Round Table: Reflections On SIHH 2015
It’s almost tradition, isn’t it? Please join our internal Quill & Pad round table discussion on the fair that was: SIHH 2015. Our participants are:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident “nerdwriter” for Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector for Quill & Pad
NO Nancy Olson, resident pen expert for Quill & Pad
IS: Compared to last year, the 2015 SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) felt much calmer. A perception no doubt generated by the re-splitting of the brand’s English-language press conferences into smaller groups that were around half the size of last year.
JM: This SIHH, though the first one I attended, seemed subdued in terms of releases and hoopla. I felt very relaxed and there was a sense of calm, which was surprising after the previous week’s bombshell announcement by the Swiss National Bank (see Why the Swiss unpegged the franc).
ED: As a matter of fact, the Swiss franc announcement didn’t seem to have made much difference at all. I was told the brands were instructed not to get into discussions about it, but I also felt it wasn’t too much of an issue. I found that to be a pleasant surprise, actually.
IS: An increasingly important issue for me is getting access to photograph the watches. Until recently, there were few photographers at the press conferences and shooting the pieces was relatively easy, but now everyone with a smart phone – and at the SIHH, that is everyone – is a photographer with an Instagram account. It’s become increasingly difficult to even get a chance to handle the watches, let alone have a few minutes to photograph them.
NO: This year’s SIHH celebrates its 25th anniversary concurrently with some of the participating brands’ milestones. IWC, for example, is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Portugieser with a new collection and new movements. Vacheron Constantin is celebrating its 260th anniversary with the new cushion-cased Harmony collection, and A. Lange & Söhne is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of founder Ferdinand Adolph Lange with a variety of timepieces, including the amazing Zeitwerk Minute Repeater.
I think these dates of note are great prompts for new introductions, and they added to the overall celebratory atmosphere of the show.
ED: Speaking of A. Lange & Söhne . . . what amazing pieces! Though I had anticipated a repeater of some sort this year, I never guessed it would be a decimal repeater and a Zeitwerk. How amazing was that!
GG: I do admire the thought that has gone into the various inter-locks to keep the repeating mechanism safe, and it’s great that the Zeitwerk time indication is finally instantaneously changing after all of these years. The prototype’s sound made it clear that this watch is not yet ready for prime time, but I’m entirely confident that given the tremendous experience in chiming watches that Tony de Haas brings to the task, this will be remedied by the time watches begin to ship.
JM: My second favorite watch at the show was a surprise to me, simply because I thought it would be number one by a long shot. And if it had not been for another little repeating mechanism we’ll get to later, it would have been. The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Decimal Minute Repeater is simply fabulous. Actually, fabulous doesn’t describe it well enough: it is magnifedibal (magnificent and incredible).
The Zeitwerk is my favorite line, and by adding not a standard minute repeater, but a decimal minute repeater, Lange made magic again for the wrist. The new shaped gongs follow the shape of the dial cutout (awesome), the repeater is powered by the mainspring barrel so the push is a lovely click not followed by loud whirring (amazing), and the repeater chimes what you see. This means that no matter when you push the button, it will chime the time when you pushed it, and the time will not update until the repeater has finished (very awesome).
Basically combine A. Lange & Söhne movement design with incredible mechanics and ingenious ideas and you get the Zeitwerk Decimal Repeater. It wins on style, class, mechanics, and provenance.
GG: I thought that Lange gave too little attention to the re-launch of the Lange 1; after all, it’s a very big deal to create a new movement to take the brand’s most recognizable line into the next 20 years! I happily would have spent more time learning more about the new design, its advantages, and all of the challenges and considerations that went into making it.
ED: I agree, Gary, though I do think that the Zeitwerk Decimal Repeater was Lange’s big news at SIHH 2015. Current Lange 1 owners, however, will find the news of the updated movement of utmost interest.
For one, I believe it will render the “old” Lange 1 even more of a collector’s timepiece to be treasured. The biggest reason for the redesign, however, was to allow the movement to incorporate Lange’s own hairspring rather than the Nivarox of the original movement. The new movement (Caliber L.121.1) contains 386 components, while the old movement (Caliber L.901) has 365.
Most people didn’t notice that the case also underwent a very slight facelift: the bezel is 0.2 mm slimmer and the case band now has a slightly different polish. People who know the Lange 1 well will see it immediately – like the slightly altered typography on the dial. Others won’t even notice.
We’ll come back to this in the not-too-distant future. It’s an interesting topic.
GG: One small disappointment at Lange for me was the “new” Datograph Perpetual in white gold with grey dial, which is simply a re-introduction of a previously discontinued model with baton markers substituted for a few of the Roman numerals on the dial. I do adore the white gold/grey combination on this watch, though.
No reservations, however, about the “Dufour” Datograph in rose gold/black color combination on the more recent Datograph Up/Down, which looks absolutely killer.
JM: Overall, I felt a mood of scaled-back simplicity, not just at A. Lange & Söhne but a steady progression toward moving forward that was no longer a race but a journey. Previous years have seen a multitude of major releases, but I got the sense that many brands were slowing things down a bit, with many stating that more releases would come slowly over the remainder of the year.
ED: Which is a good thing, I think!
JM: Yes, and I also felt a determination that the next steps must be taken with care and purpose. I was generally pleased with most of what I saw, though there were a couple pieces that I felt lacked the finishing the brands were hoping to showcase.
Timepieces must always be taken with a grain of salt at fairs as pieces have a tendency to be more prototype than final.
ED: But there was one prototype concept watch that blew us all away . . .
JM: Yes, it was the something else that beat the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Decimal Repeater for my top spot, but only because of its sheer innovation. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept RD#1 is, without a doubt, the best sounding minute repeater I have ever heard, bar none.
IS: Normally, before a repeater is activated at a busy exhibition, the doors are closed, the audience is hushed, and all huddle closely to hear the chimes. As the AP technicians demonstrated the Acoustic Research prototype, the watch was activated on the opposite side of the room from the onlookers and the door to the quiet room was opened to let in the considerable noise from outside.
And it sounded loudly, the chimes were crystal clear, and incredibly, it sounded even better on the wrist!
JM: After eight years of research and isolating components of sound that determine volume, clarity, and duration, AP’s concept repeater is louder and clearer than anything I have ever heard, and with a duration of the chime that just keeps going. The presentation of it in an acoustic lab at the booth was fantastic.
I just wanted to play with it, and I wanted to learn everything I could about it. Alas, since many aspects of the watch are patent pending, details on the exact technology will come later. I will be on the edge of my seat to learn more.
IS: We will be looking at the Audemars Piguet Acoustic Research prototype in detail in an upcoming article, but suffice to say for now that it was a sensation at the SIHH.
And: if this technology is ever added to a decimal repeater (please, AP, go the whole hog) I may have to sell my house.
ED: However, in terms of sheer eye-catching appeal, the Richard Mille Tourbillon Fleur was the highlight of the show for both Ian and I.
IS: There’s nothing like an animated mechanism visible from the dial side of a watch to attract attention – hence the appeal of open-dial-side tourbillons – but Richard Mille added even more visual magnetism by using an opening/closing flower to conceal/reveal the tourbillon every five minutes or on demand at the press of a pusher.
Though barely noticeable, the tourbillon actually rises up approximately one millimeter (1/16th of an inch) for maximum effect. The trend for serious ladies’ complications is advancing in leaps and bounds thanks to timepieces like the Tourbillon Fleur.
NO: I loved Richard Mille’s RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur for two reasons: first, it’s everything one would expect from Richard Mille; and second, I’m happy to know that Mille continues to create for women. After designating last year as the “year of the woman,” I was hoping that his days creating for us females were not over…
JM: Richard Mille stunned me with what is my favorite RM piece to date, the 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur with its mechanical magnolia blossom opening and closing at five-minute intervals to reveal the tourbillon blooming up and out of the petals. If it wasn’t covered in diamonds I would rock this watch on my wrist, it is so incredible.
ED: The attention to what women may like to wear was astounding, I thought, at the 2015 SIHH. And, once again, Jaeger-LeCoultre was also out in front. I particularly loved the Rendez-Vous Celestial all dressed up in the rare bordeaux-colored aventurine, which is a natural stone.
GG: Jaeger-LeCoultre had some splendid pieces, including the new Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon and the pre-SIHH release for women, the Rendez-Vous Ivy Minute Repeater, both of which I thought were wonderful.
The watches that might have me reaching for my wallet, though, are the Master Calendar pieces with meteorite dials. I’ve always been intrigued by both the classic Jaeger-LeCoultre triple calendar moon phase movements and meteorite dials, and the combination of the two implemented in these pieces has me pretty interested.
JM: For me, Jaeger LeCoultre’s shining star was the Master Grande Tradition Grand Complication that featured a tourbillon rotating around the dial over the course of a sidereal day of 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds combined with a minute repeater chiming with the brand’s own square gongs, which sounded crystal clear.
This piece also features a sky chart, month indication, a second time zone displaying 24-hour mean time, and the zodiac. While not being a grand complication by traditional definition, it definitely could stand tall as a grandly complicated piece in my book.
IS: While I loved the Richard Mille Tourbillon Fleur for its pure visual poetry, Greubel Forsey’s Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision attracted me for its sober minimalism. For a brand known more for complexity aimed at higher precision, from the dial side the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision gives very little away, although the wide, elegantly-arched, tourbillon bridge visible through a circular opening in the dial provides a hint that there is more here than initially meets the eye.
The apparently simple dial is actually one of the most complex, if not THE most complex and expensive, dials ever developed by Greubel Forsey. The numerals and markers on the three-part solid gold dial are first engraved then filled with enamel and oven-fired ten times to get that clean, pared-down look. The hands are so fine they are practically needles, though they are still highly legible. The Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision is Greubel Forsey’s thinnest watch, and that has been achieved by putting a substantial part of the tourbillon in a dome on the back. Surprisingly, you do not even feel that dome when the watch is on the wrist. And as an added bonus, there is even a power reserve indicator on the back, so as not to break the clean dial lines.
GG: Greubel Forsey’s main offerings were a bit mixed in my view: the two new variants on the GMT were both gorgeous, with the platinum-and-rose-gold version edging out the black titanium one for me. The new 24 Secondes Vision left me a bit cold, though. While I admired the cleverness of extending the movement into a case back bubble to make the case thinner, I suppose that I like my GFs a bit more dramatic in appearance; their white/white watches overall don’t really speak to me.
But my overall favorite watch at SIHH was the Naissance d’une Montre from Le Garde Temps. With sponsorship and input of Greubel Forsey, over the past three years Philippe Dufour has guided Michel Boulanger, a French watchmaking professor, in the design and realization of a tourbillon watch made using classical hand techniques. We saw the first example running at SIHH, and I loved it.
A huge 16 mm balance wheel rotating within a simple cage whose shape was inspired by the one in Abraham-Louis Breguet’s patent is just the start; a classic Dufour-style barrel with wolf’s teeth and deeply dimensional case layout add to the appeal. And on the dial, there are those two words: “Philippe Dufour.”
The watch we saw and photographed had not yet received any cosmetic finishing at all. Philippe told us that the finishing would be fairly sober, but knowing both him and Greubel Forsey, I am quite confident that the quality will be superb.
IS: I was also very impressed by the first Naissance d’une Montre prototype timepiece, Gary. I expect that the final finishing will be quite simple but superbly executed.
Then there was Vacheron Constantin, which totally surprised me with its full collection of chronographs in a vintage-like, cushion-shaped case!
JM: I was also impressed with Vacheron Constantin’s five new calibers in the new Harmony collection, including three new chronograph movements, a dual time, and the big-daddy grand complication featuring the world’s thinnest automatic split-seconds chronograph thanks to a peripheral rotor and one-millimeter winding differential. The style of these pieces follows traditional Vacheron Constantin aesthetic, while the movements are some awesome pieces of engineering.
GG: I thought that Vacheron Constantin had a good showing this year, and not just because I made the cut for the Sunday night collectors’ dinner! The Harmony line looks as good in person as in photos; I particularly liked the appearance of the monopusher chronograph.
And while I didn’t get to handle the “Grande Complication” split-seconds chronograph, it looked splendid in the display case and its status as the world’s thinnest automatic-winding splitter has me salivating.
I do hope that as Vacheron Constantin gets closer to final production it will tune the pusher feel of the new chronographs; on both the monopusher and the conventional two-pusher ladies’ watch, I found the feel, particularly the first push to start the chrono, to be firm almost to the level of being crunchy.
ED: I am in love with the Harmony Chronograph Small Caliber 1142, which also contains an interesting movement: a rebuilt Lémania. I plan to go a little deeper into this piece in an upcoming article.
Indeed, the fill of interesting timepieces for women in a mechanical sense was overall really pleasing.
NO: I felt there was less emphasis on new ladies’ collections this year, but there were some amazing ladies’ pieces introduced nonetheless. Trying on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Moon literally took my breath away with its large and starry moon phase indication and overall artful dial. I thought it was the perfect blend of understated feminine elegance and great provenance.
IS: Yes, even the normally testosterone-heavy IWC surprised us with the brand’s first ladies’ watches, which made their debuts at Watches & Wonders in Hong Kong. And while they were nothing radical, the Portofino Midsize pieces are quite nice and a strong first feminine step for this hitherto macho brand.
Might we see IWC’s tagline modified to read “engineered for (wo)men”?
NO: Another highlight for me was the Cartier Crash Skeleton. I’ve been a fan of the Crash for as long as I can remember, and I was a little apprehensive about its reiteration as a skeleton – particularly since skeleton watches are such a trend right now. But I was pleasantly surprised by the workmanship and overall look in platinum.
Van Cleef & Arpels emphasized its jewelry roots over mechanics this year with the introduction of the Carpe Koï, which is an amazing study in stone setting and jewelry design, as well as the Cadenas, a reintroduction of a collection first introduced in 1935. Alas, both are quartz.
GG: Can we get a little love for Van Cleef & Arpels? This year for them was mostly about ladies’ watches after last year’s big astronomical Midnight Planetarium, and I thought that it once again did a great job of being faithful to its brand theme of “poetic” pieces with the floral ladies’ watches on offer.
ED: The two Poetic Complications called Oiseaux de Paradis (“Birds of Paradise”) and Coccinelles (“Ladybugs”) were nice and eye-catching, Gary, but remember that only these two out of all the new releases were mechanical – and the brand did not even specify which movement either in our meeting or in the press releases. The entirety of the rest of the new pieces was quartz, which I personally find a bit disappointing.
So Van Cleef & Arpels’ emphasis was clearly on visuals in 2015, which is okay, particularly when you consider the beauty of the enamel and engraving work on the three new quartz Charms timepieces, but overall slightly disappointing in the sense that this brand was really headed mechanical places even just last year.
I feel Van Cleef & Arpels is not trying to necessarily speak to the serious female collector anymore.
IS: There’s nothing like a bright splash of color to attract attention. Sorry, there is something better than a bright splash of color to attract attention: two bright splashes of color in the shape of the earth’s northern and southern hemispheres, a massive tourbillon rising up out of the movement and a cylindrical balance spring.
That’ll do it for me every time, and I found it in the Montblanc Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama.
GG: I think that what Montblanc is doing with its combination of affordable complications and upscale Minerva/Villeret pieces is a fascinating strategy, but this year’s new watches weren’t doing it for me.
I’m sure that the Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum will sell a zillion pieces, but the clunky feel of the time change activator and the appearance of the world time dial itself didn’t appeal to me. The “big” watch, the previously mentioned Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama, was clearly designed with a lot of thought, including curving the tourbillon bridge to mirror the curved shape of the two globes on the dial, but I found the whole presentation to be a bit fussy and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to be reading on the watch, even after it was explained to me.
ED: For me, the Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama was one of the best watches of the whole fair. I love just about everything about it: the reworked movement meant to more reliably accommodate the exo-style tourbillon, the aventurine dial to recreate the map of stars (I personally adore aventurine anyway), the Montblanc-cut diamond at 12 o’clock and – just totally incredibly to me – the price tag of € 45,000 in red gold. It seems to me they must be losing money on this one, though it is very limited. The unlimited version is just € 38,000 and I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to explain those low prices. Great strategy!
However, what does very slightly confound me at Montblanc is the extremely large number of references. I will admit to becoming just a bit confused, though I really like what they are doing now overall!
JM: Montblanc satisfied me again with a new collection and new theme, the Heritage Chronometrie collection and the Vasco da Gama editions, which have two stand-out stars.
First, for me, too, the Exo Tourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama edition with aventurine dial and Montblanc-cut diamond at 12 o’clock simply radiates awesome, beating its non-Vasco da Gama edition brother.
Second, the Villeret collection Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama with twin rotating hemispheres and towering tourbillon proved to be a winner.
IS: While there were many attractive hues of blue on watch dials at the 2015 SIHH, one that really caught my eye because of both its color and form was the Parmigiani Tourbillon Ovale. A 30-second tourbillon with a lapis lazuli dial in a sumptuously shaped case – what’s not to like?
JM: At Cartier, two pieces really caught my attention, and they weren’t even the big complications.
Okay, one is pretty complicated and the other one features three new patents. The Ballon Bleu Serti Vibrant features “trembling” diamond settings on the dial, adding a whole new meaning to the word shimmering. This is a watch I would like to wear with a simple case and only the dial encrusted with diamonds, as that effect is incredible.
The second is the newest skeleton version of the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon. This movement is incredible and almost ephemeral as you peer through the dial.
IS: All in all, while it wasn’t a vintage SIHH, it was a very good one. And it appears that there are still a lot more watches to come during the year from the SIHH brands, and that’s something to definitely look forward to.
For further SIHH coverage, please see:
Celebrating 25 Years Of SIHH
BOOM! Montblanc’s Explorer-Inspired Heritage Chronométrie Collection
Give Me Five! Scintillating Ladies Watches From SIHH 2015
SIHH 2015 Photo Essay: Greubel Forsey
SIHH 2015 Photo Essay: Jaeger-LeCoultre
SIHH 2015 Photo Essay: Richard Mille
Give Me Five! Skeleton Watches From SIHH 2015
Give Me Five! Tourbillons From SIHH 2015