Given that the first wristwatch was made for a woman – none other than Queen Elizabeth I – it’s a little ironic that by the turn of the 20th century it wasn’t considered proper for women to wear one at all.
Such difficult things to grasp as schedules and being somewhere on time were considered to be the concerns of men, while women just wafted from place to place in a cloud of obliviousness and perfume.
In order to circumnavigate this, women were devious with their eveningwear. They still wore watches, but disguised them with diamonds or hid them altogether behind jewel-adorned covers, which had the reverse effect of transforming them into conversation pieces. The cocktail watch evolved into a peacock; designed to eloquently project the personality of the wearer across a crowded room.
There was no woman better known for using her style and accessories as a signifier for her personality than Coco Chanel. The original sartorial iconoclast, she flouted the conventions of the time into which she was born and turned that flagrant disregard for social norms into a successful fashion business.
Given her reputation, it seems fitting that the latest watch launch from Chanel, the Code Coco, has rewritten the rules when it comes to the new version of the cocktail watch. There are elements here that a 19th century debutante would recognise – it’s a secret watch that looks like a bracelet and there are diamonds, should you so desire, but that’s where the similarities end.
Inspired by the clasp of the iconic 2.55 handbag, it features a tiny bar across the middle of the watch, which, when twisted from vertical to horizontal, reveals the watch in a small square, above which is a diamond set against a black lacquer background. The bracelet is a sinuous length of steel in the Maison’s legendary quilting, which appears to have no discernible clasp. It is a cocktail watch that flirts with that line between horology and jewellery in a thoroughly modern way. Mademoiselle would have approved.
It’s possible she would have also approved of Gucci’s all-black plexiglass-and-leather Constance, a watch that plays with the idea of hiding a timepiece in plain sight by putting it in a padlock hanging from a leather cuff. The name of the collection is in tribute to Constance Chatterley, the sexually frustrated heroine of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but apparently the padlock is not meant to reference a chastity belt but a breaking free of the traditional framework of a watch. Meaning aside, it’s a cool looking addition to any wrist.
Also going for the black-on-black take on after-dark wristwear is TAG Heuer with its ceramic-and-diamond version of the Link Lady. This is another watch with a sensuous slink of a bracelet, while the contrast of the case material with the stone-set bezel gives a lovely interplay between masculine and feminine aesthetics that makes the watch feel like the wrist-based equivalent of a Scotch on the rocks. Cocktail hour just got a little more interesting.