Just a few days before The Peak headed to Geneva to attend this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), news broke that the Swiss franc had been unpegged from the euro. Overnight, the value of the Swiss franc soared by some 20 per cent, meaning that Swiss luxury watches – barring price adjustments – suddenly became a lot pricier for overseas retailers.
Coupled with the market’s recent sluggishness, this wasn’t the greatest news with which to welcome the first major watch fair on the annual horology calendar, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. But you know what they say about a silver lining.
Tough times, noted Jens Henning Koch, Montblanc’s executive vice-president of marketing, mean greater impetus for brands to “create something new, meaningful, functional and of great value”. Indeed. Aside from strongly defined new ranges and movements, the fair spotlighted resolutely consumer-centred timepieces with greater, and more accessibly priced, functionality.
But the SIHH is, after all, one of horology’s biggest events, and flashes of flamboyance lit up the five-day event, which saw a total of 14,500 visitors. Always a visual treat, the Roger Dubuis booth celebrated its new openwork timepieces with larger-than-life structures modelled after their skeletonised movements.
Another perennial SIHH highlight is the IWC gala dinner, which brought along a bevy of stars – including actor Christoph Waltz, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and singer Ronan Keating – to snowy Geneva. The glamorous event embodied the sentiments of Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin artistic director and SIHH veteran of 18 years: “Watchmaking was (once the domain) of a tribe of people who loved watches. Today, it has gained great visibility in the luxury industry…and global success.”
ZEITWERK MINUTE REPEATER
Wilhelm Schmid, the CEO of A. Lange & Sohne, was in a positively ebullient mood when we met him at SIHH. “Based on the early responses here, I believe the year will be good for us – again,” he said.
After seeing its new wares, we see no reason to think otherwise. One of its star releases, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, brings together for the first time a jumping-numeral display and a decimal minute repeater. (A decimal minute repeater sounds the hours, 10-minute intervals and minutes, instead of the hours, quarters and minutes.) To ensure that “what you see is what you hear”, explains Schmid, the time indications freeze when the minute repeater is activated, and instantly jump to the correct time after the chiming stops.
(Read The Peak’s in-depth look at the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater.)
You’ll need to go deeper to see another important launch for the brand. After 20 years, the brand’s signature Lange 1 watch gets a new movement, while its dial remains unchanged. Among the changes: A larger balance wheel provides greater stability and the outsize date now jumps instantly at midnight.
CLE DE CARTIER 40MM
Cartier makes a deep impression with timepieces at two extremes: Its most complicated watch ever, and a new case shape defined by strong, clean lines.
Housing a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater and a flying tourbillon, the Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication is the most complex watch to date in the maison’s portfolio – and, even more impressively, these functions are packed in an extra-flat skeleton movement just 5.49mm thick.
The pared-down aesthetic of the new Cle de Cartier series makes just as much of an impact. Featuring a round dial in an oval case, this new shape takes its place alongside the easily recognisable forms of Cartier’s Tank (rectangular), Santos (square) and Ballon Bleu (round) families. Aside from housing a new in-house automatic movement, 1847MC, another distinguishing point of the Cle de Cartier watch is its crown, which resembles a key, and turns with a pleasing winding sound.
ROYAL OAK CONCEPT RD#1
We’ve long thought it a pity that the dulcet tones of minute repeaters can usually be heard only by its wearer – and so, apparently, did the folks at Audemars Piguet. That’s why its star release this year is the Royal Oak Concept RD#1, a minute repeater with exceptionally beautiful sound and high volume. When the brand’s reps showcased the watch, it could be heard clearly from the back of the room.
Developed using the principles of stringed instrument-making, the watch is the result of eight years of research and development. There’s more. Says the brand’s chief artistic officer, Octavio Garcia: “We’re probably going to create a standard AP minute repeater sound. In the future, we will customise the sound for clients.”
Another standout from the Le Brassus manufacture this year: The Millenary Quadrennium, which features a calendar that needs to be adjusted only once every leap year, as well as the famous Audemars Piguet escapement that requires no lubrication.
PORTUGIESER ANNUAL CALENDAR
The year 2015 brings good news for IWC fans who have long yearned for the Schaffhausen manufacture to create more proprietary movements. That’s exactly what IWC plans to do, and it’s starting with its new Portugieser – formerly known as Portuguese – collection, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year.
The new 52000 calibre family makes its debut in four new Portugieser pieces, including the Annual Calendar – IWC’s first annual calendar watch. In another first, the Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition “75th Anniversary” sees IWC introducing its patented perpetual digital calendar in the Portugieser family.
Despite (or perhaps, because of) its simplicity, we think the vintage-looking Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition “75th Anniversary” will be a major hit with fans. It takes design cues from the original Portugieser watch from the 1940s, with the addition of a date display beneath the small seconds.
MASTER GRANDE TRADITION GRANDE COMPLICATION
Few brands can match Jaeger-LeCoultre when it comes to delivering new releases as staggering in breadth as well as in depth. This year, astronomy is the central theme of its novelties – and the new pieces span the brand’s families like the Duometre, Master Grande Tradition and Rendez-Vous, extending even to its famous Atmos clock.
Janek Deleskiewicz, the brand’s artistic and design director, says: “We can do this because, over nearly two centuries, we have developed many different calibres across all categories.”
Take your pick: Aside from its signature dual gear trains and bi-axial tourbillon, the Duometre Spherotourbillon Moon features a moonphase that will remain accurate for 3,887 years. For those who prefer literally owning a piece of outer space, there’s the Master Calendar, which has a dial of meteorite rock. Our favourite is the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication, a stunner whose central attraction is a flying tourbillon that completes a counter-clockwise revolution in a sidereal day, or 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.
HERITAGE CHRONOMETRIE EXOTOURBILLON CHRONOGRAPH VASCO DA GAMA LIMITED EDITION
“We love exploration – whether it’s in a literal sense or pushing the boundaries of fine watchmaking and exploring what’s possible,” says Jens Henning Koch, executive vice-president of marketing at Montblanc. That explains why the company’s collection this year pays tribute to Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who discovered a sea route between Europe and Asia in the 15th century.
The Heritage Chronometrie collection continues Montblanc’s strategy of delivering fine timepieces at very competitive price points. An exceptional example: The Heritage Chronometrie Exotourbillon Chronograph Vasco da Gama. Firstly, the limited-edition watch scores high on aesthetics, with its subtly sparkling aventurine dial and diamond at 12 o’clock. Its complications are no less impressive: The in-house manufacture Calibre MB R230 combines a monopusher chronograph with Montblanc’s own Exotourbillon. At a suggested retail price of 45,000 euros (S$69,000), timepieces like these are making Montblanc watches a serious force to be reckoned with.
LUMINOR SUBMERSIBLE 1950 CARBOTECH
New materials and finishes are the headliners for Panerai this year. Following the introduction of the Luminor Submersible 1950 in bronze in 2010, the Italy-headquartered company now introduces the same watch in Carbotech.
The futuristic-sounding material is made by compressing sheets of carbon fibre with a high-end polymer, and is apparently lighter and stronger than titanium, as well as hypoallergenic and resistant to corrosion. What Panerai fans should really like, however, is the fact that each piece is unique, thanks to the manufacturing process that gives the material an uneven, matte appearance that varies based on how it’s cut.
Even more exclusive, however, is the 99-piece, special-edition Radiomir Firenze 3 Days Acciaio. Its 47mm brushed-steel case is fully engraved by Italian artisans, and features Florentine motifs – a fitting tribute to its newly renovated historic Florence boutique in Piazza San Giovanni.
Another year, another record: Piaget, a maison that prides itself on its mastery of ultra-thin watches, does it again with the Altiplano Chronograph. Marking the first appearance of a major complication in the Altiplano family, the Chronograph is the world’s thinnest manual flyback chronograph timepiece. The slender timepiece has a mere thickness of 8.24mm, an achievement made possible by the ultra-thin 883P manufacture movement.
Prefer something more complicated but just as streamlined? We love the look of the Emperador Coussin Tourbillon Skeleton, which is powered by an inverted openwork movement that puts its off-centred micro-rotor in full view. With a white gold or pink gold case just 8.85mm thick, this timepiece has also chalked up one for the books: It’s apparently the world’s thinnest tourbillon automatic skeleton watch.
EXCALIBUR SPIDER SKELETON DOUBLE FLYING TOURBILLON
An oft-mentioned point of pride at Roger Dubuis is that it is the only manufacture to have all its watches Geneva Seal-certified. This means that all its movement finishings satisfy the quality seal’s rigorous standards – and that creating an entire collection dedicated to the art of skeletonisation made perfect sense.
Elaborating on its Astral Skeleton theme for this year, the brand’s director of movement development, Gregory Bruttin, mused: “The special thing about the constructors at Roger Dubuis is that we decorate all the parts. Before, we were frustrated because the movements are very beautiful, but we put a dial on them and hid them.”
The new skeletons conceal nothing, particularly in the case of the Excalibur Spider series, where just about everything – including the case, flange and hands – is openwork. Offering a feminine twist on things, the Excalibur Broceliande models feature ivy vines (made of semi-precious stones) entwined around the skeletonised movements. Clearly, the last thing you’d want to do is to keep these skeletons in the closet.
TOURBILLON 24 SECONDES VISION
Those familiar with Greubel Forsey’s highly complicated timepieces might be surprised by the high-end independent watchmaker’s latest release. While pieces like its GMT watch – presented this year in new finishes like black ADLC-coated titanium, and in a platinum case with a red gold movement – feature a multiplicity of elaborate functions, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision is a study in classical minimalism.
Well, almost. Designed with the intention of fitting the brand’s unique inclined tourbillon into as slender a case as possible, the Vision incorporates a dome into the sapphire crystal caseback. On the dial, a cutout at nine o’clock gives the wearer a view of the tourbillon, and brings the arched lower tourbillon bridge into focus.
This bridge apparently takes so much skill to polish perfectly that each one is signed (discreetly, of course) by the artisan who finished it. Even more evidence of Greubel Forsey’s dedication to perfection: The indexes are not applied, but engraved on the solid gold dial, and then enamelled.
HARMONY ULTRA-THIN GRANDE COMPLICATION CHRONOGRAPH
This year, Vacheron Constantin enters its 260th year of continuous operation, an achievement no other brand can lay claim to. To mark the occasion, the maison launched its Harmony collection, comprising four chronograph watches and three dual-timers. The series includes four new manufacture calibres, housed in a cushion-shaped case inspired by a Vacheron Constantin chronograph watch from 1928.
Setting a new world record for the thinnest automatic split-seconds movement and case, the Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph packs plenty into a platinum case just 8.4mm thick. The Caliber 3500 split-seconds chronograph movement houses several innovations: The clutch system, for instance, was designed to optimise the smooth running of the chronograph seconds hand, while its peripheral rotor automatically stops when the watch is fully wound. Looking at the vintage-style dial, you might not guess that such advancements lay beneath – but that is, perhaps, exactly the point.
TONDA 1950 SQUELETTE
How do you lighten one of the thinnest automatic movements on the market? By skeletonising it, of course. Parmigiani Fleurier makes a big statement with two new openwork editions of its popular ultra-thin Tonda 1950, placing its in-house PF705 movement centre stage.
While the movement is a svelte 2.6mm thick and 30mm in diameter, some 127 internal angles can be found on the openwork mainplate and bridges – which is why each movement requires 40 hours of decorative work. All this is shown off to maximum effect through the transparent sapphire dial of the men’s version, but we are also fans of the women’s model, which has a frosted dial that creates a translucent veil over the movement.
As refined but a lot more rugged, three gold timepieces honour the 10th anniversary of the manufacture’s tie-up with Bugatti. Inspired by the car’s hood and engine, the Parmigiani Bugatti Mythe features a novel, horizontally arranged movement that can be viewed through sapphire crystal windows at the top and sides of the watch.