Audemars Piguet Code 11.59.
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

The 29th edition of SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) opened in Geneva on Monday. As the first gathering of professionals in the watchmaking industry for 2019, it sets the tone and trends for the year ahead. The fair is plush – unlimited Champagne, the finest canapé and a la carte dining on the house – and relatively intimate with around 2,500 invited guests (VIP, trade, journalists) until it opens to the public tomorrow for only one day.

SIHH hosts 35 of the most high-end luxury brands in the world, both old and new, who showcase fresh designs, material innovations, complications and technical revolutions in spectacular, purpose-built lounges, through panel discussions and flamboyant launch parties. This is also the opportunity to reveal new brand ambassadors and key sponsorships for added storytelling and hopefully more appeal, as they vie for attention and a place on our wrists.

It has become customary in recent years for many of the brands to offer a sneak preview in the weeks leading up to the event to pique our interest and stay ahead of the pack in the social-media-frenzy. However, this does not steal any of the excitement from the main event as can be seen in some of pieces unveiled so far this week. While many remain cautious with updates or references to heritage lines, innovation in all aspects drives the industry and is most important right now particularly if it is to retain the short attention spans of new collectors.

The new Santos de Cartier received a lot of attention last year and although it is based off its predecessor, created in 1904, it featured two new innovations to suit our contemporary lifestyles. While its square shape remained relatively unchanged, the bezel was updated to complement the newly engineered QuickSwitch system that allows for easy interchange between a choice of metal bracelets and numerous, colourful hide straps. The SmartLink self-fitting technology also means that link-length adjustments to the bracelet can be effected without a tool.

Santos de Cartier Chronograph.
Santos de Cartier Chronograph.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

This year Cartier has added chronographs to the collection, available in ‘extra large’ only (43.3mm x 51.3mm) in stainless steel, steel with 18 carat yellow gold bezel, and 18 carat rose gold. What I like about the new chronograph is that the pusher has been symmetrically and ergonomically positioned on the left side of the case making it much easier to operate on the wrist. The chronograph movement is a modified 1904-CH MC in-house caliber, first introduced in in the Calibre de Cartier Chronograph in 2013.

Although many people might never see the point of owning a mechanical watch, as a ‘digital immigrant’ born in the time of analogue, I am pleasantly surprised at how many young ‘digital natives’ have a very deep interest in mechanic watches and growing collections.

Digital is present in every component of our lives and one of my favourite younger brands, Ressence design mechanical watches that would definitely appeal to the new collector who appreciates the user experience and interaction with great design and the reliability of digital. Designed in consultation with Tony Fadell who created the original iPod, the Type-2 e-Crown was first revealed early last year through their Concept version and is the world’s first self-setting mechanical watch through its innovative ‘E-crown’ (There is E-crown off mode for those who want more engagement).

Ressence Type 2 e-Crown.
Ressence Type 2 e-Crown.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

This electronic component also monitors the position of the mechanical hands as often as you want for time accuracy. The Type-2 e-Crown is powered by a customised ETA 2892/A fitted with ROCS 2 system – their unique 3-dimensional in-house module “for an intuitive reading of the time” – and e-Crown. Here analogue and digital worlds collide in the hybrid watch of the future.

HYT H20 ‘Time is Fluid’.
HYT H20 ‘Time is Fluid’.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

In a world ruled by immediacy, where time is a precious commodity, HYT “celebrates the flow of time” using hydro-hybrid technology invented by the founder, nuclear engineer Lucien Vuillamoz. Under the domed sapphire crystal of the H20 ‘Time is Fluid’, colored and clear liquids trace the paths of elapsed and pending time.

With the boom in online luxury fashion sales, high-end watchmakers have woken up to e-commerce. The Richemont Group leads the pack with its Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter sites featuring IWC, Cartier, and Jaeger-LeCoultre among the listings. With the imminent joint venture between Mr Porter and Alibaba’s Luxury Pavillion in China, how luxury watch brands will engage with e-commerce is a hot topic. 

There is much change in the way people do business and this also applies to marketing experiences, exhibitions and fairs. With major brands such as Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille having announced that this is their last year of participation at SIHH and the Swatch Group exiting BaselWorld, which takes place in late April, there is clearly much change afoot. For now, both fairs have announced that they will synchronise calendars next year at least for the convenience of visitors.

Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar.
Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

Vacheron Constantin have been around since 1755 and would not still be here if they’d not been innovative. This is not only in the technical sense but also in design and time display. In 2015 the company revealed the Reference 57260, the most complicated watch ever made and this year their elegant Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar, the world's first and only timepiece with two balances that allow the wearer to switch between high frequency, active mode and low frequency, stand-by mode to extend the power reserve for up to 65 days.

As premium brands continue to present better value propositions with collections in more affordable steel for the younger consumers, I think back to 1972 when Audemars Piguet launched the first all-steel luxury sports watch. That first Royal Oak was the furthest thing from being accessibly priced. Although AP have other collections, none have become as iconic as the Royal Oak and annual releases are usually just updates on existing models.

So one of the big surprises this year is a totally new collection called Code 11.59 (an acronym for Challenge, Own, Dare and Evolve) featuring five complications and three new movements. From the front the 41mm case of the watches appears round, but the side view reveals a hexagonal body that references the brand’s design DNA.

IWC celebrates its historic links to the world of aviation and its first pilot’s watches dating back to 1936. Coincidentally this is also the year in which the iconic Spitfire took to the skies over Britain for the first time. Due to the technical requirements of pilot’s watches, they were by design very bold, robust, essential tools used for navigation and flight timing. The timelessness of this good design is echoed in new Spitfire line, which also celebrates the IWC watches produced Royal Air Force from 1948 and pays tribute to the unique engineering expertise of the designers of the legendary British fighter aircraft.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition ‘The Longest Flight’.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition ‘The Longest Flight’.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

There are four different models and two designs in bronze or steel, each inspired by the puristic instrument design of the Mark 11, but my favourite is the multi-timezone special edition dedicated to the ‘Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight’ project, which involves pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones flying around the world in a Spitfire.

Panerai is no stranger to the world of ocean racing and announced their latest partnership with Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record for the 36th edition of the America’s Cup in 2021.

One of the bigger watches in the industry, this 47mm Panerai Submersible Luna Rossa with GMT function has a case and unidirectional rotating bezel made from lightweight and scratch-resistant Carbotech, the innovative material first seen in the LAB-ID Luminor 1950 launched at SIHH in 2017 and also used to make the hull of Luna Rossa's AC75. All dials are made from recycled sails from Luna Rossa. Being a Submersible it is of course a highly capable diving watch with water-resistant to a depth of 300m.

Panerai Submersible Luna Rossa.
Panerai Submersible Luna Rossa.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell

The much celebrated 10-year-young manufacture Laurent Ferrier received the 2018 Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève ‘Men’s Complication’ prize for its Galet Annual Calendar Montre Ecole (School Piece) and this year extends the collection with and Opaline Black and White versions, inspired by the purity of a chessboard. For its annual calendar complication, the company says it decided to pay tribute to its first manual winding movement, the tourbillon double hairspring. The watch features the new manual in-house caliber LF126.01 movement, which has a power reserve guaranteed to 80 hours. The 40mm case is available in pink gold with white dial, yellow gold or stainless steel with black dial.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar Montre Ecole.
Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar Montre Ecole.
Image: Supplied / Gary Cotterell
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