At a very opportune time, the 17th of January, at the very same moment the SIHH was opening its doors and the first guests were lining up to pass through the mandatory electronic security detectors, Richemont published its numbers for the last quarter of 2010. Verdict: sales were up 23 per cent at a constant exchange rate (33 per cent in local currencies), providing a turnover of €2.107 billion. In the stands that bordered the vast hallways of the Salon, the CEOs rubbed their hands together while waiting for their regular customers. The ‘elements of their communication language’ had been carefully chosen and the collections they were about to reveal bore witness to this strict selection: ‘rigour, classicism and thinness’ would be the key words this year.
But for those diehard macho fans of the ‘Hummers’ of the wrist or those amorous of bling bling, they need not worry. There will always be something for everyone and, despite this neo-classic offensive, they will have no trouble finding, here or there, what they require to adorn their substantial wrists (on this subject, see the article Watches For Real Men by Keith Strandberg in this issue).
If they didn’t find what they wanted among the 19 exhibitors at the SIHH, they could always slide into one of the limousines that were already warming up their engines in the adjacent hallways, waiting to take visitors to private suites in a number of hotels along the lakeside or to the GTE, a show for independent brands.
Paradoxically, in spite of the efforts made by the SIHH, external exhibitions have taken on greater and greater importance each year. Around this grand flagship, increasing numbers of brands—and not the least significant among them—gather to showcase their wares. The Swatch Group was quite present this year and inaugurated two exhibitions—Jaquet Droz and Breguet—with a world first, the Type XXII ticking at 10Hz, or 72,000 vibrations per hour. LVMH also came out in force with TAG Heuer where they showcased, along with fabulous race cars, another world first—the TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrograph, a column-wheel chronograph displaying 100th of a second. Zenith, in full renaissance, held its exhibition at the Kempinski Hotel, while Hublot made a big splash at the Métropole Hotel on the other side of the lake.
The Franck Müller Group organized its ritual ‘World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie’ at its site in Genthod near Geneva. A number of powerful independent brands also took place, including Corum, which took advantage of the occasion to reveal the coherence of its new collections (see our next issue). In addition, all of the Geneva-based brands, in a more discreet manner, invited the most influential retailers to their headquarters. We also must mention the luxury niche watchmakers that exhibited along the lakeside, such as De Bethune, Christophe Claret, Jean Dunand, Urwerk, Bovet, Antoine Preziuso, DeLaneau and deLaCour, to cite only a few of the more than 100 brands present during this hectic week in Geneva.
Given all this outside activity, the SIHH tried to eliminate or at least contain as far as possible this potential loss of visitors and capital. This year, the Salon was much stricter in the selection of its invited guests and the rules were more clearly defined and communicated to the interested parties—quite understandable since it was the SIHH brands that paid the plane tickets, hotel rooms and nights on the town for their guests.
The importance of consistency
Let’s visit, first of all, the corridors of the SIHH (even if, as residents of Geneva, the journalists at Europa Star owe nothing to anyone and are thus perfectly free in their movements). We noted from the beginning that the key word of neoclassicism was followed to the letter at the Salon and that a strict low-calorie diet was energetically enforced, everywhere. Sizes had been reduced, the excess trappings had melted away and the faces had been cleaned up. But, in this exercise of generalized fitness, those brands that have always been fit are the ones that did better. In this category, the uncontested prize went to Piaget, which saw itself rewarded for never having deviated from its line, for always remaining faithful to its genes—in other words, for being thin and el-egant. “The ultra-flat is our religion,” affirmed the brand’s CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger, who was happy to note that it was not the brand that needed to follow the trend but rather that the trend caught up to it.
Piaget introduced an impressive array of 64 new models, as well as its thematic collection, designed to specifically celebrate the Chinese New Year. While the current trend favours Piaget, the brand realized that it is necessary to also satisfy its principal market. It did not have to change its nature in order to offer, among others, a wonderful demonstration of elegance with its Altiplano collection. This family of timekeepers was born in 1957 with the 2-mm Calibre 9P followed in the 1960s by an automatic version, the Calibre 12P, the thinnest automatic movement in the world. Let’s remember in passing that of the 29 movements developed up to now by Piaget, 17 are ultra-flat. Metzger is thus right to sing the praises of his brand’s expertise in this domain, a domain that has returned to the centre of attention. He thus expects, after 2010, a “very good year and an explosion of sales, especially in Asia”.
While the Altiplano collection is still as thin, it is now available in three different sizes—38mm, 40mm and 43mm. Very exacting and rigorous workmanship can be seen on the different dials of the Altiplano family, emphasizing the quintessence of readability and display: baton hands, small seconds, alternating simple and double baton indices on clear and important dials. Even with the totally pavé-set dials—Piaget remains, of course, a jewellery house—the Altiplano conserves its luxurious simplicity.
Moreover, a new calibre demonstrates that Piaget’s expertise in thinness is not merely a slogan. The 5.5-mm Calibre 1270P, composed of 200 pieces, can claim to be the flattest tourbillon in the world. Based on two other movements, the 1208P (which brings its automatic winding system using a micro rotor, one of the big hits of the Salon, as well as its system for correcting the time) and the 600P (which provides the tourbillon escapement whose cage weighs only 0.2 grams), the 11270P is a form movement in the unusual cushion shape that was designed specifically for its case. The sophisticated symbiosis between the form of the movement and the case has allowed Piaget’s designers, who inversed the architecture and the arrangement of the elements of the movement (placing the micro rotor, barrel and regulating organ on the dial side) to create a magnificent watch that is only 10.4mm thick. The operational functions can be seen through a sapphire dial that has been laser-engraved with a sun pattern. At the back of the watch, two openings have been created, one revealing the other side of the tourbillon, the other displaying the power reserve indicator.
ULTRA-THIN TOURBILLON and ALTIPLANO by Piaget
The most beautiful watch of the season
Another big brand that was already in line with the neoclassic trend is Vacheron Constantin. Above and beyond its simplest models, the Geneva manufacture presented a watch that we can qualify, without hesitation, as the most beautiful watch seen during the Geneva watch week regardless of category: the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time. The first particularity of this magnificent timepiece is that it is the first wristwatch to show the 37 time zones used throughout the year by the nations of the world. We can count among them 13 half-hour or even quarter-hour time zones, for example Katmandu in Nepal. (In all, there are 43 time zones around the world, of which six are only used during part of the year for winter and daylight savings times in the North and South poles). The second particularity is that the day/night indicator is not in a small window, as is usual, but can be viewed via a tinted sapphire disc for half of a darker zone that rotates over the world map. As poetic as it is practical, it lets the wearer see night coming and to immediately understand which part of the night is found in some other location. The third particularity and not the least, is that everything can be adjusted easily using a single crown, thus conferring upon the 42.5-mm pink gold case an allure of classic purity. Driven by the new 8.10-mm automatic 2460 WT calibre, composed of 255 component parts with its oscillating weight mounted on ceramic ball bearings and featuring a 40-hour power reserve and the Poinçon de Genève hallmark, the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time has another advantage that is as unbeatable as it is perfectly calibrated—its price, at €28,900. This will undoubtedly be a future ‘Watch of the Year’.
Moreover, in its Patrimony Contemporaine collection, Vacheron Constantin introduced a very lovely Perpetual Calendar, readable and pure in form, equipped with a 4.05-mm Calibre 1120 QP, which is one of the flattest perpetual calendars in the world. The brand also emphasized its personalized series of Quai de l’Ile timepieces, introduced in 2008, which has added dials with alternating vertical satined and opaline finishes as well as a new perpetual calendar movement with a retro-grade date display. More than 700 different variations and combinations are available. Finally, Vacheron Constantin is re-editing a piece dating back to 1954. Larger than the original, the Aronde has been revisited and corrected so that the curves of its ‘swallow wings’ are softer. The piece unmistakably evokes the organic forms that were in vogue after the war.
PATRIMONY TRADITIONNELLE WORLD TIME and PERPETUAL CALENDAR by Vacheron Constantin
Italian and American nostalgia
A similar nostalgia for the ‘dolce vita’ of the 1950s presided over the launch of the new Portofino collection by IWC. The Schaffhausen manufacture has obviously bet heavily on the revival of a very classic collection born in 1953. The brand has pulled out all the marketing stops, to the point that it seems it has tried too hard to alter destiny at any price. Its booth evoked the cinematographic décor of the small but very select Italian port that inspired the name of the collection. A grand soirée, ‘A Night in Portofino’, offered Italian food and an avalanche of stars (Kate Blanchett, Kevin Spacey, Jean Reno, Zinedine Zidane, etc.). The evening’s activities were photographed by another star, Peter Lindbergh. It was a really big affair to launch the entirely renovated and completed collection ranging from the very simple three-hand automatic with date equipped with a Calibre 35110 (a Sellita Calibre SW300), selling for approximately €3,500, to the manual-winding power-reserve model equipped with an IWC Calibre 59210 and featuring an extra large barrel ensuring nine days of working reserve. In between is a chronograph with date and day as well as a Dual Time equipped with a new in-house 72-hour double-barrel calibre. Round and elegant, it is offered on a leather strap (from the well-known Italian house, Santoni, for the dual time zone and manual-winding models) or on the very flex-ible and lovely Milanese link bracelets, which also evoke an air of nostalgia. IWC’s essentially commercial offensive was similar on a number of points to another offensive led by Baume & Mercier.
PORTOFINO DUAL TIME by IWC
At the booth of this Geneva brand, now directed by Alain Zimmermann, formerly at Cartier and IWC and an adept of storytelling, another type of décor also evoked a film studio, but this one was dedicated to the upscale Hamptons, situated on Long Island. Rather than Fellini’s Dolce Vita, it was the America of the Kennedys that Baume & Mercier called to mind. Illustrations of happy families, nice couples and charming children, barbecues at the foot of the sand dunes, elegant interiors made of light wood… ‘Life is about moments’ was the theme used to initiate this new adventure and relaunch of the brand. After having experienced a number of re-orientations, it is now positioned in the category of ‘elegance at a correct price’, in other words, at prices ranging from €2,000 to €4,000.
The exemplary watch of this renewal, evoking strong retro accents, is the Capeland flyback chronograph, directly inspired from a 1948 timepiece. With its form reminiscent of a pebble polished by the waves, its short horns, its Arabic numerals, its telemeter and tachometer scales, this watch is very successful in its 1950s style and is perfectly emblematic of the revival sought by Baume & Mercier. Driven by an automatic Bi-Compax calibre from Lajoux-Perret, it is available in steel or in red gold on a black crocodile strap. It has the lovely allure of a timeless classic, although not revolutionary and is perfectly representative of the SIHH 2011.
CAPELAND FLYBACK CHRONOGRAPH by Baume & Mercier
The playful Germans
Another latitude, another type of horlogerie and another approach were found at A. lange & Söhne. Not having obtained, it seems, the expected sales results, Fabian Krone had to cede his position, in September 2009, to Jérôme Lambert, CEO of Jaeger-Lecoultre, who came on a temporary basis to get the Saxon manufacture ‘back on track’. Yet, based on the products proposed, the brand seemed to be operating quite in line with its standards. We might recall, for example, the last launch managed by Fabian Krone—a piece with a very interesting digital display, the Lange Zeitwerk.
Now managed by a new CEO, Wilhelm Schmid, who came from the commercial and marketing division at BMW, A. Lange & Söhne has not deviated from its journey but has added a small playful touch to its particular type of watchmaking—one that is still very German and orthodox. It also seems that the manufacture has geared to a higher speed. Of the forty movements it has created totally in-house since 1994, the date of its renaissance, 11 have come out over the last two years, of which five are new movements for 2010-2011 and equip six new models presented this year at the SIHH. Among them, one that stands out is the ‘Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite’, featuring an innovation in the form of a mesmerizing dial that denotes the ‘new spirit’ that is wafting through the hills in Glasshütte. A magnificent regulator designed with three circles that divide the dial to display minutes, hours and seconds, this new ‘Pour le Mérite’ tourbillon is equipped with a fusée-and-chain mechanism for energy transmission. Inspired by a pocket watch realized by Johann Heinrich Seyfert—the explorer Alexander von Humboldt was among his demanding clients—it hides a mechanism that is as original as it is surprising. The tourbillon seems only partially visible, covered in part by the hour display. But this part of the dial disappears instantaneously when the hour hand reaches 12 o’clock, affording a complete view of the usual superlative finishing of the tourbillon carriage and the mechanism. When the hand comes to 6 o’clock, the dial returns to its place in an instantaneous jump. Another remarkable realization is the new Lange Zeitwerk Striking Time. As its name indicates and with its visible hammers and gongs, this timepiece chimes the passing hours and quarter-hours.
A. Lange & Söhne is also considerably enlarging its Saxonia collection with the introduction of a new flatter automatic movement, a manual winding version, a dual time model and, in keeping with the current trends, a Saxonia Thin, whose movement is 2.87mm thick, placed in a 5.9-mm case. We will return to the Saxonia collection in an upcoming issue.
RICHARD LANGE TOURBILLON POUR LE MÉRITE and LANGE ZEITWERK STRIKING TIME by A. Lange & Söhne
Playing on the ‘dark side’
Another brand in the Richemont that has seen a change in leadership, Roger Dubuis is now directly managed by Georges Kern, also CEO of IWC. Kern proceeded to a major relaunch of the brand by totally redefining its collections. The year 2011 marks the first step of this initiative that, while drawing on the savoir-faire acquired by the brand in terms of movements (30 movements created in 15 years, verticalization of production, including springs and escapements, although access to the spring production site remains off-limits), will involve reining in the brand stylistically while redefining its target audience.
Roger Dubuis is henceforth qualified as ‘a little extravagant’, not worried either by ‘a touch of audacity’ or by playing a little on ‘the dark side’ of existence. ‘Dark’ is also a theme of the new La Monégasque collection, evoking gambling, casinos and risk. It is also seen in the world of warriors and samurais in the brand’s high complications, while the world of divas, femme fatales and seduction applies to the feminine timepieces. Finally, the world of ‘adventurers and thieves’ inspires the future sports watch collection to be presented in 2012.
Although flirting with the limits of political correctness, Roger Dubuis is more restrained in its products than in its communication. In our opinion, this is a good thing. The La Monégasque collection, in particular, demonstrates this very well. While remaining effusive, always with a few touches of exuberance (as seen in the improbable La Monégasque Club leather strap evoking the gentlemen’s club Chesterfield, whose dial is carved from tortoise shell), the new Roger Dubuis style has become more elegant. Without totally bathing in the minimalism that reigned in all the other booths, the cases here have thinned down, the proportions have been revisited and superfluous elements have been removed. The watch offers new and more graceful harmonies. Forty references make up the heart of the offer, with prices ranging from CHF 12,000 to CHF 70,000, made up of automatic chronographs and other useful complications, limited series and the ‘Millésimes’ showcasing the brand’s mechanical savoir-faire and custom design.
Roger Dubuis has also placed the accent on the movement, having made major efforts in reliability, control, homologation and rationalization of its totally independent production, all of which is 100-per cent certified with the Poinçon de Genève hallmark. It has also developed 30 calibres in 15 years, a too rapid rhythm that brings up questions of quality over the long term as well as of competiveness. The new base that has given birth to the new family of movements is called RD680. This 13"’ automatic calibre with a micro rotor has been entirely revisited in both design and fabrication. According to Grégory Bruttin, responsible for movement development, these changes have resulted in the ‘improvement’ of four complications: double tourbillon, flyback chronograph, perpetual calendar and a skel-etonized tourbillon. We will also come back, in an upcoming issue, to Roger Dubuis’ refocusing, in terms of style and quality.
LA MONÉGASQUE and RD680 movement by Roger Dubuis
Legitimacy in Haute Horlogerie
There was no ‘refocusing’ at Cartier, but rather a marked deepening of its watchmaking orientations begun during the preceding seasons. This year, a particular accent was placed on haute joaillerie and the Métiers d’art with a splendid Cartier d’Art collection incorporating stone mosaics, plique-à-jour paillonné enamel, wood marquetery, mother-of-pearl and grand feu champlevé enamel. (For more on these pieces, as well as the new feminine Délices de Cartier, see the article by Sophie Furley in this issue.)
On the Haute Horlogerie masculine side, the teams led by Carole Forestier continue their efforts to fully legitimize Cartier in this sector. Four new movements have thus been proposed and are used in a Rotonde Astrorégulateur, a Multifuseaux Calibre, a skeleton flying Pasha Tourbillon and an Astrotourbillon Calibre. The Astrorégulateur is particularly revealing of Cartier’s grand ambitions in this domain. It is impossible to detail all its inner workings in this article so we will return to it in an upcoming issue. We can, however, simply say that it involves an alternative to the traditional tourbillon, whose escapement carriage passes by all possible centres of gravity and averages time disparities in vertical positions, thus providing better isochronism. The watchmakers at Cartier took a whole different approach when they designed this original system for compensating for the negative effects of gravity. They placed the escapement, the oscillator and the second pendulum directly on the rotor, which, in the vertical position, always returns to the same position, thus offering a single centre of gravity, thus allowing the watchmaker to regulate the oscillator in this unique position. In addition, two differentials let the variable speeds, which are transmitted to the rotor by the movements of the wrist, be changed into constant speed. This ensures regular operation of the second pendular that moves with the micro rotor, whose weight is in platinum. Placed in a very light and superbly finished niobium-titanium case (circular-grained main plate, bridges that are bevelled, drawn and decorated with the Côtes de Genève pattern). Stylistically all Cartier—two overlapping displays on the dial, transferred Roman numerals, monochrome tones in grey, slate and silvered—the Astrorégulateur is protected by four patents and testifies well to the “profound engagement by Cartier in the development of Haute Horlogerie,” as affirmed by the brand’s managers. Another good example is the innovative Multifuseaux whose indication of the second time zone is placed laterally.
ROTONDE ASTRORÉGULATEUR and MULTIFUSEAUX CALIBRE by Cartier
Regarding the other brands of the Richemont presented at the SIHH, see our special Jaeger-Lecoultre publication delivered with our Europe edition, as well as our Cover Story on Ralph Lauren and the articles by Sophie Furley and Keith Strandberg.
Classicism of the independent brands at the SIHH
As for the independent brands participating in the SIHH, we noticed the same trends. Classicism, minimalism and vintage influences were especially evident at Girard-Perregaux and Parmigiani—a small vintage, we might say, in regard to the latter. Parmigiani introduced a new collection, the Tonda 1950, whose name says it all. It is the first ultra-thin classic watch made by the manufacture and features hours, minutes and small seconds, as well as a new 2.6-mm 13¼"’ automatic movement, the PF 701. It features a power reserve of 42 hours and an off-centred micro rotor, decidedly in vogue this year and is placed into a fine case measuring 7.80mm in thickness and 39mm in diameter. From a design point of view, the essential codes of the brand have been well respected, notably the profile of its very characteristic horns. And, as usual, the finishing is perfect—nickel-silver main plate with a sandblasted, circular-grained and rhodium-plated finish; drawn, hand-bevelled and rhodium-plated bridges; chamfered, milled and circular designs on both sides of the gears. In addition, Parmigiani (which stated that it made 5,000 watches last year and whose verticalization is nearly complete following its new production centre in Moutiers) is presenting a new version of its Bugatti Super Sport. The new movement is not on a transversal axis like the preceding model, but on a vertical axis that conserves nonetheless the lateral reading of time, made possible by a system of returning the hour at 90 degrees composed of double pinions with conic gearing. Finally, Michel Parmigiani personally delved into the realization of a unique piece (with a price tag of CHF 3.5 million) in the form of a world first: a small table clock with a Hegira Calendar, working on a cyclic base of 30 years. We will return later to this very interesting timekeeper.
TONDA 1950 and BUGATTI SUPER SPORT by Parmigiani
As we all know, Girard-Perregaux had a very sad year with the death of its charismatic leader, Gino Macaluso, who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 62. His two sons, Stefano and Massimo, joined by their mother, have taken over the reins of the Sowind group that also controls JeanRichard. This transition has been happily carried out up to now, especially important since Girard-Perregaux is celebrating its 220th anniversary this year.
These difficult circumstances certainly explain why Girard-Perregaux presented only a few new pieces at the SIHH. These are essentially classic or commemorative in nature, such as the very lovely and stylistically pure GP 1966 Tourbillon Anniversary with its elegant tourbillon bridge and its superb rocking arms. Another reference to the 1966 is its new and very pure Small Seconds on an enamel dial that, with its railroad motion works, is one of the loveliest classics of the season. Two watches present another look to the past, also Vintage 1945, with the famous Art Deco inspired rectangular case, the XXL (even though it measures ‘only’ 32.25 x 36.20 mm) and the Lady with a case set with 70 diamonds. In the feminine domain, there is a new version of the Cat’s Eye, featuring small seconds.
GP 1966 TOURBILLON ANNIVERSARY and VINTAGE 1945 by Girard-Perregaux
The two pillars
At Audemars Piguet, which affirmed having produced 25,000 watches in 2010, the new models are divided between the two pillars of the brand, the Haute Horlogerie and the Royal Oak (regarding the new Royal Oak watches, see the article in this issue by Keith Strandberg). The manufacture, located in Le Brassus, also makes its contribution to thinness, purity and classicism with a totally revisited and increased Jules Audemars collection: an Automatic version with date and central seconds hand; a 28.40-mm Extra-Thin, one of the flattest movements in the marketplace, the in-house Calibre 2120; a Petites Secondes; a Dual Time; and a Moon-Phase Calendar. This allows the brand’s 560 points of sale to satisfy the varied demand of the new adepts of understatement (the Chinese are quite emblematic of this trend and Audemars Piguet enjoyed double-digit growth last year in China).
The brand’s most marked new watch is the Millenary 4101, equipped with a new and dedi-cated calibre in an oval form, like its case. What is most interesting is that the three-dimensional construction has been inversed to show all the mechanical activity at the front of the watch. This view of the mechanism required perfect integration between the movement’s engineering and the case’s design. The regulating organ is particularly visible. Located at 9 o’clock, it has a variable inertia balance with eight weights and the palettes and the escapement wheel can be clearly seen through the opening that traverses the thickness of the movement. The bridges and decoration accentuate the three-dimensional appearance. On the back of the piece is the off-centred oscillating weight with a ceramic ball bearing reverser. It is a lovely watch positioned harmoniously at the crossroads between classic watchmaking and very contemporary design. We also find this delicate post-modern balance in the new manual-winding Millenary Répétition Minutes (165 hours of power reserve assured by two barrels, with a third barrel dedicated to the minute repeater) equipped with an Audemars Piguet escapement. The regulating organ of the Calibre 2190 is composed of two balance springs placed in a ‘sandwich’ arrangement and inversed 180 degrees, which allows for the auto-compensation of any problems related to the balance.
JULES AUDEMARS COLLECTION and MILLENARY 4101 by Audemars Piguet
Being your own classic
Contrary to its colleagues, Richard Mille was not tempted to follow the call of renewed classicism, unless it is the brand’s own classicism. Adept already for a number of years in combining lightweight with robustness, the brand has, however, decreased the thickness of its movements. In this vein, Richard Mille presented a new ultra-flat automatic calibre, the RM 033, measuring 2.60mm in thickness. To attain this thinness, the brand integrated an off-centred and bi-directional platinum micro rotor (again, another one!). To ensure the robustness of the fine interlacing elements of this skeleton movement, the main plate, bridges and balance-cock are made in Grade 5 titanium plated with Titalyt or PVD (for the bridges). A variable inertia balance, fluted screws and a ceramic crown with a double O-ring joint make up the other elements of this thin but nonetheless very ‘Mille’ timepiece.
Continuing in the domain of the ultra-thin, Richard Mille also presented an ultra-flat tourbillon set in a rectangular case, the RM 017 (presented as a prototype last year) that has been entirely revisited and whose main plate and bridges are also in Grade 5 titanium. Equipped with a blocking system preventing too much tension due to over winding, the RM 017 features a function indicator inspired by the gear boxes of cars. This crown function displays a W (winding), an N (neutral) and an H (setting). Devoid of the encasing circle, the movement is directly mounted on the ‘chassis’ and fixed by four titanium screws and by silent blocks.
They are, however, only two of the many products coming out of the Richard Mille pipeline. This year, the brand also launched the following: the RM 026, a high jewellery tourbillon that, under its sapphire crystal, includes two three-dimensional snakes made of rubies, emeralds and diamonds on a black onyx main plate; the RM 029, an automatic large date indicated by two discs and carried by a rotor with a variable geometry (made up of two adjustable wings on six different positions as a function of the more or less active lifestyle of the wearer); the RM 030, an automatic featuring a rotor with variable geometry that can also be disconnected, thus letting the disconnected rotor turn freely from the movement already mounted on the block; and the RM 038 designed for Bubba Watson, the left-handed golfer who is nearly two metres tall and known for his long drives. After tennis star Rafael Nadal, Watson will test this ultra-resistant magnesium-tatalium skel-eton tourbillon under real conditions. “My type of watchmaking has a little aspect of rock n’ roll,” confided Richard Mille, “but on the technical plan, it is always very, very serious. I always have several projects in motion at once. This is even more exciting given that the lifespan of watch products tends to get shorter and shorter, meaning that we must constantly create. But it is ok like that.” With 2,500 watches sold in 2010, the adventure is going well and will, as promised by Mille, “always remain on a human scale”.
RM 033 and RM 017 by Richard Mille
One watch per year and per person
On a scale more ‘than human’, at Greubel & Forsey, the production—and what amazing quality it is—is limited to 100 pieces per year in both good and bad years, supported by around 100 employees. With the rate of one watch per year per person, Greubel & Forsey undoubtedly beats all world records, including that held by Philippe Dufour, the great ‘Master’ with which the brand shares the exigency for quality finishing unlike any other. Faithful to its mission, it is evocative of the ‘reinvention’ of the great mechanical classics and suggestive of the notion of ‘rediscovery’ (rediscovering, for example, the tourbillon in all its forms, such as the tourbillon 30º or the double tourbillon). Greubel & Forsey takes the time to develop and certify its pieces before perpetuating its inventions, as is the case of the Invention Piece 2 with 594 components that pays tribute to the Quadruple Tourbillon. This piece is composed of two double tourbillons, one positioned at a 30-degree angle and making one rotation per minute, while the other is inversed and makes a rotation in four minutes. They are linked by a spherical differential that averages their operations. With this degree of complexity, where the hour indications become secondary, the price climbs very high—CHF 730,000 for each of the 11 pieces made in platinum and CHF 750,000 for the 11 made in red gold. Another remarkable timepiece, notably for the excellence of the ‘guarantee’ of its chronometry, is the brand’s Double Tourbillon 30º Technique in platinum, which is equipped with four co-axial in-line barrels thus obtaining a power reserve of 120 hours at an amplitude of 120 degrees.
DOUBLE TOURBILLON 30º TECHNIQUE and INVENTION PIECE 2 by Greubel & Forsey
The best kept secret
A high technical level—basing its approach on the highest traditions in order to better enhance its pieces—and a high design quality can be found at another independent, but this time exhibiting outside of the SIHH: De Bethune. This brand is perhaps the best kept secret of all the brands created less than ten years ago. To overcome the relative unfamiliarity of what is one of the most compact, innovative and complete small manufactures in Switzerland (40 people, 200 to 300 pieces produced per year), De Bethune just hired Pierre Jacques, a former editor (GMT), former retailer (Les Ambassadeurs, Geneva) and now CEO of the company founded jointly by Denis Flageollet, watchmaker and David Zanetta, a connoisseur and businessman with an eye for aesthetics.
Denis Flageollet stated that, with De Bethune, “Pierre Jacques has received the keys to a healthy company. All the design and technical canons of the brand have been established; nothing has been done merely for the short term or only for commercial reasons; the style is unique; the research is advanced; the savoir-faire has been mastered. He has no excuse!” We have confidence in him.
This year, as testimony to the art of watchmaking according to De Bethune, is the DB28. Emblematic of the brand’s particular style with its strong identifying codes—totally original spherical moon; silicon/palladium balance (balances are one of Denis Flageollet’s favoured avenues of research); triple pare-chute shock absorber system; self-regulating twin barrels; patented floating lugs that easily adapt to all wrist sizes; beauty of the blued screws; etc. The DB28 is a ‘wearable piece of art’ that is as graceful, lightweight (case in titanium) and ergonometric as it is fully contemporary, if not even a bit futuristic (with price tags ranging from CHF 80,000 for a titanium version to CHF 87,500 for a watch in red gold).
Wanting to show those who might be overwhelmed by the contemporary aspect and thus don’t see the classicism, adapted to the 21st century that underlies De Bethune’s timekeeping, the brand is also presenting a timepiece in the form of an authentic regulator for the wrist, the De Bethune Régulateur Tourbillon. Its tourbillon carriage weighs only 0.18 grams, the lightest in the market and spins once every 30 seconds. Its architecture comprises 50 component parts, of which the lightest weighs less than 0.0001 gram and the heaviest is 0.0276 gram.” A technical exploit in the service of chronometry. Thanks to its lightness, its frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour and its maximum rotation speed result in a minimum of inertia. This high-tech watchmaking movement equips a timepiece whose dial features a blued titanium night sky adorned with golden stars that would not displease those who appreciate 18th century regulator clocks. Among the characteristics is a central jumping seconds hand with double palettes that subtly adds rhythm to the piece. With its very nice workmanship, the Régulateur Tourbillon is among the most beautiful pieces seen during the Geneva week.
DB28 and RÉGULATEUR TOURBILLON by De Bethune
Not far from De Bethune, in another hotel suite, Christophe Claret has ‘leaped ahead’, we might say. After its remarkable Dual Tow introduced last year—the first piece that the constructor-manufacturer presented under his own name (he is also a partner with Thierry Oulevay at Jean Dunand)—and on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, Claret presented his second piece, the Adagio. He will introduce his third watch, which is apparently ‘spectacular’, at BaselWorld in March. Christophe Claret has launched his own brand.
The Adagio is a minute repeater with a large date and GMT, whose design is as pure and classic (and clothed in a suit of black onyx or lapis lazuli or white gold) as the Dual Tow was ‘post-industrial’ with its steel chenilles and pawls. Here, we find an elegant dial, with indications well distributed under deep golden openings. Does this represent the birth of a new Claret style? For the answer, see the next issue, the Europa Star Special BaselWorld 2011 edition.
Sunbeams at the GTE
At the GTE, the sun was shining. That of Frédéric Jouvenot, winner of the GTE Super Watch Award given for his radiant Helios watch, is a sun composed of twelve sunbeams that are shining at noon but dark at midnight. At the centre of the sun is a small circular module measuring 5mm in thickness and 12mm in diameter, from which emanate the 12 sunbeams representing the hours. This module, on which is attached the minute disc, includes a mechanism that causes the hour beams to pivot a half turn that corresponds to the hour to be shown. At noon, all the beams are golden, but then, hour after hour, they instantaneously pivot on themselves until all become dark at midnight. At 1 o’clock in the morning, the day begins again and the first sun beam begins to shine. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the first black beam appears.
A superb mechanical-poetic realization, the Helios offers an original way to read the time, both by using colour and mechanical animation, becoming thus a 24-hour instantaneous reading. For a young brand, this is a lovely masterpiece and in keeping with current trends since the sunbeam animation remains very pure and classic, in a delightful, lightweight and modern case. The finishing is also excellent (sides of the bezel finely engraved with a Grecian geometric frieze, reminiscent of the place where FrédéricJouvenot first ‘dreamed of’ the Helios). To purchase this superb timekeeper, you will have to lay out CHF 49,000 for the DLC version and CHF 47,200 for the titanium version. (We will look at FrédéricJouvenot’s watches in more detail in one of our next issues.)
This year, the GTE brought together not less than 54 exhibitors, all independents but all different, offering a form of richness, we might have thought, if not for the fact that times are more and more difficult for the small players! (We will return to the changes that are restructuring the watchmaking landscape in our Retrospective-Perspective 2010/2011 to be published in our next issue, the Special Basel-World edition.) It is impossible to detail all of the GTE exhibitors here, but we will take a look at a few, especially those in the mechanical domain. Undeniably, the major buzz at the GTE was the presence of the new ‘former’ watchmaker, Laurent Ferrier. He is considered the new pope of great neoclassic timekeeping, with his ‘secret tourbillon’ hidden under a romantic night sky that is one of the most beautiful enamel pieces seen in Geneva during the week (the well-known Anita Porchet was the artist). We will also come back to this interesting timepiece at a later time.
ADAGIO by Christophe Claret and HELIOS by FrédéricJouvenot
Another watchmaker working in the classic sense appeared at the stand of a new brand whose name evokes its ambitions: Heritage watch Manufactory. Created by a handful of investors centred around Christian Güntermann with the goal of launching a brand for ‘veritable connoisseurs’ with the key word being ‘chronometry’, Heritage engaged the exclusive services of a well-known watchmaker, Karsten Fraessdorf, who had just left a rather unfortunate adventure with the Fabrication de Montres Normande. With his head full of projects designed to improve traditional chronometry, Fraessdorf arrived with various key ideas in his luggage. Among them was a very large inertia balance, beating at 18,000 vibrations per hour, similar to those used at the dawn of timekeeping. The very solid Vivax balance and the Sequax escapement, both patented, are driven by a barrel with two balance springs, each developing 3.4 kilos, procuring 50 hours of constant force on its 72-hour power reserve. These are not the only patents awarded to this lovely movement. Another device lets the balance spring be maintained or removed without deforming it, thus offering the possibility of very accurate adjustment. A different mechanism, also patented, facilitates the adjustment of the balance-cock.
Besides the talents of Karsten Fraessdorf, Heritage called upon the graphic gifts of designer, Eric Giroud, responsible for some of the most remarkable watches of the last few years. From this great collaboration came two amazing timekeepers: the Tensus, a watch with a traditional and simple appearance featuring hours, minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock and power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock and the Magnus that features hours, minutes and small seconds. It is particularly remarkable in its Contemporaine version with a dial that has volume but is devoid of anything superfluous. Without a doubt, the Heritage watch Manufactory will do justice to its name.
At Louis Moinet, the extraordinary creative efforts of Jean-Marie Schaller over the last few years seem to finally be bearing fruit. The year 2010 was “excellent” and encouraged the brand to “expand its research into materials and different ideas even further”. Louis Moinet watchmaking, as conceived by Mr. Schaller, has in fact invested in an area that it can now rightfully claim as its own: its relationship with the stars, which we saw last year in the form of an exceptional planetarium. This year, we find this same relationship in a piece called Astralis. This triple complication offers a tourbillon quali-fied as ‘astral’ that is on a main plate made of aventurine, a gemstone shining with lots of small ‘stars’. It features a flyback column-wheel chronograph in blued steel and a 24-hour planetarium. This mechanism makes one rotation a day and presents four planets successfully in a window. The planets are placed on plates made of meteorite embedded in a disc: Mars, with a piece of one of the 75 Martian meteorites inventoried in the world; Mercury, with a fragment of the Sahara 99555, a unique meteorite, the oldest known rock of the solar system (its age is estimated at 4.566 billion years) and that could well have come from Mercury, although this is not scientifically proven; the Sun, represented by the Itqiy meteorite, coming from an asteroid that formed after the sun; and the Moon, coming from one of the 100 lunar meteorites found in the world. Designed and realized with a high regard for detail, such as the ‘shooting star’ flyback hand or the ‘dew drop’ of the other hands, with its harmonious Côtes du Jura design and its 18K 46.5-mm pink gold case, the Astralis is offered in a limited series of 12 pieces. It is certainly emblematic of the excellent timekeeping offered by Louis Moinet.
A younger brand, since it was recently created by two cousins, Laurent and Julien Lecamp, the Cyrus brand demonstrates solid intentions in the art of watchmaking with two collections. Kuros is a large, well-designed watch equipped with an automatic movement based on an ETA 2094 calibre, made in gold or ti-tanium, which features a second crown at 9 o’clock whose single function is to hide a plate bearing the number of the watch. Available in a limited series, the Kuros is exemplary in terms of its execution.
In addition to this piece, another impressive watch is the Klepcys, realized in collaboration with Jean-François Mojon (designer of the outstanding Opus X, among others). A triple complication, it proposes a surprising display (partially inspired by some of Urwerk’s advanced research). The hour is read over a 180-degree sector with a strong retrograde ‘hand’ composed of dice that, when rotating, alternately mark the day and night. The minutes and seconds are read linearly in the interior extension of this hand, on two respective central discs. Between 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock, a retrograde date is indicated using a scale of 0 to 9. Finally, a very lovely detail can be discovered at 5 o’clock—a hyper-realistic spherical moon that shows the phases of this astral body thanks to a semi-spherical lid that gradually covers the lunar surface. These ‘beginners’ have created a very remarkable watch.
Still in the mechanical domain, another initiative comes from Pierre Thomas, a brand founded by Pierre Galli, a dial maker and Thomas Engeler, a watchmaker-constructor. These two men slipped a large and very airy tourbillon of their own design into ancient Fontainemelon movements, with the ébauches dating back to 1870. Placed at 8 o’clock and mounted on two arms, this large tourbillon offers a splendid view of its inner workings, itself located in a ‘well’ of light that traverses the movement. This piece is at the height of their classic ambitions and is another demonstration of traditional excellence and purity. With hours, minutes and small seconds (at 6 o’clock or at 9 o’clock), it is proposed on a mechanical base dating back to 1930. Superbly finished, the dials are available in black mother-of-pearl, meteorite, or brown or red lacquer and the exquisitely designed curved cylindrical case measures 49mm in diameter and 12.70mm in thickness. In terms of numbers, quantities are modest, with 100 pieces for the tourbillon model, 200 pieces for the hour, minute and small seconds model, but the quality is great.
It is impossible to discuss all the mechanical in-itiatives seen at the GTE or in the Geneva hotels. We will return to many of these brands, some of which are also exhibitors at BaselWorld, in our next issues.
These marvellous flying follies
To end the hectic watch week in Geneva on a different note and to demonstrate that if neoclassicism has returned to centre stage, watchmakers on the edge tend to propose some really crazy timekeepers. We thus, take a small visit to HD3 and Artya.
In their highly different approaches, these two brands show two opposing horizons of watchmaking. In his provocative fashion, Jorg Hysek, co-founder of HD3, wants to show that the physical play of the gears, rods, cams and other regulating organs has reached its end. He has now designed a classic and very haut de gamme case, which does not enclose a movement but whose curved crystal is a tactile screen. Like a smart phone, you can slide your fingers across the screen to bring up all sorts of virtual timekeepers, fulfilling all the desired functions. This watch can change its appearance at will and can store photos or even be used as an agenda. At €4,000 euros, not including the various available downloadable modules, will the Slyde catch on?
At the opposite end, Yvan Arpa, also a born provocateur, is betting on the extreme individu-alism of watches, whose cases he treats with lightning. He is now going even further, not without a bit of humor and stuffs his movements with electronic components used in designs or imprisons horrible insects in a glue of his own invention. The art of watchmaking according to Arpa is devoid of all good taste and of any notion of political correctness. It is a sort of Dadaist timekeeping. After so much ‘good taste’, a little voluntary ‘bad taste’ might be considered as acceptable and helps to put things in their place.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2011 Magazine Issue