From jade to tiger’s eye: The mysterious appeal of auspicious accessories
High-end watchmakers and jewellers don’t always choose materials for maximum performance or panache. Sometimes, their creations are simply designed to bestow the wearer with good fortune.
Jewellery has always been symbolic. Since the earliest civilisations, people have been using them as tokens of protection against evil, offerings to the gods, markers of possession and now, most commonly, as symbols of style and status. Timepieces, despite their original intended function, also ended up on this path.
While the most important role of watches and jewellery these days is to look good (and maybe break a world record or two for price or patent), there still exists a category of adornments that have held onto these ancient and romantic notions of bestowing fortune onto the wearer. In times of crisis (like now) such accessories and the beliefs attached to them give people something tangible – and pretty – to hold on to as they hope for better days ahead.
What makes something “lucky” varies from culture to culture, but stones like quartz have achieved worldwide recognition for their so-called mystical properties. Its widespread availability likely contributed to its fame, but it is this abundance in quantity – something many feng shui-friendly stones share – that luxury cannot abide.
So what high-end brands could do was to pick the very best examples of more visually interesting stones and pair them with conventionally precious materials or a timeless design. Chopard likes to feature tiger’s eye alongside the warmth of rose gold, while Jaeger-LeCoultre once used the lustrous brown stripes of the stone as an example of the Atelier Reverso’s customisation service.
When it comes to stones that are both valuable and auspicious, jade is the obvious choice. Its symbolic significance is strongest in Chinese culture, where jade is believed to be a heavenly stone that brings longevity and prosperity, but western watchmakers have embraced jade as well.
To mark the 50th year of diplomatic relationship between France and China in 2014, F.P. Journe released two limited edition watches, one of which was an Elegante with a translucent jade dial. One of the watches from Girard-Perregaux’s Chamber of Wonders collection is known as The Terrestial Map, which features a miniature painting of a Ming Dynasty-era world map on a white jade dial. More recent examples include Montblanc’s limited edition 1858 Split Second Chronograph with a jade dial in a bronze case, unveiled in late 2019, as well as this year’s Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Off-Centered Black Jade.
Watchmakers often use the more readily available nephrite variety of jade in their watches, which is understandable given the greater emphasis on actual watchmaking. So it’s up to the jewellers to show off the real beauty of the rarer, highly prized jadeite variety.
Stunning examples abound across the globe, but some of the most bewitching comes from Hong Kong-based Wallace Chan, who even patented his own refining technique for brighter, more vivid jade.
A lot of jade’s blessed allure comes from its verdant colour, and it’s a shade universally associated with life, renewal, fertility and, inevitably, luck. This association makes other green stones lucky, too.
Delaneau’s Rondo Double Happiness Chrysoprase has an engraved dial made of chrysoprase, a gemstone thought to bring joy and healing. Malachite, often associated with protection and support, is another popular choice with jeweller-watchmakers like Bulgari, Chopard, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels. Even the sporty Omega Seamaster 300 received a malachite facelift last year.
Black stones don’t have the same immediate connotations of good fortune, looking more like portends for doom, but some of them are still considered charmed. There are those who believe that black onyx’s dark appearance makes it the perfect talisman for protection against evil or a way to balance bad karma. They’re also a conveniently glamorous way of adding striking contrast to precious metals, as seen in Girard-Perregaux’s new Infinity Editions featuring onyx against rose gold accents.
Even obsidian is said to hold cleansing energies, but is generally less common in modern jewellery because it is a relatively soft volcanic glass that scratches easily. But with careful machining and masterful gem-setting, obsidian’s dark translucency shines in high jewellery pieces.
Perhaps the easiest way for brands to infuse some fortune into their models is through the use of motifs. Van Cleef & Arpel’s most famous collection is the Alhambra – its four-leaf clover motif has certainly been fortuitous to the brand’s sales figures for over 50 years.
Every lunar new year, there are numerous watchmakers that try to seduce the Chinese market with limited editions sporting the year’s zodiac animal. Even in the off-season, some fortune-seeking enthusiasts might appreciate watches like Jaquet Droz’s newly released Petite Heure Minute “Tiger”, because the animal is traditionally known as a symbol for protection.
It’s also a fairly common practice for such special editions to be made in a limited run of eight pieces, or in numbers ending in eight. The luckiest number in Chinese culture also resembles the infinity symbol, so it can even double in meaning to bring an endless flow of success. There are innumerable examples of this symbol showing up in luxury goods, but among the more subtle ones is Mikimoto’s Double Eight necklace, strung with 88 Akoya cultured pearls.
So do all of these design choices actually confer luck?
As with anything unbound by the laws of science, your mileage will vary with the strength of your belief. Even a lack of any obvious leanings toward auspicious symbols won’t stop the most dedicated luck hunters in China.
There, luxury consumers are making their own luck: Harry Winston has become the go-to brand for engagement rings because its logo “HW” can be interpreted as “husband and wife”, while Piaget’s Possession rings, reminiscent of Buddhist prayer wheels, can be spun for luck.
We suppose what’s most important at the end of the day is that these precious items, regardless of what they’re made of or designed to represent, bring joy to their wearers, and that little boost in confidence is all that’s really needed to welcome more luck into your life.