Watchmaking is a remarkably resilient industry, always bouncing back whenever the economy has taken a downturn thanks to its extraordinary tenacity and the capacity to stay creative no matter what. A fact made abundantly clear by the brands at the just-launched watchesandwonders.com. With this in mind, what better place to start our tour of the platform’s virtual aisles than its most impressive pieces; a register synonymous with excellence which this year puts astronomical complications front and centre.
When it comes to complex mechanisms, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin need no introduction. Both are cementing their reputation with exceptionally complicated timepieces. From Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication combines a minute repeater with a star chart driven by an orbital tourbillon that makes one complete revolution of the dial every sideral day. Vacheron Constantin is similarly “making music” with minute-repeater mechanisms that are part of two achingly complex propositions in its Les Cabinotiers collection, reserved for unique pieces. They are the Tempo, which assembles 24 complications, and the Ode à la Musique watch with its 19 functions. The two indicate virtually everything an astronomical watch is capable of showing, including the equation of time, sunrise and sunset times, a perpetual calendar, phases and age of the moon, celestial hours and minutes, a tropical disc, a zodiac disc, and a map of the Northern Hemisphere showing the ecliptic and the celestial equator. Staying with striking watches, other noteworthy releases are the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater from A. Lange & Söhne, which returns in a white gold execution, and the Excalibur Diabolus in Machina by Roger Dubuis which makes a high-profile incursion into the rarefied world of horological complications.
Even so, such complex interweaving of cams and gears isn’t the only outlet for this passion for the mechanisms of time. Skeleton watches – whereby the movement components are filed and sawn until only the essential minimum remains and the intrinsic, kinetic beauty of each part is revealed – have returned to the fore in recent years. Several impressive examples are on show at watchesandwonders.com. Hermès gave a foretaste with its Arceau Squelette. Cartier follows suit with skeleton versions of the Tank Asymétrique and the Pasha, its two collections singled out this year. Roger Dubuis, no stranger to skeletonization, presents a revolutionary Excalibur Twofold. Panerai honours its “hero”, the explorer Mike Horn, with a limited-edition skeleton Submersible featuring a tourbillon and a GMT function. Nor are we forgetting Vacheron Constantin, which reveals all of its Overseas perpetual calendar ultra-thin, or Speake-Marin whose One&Two Openworked gains a flying tourbillon.
Sport watches, high on style
At the other end of the spectrum, where the beauty of form prevails over the complexity of functions, the luxury sports watch is proving a popular terrain for many brands, with a plethora of robust but no less elegant steel watches with an integrated bracelet and, for some, a chronograph. This blend of rugged resistance and good looks used to be a speciality of dive watches… and still is as Panerai demonstrates with its Luminor Marina Goldtech™ – 44 MM in red gold. Now, though, brands are casting their minds back to the 1980s and the success enjoyed by the first styles that were ready for action but also looked the part with a suit. This combination of sport plus chic ticks a lot of boxes, as more and more brands are realising. For proof: three manufacturers more readily associated with traditional timepieces in precious metals are each presenting a sport-luxe model this year: the Odysseus from A. Lange & Söhne, the Streamliner Flyback Chronograph by H. Moser & Cie. and the Grand Sport Tourbillon from Laurent Ferrier. Joining them on this “road to adventure” are Cartier with an up-to-date Pasha; Baume & Mercier whose Clifton flexes its mechanical muscle with the in-house Baumatic calibre, and Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionnelle tourbillon chronograph. Not forgetting Montblanc, which is adding a gold Pulsograph chrono to its Heritage collection, or IWC’s introduction of a Portugieser Yacht Club in steel and red gold.
Women's watches tend to play down functions to instead emphasise the original nature of their design.
When it comes to elegance, form watches immediately spring to mind, particularly those for women. With the exception of the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle, which welcomes its first automatic tourbillon in an execution for women, and Purnell’s Escape IIS whose twin tri-axial tourbillons rotate in gem-set cages, these watches tend to play down functions to instead emphasise the original nature of their design. Baume & Mercier’s Hampton is an eloquent example; the rectangular case shape is typical of the Art Deco style. The Reverso One by Jaeger-LeCoultre adopts a similar oblong format with wine-red lacquer on a delicately guilloché dial. Hermès also plays with shapes in the Cape Code Martelée and the Nantucket Jeté Chaîne d’Ancre. Cartier, meanwhile, in addition to new versions of the square Santos Dumont that debuted last year, is presenting a fresh interpretation of the Tank Asymétrique, already a radical departure from conventional forms when it was launched in 1936. The Parisian firm is offering a skeleton version of this historic design, including one in platinum with diamonds.
Then there are the watches that leave us wide-eyed in wonder at their construction or for the futuristic materials they bring into play. Where materials are concerned, Panerai leads the field this year with cases in Carbotech™ (carbon fibre), Fibratech™ (basalt mineral fibre), recycled steel, DMLS titanium (3D-printed) and Goldtech™ (red gold). Not to be outdone, Roger Dubuis lights up the Excalibur Twofold using patented luminescence technology. Over at Rebellion, the tourbillon cage of the Weap-One is made from flat atomic diamond, a material that grows so slowly it takes an entire year to produce enough for a single component. Other standout pieces include a high-mech H5 in which HYT continues to explore its signature fluidic system and, from Purnell, the Spherion triple-axis tourbillon which completes one rotation in 8, 16 and 30 seconds, making it the fastest in the world.
The last word goes to Piaget and its Altiplano Ultimate Concept with a cobalt alloy case. This exceptionally slim – 2mm high – mechanical watch first came onto the radar in 2018, when it was introduced to the world as the thinnest ever. Back then, it was still a prototype. Two years later, it joins Piaget’s collections and claims a title that will be extremely hard to challenge.