Nothing helps shake off the doldrums of mid-winter like a visit to Geneva for the annual Salon International Haute Horlogerie. For the uninformed, SIHH is the watch trade show put on by the watch brands under the Richemont Group umbrella and some of their friends. Familiar names like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai set up shop next to lesser known watchmakers like Parmigiani and Gruebel-Forsey in the grand confines of the Palexpo convention center.
Next to spring’s annual BaselWorld mosh pit, SIHH feels almost intimate and civilized. International journalists, retailers and collectors pad around in suits, noshing on tuna tartare between appointments, while bloggers set up shop on leather sofas right out of a Room & Board catalog to file their day’s reports. It is as good a scene as any for people-watching and watchspotting; the sheer number of fine timepieces under one roof, both on wrists and in display cases, is staggering. The booths range from the muted and subdued (Van Cleef and Arpels’ salon) to the elegant (Cartier’s regal boutique) to the downright masculine (Panerai’s ship) and over the top (IWC’s Formula 1 trackside garage).
So, what about the watches? We asked Gear Patrol’s Timekeeping writers to weigh in on what impressed them the most from this year’s crop of timepieces. Their picks vary from the classic to the outrageous (see the Tourbillon Yohan Blake, below), and together they represent a great range of SIHH 2013.
Based in that watch mecca, Minneapolis, Timekeeping Editor, Jason, is our resident dive watch expert. He actually takes his watches — gasp! — diving. But in an attempt to not be pigeonholed, Jason’s SIHH choices are decidedly less sporty than you might expect.
Montblanc TimeWalker World Time Hemispheres
Given our 24/7 connectivity and compulsion for travel, GMT and world time watches are hot with us these days. Everyone from NOMOS to Lange & Söhne has one in its collection. At SIHH, Montblanc presented one of the most unique world timers we’ve seen, and if you still think of the brand only as a pen maker, it’s time to take another look.
The TimeWalker World Time Hemispheres is actually two watches (sold separately). Both have 42mm steel and titanium cases and can be had with a textile strap or metal bracelet. A central rotating disc on the dial depicts the Earth as seen from above a Pole — either North or South depending on which watch you choose — and a ring of cities that corresponds to the time zones demarcated on the hemisphere disc. At a glance, you can tell the time in all the cities at once, as well as whether it is day or night, with your local time always shown on the main dial.
The caseback of each watch is cleverly engraved with the opposite hemisphere for reference. Clever, too, is Montblanc’s decision to sell one watch for each hemisphere so that the truly global traveler will have no choice but to buy both.
A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar
This is my “if money were no object” pick of the show. You already know of our unabashed love for Lange & Söhne, and theirs is one of the first booths I make a beeline for every year. For 2013, the big news out of Glashütte was the release of Lange’s most complicated timepiece ever: their Grande Complication. But at two million dollars and only one produced per year, I’m opting for something slightly more accessible: the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar.
While some of Lange’s timepieces, like the Zeitwerk and the iconic Lange 1, straddle the classic and avant garde when it comes to style, the 1815 family has always looked like a reduced-size pocketwatch for the wrist. This is a lovely piece, perfectly proportioned, with a new stepped case profile that especially accentuates the pocketwatch aesthetic. And there are few more lustworthy complication combinations than a perpetual calendar and split seconds chronograph — the moonphase disc, the overlaid sweep hands, the classic subdials. Of course, this being a Lange, the watch’s backside is as beautiful as her face; and I say this with all the respect due an elegant German lady.
Cartier Calibre de Cartier Chronographe
Cartier alone accounts for more than half of Richemont’s revenue annually, so it’s only fitting that its booth at SIHH takes up an entire wing of the hall. Once known more for its jewelry and fashion watches, Cartier has become a real force in high watchmaking in recent years, producing some truly groundbreaking concept watches as well as in-house movements and innovative timepieces. This year, in addition to some mesmerizing transparent dial Mysterieuse watches, the brand debuted its first in-house chronograph movement in the Calibre de Cartier Chronographe (yes, the “e” is silent — it’s French).
With the Swatch-owned ETA limiting access to its off-the-shelf Valjoux chrono calibre, watch companies have been forced to look elsewhere or develop their own movements. Breitling and IWC have responded with their own respectable pieces, and this year Cartier puts them all on notice with its new one. The Calibre is a vertically-actuated column wheel chronograph with characteristically predictable smooth operation. Aesthetically, this one occupies that dressy sports watch realm that Cartier does so well. It looks great on the wrist and slips surprisingly well under a shirt sleeve, which tempted me to glide out of Cartier’s booth with it on.
Adam is one half of our New York-based Timekeeping contingent and our most, er… well endowed writer, horologically speaking. His penchant for the luxury sports watch segment is evidenced by his fine collection of Audemars Piguets and IWCs, though he’s thoroughly egalitarian in his love of timepieces, great and small.
Audemars Piguet Ceramic
OK, I cheated. This covers more than one watch. But finally, Audemars Piguet gets serious about ceramic. While they’ve used this material for their trademark bezels, save for the limited production Legacy Offshore, they never got around to making actual, you know, cases out of it. No more. Say hello to the Ceramic Diver and Ceramic 44-millimeter Offshore Chronograph.
It was worth the wait. Befitting a manufacture known for their superlative, jewel-like finishing, these new ceramic pieces sport finely beveled edges with brushed and polished surfaces that take ceramic to the next level. Will this spell doom for the more exotic and difficult to manufacture forged carbon material previously championed by the brand? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m in love.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Ultra-Thin Duoface
The 1931 Tribute to Reverso Ultra-Thin, which was released in 2011 to honor the 80th anniversary of this iconic watch, was a revelation, plain and simple; it was nothing more or less than the distilled essence of what a Reverso was, is and will be. However, there’s little use in denying that a second time zone is a perfect way to use that backside, which is why I’m happy to see a Duo variant added to the Ultra-Thin family. Same great proportions, same elegant dials, twice the fun. You can’t lose.
Baume & Mercier Clifton
Talk about a brand on the move. Baume et Mercier definitely brought their A-game with the new Clifton line, which includes an automatic, a complete calendar with moonphase and a special edition handwound version. Ordinarily I’m not drawn to dress watches, but the entire range of Cliftons hits all the right notes, and at a price point that won’t break the bank.
What’s more, Baume & Mercier endowed the Clifton with brawn to back up its beauty, particularly in my personal favorite from the line, the 1830, which features a meticulously finished hand-wind movement from La Joux-Perret. The Complete Calendar is also a steal.
Ed is the other half of our Minneapolis Timekeeping braintrust and a trained rocket scientist (really, he is!), hence he’s most often seen sporting a well-used Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. He also shows his sensitive side by designing jewelry when he’s not covering watches for Gear Patrol.
Richard Mille RM 59-01 Tourbillon Yohan Blake
Jamaican Olympic sprinter Yohan “The Beast” Blake wore the green & yellow forerunner to this watch in the 100-meter semi-finals in London last summer. It then went missing in the finals, and I knew there was a story about half-million dollar sports watches lurking somewhere.
This latest limited edition version made for Blake has a unique, asymmetric translucent greenish-yellow composite case injected with carbon nanotubes. The asymmetry is supposedly for aerodynamics, due to The Beast’s penchant for running with his arms outstretched. (Who knows if the nod to aerodynamics is tongue-in-cheek or not.) Blake wears his on the right wrist, so the watch sweeps short-to-tall, left-to-right, with four green & yellow ”beast claw” bridges holding the classic RM skeleton movement in place.
Love it or hate it, the running social media commentary during SIHH proved that the RM 59-01 is at the very least an eye catcher. Coming from a dull winter palate, I camped with the first group.
Piaget Emperador Coussin XL
This watch is billed as the “World’s Thinnest Mechanical Automatic Repeater Movement”. I don’t usually go for repeaters but this is a sweet looking watch! I’m a sucker for pink gold, and the round case with cushion-shaped front crystal gives the piece a sophisticated, night-at-the-orchestra look. In fact, the movement itself is cushion-shaped, although you’ll need to look under the hood to see that.
Sapphire crystals front and back allow the studious to peek at the repeater mechanism and semi-skeletonized top plate, or the pink gold-toned platinum oscillating weight complete with the Piaget coat-of-arms. The Emperador hasn’t missed many meals with a 48mm diameter and a thickness of 9.4mm. That’s compact for a repeater, but you still may need to have the cuffs of your evening shirt altered.
Jaeger LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee
That’s a mouthful of a name for a wrist-full of a watch. Being an engineer, I’ve always liked perpetual calendar timepieces for the sheer mechanical genius it takes to measure the correct dates for 100 or 1,000 years with a tiny machine. Throw in a moonphase and a tourbillon, and you have the makings of watch geek bliss. The JLC in-house caliber 985 delivers on all counts.
The JLC Master Grande’s symmetric dial is fairly easy to read (perpetuals can get a little busy) and is housed in a marvelously finished 42mm platinum case with a black alligator strap. The 22K pink gold oscillator (there’s that pink gold again!) is visible through the sapphire case back. It’s decorated with a miniature reproduction of the gold medal LeCoultre won at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. If I live to be 145, this is the watch for me.
Like Adam, David can also be found roaming the concrete canyons of Manhattan, always on the lookout for the latest shiny horological wonders. Though he’s thoroughly well-informed about modern watches, he is also the custodian of one of the more impressive collections of vintage Heuers on the island.
Panerai Radiomir 1940 42mm (PAM00512)
Panerai shook up the watch world and hit it big in the ‘90s by offering 44mm and 47mm watches, but these behemoths can look a tad ridiculous on any wrist that falls short of Schwarzenegger-like proportion. We finally saw a good-looking 42mm Panerai at SIHH this year: the PAM00512 Radiomir 1940, which hits all the Panerai sweet spots with vintage lume, an in-house movement and a sandwich dial.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface
I know Adam chose this too, but I’m claiming it for myself as well. For the second year in a row, JLC breathed some much needed new life into their Reverso line with designs that hark back to the days of old. The Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface in steel sports a stunning silver dial with black hands and markers on the front, and a second time zone with a black face on the reverse. This is my favorite release of SIHH 2013 by a long shot, and will now be my go-to recommendation for any guy in need of a dress watch.
IWC Ingenieur Automatic
IWC’s Ingenieur line has long been a cult favorite among collectors, but the new Ingenieur Automatic should broaden the appeal to those who have never heard of Gerald Genta. The new case measures a very reasonable 40mm and is impressively svelte at only 10mm thick, making the new Inge a versatile piece that can work with both a T-shirt and shirtsleeves.