There was a profusion of models illustrating the skills in métiers d’art mastered in-house by various brands at the SIHH. But such traditional crafts cannot be so easily assimilated by other names from the high-end watchmaking fraternity represented at the show. So in this report we present some of the more high-tech trends in materials and movements, as well as the latest offerings in classic diamond watches for ladies, concluding with a brief outlook for the coming twelve months.
High-resistance materials such as carbon and ceramic are still being used to freshen up existing collections, as evidenced by the first Royal Oak models in ceramic from Audemars Piguet and a contemporary-styled pocket watch in matt ceramic by Officine Panerai, which also offers new Luminor Submersible 1950 models in ceramic and bronze.
The watch industry has already discovered the virtues of silicon (or “silicium” if you prefer the heavily Frenchified translation of many watch brands) for use in watch components. But Roger Dubuis has taken things a step further by presenting a new piece whose case is made entirely out of silicon in the spectacular new 48mm Excalibur Quatuor. One of the talking pieces of the SIHH, this new model not only has the first case in silicon but also features a brand-new movement with 590 components and no less than four individual balances that redefine the traditional ticking of a watch. Only three pieces will be available, at a cost of CHF 1 million. But as Roger Dubuis’s CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué explained to Europa Star, “If we were to choose a price that reflected the work that actually goes into the piece it would be a lot more. This is why we do not even sell this in our own boutiques but instead via a visit to the manufacture, where we pay for the customer to fly into Geneva, visit the factory and spend time with our designers and watchmakers so that they can understand all the time and work that goes into the piece.” The Quatuor is also available as a more affordable limited edition of 88 pieces in gold for CHF 380,000.
Why settle for a titanium watch when you can now get the new IWC Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar with digital date and month in the lighter and more resistant titanium aluminide alloy? As a material taken directly from Formula 1 motorsport, this may just be a first hint at the potential fruits of IWC’s new engineering partnership with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. Carbon, titanium and ceramic also feature heavily in the totally revamped Ingenieur collection for 2013, alongside the more traditional and noble platinum used for the case of the flagship Ingenieur Constant Force Tourbillon.
Among all these exotic materials, which are harder than steel and much more difficult to machine as a result, it’s worth sparing a thought for the humble watch strap, which represented one of the biggest design challenges of this new collection for Christian Knoop, IWC’s Associate Director, Creative Center. “The strap can make or break the design of a watch,” he told Europa Star. “I remember products where we did 15 or 20 prototypes of a strap before we found the final colour and execution. The new straps that we designed for the Ingenieur, with the construction of rubber and textile on top and the leather ones for the Silver Arrow watches, required quite some development.”
A. Lange & Söhne had purists salivating with the host of new creations it presented in Geneva and stole the limelight by presenting the most complicated and most expensive watch at the SIHH. Called quite simply the Grand Complication, this horological marvel will be produced in a limited series of only six pieces, each costing €1.92 million.
So what do you get for this astronomical sum? Grande and petite sonnerie, minute repeater, split-seconds monopusher chronograph with seconde foudroyante (a “lightning” seconds hand that can indicate elapsed times to one-fifth of a second), a moon phase and a perpetual calendar with instantaneous change of all the indications at midnight. Each of the striking mechanisms has its own barrel for power, while a third barrel is used to power the going train and offers a power reserve of 30 hours. The manually-wound calibre L1902 required seven years of development and takes a watchmaker one year to build before it is encased in its 50mm pink-gold case with a five-part enamel dial.
Audemars Piguet presented a new minute-repeater in the Tradition line, whose large 47mm titanium case is designed to offer the best possible acoustics for the minute repeater movement, which also features a tourbillon and chronograph and comprises 504 parts, including 83 for the tourbillon alone.
Roger Dubuis is the only manufacture to produce a skeleton double tourbillon. Its latest version in the revamped Excalibur collection uses a new 45mm Excalibur case that is 12 per cent thinner and is available in pink or white gold and as a limited edition of 188 in pink gold with a black ceramic bezel.
An innovative new method of time display was presented by Montblanc in the Nicolas Rieussec chronograph line with the “Rising Hours” chronograph, which reinvents the jumping hours display using two superimposed revolving discs. Arabic numerals are cut out of the top disc, beneath which is a disc consisting of two colours, black and blue, representing day and night. Using a Maltese cross and a system of cams, this day/night disc only begins to mesh with the movement at 3am or 3pm, after which its speed of rotation gradually increases until it is synchronous with the twelve-hour disc. This unique system means that it is not only possible to tell day-time or night-time hours at a glance, but also to see the onset of day or night thanks to the gradual change in colour.
Combining both a new material and a new movement, Officine Panerai demonstrated its watchmaking prowess at the SIHH with the launch of its first pocket watch. This contemporary interpretation of a classic theme uses a 59mm diameter matt black ceramic case and chain and is fitted with a skeletonised hand-wound Panerai P.2005/S tourbillon calibre whose black galvanic treatment blends in perfectly with the case. Three barrels ensure a power reserve of six days, which can be checked on an indicator visible through the transparent sapphire crystal case back. This is a limited edition of 50 pieces that will retail for €165,000.
In keeping with its nautical heritage, Panerai also presented three new Luminor Submersible 1950 models in the 47mm case diameter, water resistant to 300 metres and with the distinctive case materials of bronze, black ceramic, as well as a titanium version that is water resistant to a depth of 2,500 metres.
The latest incarnation in Parmigiani’s ground-breaking Bugatti line is the Super Sport in red gold, named after the 1,200 horsepower monster manufactured by the Volkswagen subsidiary in Alsace. The unique transversally mounted hand-wound PF372 calibre with 10-day power reserve that powers the timepiece is constructed on two planes. This means that the time display is set at 90 degrees to the balance and escape wheel bridges (visible on the top of the watch), which are arranged in an arc reminiscent of the Bugatti oval. This limited edition of 30 pieces comes with a bespoke Hermès alligator leather strap.
Piaget reasserted its position as world-leader in the production of ultra-thin movements by presenting two new “double records”, for the world’s thinnest self-winding movement with date housed in the world’s thinnest watch case in this category and the world’s thinnest gem-set self-winding skeleton watch. The calibre 1205P, the first calibre used in the Altiplano collection to feature a date, measures just 3mm in thickness and is housed inside a case that is only 6.36mm thick. The calibre 1200D in the gem-set version is the same thickness, but its case is even thinner at 6.10mm.
Diamonds are still a girl’s best friend
Despite the great efforts being invested in the metiers d’art, nothing can beat the lasting appeal of diamonds on a watch for ladies. The most important consideration here is to create a design that will allow the maximum flexibility for different types of setting using different diamond cuts.
Montblanc has, for example, enhanced its Princesse Grace de Monaco collection with a 34mm case that has an elliptical bezel and interior flange that lend themselves perfectly to various types of stone setting. The sumptuous “Pétales Entrelacés” model in 18-carat red gold illustrates this perfectly, with its 355 diamonds of different cuts, including 44 baguette diamonds on the bezel, 130 brilliant-cut stones on the flange and a further 168 brilliant-cut diamonds on the red-gold link bracelet that gives the watch its name.
Aside from its expertise in ultra-thin movements, Piaget is renowned as a jeweller and has considerable in-house gem-setting expertise. The brand launched a whole new ladies’ collection that pays tribute to this, the Limelight Gala, at this year’s show. The new collection is available with 32 or 38mm diameter cases in red or white gold and has extended lugs that curve downwards on the right-hand side and upwards on the left-hand side of the case to blend in harmoniously with the integrated strap. The bezel and lugs offer the perfect canvas for Piaget to show off its diamond-setting expertise and the dial is available in a classic silvered form with black Roman numerals or fully paved with up to 336 brilliant-cut diamonds. A fully-paved integrated gold bracelet is also available and versions fully paved with baguette-cut diamonds are promised in the near future.
The road ahead
With established brands such as IWC redesigning iconic collections and younger brands such as Roger Dubuis only just levelling out after several years of intensive development, it’s clear that each of the brands present at the SIHH is pursuing its own individual strategy with different objectives. On the whole, though, the feedback from 2012 and the outlook for 2013 both seem positive. Although Georges Kern, CEO of IWC, provocatively said he “couldn’t care less” what the outlook was for 2013 during his round table on the opening day of the SIHH, other figures in the driving seat were more forthcoming. Roger Dubuis’s Jean-Marc Pontroué told Europa Star that he was “reasonably optimistic” as far as the coming twelve months are concerned. “We have launched three new families over the past three years, the Monégasque, the Pulsion and Velvet,” he said, “so 2013 represents the first relatively calm year where we get back to the roots of the brand and one of its iconic products.”
At Parmigiani, things couldn’t be rosier. Looking to capitalise on the forthcoming 2014 football World Cup in Rio de Janeiro thanks to its partnership with the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) and the opening of a Parmigiani office in São Paulo, the brand debuted its CBF collection at the SIHH, which consists of ladies’ and gents’ Pershing models and the Transforma CBF (delivered with two watch-heads, a chronograph and an annual calendar), which can be used as a wristwatch, pocket watch or table clock.
“In terms of value, the split between the supply business and Parmigiani the brand is about fifty-fifty,” Parmigiani’s CEO Jean-Marc Jacot explained to Europa Star. “But in terms of volume it’s much higher. I don’t want the share of the components business to climb any higher than this. Obviously, we hope that our customers grow, but Parmigiani wants to grow too. We have an objective of 15 per cent growth per year and we can’t go much above this because all the finishing is done by hand.”
“History has shown that the work we have done over the past twelve years to build up our production capacity has been worthwhile, thanks in no small part to Mr Hayek. I say this because the brands which have been cut off by the Swatch Group have turned to us. We are able to produce all components and deliver to other brands. We work with 17 different brands and our order books are full until the end of 2014.”
Even with the Eurozone surrounding Switzerland in an ongoing crisis, the distant planet watchmaking in Switzerland’s economic haven seems likely to continue its impressive growth for the foreseeable future.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue