Women’s watches of the ’50s and ’60s have a distinctive aesthetic you couldn’t mistake for any other era. They’re dainty, they’re usually made in yellow gold, and they come with some of the most elaborately crafted bracelets since the Art Deco period. This is because watchmaking in those days relied very much on the jewellery and goldsmithing industry for cases and bracelets.
Even brands that famously make everything in-house today, such as Patek Philippe, Cartier, Blancpain, Audemars Piguet or Vacheron Constantin, sourced those components from external specialists. Back then, the idea of a manufacture that’s completely vertically integrated hadn’t existed.
These external specialists would thus regularly propose creative designs to the watch companies. Sometimes it’s a case with ornate lugs, sometimes it’s an engraved gold bracelet. And because women’s timepieces played a dual role—that of timekeeper and jewellery piece—the best watch brands constantly worked on with bold new designs to the delight of their female clientele.
Finely honed mesh bracelets were de rigueur in the ’60s. They provided a luxurious look yet without being overly fussy, as Art Deco or Victorian or Edwardian time- and jewellery pieces tend to be. With its proprietary jewellery-making expertise, Piaget mastered this beautiful aesthetic very early on. Its Palace décor where gold bracelets are engraved with ultra-fine lines remains in practice to this day.
Milanese bracelets, too, are a specialty at Piaget. Each bracelet starts life as a gold bar, which the artisan then works into tiny gold threads that are twisted, weaved, and squeezed by hand, one by one, taking over 35 hours to complete. The bracelet is then perfectly integrated into the case, giving the impression that it is a natural extension of the asymmetrical lugs and the case of the watch.
Piaget’s new and updated Limelight Gala timepiece also delivers the intricate aesthetic albeit with a more contemporary vibe. This watch with elegant asymmetrical extended lugs can be worn on gold Milanese mesh bracelets designed for the modern woman. For 2020, the manufacture introduced new mechanical versions of this glamorous Piaget classic which remain very wearable at just 32mm.
Milanese bracelets are extremely supple and comfortable on the wrist thanks to the extra-fine woven design. Offered also at Blancpain, where it is made in-house and polished by hand, it adds a touch of glamour to the timeless Villeret models for both men and women, and is known here as the mille maille bracelet. Meaning thousand chains in French, it is indeed intricate and a little reminiscent of the chain mail armour worn by medieval soldiers.
Even in the jewellery space, this technique is loved by everyone from Tiffany & Co. with its timeless Elsa Peretti Mesh collection to Louis Vuitton with its LV Volt Mesh pieces.
Finely honed mesh bracelets were de rigueur in the ’60s.
As it were, the Milanese bracelet was actually inspired by medieval armour, so named for the many workshops in Milan that made the best ones. Rooted in the Italian town of the same name, IWC’s Portofino collection can be credited for popularising the Milanese strap with the updated Portofino watches in 2014.
Mesh bracelets have the power to alter the look of a watch quite dramatically. Just look at the Hermès Cape Cod. But to the French maison’s credit, introducing a double tour Milanese bracelet was a brilliant move and one that resonates deeply with its creative spirit.
With the Millenary Frosted Gold Cadran Opale, Audemars Piguet took a stab at this slinky accessory, only instead of the usual Milanese design, it went for a Polish mesh bracelet. Look closely at the links and you’ll see the difference. Milanese has each tiny link lined up facing the same direction so it’s quite a uniform aesthetic, while the Polish style alternates the links resulting in a braided aesthetic.
As an homage to the world’s first woman’s wristwatch, the Breguet Queen of Naples looks simply exquisite with a mesh bracelet. This gorgeous timepiece exists in a dazzling array of bracelet styles, running the gamut from chains of gold to strings of pearls and more
But mesh bracelets can also be found on the other end of the pricing segment thanks to Tissot. The Lovely Square is a simple quartz watch with a delicate cushion case delivered on a variety of mesh bracelet designs. In steel or rose and yellow gold coloured steel, with diamonds or without, you get a beautiful 60’s inspired timepiece at a fraction of the price you’d have to pay for an actual vintage model.
Of course if all else fails, you could reach for the Apple Watch with Milanese loop bracelet—smart in every sense of the word because the new Series 6 is just phenomenal.