When wristwatches became all the rage in the early 20th century, it was not considered proper etiquette for a woman to check the time during a social engagement. But a secret watch, disguised as a bracelet, kept the dial hidden underneath a jeweled cover so a lady could remain discreet.
Today, discretion has given way to jaw-dropping designs laden with sparkling gems as secret watches go to extremes when it comes to blurring the boundary between jewelry and watches. The six-figure prices, typically only given upon request, are also kept under wraps. At the pinnacle of the discipline are the world’s premier jewelry houses, such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Van Cleef & Arpels recently revived its iconic 1930s-era Ludo bracelet as a stunning secret watch with a gold bracelet composed of geometric hexagonal links underscoring its Deco roots. You can take your pick of three different combinations of hard stones and sparkling gems: chrysoprase paired with blue sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds; coral with rubies, mother-of-pearl, and diamonds; and lapis lazuli with pink and blue sapphires, mother-of-pearl, and diamonds. The modern Ludo is also a shape-shifter—transforming from watch to pendant to clip in the blink of an eye.
Swiss Maison Piaget, renowned for record-breaking feats in ultrathin mechanical watches, also takes the secret watch genre to remarkable heights. The Natural Harmony watch appears to be a spectacular diamond and emerald bracelet, until you slide open the cover to reveal a radiant black opal dial. Piaget has a decadeslong history of using stones, including phenomenal black opals, for watch dials, a specialty in its own right. The one-of-a-kind white gold cuff is set with 171 diamonds totaling almost 25 carats and 114 emeralds weighing in at more than 12 carats.