The first of the year's giant watch fairs, Geneva's Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie gets under way today (January 15) with brands hoping a raft of new models will keep consumers consuming.
The SIHH has this year expanded to showcase 34 luxury brands – the usual Cartier, IWC and Jaeger LeCoultres joined by avant-gardists Urwerk, H.Moser & Cie, MB&F, and HYT.
In a sign of changing times the lavish event, once invitation only, is now open to the public on the final day and attended by thousands of industry insiders and a legion of bloggers and 'watch journalists.'
Worldwide, watch sales are showing hopeful signs of recovery after two years of declining sales, although local retailers will tell you Australian sales have remained depressed. Aside from the almost unstoppable popularity of Rolex, the most recent trend has been to vintage looking pieces that hardly point a way to the future.
From the few SIHH preview pieces we've spied it's looking not so much like a vintage year but one upgrading themes we're not entirely unfamiliar with. (Bear in mind though that brands save their best for the actual show, so watch this space.)
For example at the high end Girard Perregaux has looked to their iconic Three-Bridges architecture (patented in 1884) that dates back to pocket watch days with the Neo Tourbillon Skelton, an openwork wonder that despite its underpinnings looks thoroughly modern thank to the use of titanium and black pvd on what surfaces remain.
Thin is in
Piaget, who previously claimed the thinnest manual winding watch, is following up with the similar looking Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, surpassing – or is that undercutting – Bulgari's Octo Finissimo as the slimmest self-winder yet seen, at just 4.30 mm thick.
Three years in the making, the movement and case form a single entity with the latter serving as a mainplate to which the 219 incredibly thin components are affixed, some not much thicker than a hair and most visible on the dial side of the watch.
For more everyday wear – make that more affordable – Montblanc has a fresh play on their inherited Minerva ancestry (they took over the old Minerva manufacuture) with models including the Montblanc Star Legacy Automatic Chronograph.
Apart from its 42mm size, this classic looker could have been designed in the 1940's, down to its and hand-crafted strap and blued hands.
Ulysse Nardin has likewise looked back, to the watch that most recently put them on the map with enthusiasts, the so-called 'Freak.'
The new 'Freak Vision' is the first automatic watch in the range and incorporates some complex innovations – if that's what you're into. Think a "flying carrousel" rotating around its own axis and indicating the time, a super-light silicium balance wheel with nickel mass elements and stabilising micro-blades, and case design made even thinner by a box-domed crystal. In case you're already thinking 'that's me,' be aware you're looking at an ask of $139,600.
For their part SIHH debutant De Witt has eschewed hands altogether, producing an Academie model that does without them, instead relying on little discs to indicate the hour of day. No referencing the past here.
We're not sure this mode of presentation gives you the time at a glance, but the "endless screw" mechanism the watch employs is unique and certainly offers fresh possibilities for amusement. Maybe this is just the watch if a love of steam engines, train sets and tinkering is your thing – or you simply need a diversion during those endless meetings.
We'll bring you more surprises this week as they emerge from the salubrious salons in Geneva.
Bani McSpedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review and watch-next.com.