Piaget pioneered the use of hard stone dials in the 1960s, but the style fell out of favor in the 1970s, when the emergence of quartz watches made inexpensive watches with little decoration into a fad.
Stone dials have been produced only periodically since then, and in very limited quantities. Occasionally, however, examples pop up at auction, where they have commanded high prices.
“Collectors, now more than ever, appreciate rarity, which includes watches with uncommon features like ornamental dials,” said Paul Boutros, who is deputy chairman, watches, as well as head of watches, Americas, for the auctioneer Phillips in New York City. “They command significant premiums compared to watches with regular dials.
“At our Geneva sale last November, an F.P. Journe Optimum with a jade dial sold for 533,400 Swiss francs [around $626,000], over an estimate of 200,000 to 400,000 francs. Had the watch been fitted with a standard dial, we would have estimated it at 40,000 to 80,000 francs and would likely have achieved a result of less than half the jade dial version.”
Rock to Paper Thin
The more sweat and tears involved in creating an object, the more desirable it becomes, and there is plenty of both in making hard stone dials. The process requires patience, skill and a rigorously dust-free, temperature-controlled environment: Open a window at the wrong time and some minerals will crack. Close the door to the safe too hard and they might shatter.