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One moment in time: Ultra-limited timepieces for serious collectors

2019-03-14By Avril Groom

Ultra-limited watches and clocks are the last word in personal statement, says Avril Groom...

Beyond even the limited editions of haute horlogerie lie the one-off timepieces – those at the highest level of rarity and workmanship. Designs are so distinctive that the owner, who may well have paid more than £1 million, would not want to hear that another exists. These masterpieces showcase both the brands’ high watchmaking and craft skills and the collectors’ connoisseur taste. And it’s not just wristwatches – pocket watches and table clocks are also unique-piece territory. Select houses have the necessary skills to create such pieces: jewellery brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari or Graff are all involved, as are venerable watch makers such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet and Jaquet Droz. Newer brands such as Chanel and Parmigiani also make such rarities. Here are some of the most extraordinary timepieces.

Cartier Panthère Losange Mystery Clock

“Floating hands” clocks were first made by Cartier in 1912, with invisible sapphire crystal discs that gear into the hidden movement. Some have a faceted gem instead of sapphire crystal glass. This technique has recently been used for wrist and pocket watches, but Cartier makes one or two clocks a year. This piece is in white gold, rock crystal and obsidian with baguette and brilliant diamonds, emeralds, chrysoprases and onyx.

Graff MasterGraff Métiers d’Art Graffiti

One of three oriental inspired métiers d’art watch designs, this timepiece is the brand’s most ambitious yet. A tribute to founder Laurence Graff’s contemporary art collection, it references Japanese graffiti and manga art, geishas, lotus flowers and cartoon animals in glowing colours, in engraved gold, rare émail à froid and micro-painting. The super-slim flying tourbillon took a year to develop. Four unique pieces have been released, each with different colours – one with pavé diamonds on the faceted bezel.

Patek Philippe dome clocks

Every year, Patek presents the largest annual collection of one-off table clocks, always with the same shape and movements, but with many artistic inspirations. The 2018 models featured grand feu cloisonné enamel, a technique in which a framework of gold wire delineates the design, and layers of enamel colour are added in between. The collection features Persian, Indian, Arabic and modern inspirations, including the Art Deco Fantasy (above).

Chanel Monsieur Chronosphere Clock

Chanel’s first table clock for men features the lion, the most masculine of highly superstitious Mademoiselle Chanel’s favoured symbols – Leo was her zodiac sign. Two years in development, the clock has four bronze felines supporting a hand-blown glass globe that encloses a specially designed movement and contemporary digital display, reflecting the graphics of the Monsieur watch. It was made in a limited edition of five pieces.

Jaquet Droz Parrot Repeater Pocket Watch

The masters of enamelling and automata have excelled themselves. This one-off automaton and minute repeater movement features 668 components in a red gold case, with astonishing decoration. There’s a miniature painted jungle scene, with tigers and a waterfall, and intricate engraving in relief, painted gold appliqués and sculpted, painted macaws that feed their chicks while one hatches. Each side has a cover: the fretted front is set with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and multi-coloured sapphires and paillonné enamel; the back has a grand feu enamel motif, hand painted with enamel spangles and gem-set, engraved gold.

Bulgari Grande Sonnerie Quantième Perpétuel

This unique watch is the most complex Bulgari has ever made, with 22 functions that make up the main complications of the chiming (or silent) minute repeater and perpetual calendar. A little add-on is a tourbillon for extra accuracy. Set in a red gold case with louvred sides to amplify the chimes’ silvery sound, it is beautiful. The clear dial details and subdials sit above the multi-layered movement, visible through the sapphire crystal glass to reveal the piece’s intricate workings.

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