Published in Private Edition 31, 30 March 2016
The 26th edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie saw nine contemporary workshops exhibit alongside 15 leading maisons in fine watchmaking.
The line of waiting VIPs at the ‘secret’ destination somewhere in Geneva for the 85th-birthday celebration of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso was becoming more disorderly by the minute. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of decorum when snow is melting into your elaborately coiffed ’do or seeping into your stilettos – more than a few women jumped the queue to better their chances of seeking shelter inside the party venue. (Even some of the men forgot to invite ‘ladies first’.)
Once inside, though, guests quickly shed their winter coats and forgot about the sub-zero temperatures over Champagne and canapés, having their nails done at the Christian Louboutin booths, watching the computer-controlled live art installation, or dancing and chatting. Friends of the brand Clive Owen, Sarah Gadon and Carmen Chaplin joined the celebration on and off the dance floor while DJs did their level best to keep the crowd entertained. Interestingly, it was the one who looked too young to have been from the same era who got it right with his choice of ’80s hits.
We were midway through the week-long annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), arguably the most luxurious event on the fine watchmaking calendar. After another full day of presentations and exclusive viewings, some level of relaxation was certainly in order – if not at an invite-only party then at one of Geneva’s popular restaurants. Sound glamorous? It may appear that way, but the SIHH is a serious affair for retailers, private clients and collectors wanting to ensure they’re high on the list for orders that could take six months or more to materialise – and that’s only if they’re from an area that their preferred maison considers a priority market.
Limited-edition pieces are often reserved in advance; their all-too-brief display by consent of their new owner. Vacheron Constantin’s Reference 57260 (opposite) is a case in point. Commissioned eight years ago, what turned out to be the most complicated watch ever made was due to be hand-delivered to its proud owner early in January, but a special concession was made to display the double-dial horological masterpiece first at the SIHH.
Featuring 57 complications developed by three master watchmakers, including a world-first Hebraic perpetual calendar, the Reference 57260 weighs in at 960g in a case of 18ct white gold 98mm wide and 50,55mm thick.
Bearing the esteemed Hallmark of Geneva, the ‘pocket’ watch contains 2 800 components that drive six time functions, 15 perpetual calendar functions (Gregorian and Hebraic), nine astronomic calendar functions, one lunar calendar, one religious calendar, four chronograph (three column-wheels) functions, seven alarm functions, eight Westminster Carillon striking functions and six more besides. The hands that accompany them total 19 on the front and 12 on the back. The mind boggles. The timepiece was delivered on schedule post-SIHH with two accessories – a corrector pen and a magnifying glass – despite an offer to purchase from another keen investor. The answer was an emphatic ‘not for sale’.
No mean feat
Despite the ‘stronger Swiss franc and the decline in the pace of certain markets, sometimes radically as in Hong Kong and Russia’, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), which organises the SIHH, said attendance was consistent with previous events. It attracted some 14 500 international visitors, of whom 1 200 were journalists.
The number of exhibitors was boosted by the inclusion of nine artisan-creators and workshops in a move to showcase new-wave watchmaking alongside the ancestral maisons A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Greubel Forsey, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Parmigiani, Piaget, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin.
In the specially created Carré des Horlogers (Square of Clocks), where they were able to demonstrate their avantgarde approach to their highly specialised craft, Christophe Claret, De Bethune, H. Moser & Cie, Hautlence, HYT, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier, MB&F and Urwerk drew their fair share of foot traffic. ‘The common denominators of all the maisons at the SIHH are creativity, expertise, craftsmanship, excellence and the desire to achieve the impossible. Most of all, though, they share the heritage and longevity of an art that must continue to thrive,’ said Fabienne Lupo, FHH chairwoman and managing director.
The principles that drive their creations also come through in the design of their exhibition booths, from Piaget’s interpretation of radiance with 60km of linked chains draped chandelier-like from the ceiling and IWC Schaffhausen’s suspended airplane to A. Lange & Sohne’s giant-sized Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon and Roger Dubuis’ reimagining of the Cannes Film Festival redcarpet setting.
Many agreed that the trend towards round classic watches in understated neutral colours is a sign of the times – favouring the current economic climate and giving customers what they want across a broad price range, including those watches that served as showcases for high jewellery, artistic crafts or precision movements as well as more practical applications such as chronographs or complete calendars. Couture design and tailoring also made its mark this year, with French luxury footwear and fashion designer Christian Louboutin crafting leather straps for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso models, and Chanel-owned Maison Massaro creating an extravagant look for the Roger Dubuis Velvet Collection. IWC Schaffhausen once again incorporated the skills of Italian luxury shoemaker Santoni for the straps of its Big Pilot models while Montblanc opted to source leather for its accessories directly from Florence.
Maverick watchmaker Urwerk, winner of the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for best design, looked to British tailor Timothy Everest for the bespoke strap for its EMC Timehunter. Everest says, ‘We both share the same passion for tradition and craft but insert modernity into our work and always try to think one step ahead.’