The first opportunity watch brands had to address the current feeling of malaise was early this year at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, a lavish invitation-only event staged predominantly by Richemont’s luxe labels.
Here the first of the year’s new models were unveiled. On the door list were distributors, retailers and the media, with the five-day event attracting more than 14,500 attendees, and this time adding some fireworks to the mix.
Normally a refined affair – with brands including Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Panerai and Montblanc, along with Audemars Piguet, Greubel Forsey, Richard Mille, Piaget and Parmigiani – the organisers decided this year to give over a space vacated by Ralph Lauren timepieces to a brace of smaller independents, including MB&F, Urwerk and De Bethune. They proved to be the icing on the cake.
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Which is not quite fair, because when it comes to icing no one quite beats long-time incumbents Cartier or Piaget and their jewelled exotica. But while many of the old hands showed designs referencing the past, the newcomers revealed an often striking vision of the horological future.
That said, whether retro or radical, the result was impressive across the board, with Geneva debuting some rather special watches.
Creativity from Cartier
Cartier has been on a high-end march under its head of fine watchmaking, Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who not for nothing is known as Switzerland’s Queen of Complications. This year she did herself proud with the most complex watch Cartier has ever attempted, a “mystery” tourbillon model with its entire movement – escapement, balance wheel, gear train and barrel – invisibly geared to circle the dial every 60 minutes, the minute hand mounted on it indicating the time. The Rotonde de Cartier Astromystérieux uses a winding system of sapphire discs and comprises 408 parts framed in a 43.5mm palladium case. Just 100 will be produced, with gem-set versions an option.
Impact from IWC
A massive 55mm Big Pilot’s Heritage model limited to 100 examples heads up the IWC squadron circa 2016 and, if that’s too large, there’s also a 48mm version, limited to 1000 pieces. Inspired by a 1940s observer model, they boast vintage looks from beige markings to a glove-friendly, cone-shaped winder, although inside the weight-saving titanium cases it’s all modern technology, with eight days’ power reserve for the “smaller” model. The new Mark XVlll Pilot model is the wearable winner, spanning a happy 40mm, and giving you the look without the lard.
Audio from AP
For its part, Audemars Piguet brought along its version of its fresh complication, the Royal Oak Tourbillon Openworked, a 299-part, platinum-cased statement that reveals all up front, no need to turn the watch over: it’s a spectacular thing from any angle. AP also had on hand its Royal Oak Supersonnerie, a minute repeater (they chime the time) which is this year emerging from concept stage to reality. Patents cover the construction of tiny chiming gongs attached to a copper resonance membrane, resulting in tinkling alerts that are clearly audible across a room. There’s a tourbillon and chronograph in there too, 478 components filling the contemporary 44mm case.
Part-work from Panerai
You’re a Panerai fan? Forget the brand’s roots as an everyday tool watch, the Geneva highlight was a 47mm Panerai Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio, boasting a skeletonised movement hewn from titanium. Limited to just 150 examples, the Lo Scienziato model, as it’s called, features a hollowed-out case to even further reduce weight. The case is built up layer by layer, each 0.02mm thick, from powdered titanium. Power is provided by three barrels in series, with a reserve of six days.
Marvels from Montblanc
Pen-pal Montblanc continued its writing of horological history with wrist-works including an impressive Orbis Terrarum timepiece with 24 time zones in wrist and pocket versions, and a 4810 ExoTourbillon Slim 110 Years Edition. Yes, that’s Montblanc’s age, but the watch is decidedly fresh, thanks to a hand-painted, mother-of-pearl dial referencing either Europe, the US or Asia. The latter dial doesn’t, however, manage to extend as far south as Australia.
Legend from Lange
Serial overachiever A. Lange & Söhne also had a tourbillon triumph to show, a Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. Observers judged it the best the brand has to offer all in one package, delivering as it does a perpetual calendar, fly-back chronograph with a jumping minute counter, outsize date and that tourbillon. The latter is visible only on the reverse, meaning the look of the platinum-cased timepiece is clean and uncluttered. The 2.5-hertz movement, also visible through the case-back, is anything but, managing to accommodate a mighty 729 parts. One hundred pieces will be produced, yours for around $500,000 – but by the time you read this, expect them to have sold out.
Venerable from Vacheron
Vacheron Constantin, too, reached back at SIHH, reprising the venerable Overseas range with five new models, boasting Geneva-hallmarked movements with anti-magnetic protection, unmistakable six-sided bezels and interchangeable straps. Most impressive – and contemporary looking – was the Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar, a 41.5mm beauty in white gold, just 8.1mm thick and delivered with both a bracelet and Mississippi alligator strap.
Grace from Greubel
Greubel Forsey is known for some of the most complicated watches out there, sporting up to four tourbillons in one watch. A surprise at SIHH was the lean and graceful Signature 1, a steel-cased time-teller with not a complication in sight. Under the large, polished dial-side bridge sits not a tourbillon but the balance wheel and escapement, with a small dial for seconds and an offset one for hours and minutes. Despite its simplicity, the finesse and finishing stamp it as a highly desirable machine, albeit one with an asking price of about $200,000.
Performance from Parmigiani
Parmigiani’s Tonda Chronor Anniversaire marks the brand’s 20th anniversary and a rare achievement, the complete integration of the split-second chronograph into the movement. Chronograph mechanisms normally come in module form and are added to the timekeeping mechanism. To achieve the feat, Parmigiani’s watchmakers started with a clean sheet, ultimately choosing an unusually high frequency of 36,000 vibrations an hour to enhance accuracy. Just 25 will be made, cased in gold with a deep blue or white enamel dial.
Visionary from Van Cleef
Van Cleef & Arpels’ Midnight Nuit Lumineuse watch is a genuine watchmaking innovation, with the glittering heavens depicted on the dial actually illuminating on demand. Six diamonds punctuate the starry outline and are backlit thanks to the phenomenon of piezoelectricity. The 42mm white-gold watch contains a strip of ceramic that mechanically generates electrical energy when caused to vibrate by movement. This is used to power electroluminescent diodes, which in turn bring the diamonds to life. The show lasts about four seconds, while the passage of time is displayed on the dial via a retrograde hour hand.
Urbanity from Urwerk
What makes Urwerk’s EMC Time Hunter interesting – apart from its matt finish and cereal-box shape – is that at the press of a button the small dial in the upper left corner gives you a read-out of its amplitude and rate of precision in the range of plus-or-minus 15 seconds a day. Thanks to little controls, you can then adjust the power delivery accordingly, making it one of the most accurate – and individual – watches out there. As you might expect for $180,000-odd.
Jump-back from JLC
Jaeger-LeCoultre largely reverted to the safety of the rectangular-shaped Reverso, adapting the octogenarian design to a raft of classic men’s versions and comely female variants, the latter including a most fetching diminutive Reverso One Cordonnet, measuring 33.8mm by 16.3mm and mounted on a retro leather cord strap. Jaeger also managed to stuff its complex flying tourbillon movement into a Reverso case for the first time. Hero-ing on the dial of the Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon is a biaxial complication with two carriages, the inner rotating every 12.6 seconds, the outer once a minute. Swivelling the case reveals a 24-hour display, day-night indicator and small seconds driven by the tourbillon. Yes, complex, and just 75 are on offer.
Marvel from MB&F
Newcomer MB&F’s Horological Machine made a grand entrance at SIHH cloaked almost completely in crystal. Sapphire plates top and bottom sandwich a gold case band, while nine crystal domes – four on top, a corresponding four underneath and a large central one for a flying tourbillon – add to the exemplary view of the 475 components within. All that exposure could dry up the lubricants, so the HM6 features a retractable, semi-spherical, titanium protective shield, opened and closed by a crown at 9 o’clock. When closed, it blocks radiation from prematurely oxidising the oils in the regulator. With touches such as turbines regulating the winding, the drone-like wrist-work works like no other and – with its biomorphic shape – looks like no other.
Delight from De Bethune
De Bethune’s triumph is a complicated watch that doesn’t look it: the DB25 World Traveller, the brand’s first dual-time-zone offering. World cities are indicated on a central disc, encircled by a channel in which a tiny moving sphere indicates the applicable city for home time. The microsphere has two halves – one blue, the other pink – that flip at 6am and 6pm to flag whether it’s day or night there. Local time is displayed on the raised hour circle, and the date on the outer circle. The 45mm case is white gold.
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