The staid and conservative Swiss watch industry has undergone more change in the last year than in the 20 previous.
First, the 800-pound gorilla Swatch Group pulled out of Baselworld to go it alone, and others followed suit. Some went to the Geneva show, Salon International de la Haute Horology (SIHH), which has grown from 16 brands to almost 40, and others are still figuring out what to do.
Several high-profile brands, like Van Cleef & Arpels and Audemars Piguet, are curtailing their wholesale operations, focusing 100 percent on their own boutiques.
And there’s more. Next year, the two Swiss shows will run during the same period (April 26 to May 5, 2020), with SIHH first, followed by Baselworld. Who knows what impact this will have on the industry?
Having said that, it’s still all about the watches, and this year’s SIHH was a spectacular one. Here are some of the highlights:
Experiential Luxury: Officine Panerai
Panerai made waves by announcing that from this year on, the Submersible will be its own collection. This makes sense, as the Submersibles are by far Panerai’s most popular watches. To celebrate this, Panerai introduced three limited editions at a price ($41,000) that includes an impossible-to-purchase experience. Case in point is the Mike Horn Edition: A Submersible in a 47mm recycled titanium case with a strap made of recycled PET plastic. Purchasing this watch entitles the owner to train with adventurer Mike Horn in the ice floes of the Arctic. The experiences linked to the other two Submersible limited editions include training with the Italian equivalent of the Navy SEALs and free diving with world champion Guillaume Néry in Moorea, French Polynesia. Non-limited editions of these timepieces are also available in the Submersible collection.
Contact: Zhanna Hoffstatter, 212.891.2483, panerai.com
Doubling Down on Pilot’s: IWC
This year, IWC focused on its Pilot’s collection, introducing a number of variations on the aviation theme. The most interesting was the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert. This stunning chronograph comes in a 44.5 ceramic case, with everything designed to match the color of the sand in the Mojave Desert and the flight suits of Navy pilots. Limited to 500 pieces. $8,200
Contact: 1.800.432.9330, iwc.com
Panther Push: Cartier
Cartier has always focused its creativity on the jewelry side. Now, after several years of concentrating on its male clients with high complications, this year is really focused on women. Cartier turned heads by injecting new designs into the Panthère collection, including the Panthère Crash, which features two panthers staring at each other across the case of this beautiful watch. The brand also introduced a new collection called the Diagonal, and the Baignoire Allongée was a favorite. $125,000 for Panthère Crash
Contact: 1.800.CARTIER, cartier.com
Bovet’s Brainstorm: Sapphire Crystal Case
Bovet is a traditional brand with a long history of innovation and high watchmaking, and for its first time at SIHH the brand introduced a new way of looking at time: the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One. The watch is housed in a special “writing desk” sapphire crystal case with the face of the crystal inclining down, making the watch easier to read and putting the complicated flying tourbillon movement on complete display. $318,600
Getting Crazy: Vanguard Crazy Hours
Franck Muller holds its own exhibition at its impressive Watchland complex during the SIHH. The Crazy Hours has been in Franck Muller’s collection since 2003, but for the first time it is available in the brand’s most popular collection, the Vanguard. A feat of watchmaking expertise and whimsy, the hours on the Crazy Hours are all mixed up, and it’s a treat to watch the hour hand jump all around the dial on each hour. Available for both men and women, the men’s version comes in a stainless steel case and the women’s in a stainless-steel diamond-set case with a pave dial. $24,200 (men’s), $21,800 (women’s)
Contact: Vivian in the New York Boutique, 212.257.5015, franckmuller.com/vanguard
Baumatic Advanced: Perpetual Calendar Version
Last year at SIHH, Baume & Mercier introduced the Baumatic, a watch developed to address issues related to after-sales service. Precision, magnetism, ease of service and power reserve were all addressed, and it was a game-changer for the industry. Now, using the original Baumatic as a base, Baume & Mercier introduced other versions this year, including a Perpetual Calendar, proving that the Baumatic is here to stay and will become its own collection. $24,500
Contact: 1.800.MERCIER, baume-et-mercier.com
Three Beautiful Watches: Montblanc, Piaget and Bvlgari
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention three simple watches that are stunningly beautiful and worthy of consideration. First is the Montblanc Heritage Automatic, a vintage-inspired timepiece available in a silvery-white or salmon-colored dial. My choice is the salmon dial: It’s eye-catching, yet unassuming. $8,320
Contact: Christian Saccal, boutique manager, Montblanc Madison Ave. Boutique, 212.223.8888, montblanc.com
Second is the Piaget Altiplano Meteorite, which uses real meteorite for its dial, while applying a grey- or blue-colored treatment. The dial has a Widmanstätten pattern, with crossing lines that are unique to each dial. In blue with diamonds: $59,000; in grey, $24,600; in blue with tourbillon, $111,000
Contact: 1.877.874.2438, piaget.com
Finally, Bvlgari, though not showing at SIHH, debuted some new watches in the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva. There were a host of complicated watches, but my favorite was the Octo Originale Two Tone, a mix of rose gold and black, which retails for $8,650.
Contact: Maisha Surgeon-Babatunde, 646.367.7758, bulgari.com