Although the Asian version of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) is in only its second edition, its influence is already being felt. The 13 prestigious brands present welcomed visitors with a festival of innovation.
Watches & Wonders, Asia’s premier Haute Horlogerie exhibition, took place in Hong Kong from 30 September to 2 October. Be warned: it featured ‘only’ the brands in the Richemont group, plus Richard Mille, an independent manufacture.
Neverthless, their widely different personalities and unique histories ensure that A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, IWC, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels together form a representative cross-section of the watchmaking world.
Whether by pure coincidence or simply attention to detail, navigation around the exhibition proceeded as if it were the dial of a giant rectangular watch and, appropriately, in a broadly clockwise direction!
The 16,000 visitors and 800 journalists no doubt had their heads full of tourbillons, and some certainly had capacious wallets: who, for example, went home with the Astronomica – Vacheron Constantin’s unique super-complication, for sale at the astronomical price of two million Swiss francs?
Over the three days of the exhibition, some of the display cases were noticeably empty. “Any one-of-a-kind models that are sold are immediately withdrawn in order to avoid conflicts with other potential purchasers,” the staff at the Cartier booth confided.
The exhibition is aimed particularly at buyers from mainland China; prices are often displayed in Chinese yuan. And why not; they are helping to support master watchmakers and craftsmen of exceptional talent, as you will see from our selection of new models, listed in alphabetical order by brand.
The understated elegance of the dials contrasts with the complex workings of the A. Lange & Söhne manufacture movements.
This approach appeals to the Chinese, who avidly follow the smallest developments. In Hong Kong, they were amply rewarded with the new edition of the Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite, originally launched 20 years ago, which marks the renaissance of the German brand.
- Richard Lange Tourbillon Pour le Mérite by A. Lange & Söhne
Its white gold case and blued hands and indices produce a stunning effect. It is worth remembering that the L072.1 calibre features a refined fusée-and-chain transmission, which ensures constant drive torque throughout the power-reserve period, but it also offers the possibility, by pulling the crown, of immobilising the balance inside the tourbillon cage, stopping the movement and allowing the time to be set to one-second accuracy!
Finally, Pour le Mérite features a pivoting dial segment between 6 and 12 o’clock which, outside this time period, swings away to offer a complete view of the tourbillon.
The Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Tourbillon Chronograph caused quite a stir. This series limited to 50 pieces picks up the forged carbon case, ceramic bezel, titanium pushers and rubber bracelet of the Royal Oak Offshore, and adds an innovative bespoke self-winding calibre.
- Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Tourbillon Chronograph by Audemars Piguet
Made up of 335 components which are shaped, polished, bevelled and decorated by hand, the 2897 calibre is equipped with a peripheral oscillating weight in platinum (one of the heaviest metals), thus optimising winding efficiency, and granting a totally unrestricted view of the movement through the sapphire case back, which avoids adding extra thickness to what is already a substantial watch. In terms of style, the iconic case and ‘Mega Tapisserie’ dial will appeal to connoisseurs of the Le Brassus-based brand.
The Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Tourbillon Chronograph is distinguished by the opening at 6 o’clock, which reveals a magnificent tourbillon.
The Clifton collection – a reinterpretation of 1950s Baume & Mercier watches – has boosted sales at the seventh-oldest watchmaking brand still in activity (it was founded in 1830). The collection was actually unveiled in China in 2012, and has since grown to encompass two new pieces: the Clifton MOA 10180 and the MOA 10194, both characterised by an elegant and timeless 39-mm case.
- Clifton Collection by Baume & Mercier
On the 10180, the harmony between the luminous anthracite satin-finished dial set with nine diamond indices, and the polished 18-carat red gold case approaches perfection. Its Swiss made automatic movement is visible through the case-back, and a hand-sewn alligator strap, closed with a pin buckle, completes this exemplar of ‘affordable luxury’.
The 10194 is more visibly opulent, with a bezel encrusted with 72 diamonds and a pure white dial.
All the luxury brands have attempted to seduce the Chinese market by borrowing symbols from Chinese culture. By creating a skeletonised manufacture movement in the shape of a dragon, Cartier could have fallen into the realms of cliché.
- Pasha by Cartier
However, the fantastic creature captured within its sapphire cage, with its 233 diamond scales and its 9617 MC hand-wound calibre, adroitly integrated into its shape, is a work of genius. Nevertheless, this Pasha de Cartier remains true to its signature features: serrated screw-down winding crown ornamented with a brilliant-cut diamond, ‘gun screw’ attachments and an indented bracelet.
Its three jewellery-watch versions are equipped with a case set with brilliant-cut diamonds and a black alligator strap or an articulated bracelet of white gold links set with brilliant-cut or baguette-cut diamonds.
With its Portofino Midsize Automatic Moon Phase collection, IWC takes us on a nostalgic journey back to the 1950s and ’60s. Portofino, the ‘Italian Saint-Tropez’, was a favourite haunt of stars including Maria Callas, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, who were often snapped by paparazzi in the cafés of the fishing village’s piazzetta.
- Portofino Midsize Automatic Moon Phase collection by IWC
IWC’s first Portofino dates back to 1984, and the new 2015 collection borrows its iconic moon phase display and reframes it in either a classical or a more imaginative setting. With its restrained 37-mm diameter, the Portofino Midsize Automatic Moon Phase is also suitable for slender wrists. The hands and moon phase display are driven by the mechanical self-winding 35800 calibre. The white gold model on display attracted a great deal of attention; for the first time in its history, IWC has created a dial coated with several layers of jet-black lacquer, offering a stunning backdrop for the pure white diamonds.
The Schaffhausen designers set the complete moon phase display against a star-studded night sky, making the moon and stars appear to float in infinite space. The poetic imagery extends to the diamond-set inner circle of the dial and the case encrusted with 90 precious stones. Slim baton-style indices radiate from the centre of the dial like a glittering crown, while the minutes are indicated by dots that parade around the outside of the dial like distant planets.
Each of the 174 precious stones on the dial, bezel and bracelet lugs is meticulously placed so as not to detract from the minimalist lines of the watch. It is worn with a black alligator strap by Santoni.
Two new models arrested visitors to the Jaeger-LeCoultre booth: the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication and the Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater. The former is a masterful reinterpretation of the tourbillon and perpetual calendar functions, featuring the brand’s latest innovations, the crystal gong and trébuchet hammers.
- Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication by Jaeger-LeCoultre
As well as being a grande complication, the timepiece is also a marvel of the jeweller’s art. Its night sky is represented on an aventurine dial with cut diamonds that sparkle like stars. Sapphires and midnight blue lacquer give the dial a stunning appearance. The case is carpeted with baguette-cut diamonds, underlining the exceptional character of this timepiece.
The most enchanting feature of the Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater is the dial with its extraordinary decoration; the numbers appear to melt into the floral motifs, in this case ivy, which is figured in 255 diamonds. Its beauty conceals the brand’s latest inventions, which required the creation of a new automatic calibre.
The highly accurate 942A beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour and has a 43-hour power reserve. Its minute repeater features two trébuchet hammers, which are able to deliver greater force simultaneously to two ‘crystal gongs’ connected to the sapphire crystal, producing a loudspeaker effect.
Creating a perpetual calendar that can display the exact date up to the year 2100 would be a trivial problem for Casio’s electronics experts.
But in micro-mechanics, solving the problem of leap years over almost 90 years is a significant technical challenge, and one that Montblanc has overcome in its Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar. No adjustment is necessary for the twenty-two 29 Februaries that occur between 2016 and 2100! Nevertheless, the watchmakers of Villeret and Le Locle took the complication to a new level with the Metamorphosis II which, for Watches & Wonders 2014, was revealed with new, more lustrous finishes.
- Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar by Montblanc
It was one of the exhibition’s main attractions, and for good reason, as the mechanism is made up of 746 parts, 494 of which are required solely for the Metamorphosis function! The idea was to offer a choice of either a classic watch or a chronograph, using the same movement and the same dial.
An ingenious mechanism transforms the classic dial into a chronograph; pivoting shutters part like theatre curtains, and the chronograph module comes forward to take centre stage. And if you think the metamorphosis is impressive, so is the size: it has a diameter of 52 mm and a thickness of just 15.8 mm.
Officine Panerai presented a rare special edition of the Radiomir in red gold, with a GMT function and a transparent case back that reveals the subtle details of the P.3001/10 movement.
- Radiomir 3 Days GMT Oro Rosso by Panerai
The case of the new Radiomir 3 Days GMT Oro Rosso – 47 mm borrows the size and characteristic cushion shape of the first watch created by Officine Panerai in 1936 for Italian Royal Navy commandos. From an aesthetic point of view, this special edition is remarkable for the harmony between the deep blue shade of the dial, the alligator strap and the warm 5Npt red gold case.
The special alloy owes its distinctive colour and high resistance to oxidation to its high copper content and the presence of platinum.
For over half a century Piaget has been the acknowledged master of the ultra-slim watch. The new Altiplano 38 mm 900P (available in four jewellery finishes) has set a new record as the world’s thinnest mechanical watch.
- Altiplano 38 mm 900P by Piaget
In order to achieve a thickness of just 3.65 mm, the watchmakers of the La Côte-aux-Fées manufacture in the Neuchâtel Jura, and the case builders based in Plan-les-Ouates (near Geneva) worked hand in hand to literally fuse the movement with the case. This is an unparalleled achievement for Piaget, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary, as the Altiplano 38 mm 900P is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the 145 components measure no more than a hair’s breadth, notably the 0.12 mm gears.
In order to guarantee the brand’s legendary accuracy, mechanical tolerances have been brought down to one-hundredth of a millimetre, which has in no way detracted from the 48-hour power reserve.
If the following paragraph contains too many exclamation marks for your taste, blame Richard Mille, whose technical achievements seem to demand them. This was the case again in Hong Kong, where we encountered the RM 56-02 Sapphire – limited to a run of 10 – whose case is made entirely of sapphire crystal, requiring 40 days’ machining!
- RM 56-02 Sapphire by Richard Mille
What is more, the baseplate, bridges and third wheel are also made of sapphire, and their machining takes 400 hours! Never before has this material been given such complex treatment, and in one of the most complicated timepieces too. The Sapphire is in fact a descendant of the RM 27-01 Rafael Nadal, whose tourbillon movement was suspended from a cable.
It remains to be seen whether the apparent lightness conferred by the glass will be compromised by its own weight... It was impossible to check, given that the display piece was itself inside a glass case!
The Geneva manufacture is a leader in movement R&D within the Richemont group. This was amply demonstrated at Watches & Wonders 2014 with the Minute Repeater Tourbillon Automatic in rose gold, which boasts exceptional technical prowess, refinement and the company’s signature aesthetic.
- Minute Repeater Tourbillon Automatic by Roger Dubuis
As well as the mellifluous complication itself, the timepiece conceals other technical features that bear the Roger Dubuis stamp: automatic winding via a double micro-rotor in hand-guilloché pink gold, and a flying tourbillon in a new carriage guaranteeing optimal inertia, equilibrium and anti-shock protection. Like all the timepieces that emerge from the manufacture workshops, this model bears the Poinçon de Genève hallmark, the ultimate guarantee of quality and reliability.
Indeed, 328 of the 1241 hours of manufacturing involved in making the movement are dedicated to meeting the Poinçon de Genève criteria. The Minute Repeater Tourbillon Automatic is issued in a limited edition of 20 pieces to mark the manufacture’s 20th anniversary.
It was worth the trip to Hong Kong to visit the Vacheron booth alone: through a series of workshops, visitors were able to try their hand at engraving and enamelling, visit a small museum and, best of all, discover a number of innovations first-hand.
The Traditionnelle Calibre 2253 L’Empreinte du Dragon grabs the attention with its entirely hand-engraved case adorned with a dragon scale motif, executed by a master craftsman who was awarded the title ‘Best Artisan of France’ in 2011. Equally fascinating are three exceptional and unique pieces from the Métiers d’Art L’éloge de la nature collection: Wild Golden-Coated Mustangs, Chamois Amid an Alpine Setting and Flight of Cranes from the East. Their dials read like an encyclopaedia of every conceivable technique: gemsetting, engraving, guilloché, enamelling, Japanese lacquer, stone cloisonné, and also marquetry – the Alpine setting uses 130 pieces of wood!
- Traditionnelle Calibre 2253 L’Empreinte du Dragon by Vacheron Constantin
And yet, despite being incredible works of art, another one-of-a-kind piece almost puts them in the shade: the Maître Cabinotier Astronomica. Its manual-wound 2755-B1 calibre brings together 15 of the most demanding Haute Horlogerie complications, giving pride of place to astronomical functions.
It is the first of a new highly exclusive range of timepieces produced in the spirit of the Genevan Cabinotiers of the 18th century, combining the principles of limited quantities, personalisation and highly skilled craftsmanship. A distillation of watchmaking excellence, the exceptional movement hallmarked with the prestigious Poinçon de Genève resides in a white gold case with a 47 mm diameter and a thickness of 19.1 mm.
It would take up the rest of this edition of Europa Star to describe the model in detail, so we shall restrain ourselves to just the ‘bare’ functions: hours, minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock over the tourbillon, minute repeater, tourbillon, perpetual calendar (date, day, month, leap years), power reserve indicator, equation of time, sunrise, sunset, sky chart, age and phases of the moon, sidereal time, season and zodiac sign. This watch, priced at two million Swiss francs, rapidly found a buyer and was consequently removed from display.
There are some who would like to bottle Paris. Parisian manufacture Van Cleef & Arpels wants nothing less than to pack our entire galaxy into a 44 mm-diameter watch case! Thankfully, the ambition of the Midnight Planetarium is purely poetic.
- Midnight Planetarium by Van Cleef & Arpels
Its dial is a miniature planetarium fashioned from aventurine discs and spheres of differently-coloured stones representing each of the five planets visible from Earth (depicted as a turquoise marble). Mercury (serpentine), Venus (chloromelanite), Saturn (sugillite), Mars (red jasper) and Jupiter (blue agate) waltz serenely around the sun (rose gold).
The complex automatic movement scrupulously mirrors the time it actually takes each planet to orbit the sun, from the longest (Saturn, at 29 years) to the shortest (88 days for Mercury).
The time is indicated by a shooting star that rotates around the dial over a 24-hour period.
Two apertures on the back of the timepiece indicate day, month and year.
Source: Europa Star December - January 2015 Magazine Issue