The notion of time is a socially constructed phenomenon that ensnares us within a self-imposed penitentiary of harmful linear thinking. The creations of Ressense and Trilobe, however, offer us a playful deviation from the conventional reading of time, if not an immediate transformation of our fundamental beliefs. Innovative thinking, design, tech and materials that challenge convention are what I look forward to each year at Watches & Wonders Geneva (W&W 2023). Yet, while the industry exhibited some innovations and a lighthearted, optimistic energy towards the fun aspect of watchmaking and collecting, there were scarce novel timepieces that truly sparked a sense of “wonder” this year. Instead, this responsibility seems to have been passed on to the brands commemorating iconic models and significant milestones within the field.
In light of the resurgence of the Asian markets, the esteemed fair boasted exceptional figures this year, with record-breaking attendance and promising projections for watch sales. Among the 48 exhibiting brands, a notable 13 new entrants including Alpina, Bell & Ross, Frederique Constant, Hautlence, Hysek, Pequignet, and U-Boat, contributed to the remarkable showcase. Regrettably, one of my favoured brands, H Moser & Cie, was absent from the fair.
Less, but better
There were some truly elegant and covetable chronographs, including the stainless steel A Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph, Parmigiani Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronographe Rattrapante, and Angelus Chronographe Médical that join the numerous practical “everyday” tool watches in a more refined guise, emphasising a trend towards more elegant, streamlined, and discrete designs across the board. To quote Dieter Rams: “Back to simplicity. Back to purity. Less, but better”. Other exemplary examples are the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante and the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Open-Face. Here the focus is also on exceptional craftsmanship, from dials to case construction and decoration, to incredibly refined hand-finished movements.
Of course, bolder statements are here to bring delight and impress, like the Louis Moinet Impulsion that combines a chronograph and flying tourbillon in a characterful expression of a contemporary chronograph inspired by the founder’s chronograph from 1816 – the “World's First Chronograph” – as well as the French horologist’s friendship with Abraham-Louis Breguet, the inventor of the tourbillon. For its second year in attendance, Grand Seiko can be proud of its first mechanical chronograph. The powerful Evolution 9 Collection Tentagraph is presented in titanium and features the automatic calibre 9SC5, with its rapid 5Hz heartbeat, which not only provides higher accuracy but also boasts the industry’s lengthiest 3-day power reserve for 5Hz chronographs. This is made possible by an energy-saving escapement and dual barrels.
Although traditional round cases remain prevalent, watch brands from Hublot to millennials like Hautlence and MB&F have given us experimental, alternative bold shapes, forms and materials for quite some time. But a trend that emerged more recently through models such as the H Moser Streamliner, Hermes H08, and Laurent Ferrier Grand Sport, draws inspiration from the groundbreaking sports chic designs of the 1970s and incorporate cushion-shaped cases, rounded square designs as well as integrated bracelets. Other examples include the Speake-Marin Ripple Date, Czapek Antarctique, Alpina Alpiner Extreme Automatic, and Pequignet Concorde Pink. Of course, Cartier has a long history of unique designs like the Crash and as demonstrated by their iconic collections such as Santos-Dumont, Tank, and Baignoire. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute models pay homage to a 92-year-old design that embodies the Golden Ratio and the Art Deco aesthetic, while updated versions continue to captivate a new generation. For a closer look at this trend, examine the shapes at play in the construction of the neo-retro Angelus Chronodate Titanium.
Rolex brought a burst of colour to our lives during difficult times with their effervescent range of Oyster Perpetual dials in 2020. Those colours are now reapplied to dials to evoke emotions and with lively bubbles, adding a touch of vibrancy to our days. Meanwhile, the Patek Philippe Ladies’ Calatrava features a radiant purple dial that makes a bold statement, and the Oris ProPilot special edition is stealing hearts with its pop of Kermit green and the singing frog encouraging us to take time for ourselves at least on the first day of every month. Van Cleef & Arpels continues to delight with their animated pieces, and the Lady Féerie Or Rose is no exception. Last but not least, Chronoswiss taps into our inner child with the Open Gear ReSec Candy Shop.
While the watch industry did not reveal any revolutionary new materials per se, the revolution might be shifting to sustainability. It is encouraging to witness the industry's commitment to transparency and sustainable, circular manufacturing processes, particularly with the growing popularity of all-steel watches. Panerai has expanded its use of eSteel, and pioneers of sustainable luxury Chopard introduced Lucent Steel, an alloy made from 70% recycled stainless steel, in its new thinner cased Chopard Alpine Eagle 41 XPS. By year-end, Chopard aims to increase the recycled material content to 80%, making it the first luxury brand to incorporate recycled materials into all its stainless steel watches.
Ceramics and steel still appear to dominate but there was also a noticeable adoption of high-performance, lightweight titanium in novelties from brands such as Cyrus, Grand Seiko, Hublot, and Rolex. Additionally, Hermès has refreshed its H08 line with luminous yellow, green, blue, and orange, and a composite case made of aluminised fibreglass and slate powder that makes each piece unique.
Sustainability and sustainable development may not have headlined talks like last year, this remains a key priority. Several projects established over the past few years, such as the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 launched by Cartier and Kering in 2021, have made reasonable progress, thanks to serious commitment to and work done in partnership with external experts. With membership now also including A. Lange & Söhne, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-Lecoultre, Panerai, Piaget, Chanel Horlogerie Joaillerie, Montblanc and Swarovski, such efforts highlight the need for a proactive and collaborative approach to achieve a paradigm shift in the industry and implement solutions on a larger scale. Let’s hope that sustainability is now entrenched as a pillar of brand DNA and no longer just paying lip service to customers’ calls.
There was a notable emphasis on icons this year. The criteria for a watch to attain such status is a delicate blend of innovative, unique, and disruptive design, symbolic of a specific event or era, and sometimes, aided by an association with a celebrity. However, ultimately, it is time and whether it captures the imagination of customers that will determine whether a watch attains icon status or not. In light of this, Jaeger-LeCoultre commemorates the nine decades of the Reverso, while the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona and the TAG Heuer Carrera celebrate their 60th anniversaries, two of the ultimate driver’s watches.
These models are emblematic of the brands and the era in which they were first launched. They have now been reworked for a new generation, with the Daytona’s case and dial restyled, and the new Carrera Chronographs featuring a more fluid “glassbox" sapphire crystal. It is no small feat to improve on a master’s work, but IWC has done an outstanding job with the latest interpretation of the Gérald Genta-designed stainless steel Ingenieur SL Ref 1832. While the Ingenieur hails back to the mid-1950s, IWC has chosen to work with the aesthetic codes of the Genta model from 1976 for the new 40mm IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 Titanium, producing a sharper evolution of the design, highlighted by its sporty integrated H-link bracelet, and underscoring the value of timeless, good design.
It is also heartening to note that more people of colour are appearing in luxury watch brand advertising campaigns, from icons to newcomers.