RETHINKING LUXURY. As currency volatility threatens to upset the world of fine timepieces, the industry’s most exclusive trade show rediscovers the timelessness of high watchmaking
The 25th anniversary sculpture
Some had predicted that none of this year’s major watch fairs would start off as exuberant as they could have been, as thunderclouds seemed to gather at the periphery of the industry. At the Baselworld, the rising specter of smartwatches—particularly the highly anticipated Apple Watch—had some worrying about a second Quartz Crisis. At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, it was something a bit more complex but also much too real.
The Roger Dubuis booth
GLOOM ON OPENING DAY
A couple of days before the 25th SIHH opened its doors, the Swiss National Bank changed the valuation of the Swiss Franc against the Euro and other currencies. In the blink of an eye, the value of the Swiss Franc jumped by 20 percent. And just as sudden, the buying power of watch retailers and collectors from all over the globe dropped by just as much. Amid rumors of dropped orders, brands under the Richemont group along with several other participating names decided to hold off on introducing many new models. To be fair, it was a smart tactical decision and not exactly unexpected in the conservative luxury industry.
“The fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Calendar Meteorite Dial is made from one meteorite puts it at a level beyond limited edition”
Still, while many brands eventually echoed the “we will have a major announcement later in the year” line, they did not come to this year’s SIHH empty-handed, nor did they fail to whet the appetites of watch connoisseurs the world over, especially those with extra deep pockets. Perhaps, in a way, SIHH 2015 felt much more like a serious luxury trade show, with limited items on show and astronomical prices.
The Montblanc booth
Overall, several major themes were prevalent at what was arguably the most exclusive watch fair of 2015. First and foremost, gold is back. And by gold, we mean beyond the more common (and some would say “safe”) white gold, but a return to yellow gold, the more contemporary rose gold, along with plenty of watches bearing a two-tone finish. There was also a noticeable lack of bulky divers and sport watches, as smaller, classic designs dominated the show. This subtle elegance also manifested itself in the way each brand set up their respective booths. IWC’s, for example, felt like an upscale hotel lobby—definitely a far cry from some of the brand’s more ostentatious exhibits, such as in 2012 when it basically recreated the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Palexpo convention center.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SHOW
And speaking of IWC, no brand embodied the “back to classics” vibe quite like it and the brand’s own fresh take on its storied Portugieser line. A clear favorite was the Hand-Wound Eight Days “75th Anniversary.” This limited-edition timepiece featured a wealth of elements, inspired directly by the very first Portugieser from 1939: There is the iconic railroad track dial along with a small seconds subdial. Besides being a lovely homage to IWC’s legacy, it was also a strong response to all the critics who felt that the brand has lost touch with its core principles by shifting its focus to celebrities as well as extra-large watches. True, the 43mm case of the 75th Anniversary model might sound rather large-ish; but it is actually the exact same size as its ancestor. Besides, it wasn’t the largest watch at SIHH 2015.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar Meteorite Dial
The title of “largest watch case at SIHH 2015” sits squarely in the hands of Panerai and its Mare Nostrum Titanio. On the one hand, Panerai is rather well known for its giant watches, but, at 52mm, the Mare Nostrum Titanio is in a league of its own—especially when you consider that the wide blank bezel further accentuates its already considerable size. On the other hand, this is a faithful 21st-century recreation of the original WWII-era Mare Nostrum (which is Latin for “our sea”) designed for Italian naval deck officers of the time. There have been a few reissues of this watch in the past couple of decades, but none have captured the spirit of the seagoing timekeeper like the limited edition Mare Nostrum Titanio—which, as the name suggests, has a case made of titanium. While this does make the watch sit easier on the wrist, don’t expect that it will fit easily under the sleeves of a suit jacket. Then again, one does not go sailing around the Mediterranean while wearing a suit, right?
The Piaget booth
With the colossi of SIHH out of the way, it’s time to head over to the booths of those presenting the aforementioned “smaller, classic designs.”
If Panerai is the master of giants, then Piaget is the champion of ultra-thin timepieces. Last year, it made waves with the Altiplano 900P—the thinnest mechanical watch ever made. This year, the brand continues its tradition of wedging dozens of tiny parts into narrow spaces with the Altiplano Chronograph. At a mere 8.25 millimeters, it is, by far, the thinnest mechanical flyback chronograph in existence. Even then, the brand’s engineers have found a way to cram in an additional subdial to display a second time zone. Furthermore, the watch’s minimal size is enhanced by minimalist aesthetics. The dial is stark white with markers and hands in the form of simple black lines. The clear case back, however, gives us a glimpse of the finely crafted movement running the show.
When exquisite movements meet exotic materials, however, another kind of magic happens. Such is the case with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s SIHH highlight, which literally came from the stars. We’re talking, of course, about the Master Calendar Meteorite Dial. Yes, the dials for these watches are slices of a meteorite found in Sweden. Besides the obvious cool factor of having a piece from a fallen star on your wrist, the fact that these dials are made from that one meteorite puts that watch model at a level beyond limited edition and ensures that no two watches bear identical dials.
But Jaeger-LeCoultre is also known as the “watchmaker’s watch company,” and that distinction is perhaps better represented by the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. Say what you will about the awkward naming, but the sheer horological brilliance contained in this one timepiece definitely deserves to be called “grand” twice. Take, for instance, the sidereal orbital tourbillon that makes a complete rotation around the dial each day, but in sidereal time (which differs slightly from the normal 24-hour cycle we normally use). Along with several other astronomical complications, this tourbillion gives us a new way to enjoy Jaeger-LeCoultre’s tried-and-true movement caliber 945.
The Audemars Piguet booth
As a matter of fact, many of this year’s crowd pleasers are based on existing movements and are technically “line extensions” featuring minor updates. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. Case in point would be the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self-Winding. Now, this watch has changed little since its debut way back in 1972 and is essentially the iconic Royal Oak in a 41mm case that is mostly steel. It does, however, come with an 18K rose gold bezel and two small rows of gold inner links on its bracelet. Two-tone watches aren’t exactly new, and the Royal Oak has been offered in this color combination back in the’70s. However, nobody really thought that this trend would make such a well-received comeback anytime soon.
“The IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound 8 Days ‘75th Anniversary’ was a strong response to critics who felt the brand has lost touch with its principles”
But perhaps the grandest—and arguably the most significant—comeback happened for A. Lange & Söhne. The German brand did have a new offering that did become a much talked-about piece as the year went on; but a much more, shall we say, “endearing” offering from the German brand is the Lange 1. This watch was part of the first collection rolled out by the company after its post-Cold War restoration. As the company was still struggling at the time, some components were outsourced—a fact that sat heavily with the watchmaker. At this year’s SIHH, however, the Lange 1 was reintroduced with a new movement crafted completely in-house. Furthermore, it was the brand’s 50th in-house caliber and coincides with the 200th birthday of Ferdinand Adolph Lange, the founder of A. Lange & Söhne.
IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition “75th Anniversary”
THE CLOCK STRIKES TWELVE
And on that note, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie of 2015 closed its doors. It was quite some time before the ripples from the currency shake-up eventually settled down. Even today, the Swiss National Bank is still trying to stabilize the franc. But did it really affect the world of haute horlogerie? This year’s SIHH felt, without doubt, rather lacking as everybody adopted a play-it-safe approach. Yet, this year’s event also gave us a taste of what classical luxury is all about: Stately elegance instead of exuberance; timelessness instead of fast-paced progress. Sometimes, rewinding the clock is not such a bad thing.