A major trend in today’s high-end wristwatch market is the exhibition of all moving parts, viewed through flawless sapphire.
Although subject to market fluctuations, there remains strong demand for luxury timepieces, particularly among the same clientele vying for vintage sports cars, cases of old Bordeaux and Midtown Manhattan real estate. Some of the hottest new watches, with stratospheric prices to match, reveal intricate operating movements through transparent sapphire cases.
Sapphire crystals — this is synthetic sapphire created in a laboratory, but nonetheless a precious material — are no longer exotic, and show up in many mid-priced timepieces and Apple devices. Far more unusual, however, is when entire cases are made from the material, allowing views inside from every angle. “People are paying for craftsmanship and they want to visually see that craftsmanship,” says Ariel Adams, founder and editor-in-chief of A Blog to Watch and one of America’s leading experts on luxury timepieces.
One limited edition watch that exemplifies the all-sapphire trend is the Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique Sapphire. It is a flashy blend of technology and glamour with the crystal, case back, case band (middle panel), and bezel, all crafted from sapphire, as well as the lugs (where the strap is attached) and crown. The brand is a favorite of Alexander Linz, a prominent watch industry authority and publisher of Watch-Insider.
Speaking to the consistent innovation of watchmakers Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, the Vienna-based Linz states, “It’s rare to see watches created with this kind of spirit, love and passion,” and adds, “Their hearts are really in these watches.” All of this invisibility accentuates the complex and aesthetically alluring mechanisms, with many of the flashy watch’s 393 pieces in full view. The price tag on this watch — a limited edition with only eight produced — is a staggering $1.1 million.
Hublot is a highly respected Swiss manufacturer founded in 1980 and now a subsidiary of luxury conglomerate LVMH, whose upmarket brands include Moët & Chandon, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. One of the company’s most exotic timepieces is the MP-05 LaFerrari Sapphire ($575,000), among the most audacious looking timepieces a gentlemen could ever strap on his wrist. The name reflects Hublot’s partnership with the Italian sports car manufacturer (the watch even carries the automaker’s famed prancing horse logo), and Linz reports it is actually modeled after the backside of a Ferrari supercar. The watch is so aerodynamic, it looks like it could take the pole position at Le Mans.
Since its founding just 17 years ago, watchmaker Richard Mille has become a cult favorite, and Linz reports that in Europe, his watches are particularly favored by Formula One racecar drivers. For women, the RM 07-02, nicknamed “Pink Lady Sapphire,” is one of the most stunning-looking watches to ever make its way to market. The case, bezel, case band, and case back are milled from solid blocks of pink sapphire, and the contrasting central dial is crafted from gray mother-of-pearl, bordered by sparkling diamonds that reappear on some of the unveiled red gold mechanisms. The ultimate cocktail watch, the Pink Lady is priced just shy of $1 million.
MB&F is a limited-production boutique brand for elite consumers seeking exclusivity as well as craftsmanship. Its futuristic-looking HM6 SV (that stands for “Sapphire Vision”) combines advanced engineering with one of the most avant-garde aesthetics in the industry. While the entire case is not sapphire, this watch showcases its complex, intricately crafted movement through a multi-bubbled crystal crafted from 11 distinct pieces of sapphire seamlessly fused together. “It’s insanely interesting, and the movement is as much a piece of art as the case,” says Adams. And at nearly $400,000, the watch is priced like real jewels.
Bell & Ross products tend to possess a simple masculinity, strongly influenced by aviation and military instruments. But the BR-X1 Sapphire Tourbillon is a stunning, sheer-cased timepiece cut from nine blocks of flawless sapphire. Unlike some skeletonized watches whose movements are embellished with vibrant colors, variances of white and grey on this watch create an ethereal appearance that commands almost $500,000.
Veteran retailer Greg Simonian, who dispenses extravagant products at Westime, his posh Rodeo Drive boutique, best articulates why luxury watches continue to capture consumers’ imaginations. “There are many devices to tell you the time, but a beautifully crafted luxury watch is part jewelry, part miniature machine, and, most importantly, a real statement about its owner,” he states.