Martin Foster reviews the latest releases from the world’s top watchmakers at the 2010 SIHH in Geneva.
The 20th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) brought together nineteen elite watch brands and their major customers to Hall 6 of the Palexpo Centre in Geneva where the exclusive event has been held ever since the leading watchmakers split with the more populous Baselworld twenty years ago.
The SIHH exhibitors are 19 of the world’s most prestigious watch brands (mainly subsidiaries of the luxurious Richemont Group as well as some independent Swiss makers – Cartier, A. Lange & Söhne, Alfred Dunhill, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Girard-Perregaux, Greubel Forsey, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, JeanRichard, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Parmigiani Fleurier, Piaget, Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry Co, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels.
According to SIHH organisers, a 10 percent increase in visitor numbers at this year’s event and a corresponding increase in business volumes reinforce the signs of a financial recovery for the watch sector.
However, the industry is unlikely to be out of the mire of the financial meltdown yet for fear of a double-dip recession for economies at the edge of stability remains and lack of confidence blew away the courage of big discretionary spenders during last year’s GFC.
Indeed a Morgan Stanley Research report into the major watch conglomerates last February stated: “We do not believe the potential risks associated with the wholesale channel are fully reflected . . . and we believe earnings will only trough in 2010”.
Since then the financial results from both Richemont and Swatch Group suggest that this assessment may be unduly pessimistic, but nevertheless, false moves in this flimsy house of cards may well trigger a second round and Morgan Stanley is rightly cautious.
After all, the free spending of discretionary income by cashed-up buyers becomes very flaky when their cash is drained by unexpected margin-calls following hard-on the sub-prime crisis savaging their private fortunes.
Nonetheless the focus of SIHH is the top-end of luxury watches and the ultimate concentration of history, experience and industry-savvy sprezzatura – not the economy.
So, to the watch brands and the new products.
Cartier R&D believes it has come up with innovations that address the challenges and coincidentally achieves the holy grail of oil elimination from the watch escapement.
“Don’t think we’re doing this for fun,” says Cartier International CEO Bernard Fornas.
“Our aim is to incorporate these technologies into Cartier watches in the future, which will of course be more reliable, more durable and even better quality. I’m personally convinced that these developments and techniques will drive forward the watch industry in general and Cartier in particular.”
Cartier’s prototype ID One is still at its “clinical stage”.
A. Lange & Söhne presented the new Tourbograph Pour le Mérite. This is a limited edition of the Lange Tourbograph Pour le Mérite Rattrapante Chronograph-Tourbillon and is the third and the last member of the Homage to F.A. Lange series of timepieces.
The Tourbograph was the first watch in Lange’s history that combined a high-precision with a split seconds chronograph complication. The special edition model (limited to only 50) impresses with a honey-coloured gold case, engine-turned dial and a beautifully decorated L903.0 hand-wound movement, visible through a sapphire case back.
The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre a Quantieme Lunaire moonphase chronograph has all the characteristic elements inherent in the Duometre series as well as a moonphase complication and a partially skeletonised dial.
A fascinating feature of the Duometre family is that each of two main subdial functions has its own dedicated mainspring barrel, each with enough energy to power its own mechanism for about 50 hours shown respectively by the two power reserve indicators between 4 and 5 o’clock and 7 and 8 o’clock.
As well, Jaeger-LeCoultre has also changed the dial layout, exchanging the positions of the hour/minutes and date/moonphase subdials so that owners can avoid the inconvenience of pulling their shirt sleeves all the way up to see the main subdial! Nonetheless the watch will need to be wound twice – clockwise to wind the hour/minutes function and then counter-clockwise to wind the complication functions.
Audemars Piguet, the oldest Swiss watch manufacturer still owned by its founding family, released the new Equation of Time, one of the most complicated AP Royal Oaks which is driven by the celebrated AP 2120 base calibre.
According to Audemars, the timepiece has the world’s thinnest automatic movement with a central rotor and is also one of the most exact when it comes to perpetual calendar and moon phase indications.
The watch manufacturer says the movement is so well calculated that the calendar will only have to be corrected once on 1 March, 2100 and the moon phase module is also accurate enough to require only one correction in 122 years and 44 days.
In addition the AP perpetual calendar with the equation of time may be customised for 250 cities and most other locations, showing the correct time of sunrise and sunset and the equation of time, linked to the perpetual calendar.
This brief review simply touches the surface of the spectacular Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie event – the products, the people, the traditional industry culture and the production of all things beautiful are what this fair is all about.
It is the first watch fair in the year to conjure up images and effects to tease our imagination.
For more information on individual watch brands visit www.sihh.org or the websites of the exhibiting brands.