Top trends at the the SIHH 2018 watch fair in Geneva

The year's first watch fair, the Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) has just wrapped in Geneva giving watch buffs a taste of what's in store for the wrist.

With 35 brands led by the likes of Cartier, IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre and Panerai showing their wares, there's plenty to choose from; that said brands have generally opted for safe takes on familiar themes rather than radical re-boots and over-the-top wrist wonders.

The trend to decidedly vintage looks seen in recent times might have abated somewhat, but brand after brand featured timepieces influenced by past models.

Blast from the past

Cartier showed a newly revamped Santos range with medium and larger sizing and boasting a quick-change strap system, the latter seen this year on watch after watch.

IWC introduced a fresh Big Pilot model with a gleaming white lacquered dial described as "enamel-like"; Audemars Piguet had a raft of revamped – and mostly thinner – Royal Oak derivations; Jaeger LeCoultre celebrated 50 years of the iconic Polaris, expanding the model into a veritable range – chronos, self-winders and a Memovox alarm piece; Girard Perregaux continued to buff the Laureato collection with ceramic models for him and her; Vacheron Constantin debuted a handsome Overseas Dual Time (and a rather retro Fiftysix collection true to the looks of that year.) Montblanc turned the clock back even further with an expanded 1858 range referencing the vintage looks of the revered Minerva manufacture the brand absorbed a dozen years ago.

Over the moon

Out of this world timepieces, once the norm at such fairs, were again largely the preserve of smaller independent brands such as MB&F whose MoonMachine 2 barely looks like a watch at all. Its complex workings take pride of place within an unusual framework, the hour of day restricted to a digital read-off viewed through a slit of a window in the leading edge of the case. Priced at around $120,000 and limited to 36 pieces it has already sold out.

Likewise Richard Mille eschewed the common round case, unveiling a tonneau-shaped, carbon-cased, RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough, a technical tour-de-force with cable tensioning designed to withstand the rough and tumble of professional polo competition.

Coming back to earth, along with the aforementioned quick-change straps, common themes at SIHH 2018 were dials that looked deep enough to dive into, many in hues of blue, rounded rather than flat crystals, and a widespread emphasis on thin cases.

Wispy wonders

The prize here was comprehensively won by Piaget showing two wispy wonders as thin as their straps, an Altiplano concept model a mere 2mm thick, and a self-winding production Altiplano just 2.3mm deep.

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If this was a talking point at the fair, another was Panerai who not only had thinner Luminor Due models on hand, but announced their smallest watch yet.

The petite Panerai spans 38mm, tiny beside their hero pieces the 47mm Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 and the L'Astronimo skeletonized moon-phase, a puck spanning a wrist-dwarfing 50mm.

Despite the smaller Panerai being more jewel than tool, the brand hesitates to call it a ladies watch, preferring to describe it as "an option for a different occasion."

It's a phrase that on the evidence of SIHH 2018 might well sum up where watches generally are at right now.

Bani McSpedden is watch editor of the Australian Financial review and watch-next.com.