-tone 24-hour rotating bezel – one colour denoting day hours, the other the night. Most fans were talking about the relaunched “Pepsi”, in gleaming blue and red ceramic, but the interesting money was on its counterpart, with an unprecedented brown and black bezel combo.

Breitling Navitimer 8 Unitime

Almost every professional pilot’s favourite watchmaker is undergoing a top-to-bottom shake-up right now, at the experienced hands of ex-IWC CEO Georges Kern. For a start, he’s shifting the venerable chronograph brand’s main focus away from aviation, controversially dropping the wings logo from all dials and denoting “land” and “sea” sectors as equally as “air”. That’s not to say Breitling’s most iconic collection, the Navitimer, is being neglected. Far from it – Monsieur Kern’s opening salvo has been a new collection, Navitimer 8, named after and inspired by the marque’s Huit cockpit chronograph department, set up in 1938. That said, the smoothed-out aesthetic works especially well in a non-chronograph model, in combination with a world-timer function and shimmering silver dial.

Tag Heuer Carrera Tête de Vipère Chronograph Tourbillon chronometer

A winding drive down the north face of Swiss watchmaking’s Jura Mountains heartland takes you to the quaint township of Besançon. Once France’s own industrious hub of horology, until the purge of the “Quartz crisis” in the 1970s, a few green shoots of recovery are showing, including the reopening of the Observatoire, which once rated the accuracy of clocks and watches by observing the stars. It now awards its prestigious Viper’s Head certification to a very select few chronometers fit to survive its gruelling 16-day test without losing more than four seconds or gaining more than six. Exactly 155 very special blue-ceramic editions of Tag Heuer’s bafflingly affordable tourbillon have done precisely that.

Tissot Heritage 2018

The word homage can be overused by an industry so in thrall of its own heritage. But Tissot is classier than that. Which means we’re free to wheel it out with aplomb, as this sepia-tinged beauty is a pinpoint-perfect homage to the Swiss legend’s golden mid-century years – all kick-started by its breakthrough Antimagnetique watches of the 1930s. Keeping things relevant and useful in 2018, however, it’s certainly not all show. Into the quite-extraordinary £850 (Dh3,845) bargain goes a voluptuous box-type anti-reflective sapphire crystal and, displayed proudly through a crystal back, every Tissot collector’s favourite manual-wind movement, the Unitas of the 1950s – slightly post-dating the 1943 subject of homage, but who’s really counting?

Timepieces for women

Patek Philippe Ladies Chronograph Ref 7150/250

Geneva’s favourite son has particularly refreshing form when it comes to complicated women’s watches in general, and chronographs in particular. Back in 2009, the legendary watchmaker launched its first in-house chronograph movement, controversially debuted in a feminine, diamond-set case, shaped like a handbag compact. Fast-forward eight years and it’s time for a reboot. The cushion-shaped case is now round, but that has allowed the designers to add a pulsometer and change the numerals from Roman to Arabic, all of which gives the whole dial a more vintage feel. As this is Patek, there are still diamonds, of course – 72 of them set into a rose gold case – to keep the watch looking practically feminine. That is if you can find any real use for a chronograph other than boiling an egg.

Rado Tradition 1965

Rectangular watches are still something of a rarity – especially in landscape orientation – but this Rado makes a convincing argument. With its boxy indices and brown colour palette, it’s not hard to see that its inspiration is New York City’s skyline in the 1960s. Based on a timepiece from that era called the Manhattan (Rado isn’t allowed to call it that anymore, as, reportedly, the name meant the original could only be sold in that New York City borough), it’s the kind of watch you’d imagine Mad Men’s Peggy Olson wearing to prove to Don Draper that she’s not like other women. It’s a bold slice of retro style that feels perfect for today’s gender-fluid times.

Chanel Boy. Friend Skeleton

Although it is in the Boy. Friend case – and there is a diamond-set option as well – there is still a play of both the masculine and feminine in the design of Calibre 3, Chanel’s latest in-house movement. But it’s not just the look that is impressive – at the heart of this exposed mechanism’s pared-back aesthetic are spokeless wheels. These had to be galvanically grown to ensure they would have enough weight on them in order to function properly. It is this attention to detail of the minutest elements that’s become something of Chanel’s calling card in its relatively new era of in-house haute horologerie.

Bvlgari Lvcea Skeleton

Call them opulent, decadent or, with the men’s oeuvre, complicated, but while Bulgari’s watches are always things of beauty, you would never describe them as having levity. Until Lvcea came along in 2014, then decided to cut loose four years later. What you notice first is the stone-set letters spelling out “Bvlgari” scattered haphazardly around the dial. These are given extra pizzazz thanks to a diamond-encrusted bezel and that fabulously eye-catching red strap. That you can also see the movement clearly behind the letters is a nod to chief watch designer Fabrizio Buonamassa’s love of blending form and function, and a little reminder, lest you forget, that the Italian luxury goods brand has serious haute horlogerie clout these days. But most importantly, it is a joyous thing to have on your wrist. And joy is something we all need a lot of right now.

Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara

You almost don’t want to wear this watch on your wrist – it seems much more suited to being set into an east-facing window, to truly appreciate all the work that has gone into the dial. The stained-glass effect is thanks to the plique-à-jour enamelling technique, or smalta clara in Latin. Although Jaquet Droz is famous for its Grand Feu enamel dials, this is the first time it has used this notoriously difficult technique, which sees the enamel panels become more and more brittle each time they are fired. The dial features seven colours that make up the snarling face of a tiger. Meanwhile, reducing the dial and movement to their small proportions, and removing the caseback, allows the fragile beauty of the design to sing, especially when caught in a sunbeam.

Gucci Automatic with Kingsnake GMT function

Since creative director Alessandro Michele took over the reins, the Italian luxury brand has gone from staid to sensational. And luckily, his magic has also rubbed off on the watches. This year, things were even bolder than ever, with emerald-bright green being a major colour, as it is on this particular automatic GMT. Cuff watches are usually geared towards men – having roots as they do in the military – but this could be worn by anyone, providing they have the chutzpah (as with most Gucci garments, admittedly). It certainly makes a statement on the wrist, while the GMT function, as indicated by a kingsnake, one of the house’s new icons, means it is also practical. It may be too brash for some tastes, but love it or loathe it seems to be the new Gucci way. And that’s much more fun than pleasing everyone.

Longines Record L28205572

As with many of Longines’s styles, there is more to its updated Record collection than first appearances would suggest. The juxtaposition of a rose-gold-plate bezel with the steel case gives a fresh, modern feel, while the diamond indices against the black dial suggests that it could just as easily be worn with an LBD as with white cotton and denim. Then there’s the word chronometer under automatic, which means that Longines has gone the extra mile and had this timepiece COSC-certified, which assures its accuracy to no more than minus-four or plus-six seconds a day. This is solid Swiss watchmaking at its most elegant – all you need is to add the requisite attitude, as per the brand slogan.

Graff Snowfall Slim

A couple of years ago, Graff wowed Baselworld with Snowfall, a haute joaillerie timepiece born of computer wizardry in concert with fine craftsmanship. Thanks to 3D printing, the Graff team managed to make a 300-joint lattice network of diamonds so supple, it was like twisting thick grosgrain ribbon, rather than metal and stone. That design has informed this more wearable (and reasonably priced) update. The full-pavé bracelet has been reduced to two decorative elements at the top and bottom of the dial, while the rest of the strap is now black satin. Incredibly, the fluidity of movement is still there, and there are more than enough diamonds to satisfy Graff’s ritziest regulars.

De Grisogono Retro Double Jeu

De Grisogono is a brand with a reputation for not giving a hoot about the codes of fine watchmaking, and this Retro Double Jeu is the perfect example. The design team has gone to all the effort of putting an oscillating rotor in a watch purely for reasons of whimsy. Rather than have anything to do with powering the watch – it’s quartz – a full rotation actually makes the enlarged and bejewelled 9 and 3 move to reveal the different-coloured diamonds on the reverse side. It’s the sort of audaciousness that has come to typify de Grisogono’s style of watchmaking and, while it’s unlikely to always be your thing, it will always make you smile.

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date

Bronze has been big news for a couple of years now, but usually confined to oversized men’s styles at boysy brands such as Panerai, Oris, Tudor and Zenith. Thankfully, at least one of these has now woken up to women’s potential attraction to the warm glow of the copper alloy, which develops a unique mint-green patina over age. Oris has subsequently given its Big Crown Pointer Date a dainty, vintage makeover. Launched in the 1980s, this take on a classic pilot’s watch has been reduced to 36mm, cased up in naturally ageing bronze and given the most gorgeous light-green dial. This was inspired by a colour plate on Le Corbusier’s Polychromie architecturale – two colour collections created in 1931 and 1959 featuring 63 shades that are harmonious and can be combined in any way. It will only get better with age – rather like the women wearing it.

* Kevin Hackett

Secret of the stone

Sarah Maisey speaks to British author William Dalrymple about the real story of the infamous Koh-i-Noor diamond

Diamonds hold a special place in our collective imagination. They have been gifted as love tokens, taken as the spoils of war and utilised as emblems of power, embedded into thrones, crowns and sceptres. And of all diamonds, it is the Koh-i-Noor that is arguably the most intriguing. One of the largest and most impressive diamonds ever mined, the Koh-i-Noor originated in ancient India, was gifted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Queen Victoria in 1849, and now forms part of the British Crown Jewels.

Except that isn’t entirely true.

What we think we know of the Koh-i-Noor has recently been revealed to be little more than embellished gossip, lifted from the bazaars of Lahore and retold as fact by one Theo Metcalfe, who in the 1850s was tasked with tracing the origins of the stone. Unable to find anything of substance, it seems the enterprising Mr Metcalfe simply made it up, creating a muddled and chaotic history that survives to this day. Add to that the fact that while the diamond now resides in the United Kingdom, four other nations lay claim to it, with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and even the Taliban all calling for it to be returned to them and, therefore, its rightful home.

Presumably frustrated that something so famous could be so little understood, authors William Dalrymple and Anita Anand decided to join forces to uncover the truth about the gem, penning a biography entitled Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond. “We both had the Koh-i Noor glittering at the back of our previous books,” Dalrymple explains via telephone from his home in India. “It had wound its way into both our writing lives. I had written a book about Afghanistan called Return of a King, where Shuja ul-Mulk loses the diamond to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Anita came across it when she was writing about the story of Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of Duleep Singh, who was the last Indian to possess the stone,” he explains.

Already familiar – at least in part – with its story, the duo was astonished to hear the attorney general of India declare that the diamond had been gifted to the British by Ranjit Singh in 1849. Knowing full well that the maharaja had died a decade earlier, and in fact it was his son, Duleep, who had handed the gem over, the pair realised they were in a position to tell the true story of the most famous gem in the world.

“For a writer, every time you discover some fantastic story that is different from the authorised version, you give a little whoop,” Dalrymple says. “So that’s when we got together and decided to write this.”

The story they uncovered is an astonishing Game of Thrones-esque yarn of intrigue, betrayal and brutality. In its wake, the Koh-i-Noor has left a trail of destruction and savagery, with more than a few men (and even women) meeting unpleasant ends – such as being blinded with needles, crushed by masonry, strangled, stabbed, beaten with bricks and even murdered with molten gold – because of their association with the gem. We might like to view our jewels as benign and pretty, but the Koh-i-Noor is anything but. “It is very far from romantic,” laughs Dalrymple, “and has left this incredible trail of blood and suffering wherever it has gone. The interesting thing is seeing how diamonds are viewed in different cultures and at different times. The idea that a diamond is something that you give on an engagement ring is very much of the late 19th-century and a European invention. Before that, they meant very different things to different people,” he explains.

Before Dalrymple and Anand’s book, the established story of this gem suggested that it was extracted from the great mines of Kollur, and first appeared as the Syamantaka diamond, in the 5,000-year-old Hindu Bhagavata and Vishnu Purana scriptures, where Lord Krishna battles a bear named Jambavan for more than 20 days. The reality that the authors unearthed is a little less mythical.

“We weren’t able to find a single, clear, 100-per-cent-certain reference to the stone before 1750,” Dalrymple reveals. “That was the biggest surprise – that so much of the tale about this diamond, which has been repeated over and over again over the last century and a half, is completely unsubstantiated.”

What the pair did find within the scriptures, however, were warnings that diamonds are the bringers of death and avarice. “In early Hindu texts, you get the idea that diamonds can often be things that create violence around them. There are auspicious gems that bring good luck, but in Hinduism, diamonds have always brought bloodshed,” Dalrymple explains.

“What is fascinating to see, is how that ancient Indian insight found its way into Victorian fiction with The Moonstone [Wilkie Collins’ fictitious tale from 1868, considered the first detective novel] and now has become a very modern notion of the cursed diamond. They were aware that a diamond – something hugely valuable and attractive, but instantly transportable – was temptation in portable form.”

Until the 1700s, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil, every diamond in the world originated in India, with the exception of a few black diamonds found in Borneo. With so many gemstones at its disposal, India was home to the richest and most lavish royal courts, brimming with gold, jewels and diamonds, causing visitors to write home with lofty descriptions of the treasures they had seen.

Inevitably, such wealth brought unwelcome attention, and in 1526, Babur (a descendant of Genghis Khan) swept down from Turan (now Uzbekistan) and seized most of northern India, establishing a Mughal empire that would last for the next 200 years. While fond of jewels, the new rulers brought with them a Persian preference for rubies. “They thought that diamonds were slightly vanilla,” quips Dalrymple. “There are all these legends about the Koh-i-Noor appearing in courts,” he continues. “But actually, the first reference we found of it is when the Persians pinched it from the Mughals in 1739.”

The theft he is referencing is when Nader Shah of Persia invaded northern India, overthrew its ruler, Muhammad Shah Rangila, and ransacked Delhi. As well as emptying the famed Mughal coffers, Nader Shah helped himself to the magnificent Peacock Throne, built by Shah Jahan. Only when Nader had the throne dismantled and sent back to what is modern-day Iran, is any mention made of the two impressive gems that had topped it. Having taken to wearing gems on armbands as a sign of kingship, Nader Shah wore the Timur ruby, and a large, uncut diamond that he is rumoured to have named the Koh-i-Noor, meaning “mountain of light” in Persian.

Despite his new-found wealth, Nader Shah was unable to enjoy it for very long, and in June 1749, he was murdered by his own troops. In a bid to uncover the whereabouts of the Koh-i-Noor, his grandson Shah Rukh was gruesomely tortured and had molten gold poured over his head. In fact, the stones had already left Iran for Afghanistan, smuggled over the border by Ahmad Shah Durrani, who was named the amir in 1747. While successful in holding onto the diamond, he was eventually killed in 1772, by a tumour that devoured his face. In 1801, his grandson, Shah Zaman, was overthrown as the ruler, and when he refused to hand over the infamous Koh-i- Noor, he was blinded with hot needles.

In 1803, Zaman’s brother Shah Shuja was named amir, but just six years later, he ran afoul of his countrymen when he signed a pact with the British. Forced to flee to India, he turned to the maharaja of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, for protection, who asked for the Koh-i-Noor in exchange for guaranteeing Shah Shuja’s life. “This is a diamond that has changed hands violently time after time after time, wreaking bloodshed, revenge and horror wherever it goes,” Dalrymple says. “It is the bloodiest tale and it is surprising that something so small and pretty can create so much dissension.”

A strong and respected leader, Ranjit Singh was known for inclusive policies and social reform, and a military prowess that earned him the nickname “The Lion of Punjab”. Heralded as the man who brought the diamond back to India, his hold on power was unshakeable. However, by the mid-1800s, India was faced with a new enemy: the British Empire.

Although Ranjit Singh was able to hold the colonisers at bay, his death in 1839 triggered a period of instability that saw four successive sons take the throne, only to be murdered shortly thereafter. Stability of sorts was restored in 1843, when the ruler’s only surviving son, the infant Duleep, was named as maharaja, but by this time, the East India Company had exploited the turmoil to manoeuvre its way to prominence. Duleep’s youth was used as an excuse to force him into signing the Treaty of Lahore in 1846, which placed the little king under British protection.

Two years later, the governor general of the East India Company, James Dalhousie, manipulated the start of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, which, when it ended, saw Duleep’s kingdom destroyed and annexed to the British. Alone and helpless, the 10-year-old ruler was stripped of his wealth, his lands and his power, and as a final humiliation, made to hand over the Koh-i-Noor to the East India Company.

In an ironic twist, the company watched in horror as Dalhousie presented it as a gift to Queen Victoria, earning himself a lordship. Now under British rule, the stone travelled to England to be displayed at The Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Eager to see the famous gem, six million people, one-third of the country’s population, queued up for a glimpse.

However, as with much of the history of the stone, things did not go quite as planned. Used to seeing diamonds cut and shaped to reflect light, the crowd was disappointed by the large but dull-looking uncut stone. Despite attempts to make it sparkle, the diamond, although weighing an impressive 190.3 carats, was declared to be no more impressive than a lump of glass. In desperation, Prince Albert ordered the stone to be recut. He commissioned Coster Diamonds to take on the task, which in turn brought in Dutch experts Levie Benjamin Voorzanger and J A Feder. Assured that despite an internal flaw, none of its impressive size would be lost, the prince gave assent for work to commence. However, when finished eight weeks later, at a cost equivalent to £1 million (Dh5.2m), the Koh-i-Noor was almost unrecognisable. Although cut into a dazzling oval, it had been slashed to almost half its size, to a mere 93 metric carats. No trace has been found of the removed pieces. Queen Victoria took to wearing the newly cut gem as a brooch, making her the last ruling monarch to wear it.

Today, the Koh-i-Noor sits in the crown of the Queen Mother, as part of the front cross. It last made a public appearance in April 2002, when the crown was placed on top of the Queen Mother’s coffin at her funeral.

I ask Dalrymple what he thinks when he sees the stone today, behind bulletproof glass in the Tower of London. “I look at it and think: ‘You little devil, you,’” he laughs. “It is difficult to see it sitting pretty, knowing the number of people that were tortured. When you know the history and you look at it, you think: ‘How can a small piece of carbon have such a fantastically explosive effect on the human psyche?’”

Today, despite being only the 90th largest in the world, the Koh-i-Noor is arguably the most famous diamond in existence. It has been the subject of numerous petitions for its return. One of the first acts of a newly independent India was to request that the diamond be given back, a demand that was repeated when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne. In 1976, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto requested that the stone be returned to Pakistan, while India tried again in 1990 and 2000, the same year that the Taliban entered their own request. In 2015, barrister Jawaid Iqbal Jaffrey demanded its return to Lahore. All requests have been resolutely denied. It seems, for now at least, the famed diamond is staying exactly where it is.

“It’s a very difficult thing to say what is the Koh-i-Noor’s rightful place,” concedes Dalrymple. “That is something we have very much avoided doing in the book, because this is a diamond that has passed through the hands of whoever has been most powerful at that time. There are currently five countries that claim it, so its peaceful moment on its velvet cushion might not be there for much longer. The Koh-i-Noor has never been a quiet stone, and I think it has no intention of being so now.”

Sorting the men from the boys

Men are starting to reject social stereotypes and embrace jewellery of all kinds, Selina Denman discovers

“A statement ring. It really sorts the men from the boys,” claims British jewellery designer Stephen Webster.

It would take a bold man indeed to wear some of Webster’s creations. Cases in point: the Beasts of London Lion Head ring, a weighty reproduction of a snarling lion in rhodium-plated sterling silver; or the Razor Blade ring, where a jagged line cuts through a thick rectangle of gold in a design that is at once aggressive and appealing.

The modern man has a complex relationship with adornment. In some cultures, unless it’s a watch or a wedding ring, wearing jewellery stands in conflict with traditional perceptions of masculinity. In many cases, men’s jewellery has only really been embraced by those inhabiting the fringes of society – the genderless spiked collars and cuffs of the punk movement, for example, or the silver peace signs favoured by hippies. And when men’s jewellery has moved into the mainstream, it has often been to disastrous effect.

The oversized medallions of the 1970s, or the ostentatious signet rings that have adorned pinky fingers since time immemorial, are proof, should you need it. But attitudes are changing among a more millennial, metrosexual audience. “Not so long ago, for the average man to wear any jewellery beyond a simple wedding band and a classic watch was considered somewhat arty and rebellious. Now, guys from all walks of life are teaming bracelets, rings or a necklace with both office attires and weekend looks,” says Simon Spiteri, accessories buyer at online retailer Mr Porter. “I think the growing changes in attitude have stemmed from influential celebrities, alongside street-style photographers and influencers on Instagram, showing guys how easy jewellery can really be to wear,” he adds.

Mr Porter has witnessed “a meteoric rise in demand for men’s jewellery” in the last two years, according to Spiteri. Webster launched Rayman, his first collection for men, almost two decades ago, and agrees that attitudes surrounding this segment have undergone a marked change in the interim. “It would probably be too extreme to say that jewellery has become mainstream, but it has definitely shifted from just rock stars, rappers and sports personalities. It has been very interesting to watch men develop a taste for jewellery,” Webster says.

That men are increasingly seeing jewellery as a worthy investment is clear by the fact that they are starting to buy more expensive pieces, says Candice Fragis, buying and merchandising director at online retailer Farfetch. “This season, the number of menswear customers shopping for jewellery has increased. In general, we’ve seen positive growth in customer spending on higher price point items and, as the market for buying jewellery online matures, we expect to see more of this,” Fragis explains.

Jewellery brands that are gaining in popularity on Farfetch include Versace, Valentino, Margiela and Saint Laurent, as well as Northskull, Nialaya and Gas Bijoux. “Additionally, newer brands for us are also doing very well – such as Shaun Leane, who makes beautiful leather bracelets, and Tom Wood, currently the king of the reimagined signet ring,” Fragis adds.

Men are becoming more experimental in their purchases, she claims. “The more classic approach has been to collect investment pieces over a lifetime and have a selection that evolves over time. However, as men become more and more fashion conscious, and the selection of brands and trends become more accessible, attitudes towards jewellery become bolder. This is certainly reflected in the rise in fashion jewellery such as leather bracelets.”

Bracelets have emerged as the hero piece in men’s jewellery. They are easy to wear and easy to conceal, and are a natural next step for those men who have traditionally only felt comfortable wearing a simple wristwatch. “A beaded or leather bracelet has become an integral part of a lot of guys’ wardrobes these days,” says Webster. “The bracelet has been the easiest transition or an attempt to venture into the world of jewellery for men; they almost balance the watch on the opposite hand, and bracelets can still be hidden under the jacket or shirtsleeve for a boardroom meeting – we still hear that comment from some of our more conservative clientele.”

The breadth of bracelet styles on offer, in terms of aesthetics, colours and materials, means there is something for everyone here – from Saint Laurent’s straightforward silver ID bracelets, and Alexander McQueen’s beaded offerings (often topped with a skull, as is to be expected), to black leather cuffs courtesy of Balenciaga, and simple strands of braided leather from Bottega Veneta. Those men who are looking to make a bolder statement should head straight to a thick leather cuff by Gucci, which comes complete with tiger-shaped studs and an oversized buckle fastening.  

Just as stacking has emerged as a key trend in women’s jewellery, men are catching on, too. “Beaded bracelets make a definite statement, and wearing them stacked has become a trend opted for by many recently. We have seen guys stack a variety of different styles of bracelets, including those made from leather, rope and metal to create individual combinations,” says Spiteri.

“One thing is evident, once the guys start, there is no stopping them,” Webster adds. “They like to mix different colour beaded bracelets with silver, and now our latest additions, ceramic bracelets. Our Cuban bracelet has been very successful. They are masculine and very resilient – and men like the fact that you can keep the same clasp and interchange a different colour or finish for the actual bracelet.”

That’s not to say that all men are content to stop at an unassuming bracelet. Fragis is witnessing rising interest in gold medallion necklaces and rings from Versace, which may mean that 1970s styling is well and truly on its way back. Statement pieces from Alexander McQueen – never for the faint-hearted – are also resonating with a growing number of consumers. Even Gucci’s Bull Head ring, an enormous silver mass in the shape of an angry-looking bovine, which has a turquoise stone embedded into its forehead and perfectly epitomises Gucci’s current out-there aesthetic, is finding fans on Mr Porter. 

Nonetheless, Webster acknowledges that rings are still the last frontier when it comes to men’s jewellery – although he has found a clever way to counter this reticence, he reveals. “Rings, especially bold and figurative, are still not for every man, but one thing we have noticed is give a guy anything they can play with, like a spinning ring, and you’ve won them over.”

Even here, it seems, boys love their toys.

A cut above

A deliciously decadent look at the latest high-jewellery collections

For a behind the scenes look at the shooting of this fashion scene click here

Photography: Sohrab Vahdat at Art Factory Management

Hair and make-up: Marisol Stewart at Art Factory Management, assistant: Athena Doutis

Fashion Director: Sarah Maisey

Model: Monet at Models 1

Ticking with the times

Laurence Nicolas of Sotheby’s tells Panna Munyal why, to her, watches and jewellery are akin to art

Dressed in black head-to-toe Dior, including a chunky gold ring from the Nougat collection, which houses a watch within, Laurence Nicolas looks every bit the polished Parisienne when I meet her in Dubai. “I quite like the idea of reading time like this,” she says, holding up her bejewelled hand, “instead of looking sideways every time.” Yet, the global managing director of jewellery and watches at Sotheby’s always carries in her purse a traditional timepiece: the Dandy watch that her husband created from scratch and gave her 15 years ago.

“My husband is fascinated with contemporary art, which reflects in the design of this watch – a round dial in a square case, with a tuxedo pattern running vertically across,” she says. Art forms a big part of her own aesthetic, apparent from the watches and jewels she lists among her favourite, notably the Dalí-inspired asymmetric Crash watch from Cartier, and rings and brooches from Dior’s King & Queens collection, pieces that take the shape of crown-donning skulls, in a nod to the Vanity period in painting. It’s a suitable connection to Nicolas’s position at Sotheby’s, the 274-year-old New York-headquartered corporation, which is known, above all, for its connections with the art world.

When I ask the former CEO of Dior Timepieces & Fine Jewellery how the Sotheby’s position came about, she draws a parallel between her current role and the decision to move years ago from Cartier to Dior, and indeed from fashion to what she considers the arts. “After 11 years at Cartier,” she begins, “I was not… bored, but it was easy. I didn’t feel like I was instrumental to anything. When I was hunted to create, from scratch, jewellery with Dior alongside Victoire [de Castellane], who had just joined from Chanel, and with the support of Mr [LVMH head Bernard] Arnault, I jumped for it. It was my dream job; 17 years later, I was still having fun. And, honestly for me, Sotheby’s was the only company that could grab me away from that, because leaving Dior to go back to Cartier or Boucheron, Chaumet, Winston or Tiffany, would have been a flat learning curve.

“Also, I left the fashion community to enter the artistic one deliberately. I love fashion, of course, but I think it’s more short-cycle; every three months, you need or want a change. What I like about jewellery and timepieces is that, like art, they give you a longer-lasting experience. That pace and patrimonial approach is interesting to me.”

She does admit, theatrically pointing to her barely-there wrinkles, that the Sotheby’s role – which was created specifically for her – does come with its fair share of challenges and expectations. “There is a lot of pressure. When you have a brand with more than 200 years of history, you need to continue the revolution, yet work out how to enter the millennial world as well. We have invested in some small but high-tech brands, such as Thread Genius and Mei Moses Art Indices, which are digital-oriented. I think the new generation is seeking something that has a unique experience around it. It’s not only about the product you sell, but the overall experience, whether in bricks-and-mortar retail or via a digital boutique. And with existing clients, many of whom are from the Middle East, and are those who invest so much into their collections, it’s important to create a long-lasting bond. It’s going to be exciting to work out how we can become the ultimate marketplace for jewels and watches.”

Nicolas was born in Madagascar and spent most of her formative years on the island nation, as well as travelling across Africa with her veterinarian father. She narrates, with equal relish, tales of growing up surrounded by baby elephants and leopard cubs, as well as making an early acquaintance with precious stones. “I remember once we were driving across Madagascar to attend to some wild beast or the other. In order to keep the car still on a steep slope, my father locked the wheels with a boulder-sized piece of amethyst, obtained from just around the corner. It was incredible. Africa is such a rich continent for gems; my passion and affinity for them comes from there.”

Nicolas, who lists pink diamonds as her favourite type of gemstone, will also oversee Sotheby’s Diamonds, a wing that’s independent of the auction business. The company sources the highest quality stones and works on a peer-to-peer basis to match individual stones to collectors. The venture is the result of a partnership with Diacore, a world leader in sourcing, cutting and polishing diamonds – the 203-carat De Beers Millennium Star and 59.60-carat Pink Star are cases in point. “I am fascinated by the craftsman and the stone-plater, and the kind of detail and artistry they bring. Diamonds are, of course, a commodity, but that’s not my vision for it. Personally, I would not buy one only if it’s an investment; it’s not fun. Maybe it’s because women need to have sentiment, beauty and craftsmanship – something you can pass to your children, aesthetics-wise, and yet that will hold its value.”

It’s this valuable combination that Nicolas hopes to share with the Sotheby’s customer, who can access world-leading specialists such as jewellery savant David Bennet and head of watches Daryn Schnipper, who are neutral and objective because “they don’t personally have anything to gain whether one brand sells more or less than another”, says Nicolas. “We need to educate and reassure our customers about how seamless the auction or sales process can be, hand-hold them through the experience, curate their precious collections and, crucially, build a relationship of trust that, like a diamond, lasts forever.”

Sophisticated smartwatches

APPLE WATCH SERIES 3

Apple has long since stopped selling its Dh60,000 18K gold watches because, well, nobody bought them. So for fans of that device with a penchant for exclusivity, official choices are limited to buying them with ceramic cases or Hermès leather straps (pictured), both of which retail for about Dh6,000. But what the latest Apple Watch offers more than anything is utterly brilliant usability, which has been the hallmark of the brand for years. It’s only compatible with iPhones, but it’s fully water-resistant, so you can keep it on in the pool or shower, and there’s a seemingly never-ending selection of straps available, which are suitable for both men and women.

FIFA WORLD CUP RUSSIA

Hublot’s first foray into the smartwatch sphere was unveiled at Baselworld this year and, when it goes on sale next month, it’s expected to retail at Dh19,000. Perhaps as justification for the price, this will be limited to 2,018 examples, so for fans of the brand (as well as football), may be a wise investment. In line with its Fifa nomenclature, referees at this year’s World Cup tournament will be sporting them on the pitch, and wearers will be able to avail themselves of live goal updates, assuming they’re not already jumping up and down in front of a television set.

FREDERIQUE CONSTANT HYBRID MANUFACTURE

A fascinating hybrid model, this Dh12,600 timepiece offers the best of both worlds, combining classical beauty with up-to-date connectivity. Underneath its guilloche-decorated dial sits an automatic mechanical movement, as well as magnetically protected electrical components – with everything developed, designed and manufactured in-house. A date counter sits at 6 o’clock, while at 12 o’clock there’s a connected counter. On the left of the 42mm case is a button, via which wearers can access a dedicated iPhone app that provides functions such as sleep monitoring and activity tracking. Four versions will be available in stores from next month.

TAG HEUER CONNECTED MODULAR 45 FULL DIAMOND

With prices starting at about Dh12,500, Tag Heuer’s Modular 45 range of smartwatches is pricey for a smartwatch, but none come anywhere close to the flagship Full Diamond, which will set you back a minimum Dh723,700. Essentially, it’s the same timepiece, but with a case and bracelet made from white gold, encrusted with 589 diamonds. And that means standard Android Wear 2.0 innards, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and an Intel Atom Z34XX processor – all of which are expected to be obsolete in the next two years. In recognition of that fact, Tag Heuer is offering a trade-in programme that enables owners to swap the computer bits for a mechanical movement.

MONTBLANC SUMMIT

Stylish and extremely well-made, as you’d rightly expect from Montblanc, the Summit, which starts at Dh3,355, is nevertheless offering nothing that other smartwatches a third of its price aren’t. But it does look mighty cool on the wrist and, for some, that’s all that matters. It comes loaded with a heart rate monitor, gyroscope, microphone, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 4GB of internal storage, among other things, and despite running on Android, it can interact with an iPhone. If you go easy on it, the battery might last up to 36 hours, although Montblanc plays it safe and quotes a day. Don’t forget to take it off if you go for a swim, though, as the Summit is only resistant to light rain or the occasional splash.

Black book

Azza Fahmy Jewellery

Having completed an apprenticeship in the goldsmithing quarter of Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili souq, Azza Fahmy studied jewellery craft at the City of London Polytechnic, before launching her first eponymous store in Egypt in 1981.

While the brand may now have an international presence, its fundamental aim remains unchanged: to translate the region’s culture to a global audience, while preserving jewellery-making techniques that have been in use for thousands of years. Last month, Azza Fahmy Jewellery further expanded its reach with the opening of a flagship boutique in London’s Mayfair, at the famed Burlington Arcade. Fahmy has been joined at the company by her two daughters, Fatma Ghali, the brand’s managing director, and Amina Ghali, head designer, who spoke to us for this issue about her definition of luxury. www.azzafahmy.com

Hermès

Hermès has unveiled two new timepieces, the Slim d’Hermès GMT, which is limited to just 90 pieces, and the more accessible Arceau Cavales (pictured), which is the latest take on an enduring design that debuted 40 years ago. The Slim d’Hermès is, as the name suggests, a rather slender watch with a case measuring 9.4mm. This is possible due to an in-house movement that is just 2.6mm thick. The case itself is formed from palladium, a precious metal that’s rarer than platinum, and its glass is subtly smoked, through which a slate-grey dial featuring some remarkable graphic designs can be admired. The Arceau is available in two sizes – a 36mm dial that is adorned by either 60 or 70 diamonds, and a new 28mm dial size that features 56 of the gemstones on its bezel. The case’s asymmetrical lugs are playful in design, nodding to the house’s rich equestrian history, and the dials are either made from mother-of-pearl or black lacquer, with both featuring the famous Cavales motif. Hermès, which was established in Paris in 1837, introduced its first watches in 1978, and recently began making its own mechanical movements. www.hermes.com

Jaeger-LeCoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre has turned its iconic Reverso into a literal work of art with a series of three limited-edition designs that pay tribute to Ferdinand Hodler, the famed Swiss painter who died 100 years ago. The company’s “rare handcrafts” experts have produced miniatures of three of Hodler’s best known landscapes. The engraving and enamelling took 50 hours of work for each watch. The white gold case of the Art Deco Reverso was created specifically to be a canvas for the highly detailed renditions, which have added resonance because they depict scenes reminiscent of Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux – birthplace of the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture in 1833. The three paintings recreated are Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc in the Morning Light (1918), Lake Thun with Symmetric Reflections Before Sunrise (1904) and Lake Thun, Symmetric Reflection (1909), with just eight of each made available. The faces have been created with weave-like guillochage engraving that matches the colour theme of each painting. www.jaeger-lecoultre.com

Piaget

Piaget chose Art Dubai as the platform to launch its latest high-jewellery collection last month, with the Swiss brand’s ambassadors and fans Jessica Chastain, Olivia Palermo, Hiba Tawaji and Winnie Harlow joining chief executive Chabi Nouri at the Piaget Lounge set up at the Madinat Jumeirah. Sunlight Journey is inspired by the scenic beauty of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, a sun-kissed region of fiery volcanoes and azure waters. The collection is divided into three parts – titled Secrets of the Dawn, Midday Festival and Nightfall Celebration – and the pieces channel different parts of the day through the use of blue sapphires, and white and yellow diamonds. Composed of rings, earrings, necklaces and cuffs, the jewellery stands out for its unusual colour combinations, such as the Faraglioni Manchette (pictured), which is made from 18K pink gold with diamonds and one 37.17-carat fancy-cut cabochon black opal. The Paper Flower ring, meanwhile, is set in white gold with a cushion-cut pink sapphire from Madagascar, combined with rubies, emeralds and diamonds, while the Dolce Sera necklace in set with red spinels, pink spinels, pink sapphires, spessartine garnets and yellow diamonds. www.piaget.com

Richard Mille

Given that the company’s slogan is “A Racing Machine on the Wrist”, it was perhaps inevitable that Richard Mille would join forces with a performance car manufacturer. Last year, it launched its RM 50-03 model in conjunction with McLaren Racing; and has now joined forces with McLaren Automotive, which is the company’s road car division. The Dh737,000 RM 11-03 McLaren is limited to 500 pieces, with priority going to owners who’ve ordered one of McLaren’s Ultimate Series cars (the vehicle’s chassis number corresponding with the watch’s serial number is a nice touch). First seen at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, the watch was developed by both Richard Mille engineer Fabrice Namura and McLaren’s design director Rob Melville. Its case is formed using special carbon fibre that’s interlaced with quartz layers that have been injected with orange resin in a hue that’s synonymous with McLaren’s heritage. A mesmerising skeletonised movement is visible through both sides of the case. Grade 5 titanium and exotic alloys have been extensively used in its construction and delightful design details inspired by McLaren’s supercars abound (yes, that crown really does resemble an alloy wheel). www.richardmille.com