Friday 29 April 2016 4:36 pm

Mother of pearl, that demure dial staple, is back in vogue

I'm a City A.M. writer covering gadgets, games, film, food and art reviews. You know, all the fun stuff. Drop me an email at

I'm a City A.M. writer covering gadgets, games, film, food and art reviews. You know, all the fun stuff. Drop me an email at

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The three definites for a woman’s watch used to be a petite case, diamonds somewhere, usually around the bezel, and a dial made from mother of pearl. Combined they made for something dainty, feminine and uncontroversial; just like the women from whose delicate wrists they dangled.

Then, as we know, thing changed. Women became more interested in mechanics and more masculine styles took precedence. The mother of pearl and diamonds designs looked old fashioned by comparison, a relic of a past notion of womanhood that didn’t fit with modern mores. If this year’s Baselworld is anything to go by, the past is back. At the annual fair showcasing the big watch and jewellery launches, there were diamonds, daintiness and, of course, mother of pearl. But don’t worry, this trend wasn’t manifesting itself in the form of twee retro femininity: this was femininity for the 21st century.

One of the most beautiful examples came from Omega, which gave its DeVille Tresor a gorgeously hued Tahitian mother of pearl dial (pictured). And it wasn’t just the dial that made this DeVille so desirable. To go briefly back to 2015, Omega announced the launch of its Globemaster, saying it had worked with the Swiss Institute of Metrology (METAS) to establish a new certification for its watches. Any watch that had been subjected to these rigorous tests, including ensuring it was anti-magnetic to 15,000 gauss, would bear the moniker of “master chronometer”. Those are the very words that are on this Omega, making it the ideal combination of beauty and brains.

Mother of pearl was also used by Chopard to reassign the gender of its 40th anniversary reissue of its Happy Diamonds watch. Despite a prevalence of precious stones, this cushion-cased timepiece was originally for a man – apparently the black dial gave it a more masculine aura. The black has gone, replaced by pearlescence, and with a few millimetres gone from the case and some more diamonds added to the bezel, Chopard’s icon is reborn as a woman’s watch.

Given that Hindu folklore speaks of pearls as dewdrops that fell out of the night, into the moonlit sea, it is not surprising that the material crops up on moon phases. Zenith’s new Elite Lady Moonphase has made just that pairing. This version of the Elite has become a bit of a Zenith calling card and for 2016 it has been streamlined.

The first thing that is noticeable is the size – it’s gone up three millimeters to 36mm, making the dial more legible. Also in the interests of legibility (yes, using watches to tell the time is now a thing), the indices have also been elongated, which makes the tapered hands look even more elegant, an impression that is enhanced by the mother-of-pearl dial and diamond-set bezel.

Femininity has never looked more fierce.