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The 21 most impressive watches of SIHH 2017

The Peak reveals our top 21 picks from 2017's first watch fair.

“I feel that the mood is very positive,” says Antonio Calce, CEO of Girard-Perregaux, during an interview with The Peak during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) Geneve 2017. Following a rocky 2016 that saw the biggest fall in Swiss watch exports since 2009, watch chiefs such as Calce are cautiously positive about the year ahead.

That said, action is imperative. Calce shares: “In a (slow) market, you have many opportunities, but you have to be creative. And you must have a strong link to your past.” For Girard-Perregaux, this means expanding its lower-priced portfolio (more steel pieces, instead of gold), while focusing on its heritage.

While the SIHH remains the world’s most exclusive watch fair, it has definitely become more inclusive. The number of participating brands has doubled from 2015, totalling 30 this year. Since 2016, the fair has added several independent brands to its roster, with 13 participating this year. Even more telling: The event was, for the first time, open to the public, although only on the last day of the fair.

In terms of products, we see a continuation of trends from last year: more affordable pieces – steel models as well as simpler timepieces – and a focus on the female watch buyer. Brands such as Parmigiani, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier are offering new entry-level options.

Typically unapologetically masculine, IWC is embracing its softer side this year. Its palazzo-themed booth was resplendent with curved staircases and vases of blooms, while a press release for its Da Vinci collection declared that the “female target group is (the) main focus of interest”.

The company is also taking the opportunity to expand its e-commerce initiatives. Having recently partnered e-tailers Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter to sell its watches online, the brand is off ering fans the chance to pre-order its new women’s models on its website. Says IWC’s associate director of product management, Walter Volpers: “Millennials, for the fi rst time, have money to buy watches at this price level – and they love buying on the Internet. We have to be agile and adapt to the situation.”

(RELATED: Take a look back at SIHH 2016.)

01: BALANCING ACT

ROTONDE DE CARTIER MINUTE REPEATER MYSTERIOUS DOUBLE TOURBILLON

  • Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon

Changes are afoot at Cartier. Last year, new CEO Cyrille Vigneron took the helm after the departure of former chief Bernard Fornas. Facing falling sales in a soft luxury market, Vigneron has a clear vision for one of Richemont Group’s largest brands. In an interview with The Financial Times last September, he said: “Cartier stands for a shaped watch, simple design… and not too (many) complications.”

These qualities are certainly evident in many of the brand’s launches this year. One of its key new collections is the Panthere de Cartier, an updated version of a 1980s women’s watch that took its design cues from the brand’s famous square-shaped Santos timepieces. Prices for the steel models start at around US$4,000 (S$5,700).

We are glad, however, that Cartier continues to create its distinctive high-end complications, such as the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon shown here. Combining a minute repeater with a mysterious movement for the first time, the 45mm titanium timepiece packs a technical punch, while striking an aesthetic balance between high-tech cool and warm artistry.

02: A LASTING LEGACY

TOURBOGRAPH PERPETUAL “POUR LE MERITE”

  • Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour Le Merite”

A. Lange & Sohne’s product presentation started on a solemn note, with the brand’s director of manufacturing, Tino Bobe, informing the journalists present that Walter Lange – co-founder of the modern firm of A. Lange & Sohne and the great-grandson of original brand founder Adolph Lange – had passed away at the age of 92.

Walter left a fine legacy behind. No horology buff would disagree that A. Lange & Sohne watches are some of the finest in the industry. Just consider its star novelty for2017: the Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour Le Merite”. The technical tour de force is the fifth addition to the Pour Le Merite collection, which debuted at the modern relaunch of the brand in 1994, and made headlines as the fi rst wristwatch with a fusee-and-chain mechanism (which keeps torque constant and helps to improve rate accuracy).

Aside from the signature fusee-and-chain transmission, the newest member of the Pour Le Merite family also boasts a tourbillon, a chronograph with a rattrapante (split-seconds) function and a perpetual calendar. The 684 parts of the manually wound Calibre L133.1 are deftly housed in a 43mm platinum case.

03: RENAISSANCE ERA

DA VINCI PERPETUAL CALENDAR CHRONOGRAPH

  • Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Whether there’s a World War II-era plane suspended from the ceiling (2016), or images of circling hammerhead sharks projected onto the walls (2014), the IWC booth is always one of the most spectacular at the fair. This year, it took on an unexpected softness, with sweeping staircases, tall columns and large vases of blooms evoking the feel of an Italian palazzo.

The reason for this is twofold: IWC’s key launch at SIHH is its Da Vinci collection, and a majority of the new pieces are specially designed for women. The revamped collection takes inspiration from the round Da Vinci models of the 1980s, rather than the tonneau-shaped versions of the 2000s. Setting the classically dressy timepieces apart from the plethora of round watches on the market are details such as a stepped bezel, moveable horns with curved lugs, and rounded crowns and pushers.

Despite the focus on the feminine pieces – comprising 36mm automatic models and moonphase watches – the larger, high-horology models do not fail to stand out. Powered by a movement based on the perpetual calendar movement developed by IWC master watchmaker Kurt Klaus, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph is the brand’s first timepiece to combine hour and minute counters with a moonphase in a single subdial.

04: THE LIFE AQUATIC

HM7 AQUAPOD

  • Horological Machine “Aquapod” (HM7)

Having travelled to space, to the sky, and on the road with its other Horological Machines, MB&F now dives into the sea with the semi-spherical Horological Machine “Aquapod” (HM7). Described by its creators as “a mechanical jellyfish”, the automatic watch is powered by an unusual vertical movement, topped with a flying tourbillon at the top. Available in titanium or red gold.

05: TIME FOR CHANGE

UR-T8

What do you get when you cross Urwerk’s aggressively styled, armour-inspired watches with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso? The UR-T8, a double-faced, reversible gargantuan statement of a watch (it has a length of 60.23mm). The time-telling side, featuring the largest rendition of the brand’s signature wandering hours display to date, can be flipped to reveal the geometrically engraved titanium caseback.

06: SWISS STATEMENT

SWISS MAD

The folks at H. Moser certainly do not do things halfheartedly. As a protest against the fact that just 60 per cent of the value of a watch needs to be of Swiss origin to qualify for the “Swiss Made” tag, the brand – whose components come almost entirely from Switzerland – has created the Swiss Mad watch. The unique piece is made from a Swiss cheese-containing composite and has a cowhide strap.

07: UP TO SPEED

BUGATTI AEROLITHE PERFORMANCE

In these uncertain times, many luxury brands have to widen the range of their offerings (typically downwards), and Parmigiani is no exception. Along with brands such as Girard-Perregaux, Parmigiani is widening its portfolio of steel-cased watches. The latter’s Tonda 1950, for instance, is for the first time being encased in steel instead of a precious metal, and is now the brand’s entry-level model at US$9,900 (S$14,000).

Another way in which the brand is offering lower-priced options is in the form of simpler timepieces. The latest addition to the classically styled Toric family – which includes several minute repeaters – is the Toric Chronometre, a time-and-date COSC-certified watch that comes in white or red gold.

But frankly, what is considered more accessible to a top-of-the-line brand like Parmigiani would still be pretty impressive by any standards. Its latest collaborative timepiece with supercar brand Bugatti might not be as far-out as previous editions, which included models shaped like engine blocks, but it is nonetheless very striking: The 41mm titanium watch features a flyback chronograph function and detailed finishings – with that of some of the trickier surfaces executed using laser. A playful extra: two tachymeters to measure the speed of a moving car as well as a walking huhttp://thepeakmagazine.com.sg/wp-admin/post-new.phpman, respectively.

08: SOUNDS GOOD TO US

LES CABINOTIERS SYMPHONIA GRANDE SONNERIE 1860

Following the unveiling of its 57-complication blockbuster, the Ref. 57260 pocket watch, in 2015, the hallowed house of Vacheron Constantin continues to impress this year, with statement pieces falling under either of two main themes – striking watches, and astronomy.

The Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 is one of two grande-sonnerie timepieces that made headlines at SIHH (the other one was created by the ultra-high-end independent brand Greubel Forsey). Described by Vacheron Constantin artistic director Christian Selmoni as “the apex of striking watches”, the grande sonnerie strikes the hour and quarters in passing. Aside from being highly mechanically complex, it also uses up a considerable amount of energy, which is why fewer than 10 manufactures are currently capable of constructing a grande sonnerie.

While the Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 has a complicated movement comprising 727 parts, its exterior is what Selmoni describes as “very pure and clean”. A white gold case is coolly matched with a silver-toned gold dial, with minimal markings giving away little about the timepiece’s key capabilities. However, if they feel so inclined, prospective owners of this watch – which is made to order – can jazz it up a little by customising some of its features.

09: READY FOR REINVENTION

LAUREATO TOURBILLON

This year, Girard-Perregaux, one of the original founding brands of the SIHH, returned to the Geneva fair after showing at Baselworld for the past five years. “The SIHH is the right place for GP and is in line with our brand positioning,” said CEO Antonio Calce, during an interview with The Peak at SIHH 2017. He also elaborated on the changes he has put in place since becoming CEO two years ago. “When I started at the brand, we came up with a new strategy. You have to be creative, but still have a strong link to your past.” This means moving away from the mostly gold – and mostly pricey – offerings that were the mainstay of the brand, and expanding its steel offerings. Enter the refreshed Laureato family, distinguished by an octagonal bezel that is surrounded by a circle. Based on a classic model dating back to 1975, a limited-edition Laureato in steel was launched last year. This year sees the strong expansion of this family across price segments. There are 34 models – in steel, gold, both steel and gold; in four sizes; and ranging from quartz models to high-horology ones.

At the top of the family, for this year at least, is the Laureato Tourbillon. Available in pink gold, or titanium and white gold (shown here), the 45mm automatic watch features a dial with Clou de Paris hobnail engraving, and a tourbillon at six o’clock – bearing the brand’s distinctive arrow-shaped Gold Bridge, of course.

10: FUTURISTIC FREAK

INNOVISION 2

The year 2017 marks the first time that Ulysse Nardin – which, like Girard-Perregaux, is owned by luxury conglomerate Kering – showed its wares at the SIHH, and it certainly went all out to impress. At a time when many brands focused on more commercial pieces, Ulysse Nardin got fairgoers talking with Innovision 2, a concept watch boasting 10 innovations (many of which are in the midst of being patented) – which are likely to serve as the basis of new features in the brand’s future production watches.

Looking like a futuristic take on the brand’s famous Freak watch, Innovision 2’s features run the gamut from the technical to the aesthetic. The former include advancements such as a Dual Constant escapement – a constant force escapement system made from a single piece of silicon; as well as a silicon balance wheel with features such as stabilising micro-paddles and small gold weights for timekeeping adjustment.

At the risk of sounding a tad shallow, we must say that we are equally fond of the snazzy aesthetic innovations: The three-dimensional glass minute hand, coupled with Superluminova-filled channels within a glass balance cock (another interesting new feature), gives the already unusual minute hand of the Freak an added sci-fi edge.

11: EXCELLENT TIMING

TIMEWALKER CHRONOGRAPH RALLY TIMER COUNTER

  • Timewalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter

For 2017, Montblanc seeks inspiration from the history of its manufacture in Villeret – formerly known as Minerva, a renowned producer of high-end chronograph movements. This influence is seen not only in its Minerva heritage-inspired 1858 collection, but also in its rugged Timewalker range.

At the traditional end of the spectrum, watches like the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition in bronze are vintage-esque interpretations of Minerva military chronographs from the 1930s. The revamped Timewalker pieces, while sporty, are marked by a sense of refi nement. Elaborating on the updates made to the Timewalker, the brand’s executive vice-president of marketing, Jens Henning Koch, shared: “It was first launched 10 years ago and was a very sporty-looking collection, but the watches weren’t full professional sports watches. We wanted to relaunch the Timewalker collection as real professional sports watches.”

Dipping into the archives, the team found the Rally Timer from the 1960s, a car dashboard-mounted stopwatch designed for timing motor rallies. This inspired the design of the unmissable Chronograph Rally Timer Counter – a 50mm titanium statement piece that can be set on a tabletop, mounted on a dashboard, or (for those with sufficiently large wrists) worn on the wrist.

12: NOTE TO SELF

MAESTRO

Christophe Claret’s latest creation, which is also one of his simplest and most affordable to date, has a curious reminder feature. To remind yourself of that important item on your to-do list, push a button to turn the “Memo” inscription on the cone-shaped mechanism (topped with a ruby or sapphire) at four o’clock towards yourself. When you’ve crossed the errand off your list, push the button again to return the cone to its original position.

(RELATED: Why Top Watchmaker Christophe Claret Thinks He’s The Steve Jobs of Horology.)

13: MORBID MIX

SKULL POCKET WATCH

Skulls and pocket watches are nothing new in horology. But combine the two, and throw in HYT’s unique liquid time-telling display to boot? Now, that’s something you don’t see every day. Housed in a case and chain crafted from titanium, the Skull Pocket Watch also features another HYT special: a mechanically powered LED lighting system that illuminates the watch at the push of a button.

14: HOT IN HERE

EYJAFJALLAJOKULL-DNA “BURNT LAVA”

Even though this “Burnt Lava” model marks the third collection in the Eyjafjallajokull-DNA series by RJ-Romain Jerome, we still find it a challenge to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano from which the range gets its name. No matter: The key thing to note is that this latest 46mm black PVD-coated steel watch features a stunning dial featuring genuine lava rock from said volcano, artistically crafted to represent rock cracking under the pressure of lava during an eruption.

15: IN THE LONG RUN

LAB-ID LUMINOR 1950 CARBOTECH 3 DAYS

  • Lab-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech 3 Days

Material innovation seemed to be a major theme at the SIHH 2017, with brands using new materials (such as Richard Mille’s Graph TPT) or applying new techniques to existing substances (like Audemars Piguet’s hammered Frosted Gold). But mind you, it’s not just about what’s on the outside – material innovation can also be used to improve the inner workings of a watch.

That’s why Panerai’s showstopper for the year – the Lab-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech 3 Days – comes with a stunning 50-year guarantee on its lubricant-free movement. It’s a big promise, made possible by the use of innovative carbon-based materials and coatings, as well as silicon. The watch’s 49mm case, bezel and lever bridge are crafted from Carbotech, a carbon fibre-based composite that was introduced into the world of watchmaking by Panerai.

Even the dial is the result of material innovation. Demonstrating the kind of obsessive attention to detail synonymous with high watchmaking, Panerai has coated the dial with carbon nanotubes, which absorb light, reduce reflection and give the dial “a particularly deep black appearance”. And here we thought only folks in fashion were preoccupied by issues like varying shades of black.

16: ON TOP OF THE WORLD

GEOPHYSIC TOURBILLON UNIVERSAL TIME

  • Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time

Jaeger-LeCoultre was one of the brands that chose to give more airtime to its ladies’ timepieces this year, such as additions to the Rendez-Vous range. The Rendez-Vous, of course, features a function comprising a little star that can be set to a time – a reminder to its owner of an upcoming date. We especially like the new Rendez-Vous Sonatina models, charming iterations that sound a delicate single chime at the set time.

Despite this feminine focus, there were plenty of options for male watch fans to contemplate, including additions to the Geophysic and Master Control families. Standing out in particular was the Geophysic Tourbillon Universal Time – after all, it would be difficult for a 43.5mm platinum timepiece with a rotating lacquered disc, and a cut-out revealing a fl ying tourbillon, to fly under the radar.

This is the first time that Jaeger-LeCoultre has incorporated a flying tourbillon into a world-time watch (this one displays the time in 24 cities simultaneously). We love how the orbital flying tourbillon rotates around the dial every 24 hours, along with the central disc featuring a lacquered blue ocean and satin-brushed continents. This range has certainly come a long way since the introduction of the first Geophysic expedition-oriented tool watch in 1958.

17: STRIKING PRESENCE

GRANDE SONNERIE

  • Grande Sonnerie

With some of the most exceptional finishing and design details in the business, the creations by tourbillon specialists Greubel Forsey are always a sight to behold – even when the watch in question is “just” a time-only model like the Signature 1 (which, incidentally, was released in platinum this year). So you can imagine the enthusiastic response when the independent brand unveiled its first grande sonnerie at the fair.

There are several numbers that help to tell the story behind the impressive Grande Sonnerie (yes, that is its very straightforward name), Greubel Forsey’s most complicated watch to date: 11 years of development, 935 movement parts, 11 safety features (to prevent typical problems associated with time-setting while the watch is chiming) and two patents. A cathedral gong mellifluously chimes the hours and quarters when the watch is set to Grande Sonnerie mode, and it can also be used as a minute repeater to strike the time on demand.

Fans of the brand will be glad to see that it has integrated its signature Tourbillon 24 Secondes – a tourbillon inclined at 25 degrees for optimal timekeeping accuracy – into this 43.5mm titanium timepiece. After all, even though the watches look stunning without a tourbillon, there’s something about this rotating mechanism that just makes Greubel Forsey timepieces look complete.

18: THINKING DIFFERENT

EXCALIBUR QUATUOR COBALT MICROMELT

  • Excalibur Quatuor Cobalt Micromelt

As if making up for its absence of masculine statements in its women-focused offerings last year, Roger Dubuis unveiled an eye-popping collection of vibrant and unapologetically in-your-face timepieces for 2017. (We’re not saying that women can’t wear them but, frankly, with diameters hovering around 45mm or larger, these watches easily dwarf many female wrists.)

Key colours for the brand this year include bright blue and bold red. Blue PVD-coated accents and red markings distinguish the Excalibur Quatuor Cobalt Micromelt, a 48mm watch encased in the brand’s new high-performance alloy, cobalt chrome. According to the brand, this proprietary material is produced via Micromelt technology, which involves a high-tech process of melting and atomising the alloy into a fine powder before being reworked into solid hot-rolled bars.

Another novelty with eye-catching bright blue touches is the Excalibur Pirelli Spider, a novel take on the motorsport-inspired watch. Instead of a car marque, the brand partnered tyre-maker Pirelli. The rubber straps of the watch are made from tyres used by the winning cars of Formula One races in Monaco.

19: WIT AND WHIMSY

LADY ARPELS PAPILLON AUTOMATE

  • Lady Arpels Papillon Automate

For the past couple of years, Van Cleef & Arpels has captured our attention and imagination with its astronomical timepieces, such as the Midnight Planeterium – which moves at the actual speed of six planets in the Solar System. While watches like these are fairly unisex, the 2017 novelties by the jewellery and watch maison fall into decidedly feminine territory.

Set on a flower of mother of pearl, a butterfly takes centre stage in the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate, flapping its translucent enamelled wings not only on demand, but also randomly and on its own. More than just a pretty feature, the automaton is a technically challenging creation that sees the butterfly keeping pace, so to speak, with the movements of its wearer: Its wings flap more frequently when the watch is worn.

On prominent display in the Van Cleef & Arpels booth, another animated time-teller had visitors crowding around it whenever it was activated. The Automate Fee Ondine Extraordinary Object is both art piece and table clock. When activated, the large enamelled water lily leaf starts to undulate, as chimes ring out. A water lily flower blooms as the gem-set fairy lifts her head to gaze at a butterfly. If you want this made-to-order piece for the time, it’s there too. A ladybird revolves around the base, keeping track of the passing hours.

20: LIGHT SHOW

RM 50-03 MCLAREN F1

It’s not every day that you see a million-dollar watch being flung across a room, which is why everyone in the room gasped when Richard Mille brand spokesman Theodore Diehl threw the new RM 50-03 McLaren F1 to a journalist seated in the last of four rows of chairs in the room. The journalist, caught off guard like everyone else, failed to catch it. Diehl simply shrugged and reminded us of its exceptional shock-resistant qualities: “It’s been tested to 5000g, right?”

Holding the rather specific title of world’s lightest split-seconds chronograph, the RM 50-03 weighs less than 40g – a feat made possible by the use of ultra-light materials such as, for the fi rst time in watchmaking, Graph TPT (or graphene). The case is made from this high-tech composite, which is created by introducing graphene-containing resin into carbon-fibre layers.

Even more unbelievably, the split-seconds chronograph tourbillon movement has about 600 components – while weighing in at an astounding 7g. This was apparently made possible by the use of titanium and Carbon TPT (a carbon-based material) in its baseplate and bridges, and the “extreme skeletonisation” of parts. A true heavyweight in the no-holds-barred style we love about Richard Mille.

21: TOUGH LOVE

ROYAL OAK PERPETUAL CALENDAR

  • Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar

The folks at Audemars Piguet really want us to know that the black ceramic used for the case and bracelet of the latest version of the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar is much more than your typical high-tech ceramic.

While giving a short address following the brand’s press presentation, Audemars Piguet CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias took the opportunity to quiz one of the journalists: How much longer does it take to finish our black ceramic, as compared to steel? Good thing the journalist had been taking notes during the presentation and was able to answer correctly: Five times.

Unlike most ceramic watches, the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar features a mix of brushed and polished finishes. For watch buffs, the challenge of creating a brushed finish (with its characteristic fine lines) on a ceramic timepiece is obvious: This material is famously tough and highly scratch-resistant. Which explains why more than 600 hours of research went into developing the case alone. As it is, the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar is already one of the brand’s most popular models. Clad in this cool new all-black finish, we imagine it will only get hotter.

(RELATED: The 26 Best Luxury Watches of Baselworld 2016.)