iampiero Bodino is holding court at the Ritz Hotel on Place Vendôme during Paris Couture Week. He is here, not for the usual reason of presenting a new High Jewellery collection to assembled press and clients, but because Bodino is branching out into replica jewelry watches.
He semi-sprints towards me (nothing is slow-mo in Bodino’s world), his long salt-and-pepper beard and military style jacket evoking a vision of half Gandalf, half Sergeant Pepper. The analogy is apt: those who know and love his High Jewellery collections (sold exclusively from the exquisite surroundings of his headquarters at Villa Mozart in Milan) are drawn to contemporary jewels with a hint of rock and roll and a sprinkling of artistic wizardry.
“Darling, what do you think?” he drawls with his characteristic Italian lilt. I’m suitably impressed. The suite that he has taken over at the Ritz is filled with the installations, one for each watch that he is presenting, and they are huge. They almost reach the high Parisian ceilings, with mirrored floors, and walls that look as if they’re modelled on a 3D printer, each echoing the motifs that characterise the three secret watches (the dials are hidden behind a clever mechanism).
The finesse and slim elegance of the secret watches is a refreshing and impressive first foray into the world of horology. “I didn’t want to design fake watches,” says Bodino. “I’m not interested in that; first and foremost these had to be bracelets which gave no clue that they could also tell the time.”
He has a point, and as creative director of the Richemont group he undoubtedly has access to all sorts of jewelled watch product. As secret watches hide the dials away, extra thickness is required for a quartz movement, often impacting significantly on a bracelet’s design. The result is that many are chunkier than would perhaps be expected, giving away their real functionality.
With Bodino’s first steps into secret watches there is something for everyone: a beautifully whimsical briar rose in white and pink diamonds called Primavera, with the occasional grey stone to emphasise shadow, the biggest flower centred with a yellow diamond. Pushing on a bud triggers the opening of this bloom to reveal the dial, while the organic forms sit on a contemporary, simple strap of the rows of diamonds, ensuring the entire composition remains modern.
Rosa Dei Venti mixes numerous references: the Fleur de Lys in its diamond chain strap; the points of a compass and the Maltese cross visible in the main design of the bracelet, formed in graphic moody colours: dark red rubies, dark green emeralds and dark blue sapphires interspersed with black onyx. An 11.49-carat Zambian emerald lifts to reveal the dial.
In Mosaico, a contemporary cuff that is Bodino’s favourite, concentric circles of white diamonds and black spinels are monochrome, hypnotic and thoroughly modern. A concealed button reveals the dial, the cover mirrored on the inside.
Before Bodino rushes off he leaves me with a final thought: “secret watches are so often like cheese cake, with so many different layers, often the dial sits like a cherry on top”. It’s an unusual comparison but I get his point. With these three watches he has nothing to worry about – there are no cherries here – but they really are deliciously good.