In its fourth year, the Geneva Time Exhibition presented itself in the new, more sophisticated environment of the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, the iconic Geneva building that is often home to important press conferences, events and sumptuous gala dinners. But there was change, too, within the walls of the exhibition, as the mix of smaller independent brands and larger volume manufacturers once again changed quite considerably. Many of the brands that featured in last year’s Europa Star report, such as Cyrus Watches, Dietrich, Louis Moinet and Magellan, were not at the show this year. There were nevertheless 34 brands, including some newcomers, ready to greet the 6,000 visitors that came to see what the small independent brands have to offer this year. Here are our highlights.
In the complicated world of watch brand names, Antoine Martin does not refer to a real person but uses the first names of the brand’s two co-founders, Martin Braun and Antoine Meier. This is because the more familiar name, Martin Braun, is the property of the Franck Muller group, which in 2006 invested in the eponymous brand set up by the master watchmaker in 2001. Three years later, having been prevented from realising his dream of creating his own movement from scratch, Martin Braun sold the majority stake to Franck Muller and left the company.
In the meantime, Martin Braun has been able to realise his dream and is happy with the development of his new brand. “We are quite confident,” he says. “We haven’t been around very long but we have already managed to open a few points of sale. There are others who would like to carry Antoine Martin but we know they would harm the brand in the long term by selling a lot to start with but then nothing after that. That cannot be our objective because we need to think for the long term. It’s quite difficult to find the right retailer.”
At the show Antoine Martin presented a new, sportier version of its Quantième Perpétuel au Grand Balancier, in which an open dial reveals the discs used to display the day and month and big date and a black DLC-coated bezel underscores the sporty look. In addition to Martin Braun’s own high-performance escapement (HPE) in silicon and the new Aerodynamic Amplitude Stabilisation (ADAS), the manually wound AM39.001 calibre used in this model has an extra-large free-sprung balance in grade five titanium with a diameter of 17.5 mm. Look out for Antoine Martin, or indeed Martin Braun in person, at the Palace at BaselWorld this year, where he will be presenting a new development that takes his fascination with large balances to its logical conclusion.
Ateliers de Monaco
This high-end brand in the Frederique Constant group was born from a minute-repeater calibre that was originally conceived for Frederique Constant. When Peter Stas, CEO of Frederique Constant, saw the finished product he liked it but realised that the gap between the other models in the collection was too great. Thus Ateliers de Monaco was born in 2009.
Pim Koeslang, master watchmaker and co-founder of Ateliers de Monaco, picks up the story. “Before even creating the movement we asked ourselves how we could improve it and we saw four different areas where we could do this. The first was visibility, so we have used large windows. The second was security, so you cannot change the date between 9 and 12 at night, for example. Thirdly, the date changes instantaneously at midnight, along with all the other indications. And finally we have patented our own ‘easy adjust’ correction mechanism, which allows you to choose the indication you want to adjust by turning the crown.”
The high-end pieces of Ateliers de Monaco, which already produces four in-house movements, use Swiss components but are assembled in the company’s workshops in Monaco, which are located in the prestigious Palais de la Scala, barely more than an ambitious coin toss away from the famous casino. “We really wanted to be somewhere outside Switzerland and above all outside Geneva in order to differentiate ourselves from everyone else,” explains Koeslang. “There are a lot of high-end watch brands in Switzerland and in Geneva, so we wanted to set up elsewhere.”
Although the brand enjoys certain synergies from being part of the Frederique Constant group, its customers are not in the same league. “We have produced pieces for Prince Albert and the Prince of Qatar,” says Koeslang. “It’s a different business [to Frederique Constant], so we also have totally different retail partners.”
The brand will be in BaselWorld for the first time this year in Hall 4 together with Frederique Constant and Alpina.
It is worth mentioning in passing that Boegli, the brand famous for its wristwatches with musical movements, have announced that they are working on their own calibre. Until now Boegli timepieces have been based on a twin construction involving an ETA movement, such as the ETA2671 or the ETA 2824, together with a Swiss-made musical movement. The brand is now working on its own integrated musical calibre, which it says is “nearing completion”. It will have three barrels for the necessary power and will be launched in a limited-edition watch of 99 pieces that will be sold exclusively through subscription.
More famous for its unique facetted sapphire cases and fine jewellery models for ladies, Century caused a surprise at this year’s GTE by presenting its first gents’ tourbillon model. The Elegance Tourbillon has a 44mm case in platinum with a Century sapphire that has 48 hand-cut and polished facets, inside which beats the TT791.50 calibre from Technotime, with a masculine ruthenium finish that is visible behind the transparent sapphire dial. This manual-winding tourbillon calibre has twin barrels that offer a 120-hour power reserve and won third place in the 2011 International Chrono-metry Competition in Le Locle, Switzerland. (For more information, see our article about this movement in Europa Star 02/2012). Century aims to produce around 20 pieces of this new tourbillon in 2013. The retail price is CHF 80,000.
Independent manufacture Frederique Constant presented its new Classics Manufacture Worldtimer at the show. This new model features the FC-718 self-winding calibre with a 42-hour power reserve and allows all the functions—time, date and world time—to be adjusted with the crown at 3 o’clock. It is available as two limited editions, each of 1,888 pieces, in a 42mm rose-gold plated stainless-steel case. One has a dial with Roman numerals and a guilloché pattern, while the other bears a map of the world encircled by luminous hour markers.
Harold W. SA is currently little more than a shop on the Rue de Berne in Geneva specialising in gemstones and new and used watches, yet its presence at this year’s GTE signalled its intentions to become a player in the watch business. And it plans to do so in style, presenting its first collection of mechanical watches with a fine baguette movement visible behind sapphire crystal and priced from a reasonable CHF 500. But the name is set to hit BaselWorld with a bang later this year, where it will present a patented movement concept that features a diamond of over 5 carats and will retail for over CHF 1 million.
The star model on the Milus stand shows how, if you have the right connections, you can still acquire watch movements that are over 70 years old for low-volume reproductions of vintage watches. Cyril Dubois, managing director of Milus, was looking for some vintage movements for a re-edition of an unusual “survival kit” that had been issued to US pilots in the Pacific campaign during the second world war. “We found three of the original kits,” explained Dubois, “and when I opened the first one, which had never even been opened, I wound the watch up to see if it still worked and it did!”
The survival kit consisted of a watch, medallion, chain and rings—all in gold—inside a Bakelite case. The idea was that if pilots had to down their aeroplane in hostile territory they could use the kit as a bargaining tool for assistance. Milus’s modern-day reproduction of this kit, the Snow Star special edition, comprises a watch, cufflinks, identification tag, chain and separate NATO strap for the watch and is available in two different series, one of 99 pieces in red gold and another of 1940 pieces in stainless steel. “I wanted to use the same movement as the original in the gold pieces,” said Dubois, “and I was lucky enough through contacts in the industry to find 100 of the original ETA 2408 movements in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The only things we had to change were the barrel and a few rubies.”
The only differences between the original kit and its modern equivalent is that the diameter of the watch case has been increased from 38mm to 40mm and that Milus has included its own cufflinks rather than the rings found in the original, adding a handy compass to one and a rotating propeller to the other. The military identification tag from the original has also been replaced by an old Swiss military identification tag for reasons of neutrality.
As far as business is concerned, Mr Dubois, like many of the exhibitors at the GTE, is optimistic. “I was very happy with 2012,” he said. “We had a very good year and 2013 looks promising as well. At the moment we are doing 51 per cent in Asia and 49 per cent in the rest of the world. I know the figures are precise but we just closed the year’s accounts, so that’s how I know this. I would like to reverse this proportion and aim for 45 per cent in Asia and 55 per cent in the rest of the world. We do hope to open in new markets in Latin America and we have had some first contact with potential partners for India. But there are other markets in Asia where we are still not present, such as South Korea and Burma.”
Taking its name from the initials of company founder Roland G. Murphy, RGM was flying the flag for the United States at the GTE. In celebration of the Pennsylvania-based company’s 20th anniversary in 2012, RGM presented its third in-house movement, the Caliber 20. This movement follows on from the brand’s in-house tourbillon and Caliber 801 movements and incorporates a uniquely American invention: the motor barrel. Historically used in high-end American watches, the motor barrel assembly rotates within the jewel setting of the barrel, rather than around the barrel arbour (which in the case of the motor barrel forms part of the barrel) and thus reduces friction and wear on the mainspring.
The manually-wound Caliber 20 is found in a tonneau model in polished stainless steel measuring 42.5mm by 38.5mm which displays the seconds on a disc in the unusual location of 1 o’clock, with an ornately decorated moonphase on a wheel at 7 o’clock visible thanks to the openworked dial.
The atmosphere at this year’s GTE was warm and friendly. But more importantly the show was busy, confirming the rude health of the industry and the continued appeal of the innovative timepieces from independent watchmakers. Having found an ideal location in one of Geneva’s landmark locations, the GTE looks set to remain one of the unmissable events of the Geneva show week.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue