Trends and insight from the 2010 SIHH watch show in Geneva.
The 20th SIHH offered an escape from the recession into a fantasy land of watches costing more than a family home. Rob Corder donned his white gloves to marvel at the tourbillions, balance wheels, crowns and complications of the finest timepieces on earth.
Punk watch maker Stephen Forsey, co-founder of Greubel Forsey, sums it up: “First, we look at the finish of the watch. Then, we look at what time it is.”
The haute horology on show at Salon International de Haute horlogerie (SIHH) in January was about art, science, craftsmanship and precision engineering – using a watch to see if it is time for lunch is barely considered in the process.
The upstart house of Greubel Forsey – which with only 10 years in the business has more than 150 years of history to make up on many of Europe’s fine watchmakers – is out to prove that the days of innovation and invention in mechanical watches are far from over.
Greubel Forsey creates about 100 to 110 timepieces a year across three innovative lines: the Double Tourbillion Technique, the Platinum 24-Second Tourbillon and the Invention Piece 3 designed in platinum.
One of the young watchmaker’s inventions, housed in the Invention Piece 3, consists of a single tourbillon cage inclined at a 25° angle and performing a rapid rotation in 24 seconds.
The watch shows the time on a large 24-hour display taking up most of the space on the dial side. The minute display is concentric to the hour dial, with the hours distinguished by a red indicator and the minutes by a blue one. It is not a natural face from which to read the time, but then that isn’t the primary concern for Greubel Forsey.
Balance in the design is more important, which is why the power reserve, off – set at 2 o’clock, is opposite the tourbillon at 8 o’clock. A sub-seconds dial at 5 o’clock ensures the overall equilibrium of the timepiece.
Turning the watch over, the tourbillon, supported by a distinctive arrow-shaped bridge, provides an aesthetical link between the front and back of the watch and it can also be admired through a lateral convex sapphire crystal on the side of the case.
Prices across the Greubel Forsey family, which are often customised and personalised for collectors, range from £180,000 to £400,000. Fewer than 10 units are likely to make their way into the UK this year.
Watches incorporating visible tourbillons, either emerging through solid faces or pulsing below and within intricate skeleton faces, were a feature for several mechanical watchmakers at this year’s SIHH.
Cartier went one better with its Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon, which uses the Calibre 9451 MC movement, freshly delivered after five years in development. The 9451 MC’s carriage is positioned at the centre of the movement, which allows the balance bridge, from which the tourbillion is suspended, to circle the dial as the second hand. In other words, the tourbillon becomes the arrow of the second hand.
The effect is hypnotic, with wheels within wheels circling the dial of the oversized 47mm watch. More impressive still, and arguably the star of the SIHH show, was the Montblanc Metamorphosis. The monopusher chronograph is one watch with two faces; one a classical timepiece with tourbillon, the other a chronograph.
As a classic watch, the Metamorphosis has an unusual face; the hour dial is at 12 o’clock, the minute hand sweeps in an arc from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock, the second hand circles the entire tear-shaped face and a perpetual calendar dominates the bottom of the dial.
The movement has been made more efficient through the use of carbon fibre, which is lighter and harder wearing than steel. The energy saved is stored and released to drive the transformation process from classical watch to chronograph.
The evolution from one watch to another defies description, so you are urged to see it for yourself. Visit professionaljeweller.com/videos to witness the awe-inspiring transformation.
The movement of the 567 components required to achieve the transformation is magical – no doubt similar in effect on the human heart as the unveiling of a new Fabergé egg to the households of the Russian Tsars.
Even more extraordinary, the concept of the watch came from two almost unknown designers, Johnny Girardin and Franck Orny, who have been given a turbo-charged apprenticeship at Montblanc’s Minerva-Institut.
Mechanical innovation was matched with pure art at Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin.
Van Cleef & Arpels brought a rare sense of femininity to the ostensibly men’s watch-dominated SIHH with its feminine Le Pont des Amoureux. The mechanical timepiece features two lovers who mark time as their romantic stroll brings them closer and closer together until they meet at the top of a bridge at midnight.
Other unusual materials and techniques used in high art Van Cleef & Arpels designs included stained glass in the Butterflies piece, 3D raised enamelling in the Hummingbird and lacquering in the Midnight Extraordinary Japanese Lacquer men’s watch. Lacquering featured even more prominently in the Vacheron Constantin collection, which continued to add to its Metiers d’Art collection that celebrates the craftsmanship and traditions of art and horology.
Vacheron Constantin’s La Symbolique des Laques family marks the beginning of a three-year collaboration with legendaryJapanese lacquer artists that will see several key Japanese symbols incorporated into watch faces.
In 2010, the theme is The Three Friends of Winter: the pine tree, bamboo and plum tree, beautifully illustrated with the Bamboo and Swallow face created for the ultra-thin Caliber 1003 movement timepiece. The watches in the collection will retail for about £130,000.
Several watchmakers were keen to use legacy designs that drew attention to long histories with modern engineering in brand new movements.
A.Lange & Söhne celebrated 165 years of watch making with a trilogy of exceptional complications: the tourbograph Pour le Mérite, the Lange 1 tourbillon, and the 1815 moonphase, all housed in honey-coloured gold, which is almost twice as hard as other gold alloys.
Panerai, within an extensive reissue of its Radiomir family, introduced a brand new edition of the company’s historic Mare Nostrum chronograph. The watch, first designed for officers of the Italian navy in 1943, has been brought up to date for 2010 with a 52mm model in brushed steel with a sapphire-crystal window. The hand-wound OPXXV calibre is protected to work at depths of up to 30 metres. Only 99 pieces will be made, which will retail for €24,900 (£21,700) when it launches in October.
Girard-Perregaux debuted a brand new tourbillion with three gold bridges based on a mid-19th century pocket watch. Audemars Piguet drew again on is long sporting heritage with the launch of the Royal Oak Off shore Grand Prix Chronograph within its Sport Extreme Collection.
Also bringing a sporting theme to its collection was Ralph Lauren, which has been producing fine watches for only a year following the signature of a partnership agreement with Richemont.
Movements supplied by Richemont makers Piaget, Jaeger LeCoultre and IWC, are housed in Slim Classique, Stirrup and Sporting Collection cases, some of which have been enriched with several carats of diamonds on each watch.
SIHH is not a mass market event, and it is not an event where independent high street jewellers are likely to come to stock up for their window displays. In three days of press conferences, I estimated that I had fondled about £20m of watches in my white-gloved hands. They will mostly find their way into the hands of specialist collectors for whom money lost its meaning decades ago.
But, just as haute couture designs trickle down to inspire high street fashion retailers, so haute horlogerie sets the trends that will eventually be found on the wrists of the wider population.
Yellow gold is out of fashion and the majority of cases are instead being fashioned from rose gold, honey gold, white gold and platinum. Movements have also been improved with moves towards lighter and more durable metals and compounds such as carbon fibre and silicon.
BIG IS BEAUTIFUL
Some models were scaled down in an effort to appeal to female buyers, but in general it was accepted that no compromises will be made to squeeze the maximum number of complications into a case. Watches of around 50mm in diameter are common, although some makers did try to compensate for the width by shaving the odd millimetre off the depth of cases.
At the digital end of the market, it is simple to make a watch change design with the press of a button, but trying to achieve the same trick with a mechanical watch that has a wound spring as its only power source is something different. Montblanc pulled off this trick with its Metamorphosis. Expect watch makers with the luxury of battery or quartz power to create similar effects.
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
If you have managed to craft a watch with 500 moving parts, it seems a shame to hide them. Sure, most fine watches have a crystal back to see the movement, but 2010 will see far more of the internal workings on view through the bones of skeleton watch faces.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
Watchmakers have always loved to illustrate their history, and this was never more evident than at this year’s SIHH. We saw reworked models from almost every era including 19th century pocket watch reincarnations, World War II navy watches and 1960s chronographs inspired by the great sporting legends of the period.
POETRY IN MOTION
Van Cleef & Arpels labelled one family of 2010 novelties the Poetic Complications. They drew inspiration from lovers, butterflies and other romantic themes. IWC turned to the poetry of the sea with its Portuguese Navigation collection. Vacheron Constantin captured the art of Japanese lacquer in its extension to the Meteirs d’Art line