The (Watch) Circus Is Back in Town

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Three years is a long time in watchmaking. In 2019, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, known as S.I.H.H., took place in Geneva in January, followed by Baselworld in March. Both are now defunct, replaced by a single show, Watches and Wonders Geneva, organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie that has had two years of digital presence but now is going live as well. It begins Wednesday and runs through Tuesday, and most — but not all — of the biggest names in watchmaking are there, with Richemont and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton under the Palexpo roof alongside Rolex, Patek Philippe and Chanel. They will be hoping to build on 2021, a record year for Swiss watchmaking sales, despite the pandemic. Here are some of the highlights from the show.

Call it a post-lockdown bounce back, call it revenge purchasing, call it the certainty of luxury in uncertain times — whatever the root cause, the luxury watch industry is in rude health. Record Swiss exports in 2021 and soaring company revenues have encouraged the big brands to push the boat out, as these dizzying watches demonstrate.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra

Price on application

Of the 24 watches in this article, only one has been announced outside the confines of Watches and Wonders — Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Ultra. But it leads here because it marks the 10th anniversary of the original Octo, arguably the defining watch design of the last decade, and because it breaks a world record that had been considered unbreakable. At 1.8 millimeters thick in total, less than the thickness of a nickel, the Ultra became the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, obliterating Piaget’s previous record of 2 millimeters and producing Bulgari’s eighth record for thinness in watchmaking since 2014. Not bad for a jewelry brand. Each of the 10 pieces is being sold with blockchain authentication, a unique NFT artwork and entry into what Bulgari calls “a digital universe dedicated to the owner’s watch,” all accessed by scanning the QR code engraved into the watch’s barrel. It also tells the time.

Cartier Privé Tank Chinoise

Price on application

Cartier’s about-face from abstruse high-end complications to low-volume, highly collectible versions of its more familiar montres de forme, as it calls its shape watches, has proved highly popular. Such pieces are grouped under the banner of Cartier Privé, which enters its sixth year with a collection of six Tank Chinoise models, including this top-of-the-line 20-piece edition in platinum, set with 161 brilliant-cut diamonds. The motivator behind the collection is the centenary of the original Tank Chinoise, which captured something of Chinese temple architecture and the geometry of their porticos by overlaying horizontal bars on the Tank’s signature vertical flanks. Its Cartier-developed skeletonized movement is partially obscured by a Chinese-window motif in blue and red lacquer, and the whole thing sits on either a red- or blue-alligator leather strap.

Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier

Price on application

Given the frequently unseemly frenzy for stainless steel sports watches these days, Van Cleef’s charming yet sustained pursuit of its Poetic Complications comes as gentle and often joyful relief. Instead of the utilitarian, from Van Cleef we get watches that entertain with the movement of a ballerina or the rotations of the planets. Its latest is this beguiling floral gardenscape, a watch with a dial made of 12 miniature painted flowers that open and close mechanically to indicate the hour. Further evidence of how secondary the business of actually tracking time is to this watch comes in the form of a retrograde minutes indication secreted into the side of the case. The whole thing is inspired by a floral concept clock imagined by the 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Von Linné. Magical.

Montblanc 1858 The Unveiled Secret Minerva Monopusher Chronograph LE18

$48,000

The first impression of Montblanc’s newest is almost certainly the wrong one. Even a sophisticated eye may conclude at first glance that this is a skeletonized watch, one where the dial has been removed and the movement hollowed out to expose its workings. Not so. Rather, this is a watch whose mechanical movement has simply been flipped, so that its intricacies, typically displayed through a sapphire case back, are dial side up. Why the flip? Because the movement is the rarefied MB 16.29, a monopusher chronograph caliber crafted by hand in Montblanc’s Minerva factory. What that means is that the movement’s prettier side, together with its signature swan-neck regulator and “devil’s tail” (just below 12 o’clock), is on display all the time. To indicate the switch, Montblanc has renamed the movement MB 16.26. Purists may wonder if that’s too much show and tell, but no doubt there will be buyers for the 18 watches, each in Montblanc’s 18-karat Lime Gold.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Galaxia

$510,000

It wouldn’t be quite fair to suggest that watches that put the cosmos on your wrist are as numerous as the stars these days, although largely only because the growing cohort of capable brands tend to produce them in quantities countable on just one hand. For example, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s impressively disorientating Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Galaxia comes as a limited edition of five. Inside its 45-millimeter pink gold case are a Cosmotourbillon indicating sidereal time, a constellations display, a sky chart (in grisaille enamel), a celestial vault, a minute repeater, a zodiac calendar and a date readable (with a squint) against a 365-day scale that runs entirely around the dial. It is of course spectacular stuff and another astonishing technical achievement by one of the great Swiss watch houses — only, read the manual before attempting to use it.

Parmigiani Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante

$28,700

The gradual rebuilding of the respected but hardly thrusting Parmigiani under the leadership of Guido Terreni, former Bulgari watch division chief, continues, now with a version of its Tonda centerpiece powered by a deliciously clever new movement. Under the demure blue dial of the Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante is a global debut, a complication that somehow combines a second time zone with the theatrics of a rattrapante, or split-seconds, chronograph. It works thus: When traveling, the user can set local time by pushing the button at 8 o’clock to advance the rhodium-plated gold hour hand in one-hour jumps. This reveals a second hour hand in rose gold, which stays on home time. On returning home, a single push of the button integrated into the crown will send the rhodium hand back to home time in the same whizzing manner as a seconds hand on a split-seconds chronograph. Useful, entertaining and a nice story for watch aficionados. Parmigiani on the up.

No brand, in watchmaking or otherwise, can claim to change the world single-handed, much less resolve its problems, but collectively the industry appears to have recognized its power to at least bring it a little cheer. Much of that is delivered through a perky, kaleidoscopic color palette applied to dials, cases, straps and all manner of details. No gray area here — color is in.

Hermès H08 Bleu

$8,125

That Hermès’s H08 didn’t win at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève awards will remain a mystery. The French luxury house’s men’s watch — the designation is its — was widely recognized as a creative and commercial smash and helped propel Hermès Horloger to a record sales year. The 39-millimeter watch returns in blue P.V.D.-coated titanium this year, looking more louche than ever.

Oris ProPilot X Calibre 400

$4,300

Oris is one of very few independents in the Swiss watch industry’s middle ground, something that leaves it with a free hand. That spirit appears to be behind its latest, a striking salmon-pink dialed titanium tool watch (the industry term for most sports and professional models) powered by the brand’s own five-day automatic. It’s certainly different, as is its formidable 10-year warranty.

H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Centre Seconds Concept Lime Green

$27,600

Eventually, most upstart brands becomes mainstream. Moser, as the brand is known, has not completed that metamorphosis, but the reinvention of one of its signature designs through a new fumé, or smoked, dial has a comfortable air about it. That doesn’t stop it being exceptional. Each translucent green Grand Feu enamel dial is unique, the result of no fewer than 12 firings.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Lake Tahoe”

$10,700

IWC’s Top Gun watches, which carry the nickname of the U.S. Navy flying school, have been playing with materials and color for 15 years, but the brand’s ceramic pigment experiments actually began in the 1980s (one prototype came in pink). Still, the brand said the white color of this “Lake Tahoe” automatic chronograph was “completely new.”

Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro eSteel Blu Profondo

10,800 euros (the equivalent of $11,850)

Few brands have taken the sustainability brief to heart quite like Panerai. And fewer still have decided to detail their eco-credentials so precisely. Panerai has added its recycled eSteel to its Submersible line for the first time, and a recycled PET, or plastic, strap. So it now says that, by weight, 52 percent of this 44-millimeter dive watch is recycled.

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

$38,200

Was there a more talked about watch in 2021 than Zenith’s Chronomaster Sport? According to Morgan Stanley, Zenith’s revenues doubled last year, and the brand’s waiting-list-only sports chronograph was at the root of it. Eager to capitalize on the success, Zenith is adding bicolor and full gold pieces to the line, including this solid rose gold model.

Czapek & Cie Faubourg de Cracovie Purple Panda

$32,800

Little question that since its inception in 2015, Czapek has emerged as one of the darlings of the independent scene, led by the charismatic Xavier de Roquemaurel. Its latest is a purple version of its easy-on-the-eye Faubourg de Cracovie chronograph with a contrasting white dial, what the industry calls a “panda.” The dial is hand-turned to create a guilloché finish, which helps explain why only 18 will be made.

Grand Seiko “Mistflake” Spring Drive GMT 

$8,400

Grand Seiko often floods its watches with color, typically taking shades from nature surrounding its workshops in Japan. That also is the idea behind the chalky Mistflake, which has a dial designed to capture the mist that lingers among the peaks of the Hida Mountains in Japan’s Nagano prefecture, where the watch is made.

The haute horlogerie of S.I.H.H. may not have survived the rebrand to Watches and Wonders, but there remains a spirit of mechanical invention in the show’s premise. Here are 10 pieces from across the showroom floor that demonstrate that even in a smart, connected age — or perhaps because of it — mechanical watchmaking is alive and well.

Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton

$146,000

Despite the clear purpose behind its design, the Overseas is rarely considered an out-and-out sports watch. If there is a reason for this, it is that Vacheron Constantin continues to use it as a shell for high-end complications. Consider this: Both case and bracelet are titanium, a first for Overseas. So far, so sporty. But the movement is a finicky skeletonized tourbillon, also a first for Overseas, and not so sporty. Incredible watch, though.

Chanel J12 Diamond Tourbillon Calibre 5

Price on application

The steady steps taken by Chanel’s in-house watchmaking division became a significant stride forward this year with the introduction into its J12 family of Calibre 5, the house’s first flying tourbillon. Chanel’s take includes a diamond set into the ageless anti-gravitational device’s cage, which spins mesmerizingly as the mechanism whirs away.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 1000 Superdiver

$6,650

The legacy of TAG Heuer’s professional dive watch will not be its 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) water resistance, but that the movement inside it is produced by Kenissi, the specialist Swiss movement maker owned by Rolex and Chanel. The TH30-00, said to be exclusive to TAG Heuer, is a 70-hour automatic, certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, and has a five-year warranty.

Hublot Square Bang Unico

$39,900

Another new model from the hive mind of Hublot — this time, a square take on its signature chronograph. Square watches are still few and far between, not least because mechanical movements tend to be round (and, as the saying has it…). But Hublot has balanced the aesthetic, creating five pieces for its new family, including this King Gold and black ceramic version.

Chopard Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon

$112,000

The high-end sports category continues to be fertile ground for Swiss watchmakers, so it should come as little surprise that Chopard has added a flying tourbillon to its Alpine Eagle line — as well as a zero to the price. Unusually, the watch carries Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres and Poinçon de Genève certifications, the latter quality hallmark appearing on an Alpine Eagle for the first time.

Ulysse Nardin Freak S

$137,200

More than two decades since the crown-less, dial-less, handless Freak arrived, it is still a space oddity. Ulysse Nardin seems more than happy with that idea, describing the assortment of parts that make up both this new model’s mechanism and hands as being like “a space vessel with twin reactors.” Those reactors are oscillating balance wheels linked to a differential that averages them out to deliver greater precision.

A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Minute Repeater

€409,000 (the equivalent of $448,680)

While others fuss over the metaverse, NFTs and eSports, Lange, as the Saxon brand is known, has produced one of the purest minute repeaters in living memory. A minute repeating watch is one that can chime the time on demand, to the nearest minute, and therefore in any one of 720 possible sequences. An old-school delight.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

Price on application

That Piaget’s model is no longer the world’s thinnest mechanical watch should take nothing away from its brilliance. Four years in development, the 2-millimeter-thick watch “took its first beat,” as the brand says, on Feb. 7, 2017, at 7:47 a.m. (Swiss time, of course). That eureka moment is immortalized in this one-off by motifs such as the hollow dots at 7 and 47 on the time display dial and luminous stars on the main dial, arranged as they would have been in the sky over its factory at the time.

Baume et Mercier Riviera Baumatic

$3,700

The fifth generation of Baume et Mercier’s 1970s sports watch did not set the world alight on debut last year, but there is enough in the Riviera’s aesthetic — the 12-sided bezel, the exposed screws, the seamlessness of the form — to suggest that the model more than merits its place in the luxury steel sports watch canon. It now comes with this smoky gray dial option.

Ressence Type 8

$14,800

Time-only two-handers are usually sedate affairs, and in two dimensions, Ressence’s titanium and cobalt blue Type 8 just about conforms. But inside the 42-gram watch is the Belgian brand’s patented ROCS, or Ressence Orbital Convex System, which rotates whole dial segments at different speeds, not just the hands. Still nothing else like it.



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