Erotic Watches: Indiscreet Treasures

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By Peter HenselderMore from this author

The interplay between the erotic and art has featured in all periods of history, on occasion crossing the line into pornography. Jewelry and strangely enough watches too have reflected this theme, secretly indicating that it's always the right time for fliration. Hushed silence and secrets surround such indulgences, even in the traditional Swiss watch making industry.

Erotic Watches: Indiscreet Treasures

Very rare 18 karat gold and enamel 'double erotic' musical seal. Anonymous, Swiss, approx. 1830

Many people admired the erotic timepieces of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, these lover's timepieces were expensive to buy and were therefore primarily reserved for the nobility, who saw their debauched lifestyle as their privilege, as well as for the bourgeoisie who tended to follow the trends of the nobility. The sensual secrets of these watches were only discussed in private, man to man.

Rare gilt metal and enamel watch with concealed erotic scenes. Hughes, London, approx.

Fine 18 karat pink gold quarter-repeating watch with erotic automaton. Swiss, bearing the signature Breguet A Paris, approx. 1825

The age of gallantry wallowed in erotic fantasies. There were many things to beautify everyday existence, starting with pictures and books such as those of Casanova through to sculptures featuring antique motifs and scenes such as the famous 'heure du berger' pose (the shepherd's hour, i.e. the lover's hour). The ideas which inspired the expensive decorative watches of the time also had a significant influence on erotic watches in that they were supposed to offer more than just the time.

The charm of frivolity and the forbidden also played a part in this age where, unlike today, the internet, table dancing bars, sex cinemas and DVDs did not make all kinds of erotica, including pornography, readily accessible. The producers of these 'scandalous timepieces' had to be careful, even though the pieces proved to be a good source of business and exports. They often covered their tracks by giving out false details. The name Breguet was often used, for example, so as not to arouse the suspicion of the authorities. All attempts to prevent these obscene pieces being produced failed miserably. Interest in them was too high and the business potential too appealing. On their detour via England, the watches and their hidden secrets often found their way to China, India or other countries outside of Europe. The manufacturers were able to specifically incorporate their customers' preferences. Blue-green were the preferred colors for India, avoiding the use of white, the color of mourning. Sapphire is thought to bring misfortune on the subcontinent and was therefore taboo. On the other hand, pearls, rubies and diamonds were very highly regarded. This is a sign of early attempts at a market-oriented global sales strategy.

Erotica I from Nivrel. Polished steel, lovers in 18 karat yellow gold, breasts in 18 karat yellow gold at hour points

Erotica II from Nivrel. Polished steel, watch face 18 karat rose gold, skeleton work and engraving completed by hand

'Skelett Movie' from the 'Taktlos' series by Greiner. Some of the erotic figures can be moved using the crown. 18 karat gold, skeleton work completed by hand

The images incorporated into the erotic watches were similar to those of modern-day sex films. Strong men and willing women are depicted in encounters detached from love and jealousy. The ultimate male fantasies. These scenes are all the more striking where the watch maker has linked the image to the watch function, creating a moving image. Sometimes these images are even combined with music.

Whether the watch shows a couple in copulation, lovers or a woman on her own, the manufacturers certainly had a goal in mind when creating these pieces: to satisfy the desire to their customers, usually wealthy men. This meant creating the tangible sense of titillatoin which arises when observing such things in secrecy. Today, it is the high quality of the pieces which is of great interest to the buyers. Most of the watches had an albi function. As with many fantasies, the images were concealed and were not to be seen by everyone. The back of the watch often showed a charming and respectable image of a couple in fine enamel work; opening the cover revealed the same couple in a more explicit pose. Sometimes, a second spring over would reveal a hidden mechanism which would move the couple into action.

Watch from Blancpain with minute repeater, erotic mechanism. Each watch is an individual piece depicting an individual erotic scene

Brought to wristwatches for the first time, the Blancpain caliber 332 erotic repeater

'Biker' from the 'Taktlos' series by Greiner. Activating the repeat mechanism makes the woman move in time. 18 karat gold, 5 minute repeat cycle

by Peter Henselder

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Peter Henselder

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