Watches & Wonders Geneva 2021, the annual event that focuses the world’s leading retailers, VIP guests, and invited journalists on the art of watchmaking, achieved record reach during the 10-day April showcase. Organiser Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie estimates that 500-million people witnessed Swiss efficiency through the digital event, hosted this way for the second consecutive year due to the pandemic.
More than 1 000 exclusive presentations and meetings conducted by 38 participating brands, and the Morning Show broadcasts available for public viewing on YouTube generated close to 360 000 social media posts featuring the hashtag #WatchesAndWonders2021. While we wait with bated breath for permission to travel to the physical event in 2022, it’s good to reflect on watchmaking news and the pieces that got watch fans excited this year.
According to the Global Watch Market 2021-2025 report, the sector is “poised to grow by $8,31-billion during 2021-2025, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 2% during the forecast period”. The report includes an analysis of global leaders Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Citizen Systems Japan Co. Ltd., Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, Fossil Group Inc., LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Movado Group Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp., Rolex SA, Seiko Holdings Corp., and The Swatch Group Ltd.
The research team says one of the major drivers of this market is the rising demand for premium watches. Independent brands such as H. Moser & Cie. are fully booked until October 2022 and searching for more watchmakers to help keep pace with demand. “It’s been crazy for two years now. Even through the pandemic we managed to grow by 12%. Our first quarter results were more than double last year’s record. It’s quite incredible,” says H. Moser & Cie. CEO Edouard Meylan.
For the sake of background, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was the predecessor of Watches & Wonders Geneva. Formed in 1991 as an exclusive trade show dedicated to fine watchmaking, it was rebranded for 2020. It has been deprived of a physical relaunch due to the global lockdown, with all parties having to make do with a digital substitute. My first invitation to SIHH was in 2012, and it was then that I fell in love with the Cartier Tank (95 years after its creation at that stage). That was the year of the Tank Anglaise, and the maison released a small model in rose gold with diamonds, a medium model in white gold or with full diamond pavé, and a large model in white gold. It was the first new Tank released since 2002, and enthusiasts were excited about the design change that saw the crown being built into one of the trademark brancards, and hidden by a crown protector.
This year saw additions to the Cartier Tank Must line, launched in 1977, with a range of sizes in steel with white dials, fastened with calf leather or non-animal straps or steel bracelets. There are also large models with eye-catching red, blue, and green dials and matching alligator straps that pay tribute to the monochrome ’80s. Reflecting on this year’s launches, I realise most of my favourites are limited editions, one of them being Cartier’s Tank Asymétrique. First introduced in 1936, the line is now part of Cartier Privée, an exclusive “connoisseurs’ club” that highlights the design of the Maison’s legendary watches (the Crash watch, the Tank Cintrée, and the Tonneau).
The design of the Tank Asymétrique has the numbers and indices shifted 30 degrees to the right on the dial, so you don’t have to turn your wrist to read the time. There are six variations, numbered and limited to 100. Three of them have skeletonised dials. Colour was an enduring theme this year, with several designers breathing hope, positivity, and enthusiasm into a locked-down world.
H. Moser & Cie looked to Mother Nature for inspiration. And therein lies the challenge. The brand is known for its vibrant dial colours, so opting for a natural stone dial limited its options for unique pieces but not its determination. It discovered variations to the conventional yellow of the Tiger’s Eye, settling on red (Ox’s Eye), and blue (Falcon’s Eye) for the Endeavour Tourbillon Concept Tiger’s Eye, limited to 50 pieces each. “The stone has a built-in linear effect.
The challenge is to find the right stones with those parallel lines that make it modern yet vintage in a way,” Meylan says. “It’s a natural stone, so you never know what you’re going to get. But we’re doing haute horlogerie, so we try to find the best stones and craft them in a qualitative way to ensure that customers get what they’re looking for.”
Milestone anniversary for the tourbillon
This year is the 220th anniversary of Abraham Louis Breguet’s invention of the tourbillon, which improves the accuracy and precision of a mechanical watch. It’s a complication that features regularly in new watch designs, and participating brands at Watches & Wonders Geneva unveiled some unforgettable tourbillon creations.
Purnell makes only tourbillons, which it describes as “happiness personified”. Purnell CEO Maurizio Mazzocchi, who has vast experience in the development of high-end Swiss watch brands, applies Leonardo da Vinci’s concept of motion as being the cause of all life to the art of watchmaking. “What is always in motion in a watch? The tourbillon,” he says. Purnell Watches’ magnificent Escape II Treasure Baguette Rainbow is bedecked with jewels that fix the eye on the mechanical hand-winding calibre P13 and its double spherion with set cages that make it the world’s fastest triple-axis tourbillon. (The spherion was invented by watchmaker Eric Coudray, who won the Gaïa Award for watchmaking in 2012.)
The piece shimmers with brilliant baguette-cut rainbow sapphires, rubies, emeralds, tsavorites, and baguette-cut diamonds. It is available in 18kt rose gold in two case sizes: 44mm and 48mm. Mazzocchi is as passionate about the brand’s Swiss manufacturing process as he is about exclusively making tourbillon watches. The spherion system weighs 0.79g. Compare that to a drop of water, which weighs 2g, and you’ll get perspective on the skill and craftsmanship involved. “We call our watches ‘happy watches’. When you look at them, they give you pleasure,” he says.
Meanwhile, Roger Dubuis continues to reveal avant-garde contemporary works of art in grand style. All Roger Dubuis timepieces carry the Geneva Seal, which verifies the quality of their decorations and finishes, entirely executed by hand. The brand’s 2021 Excalibur Original Flying Tourbillon collection, with its skeletonised movement and star-shaped bridge, boasts a hand-wound movement with materials, including titanium, which make it light enough for a 72-hour power reserve.
The three models in this line are limited to 88 pieces. I was fascinated by Roger Dubuis’ Excalibur “Glow Me Up”, featuring luminescent baguette-shaped diamonds in different colours along the bezel. It is limited to only eight pieces. Patented processes allow the brand to place the luminescent material beneath the stones, which allows the calibres to glow too. The components are painted with luminescent material to further showcase the star-shaped bridge in poor light.
The launch of the Big Bang Integral Tourbillon High Jewellery marks Hublot’s 30th unique high-end jewellery piece in the quest to push the limits of watchmaking. Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe says the intention is to achieve the exceptional by making watches entirely set with precious stones with the highest number of carats, in record-breaking time. “In so doing, our watchmaking know-how (in terms of mechanisms and complications) and our identity (the fusion of materials) remain essential.
Hundreds of hours are spent on preparation, from the design to the search for, and later cutting and setting of the precious stones. Setting a watch like the Big Bang Integral Tourbillon High Jewellery is a truly technical and aesthetic achievement. We never give in to doubt because we like to make the impossible possible,” he says.
The watch features an automatic tourbillon calibre, fully designed and manufactured in-house, and set with 31ct of 484 baguette-cut diamonds. It has a fully integrated aesthetic from the case to the strap, and enables full visibility of the mechanics on the dial side thanks to its sapphire composition. Another mechanically intriguing creation is Montblanc’s Star Legacy Suspended Exo Tourbillon, which is equipped with its proprietary one minute tourbillon. The construction enables the movement’s balance wheel to oscillate outside (exo) the traditional tourbillon cage, making one full rotation per minute.
And in the Montblanc Star Legacy Suspended Exo Tourbillon Limited Edition 18, that balance is 3.2mm higher than the dial, making it look like it’s levitating in mid-air. How do they do it? By using a tourbillon bridge with a single curved arm. Because the displaced balance wheel makes the cage smaller and lighter, the Exo Tourbillon is more energy efficient. While the tourbillon is further balanced by two gold pillars, the balance wheel remains unaffected by the cage’s inertia because of its displaced position. The intricately designed complication is countered by an elegant hour and minute sub-dial at 12 o’clock, set against a splendid aventurine dial in an 18kt white-gold case. The handfinished Minerva-crafted manual-wound Montblanc Manufacture calibre M16.68 may be admired through the caseback.
Looking ahead to next year, and endlessly debating when and how we will be able to navigate the world as we used to, doing what we love when it comes to business and pleasure, we have reluctantly embraced digital as the new normal. But we’re holding out for balance. More and more people are turning to digital to be informed about and buy luxury. Covid-19 has accelerated that. But Laurent Lecamp, MD of Montblanc’s Watch Division, says, “Luxury is based on emotion. We need contact. Luxury is not through the screen. It’s the difference between real and digital flowers. In the next months and years, we’ll be splitting between physical and digital. We need a mix.”
• From the 2021/2022 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.