Diving Watches: From Sports Watches to Certified Icons
SIHH 2019 is now behind us. The watch world spent a few days celebrating marvelous timepieces, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company. It was fun, interesting, and tiring at the same time. Now the industry has 2 months to relax before it comes together again at this year’s Baselworld, which is a very different event in many ways. However, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s take look back at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie that took place from January 14th to 17th.
As always, the fair consisted of 2 sections: First was the Carré des Horlogers (the Watchmakers’ Square)—a huge hall where 17 independent brands had their booths. Then there was the rest of the fair with another 18 brands. In the Carré, as it’s called, you could find names like MB&F, RJ, Urwerk, and Ressence. Each company had a smaller booth facing the square, around which the entire program revolved. Visitors and brand representatives could meet there over coffee or lunch. This area was particularly exciting for watch enthusiasts, especially those with a passion for independent watchmaking. It wasn’t uncommon to spot Mr. Phillippe Dufour leaning against the bar chatting to someone or find Mr. Laurent Ferrier standing in front of his booth and showing his creations to whomever came up to him. If you were lucky, you might have even caught a glimpse of Pierce Brosnan, a brand ambassador for Speake-Marin.
The major brands, or “historic maisons“, were housed in a large area of interconnected halls outside the Carré. A wide swath of Switzerland’s finest came to showcase their latest and greatest creations. This included Richemont member brands (A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin) as well as other big industry names, such as Audemars Piguet, Hermés, Ulysse Nardin, and Bovet. It wasn’t as easy to get a hands-on look at their new releases as it was in the Carré. Every watch company had a tight schedule, presenting their products for 2019 to different groups of media outlets. Each group consisted of journalists from certain markets: Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) and Scandinavia; the UK, Australia, and New Zealand; DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), etc. However, most booths also had a display window for the watches.
Every year, there are those timepieces or companies that stand out from the crowd for all the right – and sometimes the wrong – reasons. This year, visitors couldn’t stop talking about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel, a true masterpiece. As its name suggests, this amazingly complex creation features a gyrotourbillon, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater that mimics Big Ben’s chiming system. Despite all these complications, this timepiece is only 43 mm in diameter and a little over 14 mm thick, making it surprisingly wearable – that is if you can afford it. Still, such watches are less about the price tag and more about all the knowledge that goes into making them. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s other new models were also beautiful, but that is to be expected from such a storied watchmaking house.
Another timepiece, or rather collection, that had social media and the halls of SIHH all abuzz was a new family of watches from Audemars Piguet: the CODE 11.59. To be fair, there are only so many variations you can make of the Royal Oak at this point. Its design is almost 50 (!!) years old. Gérald Genta designed the first Royal Oak, which then appeared at Baseleorld 1972. The time had finally come for AP to release a new collection with a new look, even if the Royal Oak is still going strong. The weeks leading up to SIHH were filled with hints about AP’s new watch series on social media. It looked very promising… until it was unveiled. Any search for the CODE 11.59 will reveal just how controversial its case design is.
While I understand and appreciate how much time and effort AP put into developing the CODE 11.59, let’s be honest: People care a heck of a lot more about the dial than they do about the case. Unfortunately for AP, this watch is lacking on that front. Despite the polarized reactions, AP has stood firmly behind their products – as they should. It’s admirable and expected, but it won’t make the watch more desirable to consumers. Suffice it to say that, for now, the CODE 11:59 hasn’t had its intended effect. Time and the market will tell if AP was right.
Other notable timepieces at SIHH 2019 came from Montblanc, Cartier, IWC, Baume & Mercier, and Hermés. While watches from indie brands are less affordable than the those from bigger names, many of the smaller brands arrived at SIHH to show off some amazing wonders of technology. We loved the Ressence Type 1 Slim, the Armin Strom Resonance Dual Time in a sapphire case, and the MB&F Medusa. MB&F created the Medusa in collaboration with L’Epée 1839. All in all, SIHH is an exhausting 4 days with almost too much to see, and we haven’t even mentioned the brands not at SIHH who put on their own exhibitions somewhere else in Geneva that week. For example, the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH used to showcase their 4 watch brands (TAG Heuer, Zenith, Hublot, and Bvlgari) on a boat on Lake Geneva. While the boat is gone, they were still in town to show us some of their newest watches.
The coming year or two will see a lot of changes to both SIHH and the watch world in general. Some major names have announced their departure from each fair. As we all know, the Swatch Group has pulled out of Baselworld and will no longer participate in the show as of 2019. SIHH is also seeing departures: Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet have both announced they will not be back in 2020.
Changes are also coming to when the events take place. Beginning in 2020, SIHH and Baselworld will coordinate their dates to better accommodate journalists’ busy schedules and ease their travel problems. SIHH will be held from April 26th to 29th in Geneva, followed by Baselworld from April 30th to May 5th in Basel. Journalists the world over welcomed this much-needed change with open arms. Until then, however, we still have Baselworld 2019 to look forward to. It still promises plenty of interesting brands to cover even if the Swatch Group won’t be there.