The third week of January went by in a haze of activity in Geneva, the host city for the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). I would describe the event as familiar, yet genuinely superb. The halls of the Palexpo were the same: elegant and plush, with champagne, coffee and fine dining options at every corner to cater to invited guests and often-famished journalists.
There was no shortage of luxury and revelry this year, with gala dinners taking place each night, attended by celebrities like Luis Figo, Adriana Lima, Cate Blanchett, Jean Reno and Ewan McGregor. The lavish after-10pm parties, with live music, casino and cocktails, were back in full swing on The Boat, which was docked in front of the Beau Rivage Hotel at the centre of Geneva. Superb.
It’s always entertaining to see what the brands come up with when it comes to booth design. Baume & Mercier’s was like walking into a picnic at the beach, in keeping with their Hampton collection. Roger Dubuis’ was set right out of an espionage flick with laser and black lights, to match their new Pulsion line. Richard Mille’s novelty presentation was in 3-D. The one that stood out the most though, was IWC’s, with their Top Gun-inspired booth, complete with half of a real aircraft carrier with a cockpit you could get into, fog machines, radar screens and attendants in uniform. Again, quite magnificent.
As for the watches, it was a deluge of minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, tourbillions and metier d’art. Superb, yet familiar if you consider that many of them were improvements of previous collections or line extensions.
2012 has been donned the Year of the Royal Oak, which celebrates its 40th anniversary. Audemars Piguet has released several models that pay homage to the original design of the iconic watch created by Gerald Genta in 1972. The most notable of these is the limited edition Audemars Piguet Openworked Extra-Thin Royal Oak Tourbillon which boasts one of the thinnest tourbillon movements on the market, the AP Calibre 2924, which measures only 4.46mm thick. A 41mm platinum case and bracelet surrounds the slate grey dial which is skeletonised. The applied hour-markers are white gold and the hands are standard Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating. Only 40 pieces of this watch will be made.
If Audemars Piguet’s creative juices were on their diver’s helmet-inspired watches, IWC’s were on their Pilot watches. Historically, the company has made some of the most in demand pilot’s watches of the Second World War, like the Mark XI, which is one of the most expensive and highly collectable watches in the range. This year, IWC gives its collection a makeover, creating a stir with five new models from the Top Gun line.
Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar is equipped with the largest automatic movement made by IWC, with a power reserve of 168 hours. This also explains the 48mm case. The calibre 89365 found in the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar is one of the most advanced chronograph movements ever produced by IWC. It has a flyback function as well as an analogue display for stopped minutes and seconds. The new Miramar versions feature matte grey for the case, beige and red numerals on the dial and a green textile strap.
Unusually the minutes are arranged on the outer ring and the hours on the inner red ring, with the date window at 6 o’clock and the 7-day power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock.
Another big entry to watch out for, especially if you like sportswatches, is JeanRichard’s Highlands Big Life Limited Edition. At 44.5x40mm, the watch is just the right size of massive, and the PVD-coated case combined with the green bezel is stunning. The Highlands Big Life was designed in collaboration with British wildlife photographer Nick Brandt to support the Big Life Foundation, which aims to preserve the fauna and ecosystem of Africa. One of his most iconic photos, an elephant transfer, appears on the sapphire crystal caseback, throuch which one can also view the JR1000 automatic movement, which offers a 48-hour power reserve.
This year, a clear focus was on reinventing the classics, toning and paring down existing models to cater to more slender wrists, which also meant going as thin and as skeletal as possible.
Vacheron Constantin presented a new in-house calibre 2260 in the Patrimony Traditionelle series which features an astounding 14-day power reserve and a tourbillion. The Patrimony Traditionelle 14-Day Tourbillon is the first watch of the brand’s to pass the new Hallmark of Geneva criteria, which beginning June of this year will consider not only the movement but the timepiece as a whole, with criteria for the case, and tests for water resistance, functions, accuracy and power reserve.
The handwound watch comes in a 42mm 18k pink gold case with transparent sapphire crystal caseback. Within runs the in-house Calibre 2260, which allows for the hours, minutes and small seconds, and tourbillion with 14-day (approximately 336 hours) power reserve, thanks to four barrels coupled in pairs. The dial comes in silver-toned opaline, with black painted indications.
Cartier added to its iconic Tank range a new and streamlined model called the Tank Anglaise. The large version of the watch is fitted with the manufacture’s in-house automatic calibre 1904 MC, visible through the sapphire caseback. The timepiece comes in three ladies and men’s sizes in three colours of gold, with or without diamonds. It completes a trio of celebrated models, including the Tank Américaine, designed in 1987, and the bracelet-design Tank Française, launched in 1996.
Girard-Perregaux continued in its classic stance with the 1966 Minute Repeater. A 42mm case in pink gold houses the manual winding E09-0001 movement, which has hours, minutes, small seconds and a minimum of hours of power reserve. The watch features the fine finishing the brand is well-known for, with a white enamel dial, pink gold applied numerals, leaf-shaped hands and fully patterned mainplate and bridges seen through the sapphire crystal caseback.
A. Lange & Söhne presented the most complicated member of the Lange 1 family, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar, which features the company’s first rotating peripheral month ring, a one-of-a-kind design that has been registered for patent. The underside of the ring has recesses of different depths for the respective durations of each month and features an innovative mechanism to move the ring and all the calendar elements simultaneously.
The obvious difference between the Lange 1 Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar and previous similar models is that the tourbillon is at the back. Fitted with the new automatic calibre L082.1, the watch delivers a 50-hour power reserve and is available in pink gold and platinum (limited to 100 pieces).
Independent watchmaker Parmigiani also had a few tricks up its sleeve, presenting new additions to the Tonda and Kalparisma lines. One of the more striking pieces is the Tonda Retrograde Annual Calendar, fitted with a new in-house movement, the PF339 automatic, and the manufacture’s 17th to date. The 40mm watch features a retrograde date on the outer dial. The day of the week is positioned at 9 o'clock, and the month is at 3 o'clock. It offers two indications for the moon: one for the Northern hemisphere and one for the Southern hemisphere, on a subdial at 6 o’clock. The watch is offered in two versions: white gold with a black dial or red gold with a silver dial.
The influence of China was ever more present, definitely backed by sales. China is expected to overtake Japan as the largest importer of luxury goods in 2011, and was the third largest importer of Swiss-made watches in 2010. As expected, there were many dragon motif watches, mostly set in precious metals and stones, and finished with intricate hand craftsmanship. These will be in boutiques within the next few months.
While not quite as many as in previous years, there were brands that presented new concepts.
With a diameter measuring 59.2mm, Cartier’s Grand Complication Skeleton pocket watch was certainly one of the bigger announcements of the year. It features a new in-house movement with a skeleton tourbillion, monopusher chronograph, perpetual calendar, and eight-day power reserve, the calibre 9436MC. Encased in 18k white gold, the watch is the epitome of classic style with its 1930s-inspired numerals, which are part of the handwound movement. A limited edition of 10 pieces in white gold and five set with diamonds, the pocket watch comes mounted on a rock crystal obsidian base.
Jaeger-LeCoultre revealed its latest tourbillon experiment, after its award-winning Gyrotourbillon. The Duometre à Spherotourbillon is an addition to its line of watches created with the Dual-Wing concept, featuring two separate and independent mechanisms housed within a single case, one responsible for powering the time indications, and the other for driving an additional function.
The Duometre à Spherotourbillon’s compendium of indications are all fixed on the right side of the dial: there is an hour and minutes subdial with a date indicator, two power reserve indicators, for the function and the movement, and a 24-hour second time zone display with small seconds. But what draws your attention is the Spherotourbillon on the lower left side of the watch: a double-axis tourbillon, which carriages rotate at different speeds, effectively cancelling out the effects of gravity in all positions. The inner carriage is in titanium, inclined at a 20-degree angle and completing a revolution in 15 seconds. The main carriage completes a revolution in 30 seconds, so it’s really amazing to watch in action. Jaeger-LeCoultre highlights that this is a chronometer-grade watch, and the first tourbillon adjustable to the nearest second, with a flyback function that can be reset without stopping the balance wheel.
The watch is fitted with the Calibre 382 that offers reserve power of 50 hours. The 42mm Duometre a Spherotourbillon comes in an 18k rose gold case.
Speaking of tourbillions, Richard Mille presented one that really we could see through. Literally. The RM 056 Tourbillon Split Seconds Felipe Massa Sapphire is a typical high-tech Richard Mille watch, except that it’s built into a sapphire crystal case that allows you to see the inner workings of the movement from all angles. (And with a 3-D presentation it was amazing!)
A material that is next only to diamond on the Mohs hardness scale, sapphire crystal is incredibly scratch-resistant. The only downside is that you can’t drop the watch for risk of shattering, and the material is quite heavy. In fact, to offset the additional weight of the case, the movement had to be reduced by 20 per cent, requiring more than 400 new parts. The baseplate is now skeletonised and uses grade five titanium. The RM056 features a handwound tourbillion movement with hours, minutes, split-seconds chronograph, power reserve and torque and function indicators.
At Montblanc, the biggest novelty is the new TimeWriter II Chronographe Bi-Fréquence 1,000. Having established itself as a specialist in chronographs, the brand reveals a highly complicated one that can measure up to 1/1000th of a second. The watch is somehow similar to the one presented by TAG Heuer recently called the Mikrograph, except this one has a longer power reserve of 45 minutes (compared to two and a half minutes for the Mikrograph), and it’s also production ready (TAG’s was a concept watch). Plus the Bi-Frequence’s chronograph display can be read instantly, without requiring complex calculations.
The watch was developed with Spanish watchmaker Bartomeu Gomila, who devised the patented measuring device. Developed at Montblanc’s manufacture in Villeret, the watch comes in a 47mm white gold case, with a skeletonised dial and an easy-to-read dashboard-style indicator at 12 o’clock for the millennial microseconds. The Montblanc TimeWriter II Chronographe Bi-Fréquence 1,000 will be limited to 36 pieces.
There were also a couple of watchmakers, like Roger Dubuis, that presented entirely new collections. A line that highlights transparency, robustness, reliability and delicacy, Pulsion is immediately identifiable by the sapphire crystal screwed directly onto its case, enabling the hour indications to be engraved under the crystal. The flagship model is the Skeleton Flying Tourbillon, which is housed in a 44mm titanium case, and equipped with the in-house, Hallmark of Geneva calibre RD505SQ. The handwound movement beats at 21,600vph and has a 60-hour power reserve.
The company also introduced a new ladies line, called Velvet, with the first watch in 36mm black titanium watches set with amethysts and spinels intertwined like a Byzantine mosaic. If you’re thinking about giving your significant other a watch for a gift, then this is the year to do it, as there were quite a number of impressive jewellery and complicated watches for women.
There go my first picks from SIHH. Do take note that there were many other watches that deserve mention, which I am sure to bring up in future editions. This is just the beginning. Stay tuned!
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