SINGAPORE (May 15): Novel coronavirus, novel experiences, novelties — the Swiss watch industry was long overdue for a shake-up but no one could have imagined the storm of events that would accelerate its overhaul and the form in which that might take. Among the quickest to react to the social and business dis ruptions of Covid-19 was Watches & Wonders, formerly known as Salon de la Haute Horlogerie. Instead of postponing or cancelling its April debut, organiser Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie decided to upload its entire agenda online. Watchesandwonders.com went live on April 25, translating its on-ground experience into a digital exhibition featuring novelties by 30 brands, video presentations by key representatives and industry insights and analyses. Despite the current extreme and unusual circumstances, this grandest of Swiss traditions continues to exercise its charm. Watchmaking mastery is always a thing of wonder and the 2020 novelties were ripe with technical innovation and artistic romance. Here are some of our favourite pieces thus far.
The panther has been synonymous with Cartier since its first brand appearance in 1914. The grand maison taps into this legacy for the Ronde Louis Cartier novelty, capturing a close-up of the large cat in straw and gold marquetry. New to the toolbox of marquetry materials, the precious metal allows for volume and realistic bas-relief rendering. The meticulous labour involved in this creation ranges from the 65 individually shaped and satin-finished white, yellow and pink gold elements that form the feline’s head to the enamelling of the eyes and spots on the coat. Not only did the marquetry craftsmen have to be specially trained in the use of gold, novel techniques were also explored, such as the embedding of yellow gold wires into natural straw. Each 42mm white gold construction required over 100 hours of attention, so just 30 individually numbered timepieces were crafted.
The ardent adventurer dreaming of icy landscapes to conquer will want to add the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere to his or her collection. This year’s esoteric theme is inspired by the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge: The holy grail of climbing conquests comprises the highest mountain peaks on each continent. In this new model, the seven summits including Mont Blanc are marked in blue dots on the northern and southern hemisphere globes set on the dial. Gearing wearers for the exploits ahead is the mechanical MC 29.25 calibre. Certified by the Montblanc Laboratory Test 500, the robust movement operates a world-time complication inclusive of date, second time zone, 24-hour scale and day-night indication. The blue tableau is encircled by a bi-directional stainless steel bezel and wrapped in Grade 5 titanium.
IWC celebrates its Portugieser line, a style icon from the 1930s, with haute horlogerie updates. The Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph draws its name from a troika of eponymous complications. A flying hacking minute tourbillon at 6 o’clock turns the 43.5mm display into a theatrical performance, while a retrograde date track in the west portion of the dial and flyback chronograph functions affirm the engineering capabilities of the 152-year-old manufacturer. Enlivening the timepiece is the in-house Calibre 89900, a powerful automatic movement that supplies 68 hours of autonomy. Two versions are available, each limited to 50 watches. The first is a maritime-inspired boutique edition in 18-carat Armor Gold with a blue dial, while the second has a silver-plated dial housed in platinum. Pull this piece off effortlessly at work, play and the hours in between.
Exquisitely illustrating nature in motion is Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers, a collection of one-ofa-kind creations that demonstrate the mastery of the maison’s craftsmanship. Fine champlevé enamel brings to life a quartet of singing birds: A hummingbird, blue jay, blue tit and robin each occupy the left section of a two-tiered dial while a 60-minute and 24-hour guilloché track, the latter marked only by the numeral 12 in the middle, trail the right rim. Time is second to the sheer beauty of the enamelling, executed in a rich palette of colours, with subtly graded shades imparting realism and dimension. Framed in pink or white gold, these works of art represent the finest of watchmaking traditions and techniques.
When Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1883, it was built on the bedrock of horological ingenuity and artistic accomplishment. The Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication harnesses almost two centuries of expertise to assemble a tourbillon, minute repeater and celestial vault. The splendour of the astronomical constellation is emphasised by the tourbillon’s eternal dance and the divine harmony of the chimes, made round and full with patented crystal gongs and articulated trebuchet hammers. A golden sun-shaped pointer on the constellation disc indicates the date, month and relevant zodiac sign while double concentric rings spell the hours and minutes respectively. The multi-level dial — black for the pink gold version and blue in the white gold edition, each limited to eight pieces — features a central heart decorated with tiny stars and a star chart depicting the northern hemisphere night sky as viewed from the Vallée de Joux.
What began as an ambitious dream turned into a commercial reality for Piaget this year when it launched the Altiplano Ultimate Concept at Watches & Wonders 2020. The world’s thinnest mechanical watch is a gossamer-like 2mm and calls upon a host of innovations and clever designs, including an integrated winding crown, reimagined barrel and energy regulation structures, and a specially engineered case melded with the wafer-thin movement. A power reserve of over 40 hours cements this as the new benchmark in the canon of ultra-thin watches. To achieve the same thickness as two stacked credit cards, gold was eschewed in favour of a cobalt-based alloy case that has thrice the strength of the precious metal, and is thus more difficult to machine. It is so light the wearer may forget it is on the wrist.