The 27th edition of the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) watch fair was a five-day affair that lasted from January 16-20 this year at the Palexpo in Geneva. Welcoming a record 30 exhibitors (17 historic Maisons and 13 independent watchmakers), more than 16,000 visitors from the trade and some 2,500 public visitors, it was the first time since its inception that members of the public were allowed to visit the fair.
Like we observed last year, creativity was exercised with restraint as brands grappled with the sombre market situation. There was also an air of trepidation that hung heavily in the air because of Richemont’s recent announcement of its management overhaul: Of the 11 watchmaking brands owned by Richemont, six of them (Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Piaget and Vacheron Constantin) are now headed by new chief executives.
Despite these uncertainties, the show, as they say, must go on. Ladies’ timepieces continue to enjoy the limelight: Jaeger-LeCoultre dedicated the year to its feminine Rendez-vous collection, Piaget marks the 60th anniversary of its Altiplano collection with several new ladies’ pieces adorned with hard stone dials and artistic crafts, while IWC revitalised its Da Vinci collection with dedicated models created with ladies in mind. A. Lange & Sȍhne, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, traditionally known for masculine timepieces, also went out of their way to entice the ladies: The Saxonian launched the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase and an elegant new Saxonia ladies model, while Audemars Piguet presented a dazzling rendition of its iconic Royal Oak watch. A collaboration with Florentine jewellery Carolina Bucci, the Royal Oak Frosted Gold features a special surface treatment that allows the watch to scintillate in the light without the need for any diamonds. Meanwhile, Richard Mille introduced the RM 07-01 in diamond-set NTPT cases, offering the perfect blend between glamour and high-tech innovation.
Watchmakers also turned to heritage and tradition as a safe harbour in these volatile times. IWC’s Da Vinci collection, largely left unaltered for the last decade, is thrust into the spotlight this year, taking on its 1980s round-cased guise. Cartier brings back and centres its attention on one of its success stories from the 1980s, the ladies’ Panthère de Cartier while Girard Perregaux turned to the Laureato, originally conceived in the mid-1970s as a quartz-powered chronometer watch, into a full-fledged collection for both men and women across different price points.
Drawing on time-honoured watchmaking metiers d’art to re-emphasise the status of watches as art are Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Ulysse Nardin. The two French powerhouses drew on their high jewellery pedigree to produce some breath-taking timepieces decorated in enamel and gemstones, whilst also debuting new metiers d’art skills. Van Cleef & Arpels developed the curved plique-à-jour enamelling technique, a three-dimensional take on the traditional craft; Cartier, on the other hand, introduced the flamed gold technique, a method similar to blueing steel.
Lastly, the shared passion for material innovation, technical excellence and precision is reinforced this year between the worlds of watchmaking and motorsports. Both Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis pave the way with their strategic alliances with McLaren and Pirelli respectively, while Montblanc’s relaunched TimeWalker collection recalls the relationship between the world of motor racing and the Minerva manufacture.
The first fruits of labour from Richard Mille and McLaren’s recently inked 10-year partnership is Graph TPT, a new material previously unused in the world of watchmaking; Roger Dubuis’s partnership with Pirelli has also led to interesting results: Collectors now have a chance to own and wear a part of the winning tyres from official F1 races while also gaining access to some behind-the-scenes action at Pirelli events.
Stay tuned for our full report of each brand.