2014 marked my second attendance, and more importantly, the sixth edition of the British watch exhibition called SalonQP, held at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Last year, in my comprehensive article about the event, I referred to it as a “most personal exhibition of fine watches, remarkable brands and astoundingly difficult crafts,” and I was curious to see how things had evolved from one year to the next. To my surprise, there have been some interesting developments, with some of the core values remaining the same.
Before we get to discuss the changes, let’s see what was unchanged for 2014. The Saatchi Gallery is still every bit as beautiful of a venue as it was last year, and it certainly lends a most suiting atmosphere to the event. The event was again a three-day affair, with the first day opening at 6pm, with a so-called cocktail reception. The concept of this night is simple, and plenty of cocktails and champagne were consumed by a record-setting audience – tickets were sold out for the opening night, which was a very welcome development, and had certainly set the event off to a good start.
As a direct consequence, however, the Saatchi Gallery was packed with watch lovers on all three of its floors, and exhibitors were busy answering the more simple inquiries of occasional watch-lovers, as well as the, dare I say, investigative questions of seasoned enthusiasts. Hence, a very mixed crowd gathered and feasted upon the even more diverse selection of brands from industry giants like Jaeger-LeCoultre, TAG Heuer, Chopard, and others on the ground level, to famed independents like Voutilainen, Urwerk, MB&F, and dozens of others on the first and second floors.
It was only on the morning of the second day that the dust had settled, and there was a better chance of conducting more detailed conversations with the exhibiting brands, as well as acquiring a more thorough understanding of what the 2014 edition of SalonQP had to offer. Beyond a mere exhibition of 2014-2015 models, I was able to appreciate the fact that, once again, considerable efforts had been made to bring watchmaking closer to the attendees. The very concept and point of “the QP,” as many exhibitors will tell you, is to bring their brands, their watches and also horology as a whole closer to the audience – a large group of people who arrive with greatly varying levels of expertise.
It is also in this department where I could experience more noticeable changes from last year. On this occasion, watchmakers from Chopard, Montblanc, TAG Heuer, and Zenith were all present, while Jaeger-LeCoultre had set up a “Sound Lab,” which provided an approximately 40 minute long introduction to the world of chiming watches. In this separated booth seating six, different devices like microscopes, a projector, and of course, a knowledgeable watchmaker were ready to lead the pre-registered guests through the countless intricacies of chiming watches. I still feel bad that I could never find the spare time to sit through an entire session – there was just too much to see and do.
As I said, Chopard, Montblanc, TAG Heuer, and Zenith had sent their best men and women to the battlefield, having set up separate workbenches for their watchmakers. On a personal note, allow me to share my amazement and surprise that I felt when I learned that all the watchmakers with whom I had met last year remember my name!
For someone like me, who is hopelessly challenged to remember a phone number for any period of time over 15 seconds, this was hugely impressive – and also a very humbling experience. I presume it also goes to show the amount of brain-exercise watchmaking and the assembly of a complicated movement requires: you just have to know where things went inside the movement and what they do and how they are connected; otherwise finding the cure for the problem of a 300+ component movement will prove to be impossible.
In the pictures above, you see the Zenith El Primero 4021 movement semi-assembled, and also in a true exploded view. The master watchmakers – who oftentimes are senior watchmakers and trainers within their respective watch brands or even entire luxury groups – were present on all three days, giving away priceless information about their manufactures’ trademark calibers to watch nerds like myself. I am excited to say that we will be sharing these details with you soon, in a dedicated series of articles – the first episode of which you may find here, with the MB&F HM6, which was also shown to the public at SalonQP.
Furthermore, the watchmakers have also provided a more basic, but nonetheless equally awe-inspiring, insight into the inner workings of mechanical movements, by answering just about any and all watch-related questions the audience had reserved for them. Having joined some of these conversations, I could compare this experience to what we have here on the aBlogtoWatch comments section: often times incredibly witty and eagle-eyed questions and replies were exchanged. I especially enjoyed when an elderly couple asked Chopard’s watchmaker whether their perpetual calendar movement adjusts for daylight savings time – I never thought about that, but it did make me wonder whether or not it would be possible to make, and if so, then who is going to produce it first.
TAG Heuer, beyond exhibiting a cool “reflex-test” device that Formula-1 pilots use to test their reaction times and keep themselves fit, brought a number of historically important movements along. Above, you will see the famed Caliber 11, Heuer’s first self-winding chronograph, alongside their latest (CH80 notwithstanding) Caliber 1887. The size difference is noticeable, and the 1887 looked considerably smaller despite the fact that it is some 50 years younger, than its predecessor, the Cal. 11. The reason why this downscaling in size is interesting is that watches have generally become larger in diameter – the counter-argument is that the smaller size of the 1887 will allow TAG Heuer to use it in a wider range of watches, perhaps even ladies’ models as well.
Montblanc followed suit and tried to impress the masses with its high-end, haute horlogerie timepieces, driven by the beautiful movements made in Villeret. Clearly, the star of the show for Montblanc was the Metamorphosis II (article here), which was a working prototype without the final finishing. As one would expect, at 52 millimeters wide the watch is huge – but what it does is also hugely impressive.
Whenever I would rush through the ground floor to meet with some brand or another, I could see guests looking at the watch – and again, the reason why SalonQP is in a rather unique position is that the watch did leave its glass sarcophagus and was shown to anyone who requested it. Getting to personally see and experience such extremely rare watches is a special opportunity, and I feel that as long as the exhibition sticks to its open and welcoming nature, it will have new and returning guests year after year. Needless to say, this kind of “openness” also helps bring the particular brand in question much closer to the visitors.