Usually a rarefied space for industry folk to get acquainted with the latest luxury watch launches while swigging champagne, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva seemed to be tinged by an underlying frisson of caution this year.
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When we sat down for a chat with Wilhelm Schmid, the ever-dapper and usually unflappable CEO of A. Lange & Sohne shared: “Quite frankly, I cannot recall a year when the world was in bigger uncertainty, since I started (at Lange). We are a tiny company producing a few thousand watches a year, so it doesn’t bite us as quickly as it bites others. But this uncertainty adds an additional complexity to maintaining relationships with our business partners, customers and journalists.”
There were also other signs of caution. For the first time since the inception of the SIHH, its traditional boat party – a floating after-hours club for members of the media and guests of the brands – was nowhere to be found.
After all, the numbers speak for themselves. Last November saw Swiss watch exports fall below 2 billion Swiss francs (S$2.8 billion) for the first time in five years. With the global economy looking shaky, coupled with social and political troubles occurring in different parts of the world, it is clear that the boom times are over – at least for now.
Which might explain why the exhibitors and organisers at the SIHH made a concerted effort to reach out to new audiences this year. Several brands made obvious overtures to the female watch buyer. At Roger Dubuis, for instance, the skeleton and mechanical decorative themes of recent years made way for evening gown-clad mannequins, complementing the brand’s launch of five new women’s timepieces.
And then, there were the independent brands. For the first time, nine independent brands, including the likes of Urwerk, MB&F and H. Moser, showed their new wares within the SIHH. This can only be a good thing. After all, which conglomerate- owned brand is going to come up with a spaceship-like watch topped with sapphire glass domes (like MB&F), or create a timepiece with its own accuracy- checking device (a la Urwerk)? In a conservative industry, a little crazy can go a long way.
01: The Great Evolution – A Lange & Sohne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon
A. Lange & Sohne CEO Wilhelm Schmid has a tip for anyone trying to spot a counterfeit Lange timepiece: “Turn the watch over. If you’re not amazed by what you see, it’s probably a fake.” He was referring to the exceptional finish and construction of the brand’s watch movements, but the dials of its timepieces can be just as stunning (bearing in mind that most Lange watch faces feature subtle, rather than blatantly striking, designs).
A perfect recent example is the manufacture’s SIHH highlight, the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. Featuring one of the world’s first premium in-house chronograph movements when it was originally launched in 1999, the Datograph remains a grail watch for many collectors. Its latest iteration looks set to continue this tradition. Fronted by a classical yet sporty black dial made of solid silver, the Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon includes a perpetual calendar with instantaneously jumping perpetual calendar indications, as well as a tourbillon that is visible only through its sapphire caseback. A hundred pieces of the 41.5mm platinum timepiece will be made.
02: SUPERSONIC – Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie
At last year’s edition of the SIHH, Audemars Piguet reps impressed us duly with their demonstration of the Royal Oak Concept RD#1, a minute repeater whose sound clearly rang out to the back of the small auditorium in which we were seated. (Which is no mean feat, considering that most minute repeaters can usually be heard clearly only in a small, quiet room.)
One year on, the brand has not only released the watch as a commercial piece – now called the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie – but has also lifted the lid on the secrets behind the extraordinary sound of this sporty-looking number, thanks to the granting of patents that were pending at this time last year.
Taking eight years to develop, the construction of the Supersonnerie is inspired by that of a musical instrument. One key feature, for example, is a layer beneath the movement that functions like the soundboard of an acoustic guitar. Instead of being attached to the mainplate – which would absorb and hence reduce the sound – the gongs are fixed to this soundboard, upping sound quality and volume.
03: Master of Mystery – Cartier Rotonde De Cartier Astromysterieux
Traditionalists tend to have a soft spot for watch brands that specialise solely in the making of timepieces. Our view, however, is that luxury houses with a dual portfolio of watches and jewellery have an edge when it comes to imbuing their timepieces with poetic whimsy.
Just consider Cartier’s High Watchmaking headliner, the Astromysterieux. It is the newest incarnation of Cartier’s signature mystery displays. In the early 20th century, this first took the form of mystery clocks bearing hour and minute hands seemingly suspended in mid-air. Led by the brand’s head of movement creation, Carole Forestier- Kasapi, the design team has explored this theme with stunning creations like the Mysterious Double Tourbillon.
In the Astromysterieux, the entire watch movement – which includes a tourbillon – rotates around a central axis, together with the minute hand. While it is now common knowledge that mystery displays are actually mounted on clear sapphire discs (the Astromysterieux has four of them), it doesn’t make it easier to figure out questions such as: How does one wind the manual watch, with no visible connection between the crown and mainspring barrel? (Short answer: A specially developed system features a floating pinion that links the barrel and crown only during winding.)
04: On the Rise – IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph
Each year, IWC casts the spotlight on one of its watch families. Upon entering the brand’s booth this year, walking under the shadow of an actual World War II-era Supermarine Spitfire plane suspended overhead, it became clear which range would be the centre of attention. For 2016, the Pilot’s Watch series gets a facelift, with novelties ranging from 36mm automatic models to a 55mm heritage Big Pilot’s watch.
Standing out with its busy dial, the Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph has a time display that is adjusted by turning its bezel – the first of its kind. The city ring, featuring the names of different cities representing international time zones, can be turned only by pressing down on two opposing sides. This prevents the time zone from being accidentally reset.
Elsewhere, an addition to the brand’s popular Little Prince-themed pieces – tributes to the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – offers a discreetly playful take on time. On the front of the Big Pilot’s Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”, legible month, date and day displays sit alongside the time, small seconds and seven-day power-reserve indicator. On the back lies a whimsical self-winding mechanism: A solid red-gold rotor is sculpted in the form of the Little Prince standing atop a planet.
05: Forward Motion – Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon
He might have spent more than 25 years at Jaeger-LeCoultre, but the brand’s artistic and design director, Janek Deleskiewicz, never rests on his creative laurels – especially when it comes to an 85-year-old icon like the Reverso. In a private room at the Jaeger-LeCoultre booth, he said with a wry smile: “I don’t sleep every day, saying, ‘Okay, we have the Reverso.’ We try to (develop) evolutions of these watches all the time.”
This is certainly proven in spades by its SIHH star (and one of our firm favourites of the fair), the Reverso Gyrotourbillon. The in-house Calibre 179 features a streamlined new construction that makes Jaeger-LeCoultre’s signature bi-axial tourbillon appear to be “flying”, and reduces the watch’s volume by about 40 per cent, compared to the last Reverso Gyrotourbillon. This subtraction of material and its airy new architecture simply multiply the allure of the mechanism.
On the other side of this Reverso’s reversible case, an openworked second dial reveals more of the movement and its finely engraved bridges. Seventy- five pieces of this platinum beauty will be made.
06: In The Clear – MB&F HM6 Space Pirate Sapphire Vision
MB&F is a brand that polarises opinion. Several collectors we know are rabid fans. Then there are the detractors: Last year, brand founder Max Busser shared that an online commenter had described his spaceship-like HM6 watch as “fugly”. MB&F’s new launch will probably evoke even stronger emotions. The HM6 Space Pirate SV (Sapphire Vision) goes see-through with a case comprising 11 sapphire crystals, and a case band in either red gold or platinum.
07: Full Control – Urwerk Electro Mechanical Control
We’re pretty sure the guys at Urwerk designed its EMC – or Electro Mechanical Control – watch for people like themselves: horological obsessives who have long yearned to monitor and adjust the accuracy of their timepieces themselves. Now, Urwerk takes this level of watch-nerdiness to the next level with the Time Hunter, which also lets you check the amplitude of the balance wheel. Available in two titanium cases – untreated or coated with green ceramic (our choice).
08: One of a Kind – Kari Voutilainen GMT-6 (Platinum)
In the independent watch scene, there are brands – and then there are the master watchmakers whose hands craft every watch that bears their name. Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen belongs firmly in the latter group. The watchmaker showed a new unique version of his GMT-6 watch in platinum, featuring an intricate guilloche dial finished in blue and red enamel.
09: Remaking History – Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days GMT Automatic
In uncertain times, the familiar can be comforting, which may explain why Panerai looked back into its archives for many of its launches for the year.
Its latest Radiomir 1940 GMT watches, powered by the new calibres P.4001 (automatic) and P.4002 (automatic with power reserve indicator), feature dials engraved with clous de Paris or vertical lines. Minimalist in style yet impactful – very Panerai indeed – these dial designs were inspired by the watches created during the brand’s relaunch in 1997.
Elsewhere, the brand went unabashedly heavy on nostalgia: Housed in either a Radiomir 1940 or Luminor 1950 case, two heritage-inspired models feature brown-grey faces, emulating the “tropical” dials of vintage watches faded by sunlight. Also paying tribute to its biggest (figuratively, although perhaps literally as well) celebrity fan, Sylvester Stallone, Panerai will release a two-watch set based on pieces commissioned by the action-hero icon in the 1990s.
10: Powers Combined – Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P
Even four decades after the quartz crisis that crippled the Swiss mechanical watch industry, the latter still has an uneasy relationship with quartz movements – systems regulated by an electrically powered, vibrating crystal. With the exception of jewellery watches, quartz movements are seldom used in luxury timepieces.
Which is what makes the Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P that much more fascinating. Marking the 40th anniversary of the Calibre 7P, Piaget’s slimmest quartz movement, the 700P combines a mechanical movement with a quartz regulator. This gives the watch the indubitable accuracy of quartz watches – matched with the peerless beauty of hand-finished mechanical components.
Demonstrating its prowess as a jeweller as well, Piaget gives one of our recent favourite models a (literally) brilliant upgrade. The Altiplano 900P, the world’s thinnest mechanical watch launched last year, now becomes the diamond-encrusted Altiplano 900D. Thanks to the 733 diamonds that cover just about every conceivable surface of the watch, it gains a couple of millimetres in thickness, which bling lovers will no doubt consider a worthwhile trade-off.
11: Velvet Revolution – Roger Dubuis Black Velvet
These days, it’s not in vogue – whether in watches or fashion – to ask if a certain design is intended for men or women. After all, who’s to say men can’t wear diamonds or a female watch buyer can’t adorn her wrist with a 45mm chronograph?
At Roger Dubuis, however, there was no such all-bases-covered vagueness. For the brand, this is the Year of the Velvet Diva. Mannequins, clad in flowing gowns, were positioned along the red-carpeted interior of the Roger Dubuis booth, leaving no doubt as to which gender the brand’s latest designs are intended for.
Five new models were introduced in its Velvet line of women’s watches, which are all powered by mechanical movements. In the Black Velvet, shown on this page, a monobloc carbon case provides a coolly tough contrast to what might have otherwise been just another pretty gem-set watch. In a patented process, Paraiba tourmalines are set into its carbon bezel and decorative lugs. Movement-wise, the technical star of the new pieces is the Velvet Secret Heart, which features a double-retrograde jumping date display.
12: Mark of Excellence – Greubel Forsey Signature 1
For most brands, making complicated watches with an exceptional hand finishing is a way of making a statement. For Greubel Forsey, maker of exotic tourbillon watches finished to exacting standards by hand, things work the other way round. This year, the independent brand stunned visitors with a time-only watch – which will also be available in (gasp) steel, instead of its usual precious metals.
Taking the brand’s “entry-level” price to a mere 150,000 Swiss francs (S$214,000) – that is, in comparison to its last starting price of 298,000 Swiss francs, as reported by Bloomberg – the Signature 1 marks a new project for the brand. It “combines simplicity and extreme sophistication”, said a Greubel Forsey rep, who went on to explain that this new series would see the brand working with a different watchmaker on each model.
The “extreme sophistication” is plain to see on the Signature 1, a 41.4mm watch that was six years in the making. The finishing is top-notch as always: The wheel and bridge of its exclusive balance wheel system are black-polished, its dial features engraved and enamelled indicators, and wide, delicate Geneva stripes decorate a bridge behind the dial. We almost don’t miss the tourbillons. Almost.
13: Made in the Shades – Hautlence Vortex Primary
Nineteen differently coloured glass panels go into the making of each Vortex Primary, the Hautlence novelty created together with former footballer, and now actor and avid art collector Eric Cantona. The stained glasslike panels, made of different materials like red ruby and blue spinel, provide beautiful windows into the HLR2.0 movement, distinguished chiefly by its rotating escapement (arranged at the bottom of the watch).
14: Light Show – Laurent Ferrier Galet Square Boreal
Having first waded into more accessible waters with its first steel-cased offering, Laurent Ferrier now enters sportier territory with pieces like the Galet Square Boreal. Driven by an in-house automatic movement with a silicon escapement, the Galet Square Boreal marks the first time the brand is making use of Superluminova. In beige or green, the lume accents the watch’s hands and sector- dial markings.
15: In The Balance – HYT H2 Tradition
Not too long ago, HYT CEO Vincent Perriard told us that when you have a far-out time-telling system like HYT’s liquid-based time displays, you sometimes need to balance it out with the familiar. That’s exactly what HYT does with the HYT H2 Tradition, where a fluorescent liquid-filled, time-indicating capillary shares real estate with classic fine-watch-making details like guilloche plates and white lacquered dials.
16: Looking Within – Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Chronor Anniversaire
In this marketing-saturated age, it is not uncommon to see watch brands celebrate milestones with special editions chiefly comprising cosmetic celebratory touches. So, it says quite a bit about Parmigiani Fleurier that it marked its 20th anniversary with a design focusing on what goes on inside.
In making the new PF361 calibre of the Tonda Chronor Anniversaire, the manufacture’s movement makers set out to create an integrated chronograph, as opposed to a modular movement – where base calibres are equipped with an additional chronograph module. As the brand explains on its website: “Each element had to be integrated to the movement and restricted to a single mainplate.”
Upping the difficulty level of this challenge, the watch is not just a regular chronograph, but one with split-seconds functionality (which means a user can simultaneously record two elapsed times). And, as if to remove any doubt that the movement is the raison d’etre of this watch, the manufacture decided to craft it entirely from gold.
17: Big Boys’ Toys – Richard Mille RM 50-02 ACJ Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph
Planes, pens and some pretty insane watches – these are the kind of big boys’ toys that make the Richard Mille universe turn. The brand might have showcased just three novelties at SIHH (two timepieces, as well as a carbon-encased, mechanically powered fountain pen featured elsewhere in this issue), but each made plenty of impact in its own way.
Manned by receptionists dressed in retro-futuristic pastel aircrew uniforms, the booth’s highlight was the million-dollar RM 50-02 ACJ, a watch created in collaboration with Airbus Corporate Jets. As fate would have it, Richard Mille’s signature tonneau case lends itself well to being styled like a curved cabin window, especially when topped by a white ceramic bezel.
That’s just for starters. There are so many other plane-inspired details here, you half expect this tourbillon-equipped split-seconds chronograph to lift off on its own. For the first time, an RM watch foregoes the brand’s distinctive case screws, using instead tiny versions of Airbus’ tension screws. Movement parts, mostly made from titanium, are coated with the anti-corrosion material used in Airbus planes. Parts of the watch are also styled to resemble parts of the aviation company’s jets – such as its wheel-like crown. Coupled with a palette of zesty colours, it’s a quirkily appealing redefinition of the aviation watch.
18: A Little Racy – Baume & Mercier Capeland Shelby Cobra 1963
Even as its fellow SIHH exhibitors sought to entice fairgoers to their booths with resounding minute repeaters, jumping-indicator perpetual calendars and even the odd airplane, Baume & Mercier carried on doing what it does best: offer perfectly serviceable, nicely made watches at prices that won’t raise any eyebrows.
Continuing to build up its vintage- inspired Clifton collection, the brand introduces the Clifton Chronograph Complete Calendar this year. Powered by the Valjoux 7751 calibre, the 43mm steel watch features two useful complications – a chronograph and day/ date/moonphase indicators – in one elegant package.
But for those who find the former just a bit, well, boring – there are the snazzier Capeland Shelby Cobra chronographs, the latest additions to a collaborative collection that began last year. Created as a tribute to the Shelby AC Cobra racing cars, the two additions to the collection this year come in two versions (in steel or black ADLC-coated steel). Bright yellow accents and the Cobra- head logo on the chronograph seconds hand make for the most immediately arresting details, alongside other touches such as dashboard-inspired chronograph subdials.
19: Music To Our Ears – Christophe Claret Soprano
With their brightly lacquered hands and strong lines, the Soprano minute repeaters by Christophe Claret look almost sporty to us. But make no mistake, the three new Soprano models are the latest additions to a series exemplifying classic haute horlogerie: A sixty-second tourbillon is brought together with a minute repeater that delivers a Westminster chime via four cathedral gongs and four hammers.
20: Worldly Wonder – De Bethune DB25 World Traveller
We like that De Bethune left out the usual world-map motif when creating its first world-timer, the DB25 World Traveller. Instead, it went with an easy-to-read concentric arrangement with different cities, representing various time zones, indicated on a disc in the centre of the dial. Around this is a groove, in which lies a tiny ball. Half pink and half blue, it serves as a home time and day/ night indicator.
21: Of the Essence – H. Moser Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Concept
Last year, H. Moser – a brand always quick with a horological joke – unveiled its Concept watch, which explored the notion of branding-free simplicity with a dial devoid of markings. Marking the 10th anniversary of its award-winning perpetual calendar (where the hour markers double as month indicators), the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Concept sees the addition of a power reserve indicator and the subtraction of a good deal else – such as the hour indicators and even its logo.
22: Across the Universe – Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Nuit Lumineuse
Two years ago, we fell in love with the tiny universe contained within the speckled aventurine dial of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Midnight Planetarium, which tracks the movements of six Solar System planets in real time. As a follow-up act to its 2014 hit, the brand presents another beautiful watch inspired by the cosmos, the Midnight Nuit Lumineuse.
Housed in a 42mm white gold case, the aventurine dial features a miniature painting of the Unicorn constellation, with diamonds representing the stars. What really takes this tableau to the next level are the LED lights that illuminate six of the diamonds from underneath when you press the pusher at eight o’clock.
And, no, the lights are not powered by batteries – how unpoetic would that be? Instead, a fine ceramic blade creates a current when the movement causes it to vibrate, thanks to a phenomenon known as the piezoelectric effect. Oh, and just in case you wanted to know the time as well, this is shown via a retrograde hour indicator on the left of the dial.
23: Elevating the Everyday – Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph
Receiving its weight in attention when it was unveiled last year, Vacheron Constantin’s mammoth 57-complication Ref. 57260 pocket watch is an extreme example of the type of timepieces the brand tends to be associated with: complicated, classic in styling, and not something that one would break out on any old day.
Which is where the Overseas collection comes in. First launched in 1996 and revamped in 2004, the Overseas series is regarded by many as one of the great iconic luxury sports watches, right up there in the luxury sports watch Hall of Fame together with the Royal Oak and Nautilus. This year, the world’s longest-running manufacture overhauls its sporty family with a more streamlined and integrated design, creating five new models and three new in-house movements.
Powered by Calibre 5200, a column-wheel chronograph movement, the Overseas Chronograph – especially the version with the rich blue dial – was the standout hit. Available in steel or pink gold, the 42.5mm watch, like the other new models, also comes with easily interchangeable alligator or rubber straps, and a steel bracelet.
24: Around the World – Montblanc 4810 Twinfly Chronograph
The urban contemporary professional: This is the imaginary client that Montblanc creative director Zaim Kamal, together with his team, had in mind when he joined the brand nearly three years ago. This figure is a representation of the modern Montblanc customer, and the way he lives and works.
Zaim elaborated: “He travels a lot, which is why we worked a lot on time-zone watches.” So it made sense that one of the top attractions from Montblanc, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, was the Twinfly Chronograph from the 4810 collection.
Juxtaposing straight and wavy lines in one distinctive package, the Twinfly Chronograph features dual time displays, as well as a flyback chronograph. The world-map subdial at 12 o’clock shows the home time on a 24- hour ring incorporating a day/ night indicator. The watch, which is Kamal’s top pick as well, features the new automatic calibre MB LL100.1, and incorporates a column-wheel chronograph with a flyback function.