Holy Mother of Pearl

With women being offered increasingly sophisticated watch choices, iridescent nacre is all the rage again

While it’s hardly a new adornment, mother of pearl is having a bit of a moment in ladies’ watches right now. Also known as nacre, the iridescent inner shell coating of molluscs has been used in decorative items, from buttons to musical instrument inlays, for centuries. The watch industry is currently experiencing a surge in interesting, complex women’s watches, and mother-of-pearl is dial material of choice.

“The trend for mother-of-pearl dial is largely down to the fact that it can be used in such a wide variety of colours and is perfect for simple, elegant dials,” says a spokesperson for high-end watch and jewellery house, Chaumet. “It can also be cut, carved and inlaid, thus opening up a range of wonderful possibilities to be creative for the designers and artisans. It brings life to the dial.”

Chaumet is not alone in rediscovering this material. Jaeger-LeCoultre this year unveiled its Grande Reverso Lady Ultra Thin Duetto Duo, a feminisation of the classic two-sided Reverso, one side of which has an Art Deco mother of pearl dial. Added to this Blancpain is unveiling its Grand Date Chronograph, which sports a nacreous, diamond-set dial, and Hermes recently launched its Arceau Petite Lune.

“We decided to use mother of pearl for the dial of the Arceau Petite Lune to give it a softer, more brilliant touch,” says Luc Perramond, CEO of Les Montres Hermes. “It is a question of aesthetics. It makes sense for us to use this kind of material for small complications. It gives a more feminine touch to a woman’s watch.”

A mother of pearl watch can also be the perfect transitional piece. Although women are slowly catching up with men when it comes to horologically interesting watches, in general they are still a long way from accruing “watch wardrobes” – a range of watches to suit different occasions. While an oversized, borrowed-from-the-boyfriend timepiece can work during the day, it’s hard to make it work after hours. Conversely, a delicate cocktail watch jars when paired with daywear as much as a high jewellery piece.
Mother of pearl watches, however, can do the crossover. It was one of the most famous jewellery houses that first showed this.

“Without question, Cartier helped make mother of pearl a fashion statement,” says fine jewellery consultant Bronwyn Cosgrave. “Its workshop did so by juxtaposing the industrial aesthetic of its cases and bracelets with the light, feminine, pink-hued shimmer of the dial. This strong look means that there is no restriction on when to wear it.”

Zenith’s Ultra Thin Lady Moonphase, which pairs a nacre dial with an alligator strap, is a good example of this. The delicate shimmer of the mother of pearl dial may suggest a watch made for the flickering glow of candlelight, but by combining such dials with more everyday elements like steel cases and leather bracelets, modern watch houses are proving that this is a material whose beauty isn’t dimmed by the harsh light of day.

1. Blancpain Chronograph Grande Date, CHF 40,000, www.blancpain.com 2. Chaumet Montres Precieuses Piece 3, price on application, www.chaumet.com 3. Dior Dior VIII in white ceramic with stainless steel case, £9,300, www.dior.com 4. Hermes Arceau Petit Lune, £4,850, www.hermes.com 5. Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Duetto Duo, £15,100, www.jaeger-lecoultre.com 6. Montblanc Star Classique,£8,400, www.montblanc.com 7. Zenith Ultra Thin Lady Moonphase, £5,700, www.zenith-watches.com 8. Van Cleef & Arpels Charms Extraordinaire Muguet, price on application. www.vancleefarpels.com