The Rise of the Rainbow Watch
Rainbow Parameter– that is, adorning a timepiece with a multitude of colored gemstones – has become one of the most collectible tropes in fine watchmaking. Rolex has a rainbow-tinged history dating back to the 1980s when it embellished the elegant Cellini models, although it was the bezel of the Cosmograph Daytona 2012 – made up of 36 trapezoid-cut sapphires in different colors – that really ignited the multicolored passion of collectors. Since then, rainbow hues have adorned a range of Rolexes, up to this year’s Yacht-Master, set with cool blue and purple stones, and the new rainbow Daytona, a collector’s trophy. of watches from the 2020s.
“For any serious modern Daytona collector, a rainbow is a must-have,” says Remy Julia, watch specialist at Christie’s. “The ideal is to have the trilogy of yellow, white and pink. Six years ago, when I was constantly doing private sales on these, the price was $240,000, and that was already the moon. Now it has doubled and continues to grow.
What was once a novel way for more affluent watch enthusiasts to flex their opulent taste (and budgets) has become an industry mainstay. Manufacturers such as Hublot and Audemars Piguet have harnessed the visual power of the rainbow to reference the creativity of artistic and cultural movements beyond the watch world.
Hublot was at the start of the trend, with the launch of the Big Bang Unico Sapphire Rainbow in 2017. The watch turned heads at the Met Gala last year on the wrist of celebrity designer Law Roach, whose clients include Zendaya and Lewis Hamilton. “Part of the inspiration [for the Big Bang Unico] comes from Hublot’s homage to Pop art and the use of flashy, bold colors to reinterpret high quality watchmaking,explains Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot. “It was a great success, so we decided to extend the rainbow setting to the rest of our collections.”
When I first saw the new Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Music Edition from Audemars Piguet, Wassily Kandinsky’s pioneering artwork immediately came to mind. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Kandinsky may have experienced synesthesia, a neurological condition that hijacks all five senses. in his case, it allowed him to see the sound in color.
Kandinsky never got the chance to see pop hitmaker Mark Ronson’s tunes. But Ronson was a loyal wearer of a Royal Oak long before he signed on as an Audemars Piguet ambassador earlier this year. The DJ-producer joined the AP team in time for the launch of these new Offshores, which are inspired by the gear and devices found inside a recording studio. The dial’s signature Tapestry structure has been printed to resemble the polychromatic pixelation of a VU meter, the audio engineering equivalent of a volume knob. The knurled textured studs evoke jack sockets and the crown protects the riff on the fader of a mixing console. In order to experience the reverse Kandinsky (hearing music while looking at a colored watch), you will need to upgrade to the gem-set version, which includes an equalizer – appropriate colored stones on the dial and a ruby-adorned colored bezel . , tsavorites and yellow, orange, green and blue sapphires.
Last summer, Chanel showed synesthetic symptoms with its J12 Electro collection – which featured broken matte black steel and white gold ceramic watches with rainbow sapphire bezels – apparently inspired by love of the brand’s creative watchmaking director, Arnaud Chastaingt, for a certain musical scene of the 90s in Paris. .
Whether it’s Chanel drawing inspiration from the flashing lights of electro culture or AP quoting the 10 colors of the EQ, these exuberant creations are the most inspired rainbow horology.
Additionally, rainbow setting is a style that favors jeweler-watchmakers who can merge the power of their craftsmanship with their expertise in stone sourcing. I got a glimpse of what it looks like when I saw a rainbow tourbillon at Chopard. It wasn’t so much a rainbow as a muffled one, a display of bravery of color and technique with every surface of the watch – case, dial, winding crown, lugs and clasp – adorned with shimmering gemstones. in a symphony of colors. If only Kandinsky could have seen it.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of GQ with the title “The Rainbow Set”.