Our many horophile readers won’t need reminding that 2013 has been a slightly unusual year in as much as the two most important watch shows in Europe (nay, the world?) — Geneva’s exclusive Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and the more inclusive Baselworld — usually happen within a few weeks of one another.
Generally, the former takes place in late January, the latter in mid-March. Meaning that, by the early days of spring, watch aficionados have mentally separated the wheat from the chaff, assessed what was on offer and decided on the pieces that appeal and those that don’t.
But, this year, SIHH kicked off in the third week of January, after which there was an excruciating 13-week hiatus before Baselworld, which ended during the first week of May.
Open-to-the-public Baselworld is a better barometer of the state of the industry than the far smaller, invitation-only SIHH and the outlook appears to be decidedly rosy. The newly extended, Herzog & de Meuron-designed exhibition hall drew 122,000 visitors into its aluminium-clad carapace, a rise of 17 percent over last year. There were also 1,460 trade stands and a remarkable 3,610 journalists. The leading players in the business seemed pleased with the result, with Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, observing “an exceptionally positive mood” while Karl-Friedrich Scheufele said Baselworld had been “highly successful” for his brand, Chopard.
So what, you might be wondering, was this year’s underlying theme? In the past it has been possible to pinpoint tourbillons, PVD coating, pilot watches and the return to ‘understated elegance’; but the theme of 2013 appeared to be that there was no theme. Brands seem to be doing their own thing although, in many cases, that means falling back on the tried-and-trusted technique of plundering their archives in order to re-interpret past glories.
And what’s wrong with that? Yes, there are plenty of high-end collectors in search of the more far-out creations of niche brands such as MB&F and Urwerk, the ingenious tourbillons of Greubel Forsey or even mega-money pieces such as A Lange & Söhne’s €1.9 million Grand Complication. But there are even more watch aficionados who relish the opportunity to buy classic pieces (familiar favourites such as the Rolex Daytona, Patek Philippe Calatrava and Omega Speedmaster) without the downsides of actually going vintage.
But, in order to demonstrate that ‘anything goes’ in the modern watch world, Billionaire.com has selected a range of the more diverse pieces that caught the eye at this year’s SIHH and Baselworld shows. And there really is something for everyone.
Ulysse Nardin Freak Cruiser
The Freak caused something of a sensation when it first appeared in 2001. It was a watch without a winding crown and with only one, giant hand that was driven around the dial by a toothed track concealed around the circumference of the case. Although numerous far-out timepieces have come and gone since the Freak’s original unveiling, it remains one of the most innovative and unusual watches on the market, and the various versions always attract a crowd at Baselworld. This year’s talking point was the £66,500 45mm Freak Cruiser, pictured, which draws on the brand’s nautical background with an anchor-shaped hand and a wave-patterned case.
Vacheron Constantin Florilège
Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art series has encompassed everything from Japanese maki-e lacquerwork to African tribal masks. This year’s range has been created just for women and takes it inspiration from Robert John Thornton’s seminal 19th century botanical work The Temple of Flora. Illustrations from the large-scale book have been reproduced on the dials of the Métiers d’Art watches using enamelling, guilloche engraving and gem setting. There are three designs in the range (the one seen here is the Queen) and each will be made in a series of 20 pieces set with round-cut diamonds and five with baguette cut. Also pictured in our slideshow is Vacheron’s dazzling Patrimony Traditionnelle High Jewellery piece, which carries no fewer than 308 baguette diamonds weighing 16.2 carats.
MB&F HM05 ‘On the Road Again’
Maximilian Büsser’s high-end MB&F brand is as interested in watches being regarded as innovative mechanical art forms as instruments for telling the time, which is why every model in the range looks totally off the wall. Few classic Lamborghini lovers could resist the HM05, however. Based on the Amida Digitrend driver’s watch of the 1970s, its zirconium case features louvres inspired by a Lamborghini Miura rear window, which open to allow light to recharge the luminous coating on the digital display. The self-winding movement, meanwhile, is protected by a separate, waterproof inner case.
Also pictured in our slideshow is Büsser’s space-age Music Machine, a 21st century musical box created in conjunction with leading specialist in the form Reuge. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Imagine’ are among the tunes that the Music Machine is able to play.
Panerai Pocket Watch GMT Tourbillon
It’s hard to imagine a timepiece further removed from Panerai’s original, celebrated role as a maker of rugged, underwater watches for the Italian Navy but the brand’s first pocket watch, unveiled at this year’s SIHH, went down a storm. Made from blackened ceramic, it carries the in-house, hand-wound P2005/S movement, which is linked to the case by 12 rods that double as luminous hour markers. Three spring barrels give the watch a six-day power reserve and, when you aren’t sporting it from your waistcoat, the ceramic chain can be removed in order to transform the 59mm piece into a desk clock. Just 50 examples will be available.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grand Complication
Audemars Piguet’s distinctive, octagonal-cased Royal Oak is regarded as one of the great classics of modern watch making. Last year marked 40 years since its launch and, in the interim, the original, 39mm, three-handed design has been re-interpreted in dozens of different models ranging from small, gem-set ladies versions to the extra-large Offshore models first seen in 1993.
2013 sees the arrival of the first Offshore Grand Complication, a 20th anniversary Offshore that combines a minute repeater, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph. Every one of the movement’s 648 parts is meticulously hand-finished in a series of operations that take 820 hours to complete. Just three examples of the 44mm watch will be made with pink gold cases and three with titanium cases. At £534,560, it’s not exactly cheap.
Among the latest additions to the ultra-high-end Mademoiselle Privé collection is this one-off watch that is said to have been inspired by the Chinese lacquer screens in the drawing room of Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment on Rue Cambon. Three designs have been created, each in a unique ‘price-on-application’ piece.
This particular example depicts a ferryman and his passengers crossing a river. The ‘canvas’ for the image is a yellow gold dial that has been hand engraved and finished in grand feu enamel. The trees and foliage are made from 24-carat gold while the 37.5mm, white gold case is paved with 524 snow-set diamonds; and 65 more decorate the crown. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the hugely successful J12 sports watch in white ceramic.
Laurent Ferrier Galet Dual Time
After 37 years working as a watchmaker for a leading (but officially undisclosed) dial name, former amateur racing driver Laurent Ferrier decided to do his own thing back in 2008. Two years later, the first Laurent Ferrier watches appeared and the small, independent brand has been attracting a growing following ever since. One of Ferrier’s latest creations is the Galet Dual Time watch, which features the maker’s signature micro winding rotor. As with all Laurent Ferrier watches, the finish is truly superb.
Parmigiani Tonda Woodrock
Wooden dials are nothing new. Indeed, there was once a Siberian company that used wood for all the components of its watches as it was less affected by the extreme cold than metal. Parmigiani’s Tondra Woodrock tourbillon doesn’t exist for any such practical reason, however. It has simply been made to celebrate the Gibson guitar through a marquetry design comprising 50 pieces of dyed wood that take 10 days to assemble. There’s another marquetry model called the Tonda Woodstock (for the US market), as well as a 15 Days Blue Note clock. Each is a unique piece.
Click HERE to read part two of Simon de Burton’s Baselworld / SIHH wrap-up.