Watches with mother-of-pearl dials — from moody, dark Tahitian styles to shimmery, luminous white finishes — are particularly popular right now, but some watchmakers are pushing out the trend, accenting their watches with the gem itself.
The look echoes a growing trend for pearl jewelry that is increasingly unconventional. Think less your grandmother’s pearls and more the Vivienne Westwood Orb choker that took TikTok by storm.
Plus, pearls are completely natural, giving them an especially precious feel. “They’re organic,” said Sigmund Shonholtz, a third-generation watchmaker and dealer based in Long Beach, Calif., who sells online at 1stdibs and at the Second Time Around Watch Company in Beverly Hills. “You can’t really get body oil or perfume on them. So, pearls have a shelf life if they’re not taken care of.”
Here are seven brands to get your pearl watch game on.
The Japanese pearl house Tasaki is all about pushing the boundaries of pearls and making them fashionable, as reflected in its 2017 decision to appoint the fashion designer Prabal Gurung as its creative director. This Abstract Star watch ($61,910), with its cool, cutout star face and diamond bezel, marries Akoya pearls with the trend for celestial-style jewelry, evoking a night sky clustered with shimmering stars. As expert as Tasaki is in creating pearl jewels, producing pearl watches is a whole new challenge, the house said in an email, as watchmakers and pearl jewelry craftspeople rarely mix.
Chanel is one of the few watchmakers that often creates watches set with pearls, a gem that Coco Chanel loved, and that the brand regularly features on its products, from fashion to accessories. Its latest high-end jewelry collection commemorated the centenary of Chanel No. 5, its legendary perfume, using touchpoints like the bottle’s distinctive shape and the number five. Patrice Leguéreau, director of Chanel’s fine jewelry creation studio, wrote in an email that the Bubbly Stopper watch (price on application) was a “representation of a light, airy stopper with a very thin line on which pearls appear like drops of dew.” The pearls added a softness to the graphic design, he said, noting that it was difficult to set the pearls so that they created the illusion of floating in midair.
In late 2013, Jaquet Droz unveiled a dedicated women’s collection, the Lady 8, that set a single Akoya pearl above a watch face at the 12 o’clock position, the two joined by a swirl of diamonds in an infinity-like symbol. Other models followed, including a version combining a brown pearl with brown garnet cabochons and, in 2018, a downsized Lady 8 Petite line that was introduced with an even smaller, 25-millimeter case. The latest model, the Lady 8 Petite Mother-of-Pearl Watch ($14,400), exudes a notably relaxed feel with its wraparound brown calfskin strap, paired with all the usual Swiss mechanics: self-winding movement, silicon balance spring, 38-hour power reserve and water resistance to 30 meters (almost 100 feet).
This Art Deco-inspired secret watch ($5,500) likely would appeal to vintage collectors because of its dainty 22-millimeter size and diamond-trimmed pearl face, which opens to reveal a hidden dial rimmed in more pearls — all complemented by a three-strand pearl bracelet. Produced in the 1940s by the Swiss house Lucien Piccard, the unusual white gold cocktail-style watch would not appeal to everyone, said Sigmund Shonholtz, a dealer who is offering the watch on 1stdibs. “They’ll be a pretty courageous and distinctive person,” he said, adding that he always has been moved by what he called the “all-over-the-place” designs of the house, which counted Frank Sinatra as a fan.
For more purist Art Deco fans, Mr. Shonholtz also has an early 1920s watch ($3,500) with an eye-catching pearl-set bezel, made by the Canadian jeweler and watchmaker Birks — a house beloved by Princess Grace, Princess Margaret and more recently Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. With a slightly elongated shape of 26 millimeters by 25 millimeters and its original sunburst-style crown, the watch features a simple but striking white enamel dial with blue numerals and a red 12 o’clock, all painted by hand. “The workmanship is unbelievable,” Mr. Shonholtz said. “If you dropped that dial, it would shatter.”
Pearl watches naturally have a strong jewelry element, and this 1909 Patek Philippe fob watch would have been made in concert with a jeweler, said Daniel Somlo of Somlo Antiques in London, which is offering the watch for $53,500. The platinum pocketwatch design features a grey-on-green enamel and guilloché case, topped with a central marquise diamond and an emerald-set bezel, and all dressed in lace platinum filigree punctuated with diamonds. Mr. Somlo said it was the kind of piece that would attract Asian clients. (“They love wearing them as necklaces,” he said.) Asian buyers have a long history of coveting pearl-set watches, most notably 19th-century pocket watches with bezels studded with half-pearls, made especially for the Chinese market by European watchmakers.
Bulgari is not known for its pearl jewelry — its forte is more over-the-top pieces set with gobstopper-size Paraiba tourmalines, amethysts and emeralds — so this Serpenti Misteriosi High Jewelry Baroque Pearls secret watch (price on application) really stood out in its high jewelry collection in July 2020.
The 10-tier design depicted two snakes navigating diamond-set arabesque swirls to meet at three cabochon emeralds — the largest of which, at 12.15 carats, could be opened to reveal a diamond-set dial. (The house said it took 2,300 hours of work to set the cuff’s 226 Akoya pearls and 3,605 diamonds.)