The year of butterflies and eagles

March 2013

It may be a long cold winter for some, but for five days in early January snow flurries were held at bay as Geneva warmed to the chefs d’oeuvre at this year’s SIHH.

There were magnificently coloured butterflies, a couple of eagles, no make that three, racing cars, paintings, a never-ending supply of delicious food and drink and enough comfortable leather seats and settees to cater for the excitable and often weary throng. Oh I almost forgot, there were watches, lots and lots of watches.
I am, of course, talking about those five days in January when Geneva becomes the centre of the horological universe, when a multitude of enthusiasts – around ten thousand buyers mingling with a couple of handfuls of re-nowned collectors, stars of the silver screen, long-legged models and popular sporting giants and, surprise surprise, a thousand or so hyperventilating journalists from around the world – descend on the Salon International de Haute Horlogerie.
The SIHH, as it is fondly referred to, is now twenty-three years old, having grown from the original five exhibitors in 1991- Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Piaget, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth - to the sixteen brands that graced the halls this year.
Unlike the vast BaselWorld, the SIHH is not open to the general public, so the moment you enter and stroll through the halls on the pastel hued wall-to-wall carpeting you are not assailed by a cacophony of industrial sounds, boisterous children, pram-pushing families or barking dogs, but you’re greeted with a welcoming and respectful purr in an elegant oasis of relaxed serenity designed and devoted to making the visitor welcome. In short, to paraphrase Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan dramatist, an ambience created to launch a thousand purchases.

My first visit was to the stylish seaside setting of Baume & Mercier with its interior luxuriously and spaciously designed to incorporate well-lit showcases and framed photographs and culminating in a room with a view: a terrace overlooking a sandy beach and the sea. The backdrop is the Hamptons, a group of villages and hamlets on Long Island, New York, where the rich and famous play in the summer months; it also happens to be the inspiration for one of Baume & Mercier’s most successful collections.
With the brand’s origins dating back to 1830, there is an interesting horological history from which to draw inspiration and some of the latest models in the collections owe their existence to timepieces from the past, a natural evolution. What I personally find off-putting is that the presentation to the press always begins with a five minute potted history of the brand, this to journalists who have been attending this event for years and probably know it backwards. If I might make a suggestion to the powers that be, please forget the past and concentrate on now, the latest models, innovations and perhaps a glimpse into the future.

The elegant Baume & Mercier lounge with its terrace and comforting ocean view.

As I strolled leisurely through the halls, I was stopped in my tracks by the squawking of an awesome golden eagle perched and chained to the arm of his handler attired in gear any man-about-town would wear in medieval times – a green tabard, leather gauntlets and boots.
Taking in the brilliantly designed surroundings of trees with a centrepiece of a marvellous metallic eagle hanging from the ceiling with a watch in its claws, I discovered that this was the Roger Dubuis setting for the presentation of the exciting Excalibur Collection.
A little later whilst ambling past with Paul O’Neil, Europa Star’s Managing Editor, the handler was holding an American bald eagle, which I duly photographed along with my intrepid colleague.

Not far from the crowd-pulling eagles there was another sight to behold: a four or five metre replica of the latest Lange & Söhne offering, the Grand Complication which stood imperiously in the middle of the stand’s entrance.
My colleagues will certainly be writing in detail about this complicated timepiece, but suffice it to say that this magnificent contribution to the art of watchmaking has a grande sonnerie, a perpetual calendar, a split-seconds chronograph with flying seconds, day, date, month, moon and leap year indications.

The imposing metallic eagle on the Roger Dubuis stand. Paul O’Neil alongside the trainer of the striking American bald eagle. The imposing replica of the Lange & Söhne Grande Complication.

On visitng the IWC stand, one could be forgiven for thinking that you had somehow wandered into the Geneva Motor Show. However, despite the cars and the unbelievably complex engines that were on display, the theme was all about timing, Formula 1 and the introduction of the spectacular Ingenieur Constant-Force Tourbillon. This amazing timepiece has a case combining platinum and ceramic that houses a tourbillon with an integrated constant-force mechanism and a 96-hour power reserve, a perpetual moon phase display, double moon phases for the northern and southern hemispheres and a countdown display showing phases until the next full moon.
It was standing room only at the press conference but the close-ups of the speeding racing cars in the film that was used to illustrate IWC’s link to Formula 1 left me slightly queasy and grateful that bicycles are still being manufactured.

Panerai launched the ‘Big is Beautiful’ concept for wristwatches way back when and it hasn’t really deviated from it since the first Radiomir timepieces in 1936. On joining the Richemont stable in 1997, Panerai became a frontrunner in this domain and hasn’t changed its philosophy since, although the brand has successfully evolved by adding new models with different complications and concepts to their existing collections. This year there were new Radiomir and Luminor models ranging in size from 42 to 47 mm and in its Submersible Collection there are now models in bronze, ceramic and titanium and the very unusual addition of a 59 mm Pocket Watch Tourbillon GMT in black ceramic with a black titanium chain. Big is still beautiful!

A Mercedes racing car dominated the IWC booth, but the brand’s Ingenieur Constant-Force Tourbillon won the plaudits. The Panerai Pocket watch Tourbillon GMT in black ceramic.

Although Audemars Piguet is not a part of the Richemont group it has been an integral part of the SIHH since 1999. In keeping with the other exhibitors, the brand offers visitors a luxurious corner to browse around, with two central workbenches close to the stand’s entrance where watchmakers were to be seen assembling one of the complications. Their highlight this year was the new Minute Repeater Tourbillon Chronograph, a stunning addition to their haute horlogerie collection.

The Panerai stand. The stylish Audemars Piguet stand. An Audemars Piguet watchmaker assembling one of the brand’s masterpieces.

Butterflies were in abundance on the Van Cleef & Arpels stand and the captivating selection of ladies’ watches brought a breath of fresh air to the SIHH by creating an aura of inspired and imaginative beauty. I’ll leave my colleagues to describe the floral, avian, lepidopteran and sculpted figurine timepieces, but the visit was more akin to visiting a renowned jewellery workshop with the addition of intricate timing.

The Piaget stand was like walking into a mysterious maze of mirrored images, intricate horological patterns and mannequins bedecked with Piaget creations. The press conference, chaired by the brand’s inimitable CEO, Philippe Léopold-Metger, was held in a blue tinted room with all the new timepieces in the various collections projected on to the walls. The finale consisted of elegantly dressed models parading both the latest timepieces and jewellery to the appreciative oohs and aahs of the assembled journalists.

The entrance to the imaginative Van Cleef & Arpels stand. Visitors admiring the latest Van Cleef & Arpels collections. Part of the intriguingly mysterious Piaget stand. The Piaget press conference hosted by Philippe Léopold-Metger, the brand’s CEO.

The Ralph Lauren stand was decorated in the typical styling of the brand with an added safari theme. Numerous photographs graced the wood-lined walls with an original 1950s green Land Rover taking centre stage. Three new timepieces caught my attention, a new 45 mm Chronograph Model, Safari RL67, with a gunmetal finish, a ladies’ watch reminiscent of the Art Deco period and a tourbillon.
A great stand to visit – especially if you get to meet Callum Barton, the Chairman of Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry and Camille Floquet, the Vice President, Marketing & Communications. (Read our Cover Story in this issue for detailed information on the new products presented by Ralph Lauren at the SIHH).
The press conference at Parmigiani, another of the independents at the SIHH, was like a theatre-in-the-round with both Flavien Gigandet and Michel Parmigiani giving highly professional presentations from a circular central dias. Now producing 5000 timepieces a year (43 per cent growth in value and 110 per cent in quantity) Parmigiani’s pièce de résistance was the Tonda Woodstock Tourbillon in an intricate, colourful and eye-catching marquetry.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has mastered the art of complicated timepieces for 180 years and to celebrate this landmark the brand produced two new tourbillons; the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee and the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique à Quantième Perpétuel Jubilee.
But it was the Rendez-Vous Celestial that stole the limelight with what Jaeger-LeCoultre esteem is ‘an invitation to embark on a galactic voyage and a vivid reminder that, 180 years ago, it was beneath the same star-studded sky that Antoine LeCoultre gave rise to what would become the Grande Maison in the Vallée de Joux’.
Stéphane Belmont, the Product Development Director, made the presentation of this year’s cru ensuring that we left suitably impressed by both the timepieces and his presentation.

The Ralph Lauren stand dominated by an original 1950s Land Rover. Flavien Gigandet presenting the latest facts, figures and timepieces from Parmigiani. The entrance to the Jaeger-LeCoultre stand with its oversized symbolic tourbillon ornament.

My last visits were to Richard Mille, Montblanc and Greubel Forsey. Richard Mille watches with their overtly mechanical movements, are very much in vogue with both athletes and couch potatoes alike. It was there that I crossed paths with Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager who is helping develop a timepiece that will be useful to the football (soccer) world.
At Montblanc I was a little surprised to see that art seemed to be the dominating factor, but on closer inspection the showcases contained the Nicloas Rieussec Monopusher Chronograph, the TimeWalker Voyager and the new Star Collection. I didn’t manage to get to see the new watches at Greubel Forsey – but that’s another story – however, I managed to photograph for posterity the enlarged display of the Art Piece 1 that many people were talking about, a co-creation by Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and Willard Wigan.

What you see is what you get: Enlargements of the inner workings of Richard Mille wristwatches. Visually art dominated the Montblanc stand, but the showcases underlined the brand’s horological skills. Art Piece1 was at the heart of the Greubel Forsey stand.

And so, another year, another success for the SIHH. Fantasy abounded, technical skills were prominent, flora and fauna were to the fore and, inevitably, creativity triumphed.

Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue