It might be the era of the smartwatch but luxury timepieces prevail. Strap yourself in for 2016’s top contenders, from classic and complicated to sporty and sleek. By Bani McSpedden.
The second of the year’s two big watch fairs has wrapped up in Switzerland, giving us a view of the finery – and fashion – in store for our wrists. The conclusion?
Be it cosmetics or cog work, the appeal of mechanical watches has never been stronger.
It’s at the giant Swiss fairs – the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, followed by Baselworld in Basel – that the bulk of the world’s watch brands showcase their new wares to retailers from around the globe.
Attendees also include several thousand journalists and, in the case of Baselworld, more than 140,000 members of the public.
That’s a lot of enthusiasts and what they got to see this year were hundreds of new models that should satisfy the most jaded customer and, the industry hopes, stem the advancing tide of smartwatches and wrist-borne connected devices.
The SIHH is predominantly the domain of the marques in the Richemont Group – namely Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, Piaget, Panerai and Montblanc – with the addition of Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Greubel Forsey and, in a first this year, a feisty bunch of invited independents.
While the latter injected a much-needed dose of creativity to the proceedings, the established brands turned to the past to bring us reinterpretations – and capture the allure – of old favourites.
There was Jaeger-LeCoultre with a fresh “Reverso Classic”, barely distinguishable from previous examples although augmented with a “Reverso” model that accommodated a complex gyro-tourbillon mechanism.
IWC dipped into its drawers of pilot designs – a category in which it has fine form – and didn’t disappoint, showing not only giant 55-millimetre versions of the “Big Pilot” but also the handy “Mark XVIII”, weighing in at a reduced 40 millimetres and boasting a more no-nonsense, cleaned-up dial.
Vacheron Constantin joined the push, relaunching its well-liked “Overseas” range, which started life as the “222” model in 1977. The 2016 take boasts enhanced internals, sleek profiles and an interchangeable bracelet and straps. It’s Vacheron’s sportiest offering yet and competed for attention with the new “Patrimony”, our pick for classic simplicity.
Audemars Piguet’s heroes were also informed by the 1970s, with freshened “Royal Oak” versions that, at a glance, could have come from the original catalogue. One exception? An extraordinary “Royal Oak” minute-repeater model. Launched as a concept last year, it’s now a reality, with chimes that can be heard across a room.
What really chimed, though, was a new range from Cartier, the “Drive de Cartier”, a resolutely men’s watch with a distinctive cushion-like case shape that wouldn’t look out of place on the female wrist. The “Drive” comes in three versions: the first, a simple time-teller (with an approachable price tag of less than $10,000); the second with another time zone and day/night indicator; and the third with a flying tourbillon.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre “Reverso Classic” (left) and Cartier “Drive de Cartier” (right).
Not that Cartier could resist complicating things. In the stunning “Rotonde de Cartier Astromystérieux”, the movement itself circles the dial every 60 minutes. A. Lange & Söhne also had a complicated stand-out with the “Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon”, which will likely sell out despite its eye-watering price.
Cartier also had treats for women, ranging from exotically jewelled creations to a new line, the “Hypnose”, a chic platform for diamonds with accents in black lacquer.
Other brands adding dash, dazzle and diamonds to their Geneva delicacies included Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels. Creativity of a mechanical kind was largely left to the aforementioned independents, newly invited exhibitors that included MB&F, De Bethune, Urwerk and H. Moser & Cie (all are available in Australia – the first three at The Hour Glass, the latter at Hardy Brothers).
Urwerk showed the “EMC Time Hunter”, a ceramic-cased machine that at the press of a button gives you a readout of its amplitude and rate of precision, with little controls so you can adjust things if need be.
The Cartier “Rotonde de Cartier Astromystérieux” (left) and Urwerk showed the “EMC Time Hunter” (right).
De Bethune showed a white-gold-cased “World Traveller” model with a beautiful finish and a microsphere marking the second time display. H. Moser & Cie did the opposite with a white-gold perpetual calendar that strips everything back to a minimum, while MB&F – which showed at both Geneva and Basel – unveiled the kind of eye-popping wrist-machinery it’s known for: cogs, spheres and action suggesting kinetic sculpture rather than a traditional timepiece.
At Baselworld, Rolex led the way with a raft of newcomers spearheaded by a refreshed “Daytona” model that features a glossy black ceramic bezel – perhaps the most commented-on watch at the fair. Also proving popular was a larger Rolex “Air-King” at 40 millimetres, with unusual double-numeral minute markings on the dial.
Tudor garnered more than a fair share of the conversation with a bronze-cased “Heritage Black Bay” and a blackened PVD-cased “Heritage Black Bay Dark”.
These models highlighted a distinct trend; they feature a new in-house certified movement, with Rolex offering enhanced performance from its already chronometer-rated internals, too.
Confirming this new accent on performance, Omega looked to its proprietary “Master Co-Axial” cog work to burnish things, although it was with enhanced finishes as much as larger power reserves that the brand really impressed.
An Omega “Speedmaster”, all fresh-faced with a meteorite dial, demonstrated the seemingly infinite life span of the brand’s iconic “Moonwatch”, while “Planet Ocean” models and even the “Ploprof” diver’s watch gained sprightly new colour options.
Breitling needed no colour accents to make a mark with its Baselworld star: a remarkable “Superocean Héritage Chronoworks”, again with an impressive movement. It’s one that reduces friction by 45 per cent, with a commensurate effect on efficiency and accuracy. Cased in black ceramic, with baseplates and gear trains in the same material, it’s limited to 100 pieces and will carry a $50,000-range price; we can’t wait for the technology – and the looks – to trickle down to something more affordable.
The Omega “Speedmaster” (left) and Breitling “Superocean Héritage Chronoworks” (right).
TAG Heuer put movements centrestage, too. It has done away with the dial altogether in skeletonised “Carrera Heuer 01” and “02” chronograph and tourbillon versions. That said, it was a blackened “Monza” chronograph re-edition that really excited enthusiasts and was one of the most successful black watches on offer this year.
Most brands have a black watch up their sleeve. Hublot’s version was the “Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black”, a hard-to-hide-under-the-cuff creation cased not in PVD or DLC (diamond-like carbon) but in smoky sapphire crystal and destined for a run of 500.
Seiko seems to have all bases covered. It revealed its first tourbillon, a stunning six-figure model under the Credor name, backing this up with hand-finished “Grand Seiko” desirables and a brace of “Presage” chronographs – one with an enamel dial, the other with a handpainted urushi lacquer dial. The limited-edition pieces (just 1000 of each) will carry price tags in the $4000 range, making them the bargain of Basel.
That is, of course, if you want a chronograph. If your preference is something in bronze, Oris offered the “Carl Brashear Limited Edition” as an alternative to Tudor’s “Heritage Black Bay Bronze”. If you’re after something retro, Longines had a “Heritage 1918” model that might appeal. Classic? Try the Girard-Perregaux “Place Girardet” or Hermès “Slim d’Hermès” with an enamel dial. And if complicated (and an investment) is your thing, look no further than Patek Philippe’s “5930G World Time Chronograph”.
And for women, Basel offered plenty of pieces to choose from. Chopard’s famed “Happy Diamonds” watch celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, an occasion marked by the introduction of a new model with the “free-range” diamonds set with prongs – a first. There are more diamonds than ever gracing the dial and they now vary in size, magnifying the light as they do their thing.
A Jaquet Droz “Petite Heure Minute Thousand Year Lights” watch offered a different style of delicate dial decoration, while Dior showed jewelled “La D de Dior” pieces in every colour of the rainbow.
At Bulgari it was the iconic “Serpenti” that was the platform for scaling things up. New interpretations included a dramatic black or white ceramic “Serpenti Spiga” model, while an altogether new “Serpenti Incantati” design saw the snake flowing from the bracelet to encircle a round dial.
The biggest surprise came from Chanel, which announced its first watch aimed at men: the 40-millimetre “Monsieur de Chanel”. The result of five years’ development, it features a jumping hour display at the six o’clock position with an unusual 240-degree retrograde minute indication. The minute hand is adjustable in both directions, which is a first for a retrograde mechanism.
The Bulgari “Serpenti” (left) and Chanel “Monsieur de Chanel” (right).
That mechanism is on show through a crystal case-back and what a show it is: the movement’s 170 parts catch the light with contrasting matt, brushed and glossy black ADLC-coated (amorphous diamond-like carbon) surfaces.
It’s further – and, indeed, handsome – confirmation that the 2016 watch crop has rediscovered the magic that separates mechanical timepieces from their connected contemporaries. ￼
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