From Tasaki to Chanel, the organic gem is getting a lot of wrist space.
By Ming Liu
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
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.