Jewelled watches: five iconic designs get a glittering makeover

From the Rolex Daytona to the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, 2024 is a dazzling year for jewelled verions of watch design classics

Patek Philippe AQUANAUT LUCE jewelled watch on blue rubber strap
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Luce high-jewellery watch on blue rubber strap
(Image credit: Patek Philippe)

When watch houses reinvent their iconic designs in jewelled form, the results can be sublime, joyous, and downright outrageous. We single out five classic watch designs that have been given a precious spin for 2024.

Jewelled watches for 2024

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Audemars Piguet camouflage jewelled watch brown and green gemstones

Brown and green gemstones give a laid-back glamour to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

(Image credit: Audemars Piguet)

Its reputation was forged in pure, gleaming steel, yet the Royal Oak’s super-clean lines take surprisingly well to a gem-set guise. But then, as one of the original super-thin mechanisms, this superstar watch – it was the first design to use steel like precious metal – has a naturally slender profile, allowing for the added volume that precious-stone setting dictates. Audemars Piguet has been involved in the business of jewelled timepieces since the late 19th century, when it provided mechanisms for houses such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Having established an in-house jewellery studio in 1980, it has developed a jewelled-watch style all its own. This year’s Royal Oak automatic variation is a fine example: a combination of 861 baguette-cut black sapphires, intense and light tsavorites and smoky quartz combine to create a moody camouflage effect.

Bulgari Octo Roma

Bulgari Octo Phoenix secret jewelled watch 2024 open and closed view

The Bulgari Octo Roma Phoenix secret jewelled watch in open and closed view

(Image credit: Bulgari)

Secret watches, timepieces with a jewelled dial cap and so designed to look like a bracelet, were originally created for women in the 1920s, who, keen to keep a social diary on track, might discreetly consult their watch without insulting their host. Today, watch brands increasingly use them as a form of storytelling, with fantastical narratives all the better to display in-house jewellery design and setting skills. And, when it comes to crafting fables around the intricate technological skills that jewelled watches require, Bulgari is a master. This year’s high-jewellery Fenice Octo Roma Secret Watch is made possible by the impossibly thin BVL 268SK Octo Roma movement. It allows for an intricate mechanical skeletonised dial and the decorative dial cover. Here, it is a phoenix rising up across the sizeable 44mm dial in a precious sweep of blue sapphires, aquamarines, and a tourmaline Paraiba.

Patek Philippe Aquanaut Luce

Patek Philippe AQUANAUT LUCE high jewellery watch on blue rubber strap

Blue notes: Patek Philippe's jewelled Aquanaut Luce high jewellery watch

(Image credit: Patek Philippe)

While the 1976 Nautilus design is currently Patek Philippe’s most sought-after sports-luxe design, the Aquanaut, a more casual variation launched 20 years later, in 1996, gets my vote. Probably because its streamlined profile and casual rubber bracelet, reflecting the checkerboard pattern of the dial, is less boardroom CEO and more St Tropez weekender. This year’s high-jewellery model boosts the gem factor with a beautifully considered combination of two setting techniques: rectangular baguettes and snow-setting, where variously sized smaller brilliant-cut white diamonds are tightly clustered into a glinting surface. Here, their addition softens the stark lines of the 72 baguette-cut blue sapphires and 38 baguette-cut diamonds, creating a rich jewel for the wrist and a glamorous promise of surf-bound, summer pursuits.

Piaget Polo

Gem-set Piaget Polo watch high jewellery

Piaget celebrates its 150th anniversary with a ruby-set version of the iconic Polo watch

(Image credit: Piaget)

The watchmaker-jeweller is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, and the star of the party is the Piaget Polo designed by Yves Piaget in 1979. Yves was a dedicated art lover who counted Andy Warhol as a friend, and there’s something of a Howard Hodgkin influence in his original watch design, where the watch case, bracelet and sleek gadroon decoration were fully integrated in a sublimely pure combination of the jeweller’s and watchmaker's crafts. The Polo was ‘carved, link by link from a single block of 18ct gold’, according to an ad campaign at the time and is, you might argue, the original sports-luxe watch. In the intervening 45 years, it has been redesigned almost beyond recognition, but some elements remain, including its super-skinny form, which lends itself to this celebratory deep-red ruby iteration with baguette-cut rubies and diamonds. The skeleton dial is also a recurring Piaget motif. However, at a whopping 49mm wide, this version of the Piaget Polo is out of bounds for slender wrists.

Rolex Daytona

Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch with diamonds

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona with diamonds

(Image credit: Rolex)

Two new, jewelled versions of Rolex’s 1963 Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona are launched this year, each incorporating mother-of-pearl dials and markers. The luminous coating found in molluscs, such as oyster shells, has long been a favourite dial material for watch houses, because it can be cut into super-thin sheets. Profile volume is a prime consideration in watch design, and Rolex has been using mother-of-pearl as a decorative material for years. Both new Daytonas have white-gold cases, and the first features the slick, black Oysterflex bracelet with white mother-of-pearl dial and chrono subdials in black. The metal bracelet edition, however, sees the details reversed, with a black mother-of-pearl dial and white mother-of-pearl counters. Thirty-six brilliant-cut diamonds circle each dial, while the chunky diamond dial markers add a sporty frisson.

Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.