LADIES' DRESS WATCHES
For ladies, the wristwatch was designed not only as a practical and accurate timepiece but also as a fashion accessory studded with stones of great value.
Ladies' wrist watches predate men's. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth 1
reportedly wore a gold one that was heavily decorated with jewels. However, it
wasn't until the late 19th century that watches for women were made in any quantity.
Rolex played quite a part in their development. Known at the
time as Wilsdorf & Davies, they had a factory in England, and in 1905
produced some of the first wristwatches with lever movements. The first models were
in silver cases with a leather strap. Later ones had cases and expanding bracelets of gold.
RISE OF THE WRISTWATCH
In 1905, the Ingersoll brothers set up their company in England, and shortly afterwards
produced the 'Midget', their first ladies' pocket watch. With the addition of a leather
strap, this could also be worn on the wrist.
The wristwatch and, especially, the dress or cocktail wristwatch really came into their own
during the 1920s and 1930s. They became items of jewellery and were produced by like
Cartier, Vacheron &
Constatin, Cleef and Arpels, Rolex and Patek Phillipe.
Wristwatch cases and bracelets were heavily decorated with precious
gemstones, particularly diamonds, rubies and sapphires, or quality paste imitation stones. At
times, indeed, the original function of the watch as a timepiece seemed almost forgotten.
Jewelled watches, pave-set with diamonds, would have narrow straps of black
moire silk or cord. Cartier introduced a square wristwatch, the case set with diamonds and onyx,
the bracelet strap consisting of rows of seed pearls interspersed with diamonds.
The jewellery of the 1940s is often called cocktail jewellery. Colours and designs were
both bold and stylish. For those who couldn't afford the real thing, fake stones were fine
- synthetic rubies were favourites.
The strap followed the shape of contemporary fashion, and could be a wide gold
bracelet into which the watch was discreetly set. 'Gas pipe' linking was also popular at this time. For evening or cocktail wear, the
watch face would be hidden beneath a hinged cover that was dazzlingly set with gems.
Ladies' dress watches are still made today but in more restrained styles, suitable for day as well as evening wear, although still lavishly set with precious stones.
When buying an old watch, always make sure that it is in working order. Look then at its price, the maker's name and the value
of the materials used.
DRESS WATCH COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Around the turn of the 20th century there was a transition from pocket watches to
wrist-watches. Ingersoll's 'Midget', for instance, came with a leather wrist strap fitted with a
small leather cup in which the watch was held securely. Other watches of this period
were fitted with wire handles or loops, through which a leather wrist strap could be
threaded. These watches often still had the winding button set above the number 12 - as
in a pocket watch - and it wasn't until much later that it was moved to its present position
at 3 o'clock. These adapted pocket watches were circular with gunmetal cases.
ART DECO WATCH DESIGNS
In the 1920s, with the start of the art deco period that was set to continue through until the
late 1930s, the design of ladies' wristwatches changed rapidly. Dials became oblong, square
or round, generally set in an oblong frame.
Straps were made of leather or metal. Metal ones might be an integral
bangle in gold or platinum, or they might be enamelled in geometric
designs. A French bracelet watch of this period, by Gubelin, was fitted with a decorative
enalled cover which slid protectively over the watch face and was drawn back to reveal
the dial by pressing a button.
In the 1940s and 1950s the fashion was for the case, the strap and even the clasp to be heavily
set with real or paste jewels.
POINTS TO WATCH
Wrist watch dials come in all sorts of shapes and the following terms
are used to describe them: round, oval, square, square cut corner, cushion,
rectangle, rectangle cut corner, tonneau (oblong with outwardly curving sides),
barrel (a squarer version of tonneau), and maxine (two long sides and six short
Condition is all important. Dials should be examined closely for
staining or damage; they should not be dirty or scratched. The hands
should not be loose, and should match the style of the watch - keep an eye open for replacements.
The watch and its bracelet should also be in sympathy. Clues lie in the lugs or shoulders on the watch case. The bracelet should fit these snugly. Any looseness or sideways movement are indicative of a marriage.
Check that the watch is working properly and keeping good time. Repairs can be extremely costly. If the watch is sold as gold, look for hallmarks. Some watch cases were made of rolled gold, or are marked 'gold back and front'; these are only plated with gold.