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Watchmakers back on track at SIHH 2019

Watchmakers back on track at SIHH 2019

Monday, 14 January 2019
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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5 min read

Brands exhibiting at the 2019 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which opens this Monday January 14, show off their mechanical capabilities as confidence is restored.

At last! About time! After three years of heavy showers, and the occasional icy blast, watchmaking is enjoying more clement weather. Based on the latest statistics for the industry, Swiss watch exports for the twelve months of 2018 will likely increase by around 7%. It’s a performance not seen since 2011/2012, reflected in the more subdued atmosphere of recent editions of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). Not any more. After playing safe, the exhibiting brands have dropped the “belt and braces” approach and are taking risks again – much to the delight of watch enthusiasts who are itching for something more adventurous than yet another vintage-inspired design. But brands have also lived and learned from this last crisis, and have come to this year’s SIHH with collections that are well-balanced and full of ideas, as well as mechanically more complex. After three cautious editions, SIHH 2019 bodes well for a year of beautiful, proud watchmaking.

First off, brands have concentrated on their existing collections and are extending their ranges around core themes. IWC is putting pilot’s watches, a speciality since 1936, front and centre, while Baume & Mercier gives its in-house Baumatic movement a new dimension. Roger Dubuis is still tearing up the track alongside Pirelli and Lamborghini. Hermès finds new ways to express the poetry of time. Panerai continues to hone its professional dive watches while Cartier revisits the iconic forms of the Tonneau, first launched in 1906, and the Baignoire, imagined circa 1910. Note also the launch of two new collections. For men, Audemars Piguet takes the wraps off its much anticipated Code 11.59, issued off-the-bat in six versions covering every level of complexity from time-only to a flyback chrono, a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater and two tourbillons (one flying and one skeleton). The second new collection, Galop d’Hermès, puts ladies first with contemporary, minimalist designs by Ini Archibong. A “metamorphosis” of the stirrup motif, these are quartz movements inside steel or diamond-set gold cases.

Two new collections are launching this year: the highly anticipated Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet and, for women, Galop d’Hermès.
From complicated to highly complex

In these brighter days, watchmakers are considerably more inclined to show off their expertise. After the omnipresent steel three-hander, brands are giving a new edge to their emblematic collections with more complex, more sophisticated pieces. It’s the case at Montblanc, with the arrival of “noble” complications in its Heritage line, and at A. Lange & Söhne which presents a new version of its Zeitwerk with a peripheral date. Not forgetting Ulysse Nardin whose Freak has been reworked as a more affordable version. This upscaling reflects the new mood in markets now tempted by more accomplished mechanisms – and less enamoured of vintage, which has lost some of its shine. A telltale sign, almost no anniversaries are being celebrated this year.

Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon © A. Lange & Söhne
Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon © A. Lange & Söhne

In this atmosphere of newly restored confidence, there’s even more to be said about the handful of truly out-of-the-ordinary watches waiting to be discovered. These are the collectors’ items that have always been part of the fair, but were seen as something of an oddity when markets were tightening their belt. Thus Bovet makes its SIHH debut with the Virtuoso IX and the Récital 21, a thoughtful blend of harmonious design and complexity. At Vacheron Constantin, all eyes are on the Traditionnelle Twin Beat with its 65-day power reserve. Jaeger-LeCoultre commands respect with its Master Grande Tradition GyroTourbillon Westminster Perpetual and Girard-Perregaux looks to the stars with a Bridges Cosmos whose two globes rise above a tourbillon. Such craftsmanship is also in evidence at the Carré des Horlogers, which reserves several surprises of its own including a “Légèreté” Flying Tourbillon Minute Repeater at Speake-Marin, Christophe Claret’s Angelico, marking the 10th anniversary of the brand, and a minimalistic minute repeater from H. Moser & Cie whose Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black has been stripped of its hands.

Collectors' items find their place in an atmosphere of newly restored confidence.
What women want

There are more surprises to be had on the materials front in the form of original alloys, used mainly for sports watch cases and mostly carbon-based; a material whose properties correspond to the performances one expects from a sports watch. Panerai’s high-tech alloy goes by the name of Carbotech (compressed carbon fibres) and can be seen in the Submersible BMG-Tech whose case is made out of bulk metallic glass. Panerai is also behind recycled Eco-Titanium. Carbonium, carbon fibre borrowed from aeronautics, headlines at Ulysse Nardin, while IWC comes with its own fusion of ceramic and titanium, the appropriately named Ceratanium. This high-tech approach is matched by the many skeletonised pieces on show this year, with many brands having grasped the advantages to be gained from “revealing all”.

Pilot's Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition Mojave Desert © IWC
Pilot's Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition Mojave Desert © IWC

The last word goes to the ladies. Women’s timepieces are no longer an afterthought but very much the centre of attention. This includes designing watches to fit a slimmer wrist, and brands that once refused to depart from super-sized cases are presenting styles which women can comfortably wear. Think the 39.6-mm diameter of Greubel Forsey’s Balancier Contemporain, or Panerai whose whopping Submersible appears in a 42-mm version. Dimensions apart, brands have understood that not all women are drawn to elaborate embellishments like moths to a flame and have eased up on the métiers d’art – except for the must-sees from Bovet, Cartier, Piaget, Ulysse Nardin and Vacheron Constantin. Design, movements and (still) gem-setting are now the deal-breakers for a female clientele, who have the pick of many original, vibrant, even downright fun styles. Which is pretty much what SIHH 2019 is about!

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