Are timepieces returning to their original function as bracelets for our wrists? Following the 80th anniversary of Bulgari’s Serpenti watch, is the intersection between watches and jewellery reinventing history?
We’ve said it before, you’ve probably heard it before, and be rest assured that we’ll say it again. The etymology of the wristwatch is simple: it sits on the wrist, thus in its early days of invention, it was regarded as a bracelet, mainly for women. That is until military demand meant that pocket watches weren’t appropriate for ambling through the trenches, migrating to the wrists of men and popularizing the role of the watch on the wrist for history to come.
If you Google ‘is a watch a bracelet’ you’ll find that in the modern age – and just to throw in a healthy amount of confusion –the strap that holds a watch together is considered to be the ‘bracelet’, but only if its made up of a metallic substance, such as stainless steel or gold. A watch strap on the other hand is a much broader category from leather to NATO straps. Stick with us here.
Harking back to twentieth century watch advertisements for women which read today like high-end jewellery placements, watch bracelets were delicate and dainty models encrusted with diamonds, sometimes dubbed as wristlets, that were modish compliments to an outfit. But with the advent of men’s watches that offered bulkier models with larger dials following the war, the romantic language of hybridity between watches jewellery was soon diluted by an emphasis on precision and stature to tell the time.
While the roaring twenties we occupy now sits world’s apart from the opulence and glamor of the bygone Fitzgerald era, the role of a watch today forgoes its original purpose: to tell the time. Instead, it harnesses immeasurable aesthetic capabilities, an added accessory that enunciates an outfit, much like a piece of jewellery.
Trailblazing the way for a hybrid space between watches and jewellery, in the 1940s, Bulgari launched the Serpenti snake watch, made of coiled gold and harnessing a tubogas technique, an ancient Roman practice of twisting twine to make jewelry, resembling a glass tube. In the mouth of the snake, a watch dial was neatly hidden.
Returning to its history, Bulgari pays tribute to the 80th anniversary of the first secret watch, valorizing the powerful Serpenti snake and the glamor of timekeeping through a new movement, the Piccolissimo mechanical movement, one of the smallest in the world, reviving the small mechanical motors that equipped all women’s watches until the early 1970’s.
While the movement of high-jewelry timepieces gains momentum on a luxury scale, the perception of a watch as a bracelet continues through the influence of wrist-stacking. While orthodox aficionados might wince at the thought of scratching your timepiece against a bangle, let it be known that it looks better than it sounds as you clang your way through corridors. A division in the watch world, you’re either camp faux pas or camp all for it. Think of it like buying a new book, do you crease the page to create a bookmark and bend the spine, or do you neatly turn the page and apologise to the book for any oily fingerprints? Much is the same with stacking.
While the gendered history of the watch as a bracelet is apparent, the case for stacking tends to follow suit, an aesthetic trend pursued more through women’s watches and jewellery. Why? Through the fear of damaging the watch. Naturally, if it’s placed among other objects, it won’t remain in the same shape on the day you first bought it. But physical impact aside, objects are there to be used. If you’re going to give over X monies, you may as well wear it to its fullest and give the watch a good old life. So as the Serpenti’s and the Hermes Cape Cod’s that wrap around the wrist pave the way for a return to form, will we ever view a watch again for its simple anatomy: a bracelet with a clock in it? After all, isn’t time a luxury jewel in itself?