Insider's Picks: 6 Important Watches from SIHH 2015

Fine watchmaking's first fair of the year responds positively to the challenge of wearable gadgets but the real story is more subdued. Here are six (plus two) highlights from the SIHH 2015 that indicate the real state of time

In his book Cult Watches: the World’s Enduring Classics, Michael Balfour holds forth on why such staples as the Rolex Submariner and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso have such a powerful hold on the collective imagination of watch lovers. One of the factors Balfour cites is how compelling the shape of the case is and even as far as the deceptively nondescript Submariner goes, he is certainly on to something here.

It is held as something close to gospel truth that the watch buying public responds positively to round shapes as far as time telling devices are concerned. Now, a certain Cupertino company may beg to differ on that note but the design winners of the past are overwhelmingly round, from the artfully restrained Patek Philippe Calatrava to the visually arresting Movado Museum Watch. Even Apple makes the round concession, to an important degree, in how time is actually displayed – what would typically be called dial design in any other sort of watch.

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Vacheron Constantin Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph

All this is merely preamble to our highlights from the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in January of 2015. It takes a bit of time, no pun intended, to work out what might actually be important watches and developments from the fair. Earlier stories – including drafts of this piece – zoomed in on celestial inspirations, calendar and equation of time watches and the somewhat surprising paucity of Chinese zodiac tributes but these are simply topical. Instead, we think that new shapes and styles herald a change in direction for many a storied name.

Well, to be fair, the words “herald” and “change” imply the industry is shifting or adapting in ways that it is not. Trends move with glacial speed in watchmaking, as we have noted more than once before, and one would be foolish to put too much stock in this. We can say though that investing in a new shape is quite involved and requires a commitment to winning hearts and minds that will take many years; so when we see such initiatives from Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels, we pay attention. We remain happy to see a strong commitment from Audemars Piguet to the Millenary line, despite the obviously strong performance and easier appeal of the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore.

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IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar

Of the individual developments that deserve special mention, there are three that come to mind. First is the admirable effort by Montblanc to incorporate gadgetry into their range. The execution of the TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap shows one way that fine watchmaking could respond to challenge posed by the current generation of wearable tech. We look forward to what will surely be more such examples, including at BaselWorld.

Secondly, IWC Schaffhausen has gone and renamed the Portuguese collection for the revamp. Now called the Portugieser, this watch introduces a small wonder into the IWC constellation of complications, the annual calendar. Given how famous IWC is for its perpetual calendars, it is easy to think one might have overlooked a more humble calendar piece. Well, rest easy because the Schaffhausen manufacture has seen fit to grace the new Portugieser collection with an in-house mechanical movement for the new annual calendar watch. To be clear, the Portugieser is the new name for the Portuguese so you may already own one!

Finally, we are impressed with Vacheron Constantin's entirely new Harmony collection, the highlight of which is the Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph (pictured above, second from top). This is also a shaped watch, marking a permanent return of the cushion shape to the Vacheron Constantin family. The Geneva manufacture currently features round and tonneau watches so Harmony will add diversity to the offering at least. We are a little perplexed as to why round movements were chosen to power the collection though, especially since it is called Harmony. Nevertheless, in-house calibres are all impressive, featuring not monopusher chronographs with laterally coupled systems – a new development allows these chronographs to avoid the usual jerking associated with them, traditionally.

As per our usual practice, we list our selections in alphabetical order. Use the arrows to navigate between watches.

  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 2A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater – The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater has been a long time coming and is in fact the first stand-alone proper minute repeater from the Glashutte firm. Details are scarce at present but we do know that it is a decimal style minute repeater, meaning that it sounds hours, ten-minute intervals and minutes rather than hours, quarters and minutes. What we have here is a low-pitched tone for elapsed hours, a double tone elapsed ten-minute intervals and a high-pitched tone for elapsed minutes. A special treat here is that the black-polished steel hammers are visible dial-side.
  •  Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 3A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater– As far as we know, there is no other minute repeater that pairs with a digital display of time as seen in the Zeitwerk. Certainly there is no other with a decimal chiming system so the watch is significant in that way. More than this though, we expect to see more iterations of this watch in future and possibly the chiming system itself applied to other collections within firm’s range. As usual, all 771 components of calibre L043.5 exhibit the same degree of fine finishing one expects of A. Lange & Sohne.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 4Audemars Piguet Concept RD#1 – Details about this watch are really hard to come by because the family-owned watchmaker is protecting its pending patents but we can tell you that it will not be available any time soon. A project almost 10 years in the making, this is the manufacture’s vision of the most perfect striking watch possible. Quite a major claim considering that the horological hothouse Renaud & Papi is responsible for many an innovation here (and across all of fine watchmaking). We know that the repeater employs the traditional gong-and-hammer system for sounding out time and that the titanium case is water resistant to 20 meters.
  •  Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 5Audemars Piguet Concept RD#1 – The goal, according to Audemars Piguet, was to streamline the notoriously subjective process of crafting chiming watches by employing the scientific method. A sound engineer, an academic and a musical instrument craftsman put together the parameters for the tones of the watch so, in theory, the sound quality should be consistent even between different models with the same repeater mechanism. In 44mm, the watch also boasts a chronograph and a tourbillon.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 6Cartier Cle de Cartier – Of the crop of novelties at the SIHH, the biggest talking piece is undoubtedly the Cle de Cartier, an entirely new collection from the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture of Cartier. Now this collection is not merely notable because it is decidedly on-trend (the continuing and widening blue period aesthetics) but because it does embody some of the key talking points of the fair this year in Geneva.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 7Cartier Cle de Cartier – In a year that has so far seen watch firms continue to dial back on their lofty technical ambitions, the Cle de Cartier targets the most elusive of all characteristics – desirability via both visual beauty and ergonomic superiority. The crown here harkens back to the days of the old winding key commonly associated with pocket watches while the overall shape takes its cues from art deco, which was a particularly rich period in terms of wristwatch designs. Cartier manages to introduce a brand new movement for the watch, which promises a more robust and efficient winding system to go with that brand new crown design.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 9Montblanc Collection Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geospheres Vasco da Gama – One of the most attractive and distinctive technical advancements of the year belongs to the Neuchatel and Villeret based watchmaker. It is a mouthful of a name to be sure and is certainly impressive on the wrist (at 47mm it is certainly should be). Connoisseurs will be pleased to note that this will be first the time a cylindrical tourbillon is paired with a world time complication. It is actually a triple time zone watch, just to be clear. Current CEO Jerome Lambert’s former cohorts at Jaeger-LeCoultre will certainly be taking note (they have the only other significant cylindrical hairspring tourbillon).
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 8Montblanc Collection Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geospheres Vasco da Gama – Technicalities aside, we are deeply impressed by the aesthetics. It is improbably difficult to throw globes into the mix on a dial without inviting disaster – just do a google search on it. This Vasco da Gama edition throws two globes – representing the two hemispheres of our planet – and a tourbillon into the mix, somehow making it all work. It will be some time before we see the final version of this watch so we will have to withhold judgment until that time but it certainly looks like the watchmakers have pulled it off. The case, according to the press notes, is in 18k red gold and this model will be limited to 18 pieces. 
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 10Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Skeleton Double Flying Tourbillon – Openworked movements have been an important, if exceedingly limited, part of traditional fine watchmaking and this year, Roger Dubuis has gone for broke in this area. In particular, we shine the spotlight on the Astral Skeleton concept, which applies the techniques of openworking – where the maximum amount is removed from the movement without compromising its functional properties – to the case, flange and hands of the Excalibur collection.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 11Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Skeleton Double Flying Tourbillon – In an unprecedented move, the watchmakers trimmed away as much material as they could from the titanium case, turning it into a kind of Eiffel tower of watchmaking, so to speak. The result is a beauty that you can feel as well as see – quite the achievement. In many ways, this is finally the case that the Skeleton Double Flying Tourbillon always deserved. While we will not know if other manufactures will take their cues from this but we can think of a few brands that would benefit from applying this technique.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 12Van Cleef & Arpels Cadenas – In the example of Van Cleef & Arpels, the case for the Art Deco renaissance is fully realized. The so-called padlock watch, which is really a bracelet that tells time, won hearts and minds across the fair. The cleverly designed Cadenas watch lacks for nothing in the visual department, but the fact that it is an update of a 1930s classic makes us miss the presence of a mechanical heartbeat here; the nine new models all have quartz engines.
  • Insiders Picks 6 Important Watches From Sihh 2015 13Van Cleef & Arpels Cadenas – Quartz or not, these watches are simply beautiful and the renderings here do not do them justice. Those familiar with the 1935 original (pictured above) might be hard pressed to see what has changed and we ourselves are unsure what’s new here (movements aside – quartz did not exist in 1935). The dial is clearly enlarged although statistics are unavailable on the size at this time and the maison says there are new stone settings and a brand new clasp. We are still hopeful that enough demand for an elegant mechanical movement in this piece in the years to come will elevate the model to new heights.
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