In a tense context to say the least, following the Swiss National Bank’s surprise decision to no longer peg national currency against the euro – a major handicap for the country’s exports – trends emerging in watches for the coming year, for which the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) is always a bellwether, became a reflection of the market overall. Exhibitors put on a show of restraint, favouring trusted designs, such as the Portugieser at IWC, classic styles in the vein of the Classima at Baume & Mercier, or references such as the Tonda 1950 at Parmigiani.
Except at the very high end of their ranges, brands were clearly concerned with trimming off any excess, preferring to channel their creativity into suitably sober designs that are far removed from the extravagant forms and functions that dominated the previous decade. While women were firmly in the spotlight, the creations they inspired, not least at Van Cleef & Arpels and at Audemars Piguet, were infinitely more subdued.
Continuity of style
Globally speaking, indications so far suggest that 2015 is following on from 2014, which let it be remembered ended on a 2% rise in Swiss watch exports. Trends in metals reveal that yellow gold has lost points in favour of white gold, rose gold and platinum, while intriguing new alloys are thin on the ground, Panerai’s Carbotech being the exception. Round cases sweep the board with the one noticeable distinction of cushion shapes, which Vacheron chose for its new Harmony collection. Launched to mark the company’s 260th anniversary, it makes its debut with seven chronographs.
Another departure from the rule, La Clé de Cartier sits a round dial inside an unusual short tonneau case. Feminine in design, it targets men. Masculine in mechanics, with its 1847 NC calibre, it appeals to women with a rectangular crown that operates much like a handbag clasp. Downsizing proved to be another overarching theme. The pizza-sized watches of the past have given way to more wearable dimensions, with diameters slimming down to 42mm for men, and sometimes less: the Saxonia Dual Time from A. Lange & Söhne measures 38.5mm while Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Calendar is only marginally larger at 39mm.
Just as watches shed vital millimetres, they also kept a low profile in terms of case and movement height, with ultra-thin now calling the shots. Piaget has consistently defended its status as the master of slim, considered a synonym of elegance in watchmaking. This year it introduced a chronograph to its Altiplano range which sets a double world record for thinness. The Grande Complication de Cartier and the Harmony Grande Complication from Vacheron Constantin pursue similar goals. Skeletonwork is another trend that began in 2014 and is making even more of an impact this year. Skeleton movements are becoming an art in themselves, and a wonderful example of sobriety achieved through a technical tour de force. Recognisable for their long, straight lines, with blackened star shapes sometimes replacing the traditional arabesques, skeletons have become a favourite means of expression, evidenced at Cartier (Crash), Parmigiani (Tonda 1950), Piaget (Emperador Cushion), Ralph Lauren (Automotive Skeleton), Richard Mille (RM51-02) and Roger Dubuis (Excalibur).
Reaching for the stars
Turning to the year’s complications, there was a new flurry of astronomical functions which once again matched cosmic poetry with mechanical complexity. Celestial indications were the theme for Jaeger-LeCoultre this year, as well as for Montblanc whose Heritage Chronométrie collection pays tribute to the navigator Vasco da Gama. Minute repeaters also chimed in, with noteworthy offerings from A. Lange & Söhne (Zeitwerk Minute Repeater), Audemars Piguet (Royal Oak RD#1, a concept watch that was eight years in development) and Jaeger-LeCoultre (Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication). The latter two demonstrate a rarely achieved quality of sound, and have several patents to their name. The Lange also boasts patents for the innovative pusher system that triggers the striking mechanism, with the additional safety guard that the chimes cannot be operated if the remaining power reserve is insufficient.
The métiers d’art proved as exquisite and in some cases spectacular as ever. Carter revived the art of filigree; Vacheron Constantin dazzled with entirely hand-engraved movements in its Métiers d’Art Mécanique Gravée collection while Van Cleef & Arpels delighted with its Charms Extraordinaire. Special mention must also go to the Radiomir Firenze whose case is hand-engraved using the traditional bulino technique, and to the Excalibur Spider at Roger Dubuis, the first watch ever to set diamonds in rubber, on the bezel. Even so, the more subdued mood that prevailed at this year’s SIHH could be felt in the tendency to “hold back” on artistic embellishments, a trend echoed in the distinct efforts made by brands such as Montblanc and Baume & Mercier to propose more accessible entry-level ranges.
Lastly, two watches at opposite ends of the horological spectrum: the Time Walker e-Strap from Montblanc, an automatic watch on a connected strap, making it the first smartwatch to show at SIHH, and the RM 19-02 by Richard Mille, the brand’s first automata watch in the form of petals that open to reveal the tourbillon every five minutes or on demand. Between these two extremes lies a world in itself: that of fine watchmaking.