It was nearly 10pm on the last day of SIHH 2019 that myself and the rest of the aBlogtoWatch team finally left the Palexpo convention center in Geneva, Switzerland. It would be the last time any of us would be there in January – at least as far as we know. In 2020, SIHH will change its schedule and be held in April, immediately before the watch industry’s other major show Baselworld. Little is known about how all of that will work out given that we watch media will be asked to remain in Switzerland for over two weeks and meet with well over 100 brands across both shows. Such thoughts and industry uncertainty, as well as drama, dominated this year’s SIHH event.
After one of the most challenging years the modern watch industry has faced, 2019 is another year of uncertainty as the watch industry’s top managers strain to predict what the next few years will look like. When product development and production cycles must be planned out years in advance without being able to predict market conditions over the next 12 months means investments and efforts are naturally held back. aBlogtoWatch team members themselves spend as much time discussing new products as they do consulting with brands on their future direction and strategies. With a solid 10 SIHH trips now under my belt alone, I’ve not only become a heard voice when it comes to new watches, but also the guy talking about the industry’s challenges few people dare to speak out loud. That might sound a bit silly, but only until you enter yourself into the tight-lipped world of luxury watch brands, where secrecy and discretion are the norm. So it often takes a loudmouth and curious American like me to get our friends in Europe to openly discuss the big issues and offer some solid advice.
More so, I love noticing that myself and aBlogtoWatch team members are now actively shaping the luxury watch consumer experience. While wishing to preserve the pride of the brands we consider colleagues, I can tell you without any hesitation that aBlogtoWatch continues to be directly responsible for new product ideas and marketing concepts that you’ve no doubt already noticed. It means a great deal to me to see the watch industry finding success in notions we’ve directly brought to them.
Periods of great uncertainty in the watch industry are typically when new products are developed at its slowest. Furthermore, a lot of watch brands we meet at SIHH routinely hold back new product news because they want to slowly release them over the course of the year. For consumers that means a lot less new products to talk about immediately after the SIHH show – but with the promise of exciting new product announcements that will come later in the year. September 2019, for example, will see a slew of interesting new watches from brands we met at SIHH.
Watch trade shows are straining from the fact that their job in 2019 and beyond is more about connecting consumers with new watches as opposed to connecting new watches with wholesale retail partners. Even though media for new watches is the most important element of the show, the entire event format is still slowly but surely adapting to the modern needs of any trade show-style event, and it will be a few more years still before watch trade shows have entered the modern era. Though I can heatedly thank Palexpo for finally installing hot water faucets in the bathrooms. Go progress!
So what about the watches at SIHH 2019? First, good news to anyone who likes the color blue. For a few years, new blue-dialed (and in some instances blue-cased) timepieces have been popping out like Viagra pills in Davos. Almost every single brand from big players like Cartier to independents like Ressence have been focusing on the color as though the hue was invented last week. Retailers do tell me that blue watches sell well these days – but I’m beginning to feel concerned about consumer fatigue. Kudos to those few brands who focused on the color green.
Unlike Baselworld where much more democratically-priced watches are released alongside exotic high-end luxuries, SIHH is primarily about more expensive luxury watches. I’d say the entry-level price point for interesting watches at the show (and there weren’t too many of them) was about $3,000 (Montblanc, Baume & Mercier). Increase that amount to $6,000 – $12,000 (Cartier, IWC, Panerai, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux) and your options for interesting watches at SIHH increases dramatically. Exceed the $100,000 mark and again SIHH has some very special watches for you at mainstream and independent brands (A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Greubel Forsey). I’d also say that we saw a number of interesting products in the roughly $20,000 – $50,000 range which were a good mixture between spirited design and mechanical fascination (HYT, Ressence, Ulysse Nardin, Piaget, Hermes, Parmigiani).
aBlogtoWatch’s top watches of SIHH 2019 are all what we consider to be practical and wearable on a daily basis. Some of these watches are exotic, but we didn’t choose anything that was uncomfortable to wear or that forced you to look at your phone in order to determine the time. We know that people don’t need to wear a watch in order to tell the time, but we find that once they have a timepiece on their wrist where reading the time is a challenge, then people frequently take it off and end up not wearing it very often. Watches you don’t want to wear don’t really appear to have much value to us.
According to data presented at SIHH Audemars Piguet received more social engagement than all other brands which displayed at the show. That is a measure of volume and not sentiment. Audemars Piguet chose their departing year at SIHH to debut the Code 11.59 collection. While we like the case and respect the movements quite a bit, actually, the Code 11.59 is not in our opinion a product ready for a watch enthusiast audience at this time. Social media engagement for the product was high due to a lot of less than flattering remarks made by a lot of consumers about the product. What I found strange about this situation is that Audemars Piguet put so much money into influencer marketing and buzz for a product that just didn’t feel ready for prime-time just yet. A more quiet and humble launch would have, in my opinion, shielded them from a lot of blowback to a brand that no doubt has some otherwise amazing products. The brand’s current managers may have sought to purchase other people’s opinions in regard to this product, but at aBlogtoWatch we will withhold our full endorsement of the Code 11.59 product collection for when Audemars Piguet inevitably gets it right a bit further down the line. Don’t forget that it took about 20 years for the Royal Oak to begin gaining traction with consumers, though Gerald Genta did make sure it was legible from the start.
Last year in 2018 Cartier released a totally refreshed version of the Santos collection. It proved to be their most popular men’sz’ watch of the last year (and understandably soon). With a direction more elegant and dressy that bold and sporty, I missed some of the personality that came with the larger Santos models of just a few years ago. For 2019 Cartier has answered my requests by coming out with a new Santos Chronograph that is larger in a roughly 44mm wide case – and that is decidedly more sporty as each version arrives with a secondary strap in rubber. We also see a welcome return to lume-painted sword-style hands in addition to now using an in-house made automatic chronograph movement. The Santos Chronograph with its square case continues to be a niche player, but I think all watch enthusiasts can agree that Cartier’s truly interesting chronograph pusher integration system was extremely well done for the new Santos Chronograph collection. Prices start at just over $7,000 in steel.
I have a serious soft-spot for Parisian men’s watches and that, of course, includes a number of timepieces produced by Hermes. Keen on both visual design and mechanics, Hermes fancies itself as more than just a high-end fashion watchmaker but a producer of serious horology (with at least some of their products). These watches wouldn’t be Parisian without an elegant design and emotional operation – which for 2019 is represented in the two versions of the new Arceau L’Heure de la Lune. Coming exclusively in 18k white gold, the watches feature a module developed by Jean-Francois Mojon at Chronode which features a fun new way of displaying the moon phase. The dials for the time and date rotate around the dial fully once each full moon period, meaning that the look of the face changes slowly each day. Dial options include gray meteorite or spacey aventurine – for a wearing experience that attracts watch, jewelry, and fashion lovers all at the same time. Price is about $24,000.
It was 2012 that HYT originally debuted its first timepiece collection with the H1, a collection on its way to being phased out. More recently the brand came out with the H0, which was meant to be a new direction using the same “fluidic module” concept which the entire HYT brand is based on. Popular, HYT nevertheless reworked the H0 just a year or two after its launch with a brand new collection for 2019 known as the H1.0. While at a glance it looks like the H0 with its curvy lug-less case and sapphire crystal cap, the H1.0 is a totally new watch that shares nothing with the H0. In mostly sapphire crystal and steel, the H1.0 collection features superior visual lines and a much more comfortable case and strap. The movement display/dial is also new and in my opinion super cool visually. The hours are still indicated via liquid in a tube that goes around the periphery of the dial and the rest of the dial has a fresh futuristic look that gets me excited about the hydromechanical horologists all over again. Price is $49,000.
It’s my understanding that SIHH 2019 marks the first product unveiling free of the influence of former IWC CEO Georges Kern since 2002 – and it shows. Everything feels like a return to form for the Schaffhausen manufacture with smaller case proportions, innovative material design, and a recommitment to in-house calibers. And spearheading this rebirth is the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium – a fitting facelift for the flagship for the Pilot line since its introduction in 1992. Granted, the movement is more or less the same caliber 79230 split-second chronograph that IWC has used before, but the case’s proprietary ceramic and titanium hybrid composition (dubbed ‘ceratanium’ by IWC) and murdered-out dial aesthetic is all-new. And at 44mm, it’s a large-ish watch, but with a relatively short lug length, moderate thickness, and ultralight ceratanium wrist presence, it wears with the stealthy comfort and badass military trappings that IWC was once best known for. If you’ve long given up on IWC, consider this one hell of a return to form. Price is $7,750. – Zach Piña
The PAM985 is kind of a big deal, but the degree of which depends on who you ask. If you’re a long-time Panawristi, it introduces a bold new dial and engraved one-piece bezel design that subtly iterates on the long-running Submersible aesthetic to yield something familiar, yet entirely new. If you’re a conservationist, it’s a big deal as it is the world’s first titanium watch built entirely from recycled titanium alloy harvested from the aerospace industry. It also comes fitted on a two-piece strap made from three recycled plastic bottles (don’t worry, it’s not just surprisingly soft, it’s extremely comfortable and good looking – we’re told these straps will be available from Panerai boutiques very soon).
Lastly, this watch represents a goal of new Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué to bring dedicated fans and customers closer to the brand through a new ‘experiences’ program. Three new Submersible watches are all attached to this initiative, each granting their owners a unique adventure with Panerai ambassadors – from freediving with Guillaume Nery in French Polynesia, to training with COMSUBIN, an elite branch of the Italian Navy. This reference, in particular, is limited to 19 pieces and includes access to an Arctic expedition led by polar explorer and Panerai ambassador Mike Horn. All elements considered, PAM985 is a flag in the sand, representing a marked shift in direction for the brand, and one that should make it very exciting to watch in the future. Die-hard ‘wristi need only apply here though, this watch measures a full 47mm (and wears every bit that size), and costs $39,900 – just remember it comes with a plane ticket to the Arctic. – Zach Piña
Piaget Altiplano Meteorite
This one surprised me. Hell, it surprised all of us the moment we stepped into Piaget’s chill, tropical-themed booth on the third day of the show. Dress watches haven’t traditionally been my forté, but the Altiplano with the new meteorite dial would be my top pick if there was room in my closet for a grey tuxedo. Something about its sleek, ultra-minimal aesthetic comes alive with sultry sex appeal beneath the textured “Widmanstätten” slate gray meteorite contrasted by the applied rose gold stick indices and whisper-thin case. At 40mm, its bold warmth and date at 3:00 are both a step removed from the classically stark no-date Altiplano models in 36 and 41mm, which perhaps hints at what Piaget designers had in mind for this model: it’s a traditional dress watch through-and-through, but one that could also class up every day for those tired of the traditional sports watch routine. That being said, punching a hole in the meteorite to make room for a mismatched date aperture ought to be some kind of crime, and could be one of the more baffling design choices of the show. I’d still wear it though. Price is 24,500 Swiss Francs. – Zach Piña
Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
If you are interested in watch movement technology and real novelty, you’ll probably agree that the attractive and exotic Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar (“Twin Beat” for short) is among the best technical creations of SIHH 2019. At just 42mm wide it is very wearable, though the main attraction isn’t just the design and perpetual calendar display, but rather the user-operated “twin beat” system designed to help the watch’s power reserve last longer. In essence, the movement has two regulation systems with one operating at 5Hz and one operating at 1.2Hz. The former is for when the watch is on your wrist offering four days of power reserve at greater accuracy, while the latter is meant to be used for when the watch is in a stable position – actually adjusted for when it is laid flat a surface –, when it can tick-tock away at a steady, low frequency that allows the movement to last a whopping 65 days. The result isn’t just something smart, but a system which allows a close level of interaction between user and machine. Vacheron say they have plans for putting this system into other, presumably somewhat more competitively priced offerings too. Until then, the Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat is your only option at $199,000. – David Bredan
For 2019 Ulysse Nardin made it clear that the Freak collection is now a family. It currently tops out with the $95,000 Freak Vision and the new entryway into the Freak collection is the Freak X that starts around $21,000 – less than half of the other least expensive Freak models. Ulysse Nardin was careful to preserve the technical excellence and exclusivity of the more elite Freak models while retaining much of the Freak DNA in this new, attractive and much more accessible collection. Although some enthusiasts might miss is the Freak’s signature crownless design, the Freak X comes is a variety of references which are each 43mm wide – to my surprise, Ulysse Nardin Freak X wore the same, if not better, than my Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph. I was certainly not expecting to be saying that! Ulysse Nardin developed a module for the movement to create the minutes hand display which makes Freak watches so…. Freaky. As opposed to having a complex, proprietary caliber, the Freak X is powered by a base movement, the in-house made UN-118 automatic chronometer, playing a major role in helping the Freak X enter this price segment. In addition to its relative affordability, its promising wearing comfort, style and fully served Freak experience make it one of SIHH’s best new products. Prices start at around $21,000. – David Bredan
A brand new Heritage collection from Montblanc is inspired by vintage sports watches from the 1940s and 1950s. Normally that wouldn’t be anything to pay attention to, but Montblanc got it right this year with the Heritage Automatic and Chronograph dials that bring back the legibility and style of such older watches. What they also got right was the delicate balancing act of material and textures on the dial to ensure a high-end look even though the Automatics are, relatively speaking, entry-level priced luxury watches. For anyone who wants to look sophisticated but not as though they are wearing a dress watch each day, the Montblanc Heritage collection is a great choice. Make sure to pay attention to the salmon (or “rose champagne” as I prefer to call it) dials which look particularly attractive. Price is €1,950.
Some say it looks like the Laureato yesterday’s Breitling would have made – and I say there is nothing wrong with that. The statement mostly refers to the “Girard-Perregaux” text on the strap – which I find adds a nice personality to the watch when it is worn. People purchase sports watches because of personality – which the black and blue Laureato Absolute collection certainly has. The black-coated 44mm wide 300-meter water resistant titanium case looks fantastic and the “smoked” blue and black face are visually very nice. Legibility is almost flawless as the hands and hour markers pop out from the dial making it really easy to use – something all sports watches should have. What seals the deal for me was wearing comfort – thanks to a new style of attaching the strap to the case. Price is 12,900 Swiss Francs.