The cockatoo, one of Tiffany & Company’s most recognizable motifs since Jean Schlumberger created the original Bird on a Rock design in the 1960s, made its way into some of the house’s watches last year.
It was just part of a continuing trend among jewelry brands that also manufacture watches: Translating successful designs for use in timepieces, a process that can expand the sellable number of pieces in parures, the industry name for matching sets of necklaces, bracelets, brooches and hair ornaments.
“Turning some of a house’s best sellers into new product categories makes sense; it is a safe brand extension,” Benjamin Voyer, a professor of behavioral science at the ESCP Business School in London, said by telephone.
Over the past three years, for example, the French jeweler Boucheron has introduced three steel watch variations of its Serpent Bohème design, a teardrop shape that debuted in 1968. Their dimensions ranged from 23 to 32 millimeters.
“The first Serpent Bohème watch was introduced in 2011 to answer a specific request of the Middle Eastern market,” Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, the company’s chief executive, said in a video call. It had an 18-millimeter case flanked by two diamond-studded teardrops and a bracelet of wide gold links.
“Women in the Middle East love wearing a full parure of jewelry, including a watch, on their wedding day,” Ms. Poulit-Duquesne said, “which is not the custom in France.”
She said she had observed a rising interest in the “jewelry watch” category. “I think all watchmakers with a jewelry heritage should have a jewelry watch as it distills the brand’s DNA,” Ms. Poulit-Duquesne said. “It’s a jewel that gives the time.”
Several other heritage houses now have jewelry watches inspired by their gem designs.
In 2021, for example, Chaumet, a Parisian brand, presented the Joséphine Aigrette wristwatch, whose pear-shape dial was a nod to its Joséphine collection of jewels introduced in the early 2000s, and Dior debuted Gem Dior, a collection of timepieces and jewels with graphic design lines.
This summer, alongside its Bird on a Rock models, Tiffany introduced timepieces in gold and steel riffing off its HardWear collection, a series of bold gold and silver designs.
At the 2023 edition of Watches and Wonders Geneva, an annual watch trade show, Cartier presented a jewelry watch inspired by its Clash design featuring beads and studs, while Van Cleef & Arpels marked its presence by introducing several timepieces inspired by its classic jewelry styles such as Alhambra, Perlée and Ludo. “The imagination of Van Cleef & Arpels has been nurtured by many sources of inspiration,” its chief executive, Nicolas Bos, wrote in an email. “They can be, in turn, translated through jewelry creations, timepieces and Extraordinary Objects or build bridges between creations.” (Extraordinary Objects is the house’s collection of fanciful automatons combined with unusual timekeeping methods.)
Hermès has a long tradition of repurposing successful designs across different product categories. In the 1990s, the Cape Cod watch echoed the house’s Anchor Chain motif, while the collection of Médor timepieces, introduced in 1993, reinterpreted the Collier de Chien, or Dog Collar, another classic Hermès style.
Yet, “not everything is possible,” Philippe Delhotal, the creative director of watches at Hermès, said in a video call. “You can’t necessarily always adapt a piece of jewelry to a watch, but I think there’s a trend today where there’s a nice mix.”
In the 1970s the padlock, a defining feature of the Hermès Kelly handbag introduced in the 1930s, was refashioned into a watch that hangs from a leather strap by its shank.
On a recent work trip to Japan, Mr. Delhotal said, he sold two new Kelly watches to a married couple — the husband was amused that the padlock timepiece could be detached and worn around the neck as a pendant, turning the strap into a decorative bracelet.
According to Laurent François, managing partner of the creative agency 180 Global in Paris, turning recognizable jewelry designs into watches is particularly useful in attracting new customers to a brand’s horological collection.
“Familiar motifs work as a strong hook,” he said by telephone. “They showcase a brand’s icons, and this is particularly useful for customers who do not know much about watches.” In addition, he said, such timepieces help a brand strengthen and extend the storytelling linked to a design.
“Bird on a Rock is a very precise, niche narrative, which actually tells a lot about the quality of the work, about Jean Schlumberger,” Mr. François said. “The watch benefits from the association with a cult product, and at the same time, it redirects the cult which already exists across collectors.”
Playing with signature styles is part of the traditional practice of a brand with a long heritage, Mr. Delhotal said.
“We are a creative brand, and of course, we create new shapes and new objects every year, but we must not forget the past,” he said.
“Obviously, we do not have to continuously revive previous designs, as that can become tedious. But we have a duty to look after our ‘design princesses.’”