The high jewellery watches with a secret

We're adding these stylish timepieces to our wish list

Fashion week attendees wear luxury watches
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Checking the time during a meeting has always been considered a faux pas. Whether it’s the casual eye dart to an upturned phone on the table over coffee, or subtly refreshing your screen as another spreadsheet is rolled out, the act has always, rightly, been considered a rather rude giveaway that you would rather be somewhere else.

It’s not a new problem. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, there wasn’t considered to be any need for women to see the time at all, and while wristwatches for men overtook pocket watches in popularity, women were left floundering at endlessly dull cocktail parties. Until the 1920s, that is, when a host of high jewellery brands began to secret watch dials into opulent bracelets, hiding minute dials under lids of precious stones. Dials could be viewed with a subtle flick of a gold cover, or squinted at through lattices of emeralds and rubies. 

As checking the time became less of a social blunder, the popularity of jewellery watches remained, and today they are a core offering of a yearly collection. Here are our favourite jewellery pieces which come with a timely secret.

Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels watch

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

Van Cleef & Arpels intertwine sartorial codes throughout the brand new Ludo secret watch. The name, which nods to a piece originally released in 1934, references the outline of a belt, the accessory perennially popular at the time. Cast in delicately engraved gold - an extremely intricate process known as guillochage - the bracelet just requires the application of slight pressure to its undulating form for the flap to be opened, and a delicate white mother-of-pearl dial revealed.


Chanel watch

(Image credit: Chanel)

Gabrielle Chanel was fascinated by spirituality, and wove references to her star sign, Leo, throughout her couture and accessories. Chanel’s Métiers d’Art collection pays tribute to this fiery motif, with a watch collection disguising itself as jewelled adornments. The lion cuff in tough titanium with a black coating lets the diamond-studded lion’s head take centre stage. But he comes bearing gifts: give his head a nudge and he will reveal a deliciously dark black lacquered dial glistening with diamonds.


Piaget watch

(Image credit: Piaget)

Who says you must wear a watch on your wrist? Piaget subverted traditional codes in this year’s high jewellery collection, ‘Metaphoria,’ named after nature’s beautiful metamorphoses. Taking centre stage is a show-stopping and time-telling ring, which hides the time under a large aquamarine cabochon. It looks back to Yves Piaget’s ‘21st Century Collection,’ originally released in 1969 and featuring jewellery watches which embedded fabulous stones into thor dials. The spirit of experimentation which saw Piaget embrace the use of coral, turquoise and lapis lazuli into watchmaking is alive and well here. 


Bulgari watch

(Image credit: Bulgari)

Bulgari has been held captive by the seductive power of the snake since 1948, when the first bracelet watch wound its way around the wrist. It is an enduring motif, rethought throughout the years in different iterations and with skins in a plethora of precious metals. The new Serpenti Misteriosi secret watches build on this history, their rose gold and black lacquer bodies making for a tantalising take on the trend. Their poised heads, dotted with emerald eyes, conceal a pavé-set dial.


Dior watch

(Image credit: Dior)

Gardens held a special allure for Christian Dior, who embroidered roses and flora and fauna onto couture creations. Creative Director of Dior Joaillerie, Victoire de Castellane, echoes this in her glorious jewellery creations, this year choosing to focus on the nuances in nature. Three secret watches are part of the extensive 2023 high jewellery collection, blooming with exquisitely-set stones and intricately-drawn pastoral scenes. 

Hannah Silver is the Watches & Jewellery Editor of  Wallpaper* and oversees everything watches and jewellery for the brand. Now, as well as her role as watches and jewellery editor, she writes widely across all areas including art, architecture, fashion and design. As well as offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, Hannah is interested in the quirks of what makes for a digital success story.