With only 35 exhibitors, Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) is one of the smaller watch fairs. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in prestige. Its ultra-luxurious exhibitors, including Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Hermès, offer some of the most technically advanced — and expensive — timepieces in the world. So, is it any wonder that 20,000 by-invitation-only visitors flock to attend each year?
The 2019 edition, which opens today, sets the tone for the coming year in high watchmaking thanks to its early date. Here we preview some ticking treasures on display.
The return of high complications
In recent years there’s been a slowdown in terms of creative new complications (a term used to describe functions other than displaying hours, minutes, seconds, and date.) But if the watches being previewed at SIHH are any sign, 2019 may see that change.
Leading the pack is Vacheron Constantin’s novel Traditionnelle Twin Beat. Its modern looks are not the only departure for this grande maison: this watch can also perform a mechanical magic trick in that the user determines how fast or slow the movement powering the watch beats on (active mode) and off (standby mode) the wrist. The point of this horological feat is to lengthen the period between windings so that the many displays of its perpetual calendar do not need to be re-set after winding down — the bane of any collector’s existence — even after a phenomenal two months.
Elsewhere, Hermès is introducing its fourth high complication since 2011, taking us to the moon this time. Arceau l’Heure de la Lune’s dial features two mother-of-pearl moons (one of which reveals a barely-there painted Pegasus design) depicting the Earth’s satellite as seen from the southern and northern hemispheres respectively. The moons are static, while the time and date displays revolve around the dial, covering bits of each to accurately reflect its current phase.
Boutique brand Armin Strom is a technological powerhouse, and its new Dual Time Resonance Sapphire shows us exactly why. This dual-movement timepiece is only the third in history to harness the properties of resonance (a phenomenon that causes synchronized motion , in this case between the two movements powering the watch) in the service of timekeeping accuracy. And the wearer can see it in action from every angle thanks to its novel sapphire crystal case.
Belgian independent Ressence has introduced its Type 2, a hybrid mechanical/electronic watch that uses its proprietary e-Crown — a new 21st-century version of the manual crown used for winding and setting — to automatically set and adjust the watch’s hands to the right time. Powered by photovoltaic cells, the e-Crown is controlled by tapping the watch. However, the Type 2 can also be set manually or with an app.
HYT, the only maker of mechanical watches using liquid to display the time, has released a similarly innovative watch that looks like it came right out of “Bladerunner.” The new H20’s red fluid (showing the hours) contrasts with the very traditional — and perhaps deliberately old-fashioned — use of yellow gold elements decorated with traditional guilloche throughout the watch.
MB&F’s Horological Machine 6 Final Edition is no less futuristic looking with its spaceship-like curves and bulbous display domes. Indeed, it is hard to imagine this watch is powered by a purely mechanical movement that follows the same contours. A close encounter of a special kind for sure.
No matter how many brands embrace futuristic aesthetics, there will always be demand for classic design. Thankfully, Montblanc is there to deliver with the outstanding new pieces in its Heritage line, led by the Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition 100. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser, this chronograph timer comes with a gorgeous salmon-colored dial straight out of textbook 1940s design.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of its Lange 1, A. Lange & Söhne has also looked to the past, releasing an attractive limited-edition anniversary edition of the watch industry’s most famous asymmetrical timepiece.
The beauty of the baguette
In sharp contrast to years of sports watch domination, expect a touch of elegance to creep back into men’s watches in a more noticeable way.
One mini-trend I have already noticed in 2019 is the use of under-the-radar baguette-cut diamonds as hour markers on men’s luxury watches, which are hard to distinguish from polished metal at a distance. This trend was perhaps kicked off with Patek Philippe’s 40th anniversary Nautilus Reference 5976/1G in 2016. Now I find them on other brands’ watches at SIHH 2019: Piaget’s Altiplano High Jewellery and Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers Sky Chart Minute Repeater Tourbillon both boast these unusual markers.
The return of the tonneau
At the same time, the tonneau shape — a rounded rectangle — is creeping back into men’s watches after several years’ absence.
The tonneau became a case shape in the early 1900s, when fashion-forward wristwatch makers were attempting to differentiate themselves from those who were simply soldering lugs onto pocket watch cases to make a wristwatch.
But the style has never been the most popular one for men, which is largely why it has all but disappeared in recent years when manufacturers have been less inclined to take chances. The tonneau shape is, however, considered supremely elegant, and especially so in Cartier’s new Tonneau XL Skeleton Dual Time. An alluring variation on the tonneau theme is also displayed in the almost rectangular Laurent Ferrier Bridge One, whose original lugs are instrumental in creating its unusual 30 x 44 mm case shape.
Blue for you — with a twist
Enamel dials, which harken back to pre-industrial mass production days, have increased in popularity over the last few years, and in 2019 this trend continues stronger than ever. And blue enamelwork seems to be experiencing a particularly notable resurgence, now docking into the overall blue trend in watchmaking.
Two new watches introduced at SIHH 2019 — Bovet’s convertible Virtuoso IX, which doubles as a pocket watch, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel — feature one of the most beautiful, traditional and difficult-to-produce forms of enamel: flinqué. Here, the dial is first engraved using the traditional guilloche technique, and then covered with enamel. The effect is a pattern visible through the translucent material, providing incredible depth.