Our watch editor Bani McSpedden analyses the watches revealed at the first major fair of 2016.
If January’s heart-starter, the Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie, produced the usual sparkling timepieces, it also left watch buffs wondering if the future lies in the past or with edgy brands they’re barely familiar with.
For the first time the prestigious event gave the floor not only to Richemont’s bevy of beauties – Cartier, A.Lange & Sohne, Jaeger Lecoultre, IWC and the likes, but also invited feisty independents including MB&F, Urwerk and DeBethune to strut their stuff. The result was a show dominated by the retro and the rebellious.
Inconveniences such as stalled sales in China and the arrival of the smart watch were brushed aside as tray after tray of mechanical desirables were presented to the international press and retailers. There wasn’t a connected device to be seen from the 24 brands in attendance, the biggest Geneva roll-up yet.
It wasn’t hard to separate the regulars from the freshers: the former seemed to rely on tinkering and tailoring models from the past, while the newbies seemed bent on giving us their version of the horological future.
Of course the latter don’t have such wonderful archives to raid, and let’s be honest – slick refreshes of models we’ve seen before can be a heart-warming thing. It’s also something the venerable brands have learned to do rather well.
IWC led the retro charge with a squadron of Pilots watches of varying sizes and finishes based largely on its 1940s models. The largest was a 55mm limited edition monster while the most appealing was a smaller 40mm Mark XV111 model that thankfully did away with the previous incarnation’s fussily detailed date display. An impressive update.
Audemars Piguet looked to that 1970s icon the Royal Oak, opting for smaller sizes and even yellow gold versions; Panerai buffed up designs from the 1940s and 1950s; Jaeger-LeCoultre concentrated on the octogenarian Reverso, maintaining the look even when adding a gyro tourbillon movement to one incarnation; Montblanc had a brace of pocket watches – remember them? – and Vacheron reprised that traveller’s favourite from the past, the Overseas, while also showing a beautiful rendition of its classic Patrimony.
Happily, if the designs seemed familiar, the mechanisms and finishes scaled the usual heights; these are timepieces you’d be proud to have on your wrist.
There was no such restraint from the independents, who seemingly as one have taken the past merely as a platform move on from. Inviting these rebels to show at SIHH was a masterstroke, not because what they offered was better, but because it was deliciously different. Their excursions ranged from the brilliant to the bizarre, from a sublime World Traveller by De Bethune to a liquid-driven wonder from HYT, an impossibly elegant perpetual calendar from H. Moser & Cie, to a drone-like concoction in sapphire crystal from MB&F. These aren’t pieces for the faint-wristed.
The same applies to Urwerk’s EMC Time-Hunter, a ceramic-cased slab that refreshingly takes you back to the very essence of timekeeping, namely accuracy. At the press of a button this clever machine gives you a read-out on how it’s running, its amplitude and rate of precision, after which there are little controls so you can adjust things like power delivery for optimum performance.
The Urwerk’s price of about $160,000 is a reminder that such fun is serious – which is probably the best way to sum up the horological goings-on at SIHH. Thanks to a blend of the old and the new, it was serious and it was fun.
Now we wait to see what the Baselworld fair offers watch watchers….
For a behind-the-scenes update from Bani McSpedden on all matters wristworthy, please sign up for our free weekly watch-next newsletter.