Confessions of a newcomer, discovering the Geneva watch fair for the first time, venturing into its salons and making forays further afield. On the menu: women, transparency and slightly cold feet.
The first blow is half the battle, as they say. So I’ll lay my cards on the table: this is the first SIHH I’ve covered for Europa Star. So I’m uniquely qualified to give an impartial view of the tourbillons, the chandeliers and the diamonds, the miles of smartly dressed tables and the gallons of champagne. But let’s not get distracted...
Before giving a full account of my impressions of the actual visit, a quick summary is in order (busy readers, feel free to stop here).
At the close of Geneva Week 2015 I was left with the impression of three broad trends:
• Feminisation: whether expressed in ladies’ versions of historic watches such as the Royal Oak, or models specially designed with the fairer sex in mind, there is definitely a wind of change. Interest in complications for women is growing, and gem-setting is spreading to models hitherto considered exclusively masculine.
This evolution reflects the business reality: the promising new wave of female clients is also becoming more demanding.
• Transparency: as we announced in our French-language edition Première, 2015 is shaping up to be the year of the skeleton. Visible movements, and full or partial nudity have the wind in their sails. It’s the height of fashion to put the inner workings of your timepiece on display. Welcome to the era of transparency!
• Consolidation: this year there is no new crop of innovations, no one-upmanship in mechanical complications or the artistic crafts. What we have observed is a consolidation and development of existing collections, reflecting a somewhat more skittish market. The blue chips are all present and correct and, unlike what we have seen in recent years, there’s a distinct lack of daring.
Bearing in mind these indicators, we seem to be heading for a watchmaking world that is more feminine, more transparent, but also more conservative in 2015. So let’s get on with the tour.
At the Parmigiani Fleurier booth a ladies’ watch catches the eye: the Tonda 1950 Squelette. A superb watch, skeletonised but delicately veiled, sanded and sprinkled with a judicious dose of diamond dust – not too much, just enough to pique the desire! The frosted effect is very successful. Its men’s counterpart, with its 145 components, is a worthy companion. They are both hand decorated. This is the first time Parmigiani has produced a skeleton movement, a feat that takes its watchmakers at least a week to achieve. It also classifies as ultra-slim (2.6 mm thick). At CHF 40,000 it is undeniably good value, particularly when compared with the models on display just a few booths away...
- Tonda 1950 Squelette by Parmigiani Fleurier
Parmigiani Fleurier is also unveiling three limited editions of the Bugatti timepiece to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their partnership. The brand has also built on the partnership cemented four years ago with French master glassmaker Lalique to create five new table clocks, with features such as the Earth goddess, Gaia, and snake motifs. These exclusive pieces each required 2,160 hours’ work. The price, accordingly, goes from CHF 350,000 to 1.2 million.
- Bugatti Mythe by Parmigiani Fleurier
Clocks, movements and watches: a highly diverse offering in a small area. The visit left me with the impression that the Fleurier brand is consciously feminising its range. Of the 6,000 or so pieces it produces each year, 40% are ladies’ models. Their stated aim is absolute parity. Europe remains Parmigiani’s core market, absorbing half of its output. The brand has nevertheless just set up a distribution subsidiary in Japan. It has several own-brand boutiques, for example in London, Gstaad and, more recently, Miami.
Greubel Forsey is opting for a travel theme, with the GMT Black and its conspicuous globe, which could equally well be named the ‘blue planet’! The point of the watch is to be able to tell the time at any point on Earth at a glance.
Another strong theme is art, as seen in the Robert Filliou Art Piece. This watch, driven by the Fluxus movement, is a tribute to the eponymous designer, who died in 1987. The dial is decorated with Filliou’s ‘principle of equivalence’: “bien fait, mal fait, pas fait” (well made, badly made, not made). Who knows, perhaps this motto will help to rejuvenate the ‘Swiss made’ label, currently under attack from all quarters. When will we be able to focus on the more simple and universal, but equally explicit (though less Swiss) ‘well made’?
In association with Philippe Dufour, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have also decided to tackle the sensitive topic of the transfer of watchmaking expertise (and often, today, its loss) via the project Naissance d’une montre (Birth of a Watch). Through a mentoring scheme, watchmakers are introduced to new ideas, which they can then pass on to their own students (see sidebar). In short, it’s the snowball effect applied to watchmaking: a stand against the ravages of time, which all too often slips through one’s fingers. Moving on...
He was cutting it fine. Two days before the opening of the 2015 SIHH, Michel Boulanger was still assembling the base of his watch. It is a three-hand manually wound tourbillon, produced without the use of any CNC machines. The result of four years’ work, it is the first fruit of the Le Garde Temps – Naissance d’une montre (Timepiece - Birth of a Watch) project launched by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey in partnership with Philippe Dufour. But it’s just a stage win, as other timepieces – a total of eleven – are still on the workbenches. This first model is still awaiting its decoration.
A young teacher at the Ecole d’Horlogerie in Paris, Michel Boulanger was selected to take part in this mentoring programme, the main objective of which is to create a watch starting with a completely blank canvas, producing all its parts on the workbench, with the guidance of prestigious mentors. The underlying aim is to train up a watchmaker with the expertise of past masters, so that he can pass on this knowledge to future generations. Behind this is the fear that the knowledge of true craftsmanship will disappear.
Rather than choosing to publish yet another commemorative book, Greubel Forsey and Dufour decided to invest their own time, get their hands dirty, and pass on the craftsmanship ‘bug’. Part of that means using tools that very few people now know the names of, still less how they are used.
The project blog can be found at: www.legardetemps-nm.org
At the Van Cleef & Arpels booth they are pushing a “positive view of life, particularly in our current times” (a reaction to the strong franc, the Chinese slowdown or just a general, existential disillusionment with modern life? We didn’t feel able to ask...). Something to soothe the spirit, then, inspired by the constant renewal and enchantment of nature. On the menu are floral motifs, naturally, such as buttercups and crocuses, and poetic complications in the jewellery house’s purest tradition, personified in the Lady Arpels Coccinelles and the Oiseaux de Paradis.
- Lady Arpels Oiseaux de Paradis by Van Cleef & Arpels
Inspired by nature, there is the richly decorated watch bracelet (not bracelet watch) Carpe Koï, set with more than 8,000 coloured gems (3,450 hours of work, one-of-a-kind model). A delicious irony: in French, carp are known for their inability to speak; here, its tongue tells the time.
The Parisian house has also brought back a 1930s watch, the Cadenas, so discreet that only the person wearing it can read the time. The original iteration of this avant-garde timepiece was inspired by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson. Those readers who have seen “The King’s Speech” will know to whom I refer: a controversial figure who, although she would never bear the title of Queen, certainly earned the title ‘passionate’.
Piaget, meanwhile, continues its quest for the ultra-slim. A book recounts the history of this adventure, and that of a house that has brought out 37 calibres since 1957 from its two manufactures in La Côte-aux-Fées and Plan-les-Ouates.
A reworking of the Altiplano adds another brick to the wall (and a new world record): this time, Piaget has pulled out all the stops to shave its manual chronograph flyback movement down to 4.65 mm. Some of its 240 components are thinner than a hair, measuring just 0.06 mm. It’s a little like some Olympic disciplines, the 100 metres, for instance; year after year, the pundits wonder whether the new record will ever be beaten; in other words, if one day we will hit some kind of insurmountable ceiling on performance.
- Altiplano chronograph by Piaget
The house is also following its predilection for skeletons, widely shared this year, with a new model, the Emperador Tourbillon Skeleton. For aficionados of Jackie Kennedy or Andy Warhol, it is a reinvention of the elegant and/or ‘pop art’ watches that were the height of fashion in the 1960s.
Let us leave the ultra-slim classic and move onto a completely different style, with Richard Mille. “Nothing much new to see at the SIHH,” we are warned. “They’ll come out later in the year.”
Nevertheless, there was enough to satisfy the brand’s devoted followers: a 30-unit limited edition of the RM 51-02 with ‘extreme’ decoration to its tourbillon carriage, and, most eagerly received, a flying tourbillon embedded in a magnolia flower – the RM 19-02, also limited to 30 pieces.
The mechanical flower opens and closes at regular intervals. Van Cleef & Arpels certainly doesn’t have the monopoly on floral motifs at this salon... But Richard Mille was not the most obvious candidate to join them!
- RM 19-02 by Richard Mille
Although some observers found this SIHH to be short of new ideas overall, a visit to the Cartier booth, Richemont’s flagship, might have changed their minds. There were no fewer than 110 new models, variations and reworkings! Four clear trends were apparent: the skeletonised Haute Horlogerie grand complications; the launch of the Clé collection with a new calibre; new versions of métiers d’art models, and finally, the secret watches.
The Haute Horlogerie sector features around fifteen new departures, the three main ones being: the Astrotourbillon Squelette; the Grande Complication with flying tourbillon, minute repeater and perpetual calendar (Cartier’s most complicated watch to date, with 578 components and the Geneva Hallmark), produced in a limited edition of 50; and the Crash Squelette (more proof, if any were needed, that 2015 is the year of the skeleton) which reprises the deformed case of the original 1967 watch while baring its insides. These models attest to Cartier’s desire to be considered a full member of the club of creators of grand complications (see box below).
- Clé by Cartier
The Clé collection, which goes on sale in April, nevertheless remains the company’s most important new departure, from the point of view of both sales and strategy. Its name is derived from the crown, which turns like a key. The perfectly round watch is available in three sizes, in yellow, white or rose gold.
At its heart beats a new 100% manufacture movement. Prices are around the CHF 17,500 mark. With this new model the company, which employs around 1,600 people in Switzerland, hopes to seduce consumers and, perhaps, lift the short-time working arrangements imposed last year in the face of oversupply combined with a slowdown in the market.
The great Parisian house is hoping to make its mark in the small world of grand complications.
S ince 2009, when Carole Forestier joined Cartier’s Movement Develop-ment and Design Department, which she now runs, the ‘king of jewellers’ has gained new credentials in mechanical Haute Horlogerie. In just a few years, no fewer than 30 movements have been developed by a team that today numbers 70 watchmakers, and 35 engineers and R&D technicians.
The aim of this route march to ascendancy is to establish the brand firmly in the relatively closed circle of ‘real’ watchmakers. Although Cartier has been making watches for a very long time – the Santos dates back to 1911 and the Tank to 1917 – the great Parisian Maison has been associated more with the design of shapes, icons even, and known as an ‘assembler’ rather than a complete watchmaker with mastery over the entire creative and production chain.
- Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication
At the head of her own team, Carole Forestier, who in 2012 was awarded the prize for ‘Best Watchmaker’ at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, was able to start with a blank slate. As she readily concedes, this was an extraordinary opportunity for her to develop a highly original approach to Haute Horlogerie in complete freedom, without the baggage of a tradition to be maintained or a legacy to continue. Her watchmaking would seek inspiration in the world of the arts, in the exploration of shapes – like the 1967 Crash – and in the idea of ‘magic’, like the mysterious complications that have emerged in recent years.
Thus we have witnessed a procession of Perpetual Calendars, Tourbillons, Mysterieuses, Astro-Calendars and Astro-Tourbillons. With a highly recognisable style, Cartier’s Haute Horlogerie unapologetically distances itself from the traditional Swiss aesthetic. Its lines are strong and confident; the movements are often skeletonised, the dials picked out with assertive Roman numerals, the colour palette in tones of grey, silver and black, producing a bold and dynamic effect. Is it paradoxical that the most distinctive Haute Horlogerie of our time is being developed by a woman?
“TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL”
“We’re showing that Cartier is a watchmaker in the fullest sense of the term, that we are capable of producing grand complications in the purest tradition. We’re taking it to the next level,” asserts Carole Forestier, presenting a new piece that caused a stir at the SIHH 2015. The figures are impressive.
“The Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication is the most complex watch ever created by Cartier. This movement, which has 578 components in a 5.49 mm thickness, was five years in development. It requires fifteen weeks to make the components, five weeks to assemble and ten weeks to decorate – such are the prerequisites of the Geneva Hallmark. This skeletonised automatic movement combines a minute repeater, perpetual calendar and flying tourbillon. The watch illustrates our design abilities in complex Haute Horlogerie, and the extent of our expertise in engineering, analysis, component manufacture and finishing, assembly and tuning. But having said all that,” she continues, “we haven’t reinvented the wheel. That was not our goal.”
Indeed, everything in this watch is classic, in its own way, whether in the base movement construction driven by a flying tourbillon, whose titanium carriage has a gold counterweight; the unidirectional automatic system with platinum double micro-rotor on ball bearings; or the repeater with inertia-free fly wheel and titanium hammers, an ‘all or nothing’ system that requires full winding of the dedicated barrel; and a ‘surprise’ system that ensures perfect tonal harmony of the hours and minutes.
In Carole Forestier’s opinion, “The real achievement is to have succeeded in fitting all this into a height of 5.49 mm and a final diameter of 45 mm.”
This grand complication is the keystone of an Haute Horlogerie offensive, if one considers that at this year’s SIHH Cartier is introducing no fewer than three new movements and seven new models. These include the exceptionally legible Rotonde Cartier Quantième Annuel, fitted with the 9908 MC calibre; the Rotonde de Cartier Tourbillon Lové Calibre 9458 MC with its radiant, pared-down appearance; the Crash Skeleton; the Astrotourbillon Skeleton; the Rotonde de Cartier Reversed Tourbillon; a Double Mystery Tourbillon in rose gold; and the Rêves des Panthères with its changing sky behind three iconic panthers, carved in bas-relief.
“If Steve Jobs were here, he’d say: one more thing...” No long keynote speeches at Montblanc, just a presentation of the first “bridge between luxury and new technology”: the TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap. Currently at the prototype stage, this watch strap aims to offer the “best of both worlds”, in the words of the brand itself. Due for launch in June 2015, it will perform three tasks on the wrist, thanks to its Android and iOS-compatible Bluetooth connectivity: SMS messages and alerts; music and camera remote control; and an activity tracker, which will be welcomed by fitness fans and runners.
Montblanc has entered into exclusive, albeit time-limited contracts with external partners to develop the product, which will eventually be sold separately from the watch, as an accessory. Although on the wrist the strap feels quite comfortable, the legibility of the screen remains to be evaluated. Only an extended period of wear will show whether it is sufficiently user-friendly or not. Nevertheless, Montblanc certainly deserves points for initiative.
- Tourbillon Cylindrique Géosphères by Montblanc
On the traditional watch front, the brand also has some new offerings, taking us on a journey not to Silicon Valley but back to the time of the Great Explorers: a number of models in the Héritage Chronométrie range pay tribute to Vasco da Gama. One of them features a moon phase display representing the sky of the southern hemisphere, a nod to the stars that helped the Portuguese navigator find his way to the Indies. It reproduces the same constellations that were visible in November 1497, when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
Engravings of his flagship, the São Gabriel, also adorn a number of the timepieces. New versions of the Héritage Chronométrie range also include a Dual Time, a complete calendar, an annual calendar and an ExoTourbillon Chronograph. The star of the show is the Tourbillon Cylindrique Géosphères, immediately recognisable by its two hand-painted half globes illustrating the northern and southern hemispheres.
Audemars Piguet is following two main axes of development. First, it wants to bring minute repeaters and chimes “into line with 21st century expectations.” Around eight years’ work, in collaboration with the EPFL, were required to design the Royal Oak Concept RD#1.
Although currently just a prototype, it is already possible to hear the power, intensity, purity and clarity of the gong, installed in a specially-designed resonance chamber. By analysing several of its old chiming watches, Audemars Piguet designed a model that, through the power of complex algorithms, can cut through ambient sound, resonating even more clearly some distance away, just like a cricket. This tour de force involved identifying just those frequencies that are most perceptible to the human ear.
The other axis is... women! With men currently representing three-quarters of its clientele, Audemars Piguet is hoping to make its collections more appealing to women, and has accordingly unveiled a number of new ladies’ models with mechanical complications. These include the new gem-set Millenary models, designed to meet the expectations of a female clientele while exploring new horizons.
The Geneva Week journey doesn’t end at the doors of the SIHH; many brands take advantage of the event to showcase their new models on the sidelines of the main event. One such is Hublot. Among other new models, the LVMH brand announced a Big Bang Broderie with skull motif, which calls upon the expertise of embroiderers from St. Gallen. Like many other brands, Hublot has recently turned its focus to the artistic crafts, as one way of attracting more female clients.
Today the men still have the advantage, representing around 70% of Hublot’s output. To celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the Big Bang, the brand is also bringing out a tourbillon model with power reserve indicator.
Like other brands, Hublot is choosing to mark time, consolidating its collections and its crafts. Later this year, it will be inaugurating a new 8,000 m2 building to house its 300-strong staff, which has grown from 50 employees in 2007. Eventually the company, which calls upon Dubois-Dépraz, ETA, Sellita, La Joux-Perret and El Primero (Zenith) to supply base movements for the 40,000 watches it produces each year, is hoping to develop in-house calibres. For the time being, however, it plans to increase production volumes and the number of complications, and also capitalise on the high added value of its crafts.
Consequently, the staff of Profusion, a company specialising in carbon fibre, which was bought in 2011, will be joining Hublot in its new quarters.
The marathon continues with a stop at Watchland, where the Franck Muller group has its WPHH salon. On the menu (in increasing order of price) are also many ladies’ models: the Vanguard Lady in pink, blue and white; the famous variations of the Color Dreams; the hands-free Double Mystery with its full diamond bracelet; and the aptly-named Giga Tourbillon, also set with gems. Of the 50,000 models produced annually by Franck Muller, a 700-strong company whose production is almost completely vertically-integrated, around 1,000 are tourbillons.
Its main markets are Japan, China and the United States. With a view to diversifying its output away from watches, the brand has launched Franck Muller Yachts. Its two first boats are currently under construction in Italy.
Their arresting feature is a luminous signature along the hull which announces its presence from afar, and is guaranteed to cause a stir on an evening cruise in the harbour of St Tropez or Marbella.
Also at the WPHH, London diamond company Backes & Strauss presented the key pieces of its watchmaking collection. The company naturally focuses on sumptuous ornamentation centred on its signature symmetrical ‘ideal cut’ diamond, designed to show maximum radiance. Its quintessentially British style is epitomised in the Piccadilly John Bull model, which proudly bears the Union Jack.
This diamond company, established in 1789, entered the watchmaking fray in 2009, and has around ten employees. Its primary market is Japan – a distinction it shares with Franck Muller.
Source: Europa Star February-March 2015 Magazine Issue