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FEATHERED FANCY

Grand bal plume / dior

“Birds of a feather flock together:” There is probably not a more apt description of this year’s Baselworld fair than that familiar phrase.

During the weeklong event a number of leading luxury watch brands were inspired by our feathered friends to come up with exquisite timepieces that will set watch collectors’ hearts aflutter.

From sculpted three-dimensional interpretations and enamel dials decorated with portraits of exotic birds to the colorful plumage of rarer breeds used as the keystone to the design of a timepiece, birds became the muse for many haute horlogerie houses.

Christian Dior without a doubt came up with the most original use of feathers the fair has probably ever seen. Last year the company launched a major new collection of watches called VIII that broke up its timepieces into groups according to clothing attire. There were the ready-to-wear watches designed for everyday use. Then came the cocktail timepieces that featured dayglow lacquered rotors on display case backs, which echoed the baguette-cut precious stone bezels featured on the watch front. And then there were the Grand Bal Haute Couture watches created for “occasion” dressing, whose claim to fame is the use of a functioning oscillating weight placed on the face of the watch.

The distinctive Grand Bal line seamlessly incorporates both the sartorial heritage of the brand (each watch was inspired by one of the company’s haute couture pieces) and underlines Dior’s commitment to making inroads into haute horology in order to bolster the company’s standing amongst luxury watch brands. This year Dior raised the bar even higher. They unveiled the Grand Bal Plume watch. Limited to 88 pieces in both white and black ceramic and stainless steel, the watch uses feathers and diamonds to create the openwork rotor, which is the first watch ever to use feathers in this way. It is a horological feat that brings together form and function in a completely new and unexpected manner.

At Harry Winston, watchmakers were also beguiled by the beauty of bird feathers. The watches might be more straightforward in their overall concept—feathers as the backdrop to a watch dial—but that makes them no less evocative or inviting. The company came out with four different watch dial designs for its Premier Feathers collection, turning to Nelly Saunier to painstakingly place the plumes on the dial in a process that takes over seven hours to complete. Saunier also ensured that the feathers were ethically sourced. The 36mm quartz watches feature feathers plucked from one of four different birds: Silver pheasants, Lady Amherst’s pheasants, peacocks or delicate ring-necked pheasants. The iridescent and geometric beauty of the dials is balanced by the shimmering bezels, which boast 66 brilliant-cut diamonds.

Boucheron has had a long and welldocumented love affair with birds. For the past few years they have combined their over 150 years of expertise as haute jewelry makers with that of the prestigious watchmakers at Girard-Perregaux to create limited-edition timepieces that feature some of the winged world’s most beloved birds. It started in 2010 with the Ladyhawke tourbillon watch that was built around an iconic Girard- Perregaux three gold bridge tourbillon movement. The collaboration continued last year with the Héra Tourbillon, which used a peacock for inspiration. This year it is the turn for both a black and white swan interpretation of the timepiece.

Compared to past manifestations, the Cypris Tourbillon’s three-dimensional swans (1,300 hours in the making) are much more lifelike. The articulated watch cuff that houses the movement adds to the sense that these watches could take flight off the wrist at any moment.

Besides these more unexpected interpretations, birds, and their plumes, showed up as motifs on watch dials from brands as different as DeLaneau and Jaquet Droz to Chanel and Cartier. It is a theme that is universally loved by watchmakers as far back as the invention of the cuckoo clock. But what keeps this trend alive are the numerous ways the brands are able to transform birds into something more than just a timepiece mascot.