January 25, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Attending the SIHH watch trade show in Geneva, Switzerland, is as much an exploration of geo-politics and economics as it is experiencing what’s new in luxury watches and jewelry. 2015 was another slow and restrained year that will be historically relevant because just days before the opening of the show the Swiss National Bank decided to immediately change the valuation of the Swiss Franc making it more valuable against the Euro – and thus also against most other world currencies as well. In one fell swoop the Swiss Franc – which most watches presented at the SIHH are based on – increased in value by 20%. The ramifications of this were not insignificant, as buyers from around the world suddenly had to face the reality that they had less buying power, and the Swiss watch brands faced the reality that they would sell a lot less product.
SIHH is, after all, a sales event whose main goal is to attract retailers from around the world to order the newest luxury novelties that will later be sold to consumers. We journalists who are there to cover the fresh product are a distant second in regard to the perceived business importance of selling. Was it doom and gloom in the ritzy halls of SIHH as retailers froze spending in light of currency uncertainties? To some degree yes, but we further understand that major markets such as the United States did not see retailers dramatically restrict spending on new inventory. Nevertheless, the Richemont brands and those few others showing at the SIHH made an important tactical decision in regard to the immediate “currency crisis”: wait until later in the year to show a lot of their new products.
Watch brands know that in many instances they have one major shot to impress retailers and the press alike when it comes to presenting new products. If the environment is not right, then the conservative luxury industry merely waits on presenting major new products, and instead relies on new products which are mostly “line extensions.” That translates into watches which are really just new colors and minor updates to existing models. Timepieces with new movements, completely new collections, and more interesting models in many cases were excluded from those novelties officially presented at the “Salon.” What aBlogtoWatch’s team kept hearing over and over again was “we have a really major announcement later in the year.”
While it is frustrating for us to travel to Switzerland and not see new watches, we do legitimately want the watch industry to be economically healthy – so, if waiting for lots of new product is what we have to do, then so be it. That isn’t to say the 16 presenting brands at SIHH 2015 were empty-handed. Even though many of their newest watches were already debuted via images in the months before SIHH 2015, there were lots of interesting things to see. That is especially true for buyers who exist in the wealthiest buying demographic. In a sense, you could say that SIHH 2015 was a return to serious luxury as the majority of compelling new products are extremely limited in production and priced very high.
Outside of a few exceptions from brands such as Montblanc and Cartier, men and women whose budgets are $5,000 will not find too many new watches that we really recommend taking a serious look at. This, of course, is the most difficult market segment to get right, and brands are loathe in uncertain economies to dedicate massive production and marketing costs to enticing more “mainstream” consumers with fresh watches to get excited about. Instead, they rely on existing products to continue selling which focusing on the richest demographic who has increasing amounts of disposable income and is vastly less price sensitive. What does this mean? Well, the difference in price between $5,000 and $5,500 can certainly influence a lot of sales, whereas the difference between a $200,000 and $250,000 price makes less of a difference to consumers at that level. We, thus, see SIHH brands focusing as much on the ultra-elite consumer as possible. If you like diamonds, precious metals, and highly complicated timepieces then SIHH certainly has something for you.
It is also important to mention that many of the most exciting watches we saw at SIHH 2015 were simply not new for 2015. We chose to include some new models debuting for 2015 which are attractive line extensions, but we did not include models which might have been announced a year or more ago and are finally ready for production now. If that would have been the case you would have seen a different list below.
aBlogtoWatch likes to represent the perspective of the successful, yet price conscious consumer, and as such, we are sensitive to the notion of products which we feel are overpriced. There are a few new timepiece models that we would have certainly added to our top 10 watches of SIHH 2015 list which we did not, simply because their prices made them less appealing options for most people. We don’t feel the need to apologize to the luxury industry for making a big deal about price, because at the end of the day, we demand real value on behalf of consumers no matter the price level. It is our opinion that luxury watch makers are doing themselves a disservice by following the lead of fashion companies by attaching a “premium” for their brand name. Instead, brand names should be indicators of quality and history versus lifestyle and prestige.
If you are a seasoned watch collector with an enviable budget and are in the market for a complex or aesthetically pleasing new timepiece, then SIHH 2015 will have a lot for you. While prices are high and selection is low for SIHH 2015 products, we did find many pretty things, as well as old favorites which have been given exciting refinements for this year. Also, don’t forget what I said earlier about brands holding off on “major announcements” for later in 2015 that should prove interesting later on into the year.
Okay, yeah, it is just the larger (more jumbo?) version of the Audemars Royal Oak in the 41mm wide case (debuted in 2012) presented in a two-tone style with steel and 18k rose gold elements – but it is still a really cool Royal Oak. “Line extensions,” as the industry refers to them (variations on existing models), are pretty much the cornerstone of new releases at SIHH 2015 and one of the ones we all seem to want is the iconic Royal Oak in a 41mm wide case (there is a smaller ladies’ version as well) in a mostly steel case but with an 18k rose gold bezel and bracelet links. This is actually the first ever two-tone steel and rose gold Royal Oak (even though years ago, the brand had some two-tone steel and 18k yellow gold models), and with the larger case and silver/white dial it looks particularly handsome. At $25,600, here is just one more daily wear luxury watch for people to choose from. audemarspiguet.com
It is limited to only 10 pieces (for now, at least, in this execution) and it is priced north of $350,000, but the brand new Vacheron Constantin Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph Caliber 3500 watch is a timepiece pretty much everyone agrees is both lovely and desirable in the most classic of means. Set as the flagship for Vacheron Constantin’s new Harmony collection, this new watch collector’s dream sits thin and bold on the wrist, with a dial that tells no one but the most knowledgeable of aficionados it is something special.
A few years, ago the notion of “stealth wealth” was pretty popular – meaning a very high-end piece that only a select group of people could recognize as being special. Today, bling is back in a big way, but that doesn’t need to apply everywhere. In platinum, this new ultra-thin self-winding (with a peripheral rotor) chronograph features just the time and power reserve with a split-second monopusher controlled chronograph. Those in the know are aware that split-second chronographs are among the most difficult to assemble mechanical complications around – which, coming from Vacheron Constantin, helps explain the intense asking price. The caliber 3500 movement is beautiful, with a new element we find in a series of novel Vacheron Constantin calibers – a hand-engraved 18k gold balance cock. At $369,200 the limited edition of 10 Vacheron Constantin Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph Caliber 3500 is sublime, and destined for the very few. vacheron-constantin.com
One of the most difficult “new” things to find at SIHH 2015 was more affordable watches that people who want value under $5,000 can get excited about. Montblanc continues to build out their Meisterstuck Heritage collection with the very thin “Chronometrie” model that charmed us with its simple two hand dial and dress watch proportions available in both steel and 18k rose gold. Let’s be honest that there is nothing inherently unique or “Chronometrie” about the watch, but it does have a pleasantly familiar dressy design with a very thin ETA 7001 manually wound movement that makes for a reliable design that will be relevant for years to come. Priced starting at $2,260 for the steel model. montblanc.com
Often misunderstood or dismissed by seasoned watch aficionados, Roger Dubuis is a serious “manufacture” brand that is working hard to rediscover itself after one of the most interesting and tumultuous modern histories of all major luxury watch brands. Each year, we know that Roger Dubuis will attempt to amaze and shock us with an avant garde booth and messaging campaign at SIHH, and their models focus very much on overt displays of wealth and wild design. It certainly isn’t for everyone’s taste. Where Roger Dubuis excels, however, is in the production of interesting skeletonized movements that until now have, for the most part, featured tourbillons. For 2015, Roger Dubuis has finally decided to produce a tourbillon-less version of their cool skeletonized movement in the Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton watch.
This year, Roger Dubuis has started to use the “Spider” term to refer to the distinct design of their web-like, dark-colored skeletonized movements. What is important is the “Roger Dubuis” star-shape that is present in the design. The Roger Dubuis Excalibur Automatic Skeleton is a big deal because the fashionably cool high-end design of their skeletonized movements is finally available without a tourbillon, and with an automatic micro-rotor. Available in black-colored titanium or 18k rose gold, this reasonably sized 42mm-wide Excalibur collection watch is wild and also legible, yet suitable for much more frequent wear than a delicate tourbillon. In our opinion, Roger Dubuis has hit a sweet spot opening up an interesting look to a whole new group of people not interested in going way over $100,000 for the novelty of something cool. Priced starting at $63,900 in DLC black titanium to about $80,000 in 18k rose gold – the Roger Dubuis Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton is finally a bit more wearable and consumer friendly. rogerdubuis.com
Cartier is the most important brand in terms of revenue for the Richemont Group, and each year, the famous watch and jewelry maker does not screw around when it comes to new releases. The new Clé de Cartier collection is perhaps the only new mainstream –oriented new collection that we saw during the entire show which presented both a new case and movement. We also fully expect Cartier to further flesh out the Clé collection in the years to come with additional material choices and complications. For 2015, the Cartier Clé (which stands for “key”) is available exclusively in gold cases, but we feel that Cartier will more than likely add steel versions in the future. The largest Clé case size is for men and is 40mm wide in a sort of tonneau-shaped case with a round dial.
The simple three-hand dial is immediately “Cartier” in style but here matches black Roman numerals with black – versus blued steel – hands, which we find to be rather sharp looking. Inside the Clé is an in-house made Cartier automatic movement with traditionally laid out central seconds, hours, and minutes hands. This is a bit distinctive from the layout of the also in-house made 1904 MC movement which has a subsidiary seconds dial. Going back to the “key” part of the watch’s name, Cartier developed a pretty cool new crown for the Clé, which they say is inspired by the winding keys from old clocks. While not round, it is simple to use and has a nice turning and locking action which is difficult to describe, but very pleasant in its operation. Cartier even offers a new bracelet design which has thin links and is very comfortable. In the end, the Clé is yet another tasty flavor of Cartier watches for mainstream luxury consumption which adds to the brand’s existing portfolio of attractive models. The 2015 models in only gold are priced accordingly (which is a lot, with the optional bracelets), but be sure to keep an eye on the evolution of the Clé as Cartier likely adds steel models in the future. Priced at $21,000 in 18k white gold. cartier.com
We all agree that this new limited edition – exclusive to Florence – Panerai PAM00604 watch is a great way to enjoy the core design aesthetic of the historically Italian dive watch brand with a new artistic angle. Panerai has taken its most seminal Radiomir case and dial design and combined it with a reliable Panerai P.3000 manually wound hours and minutes only movement, as well as a case which has been totally hand-engraved. At 47mm wide on the wrist, it wears boldly but comfortably in the Radiomir case, and the black-filled engravings are tasteful yet something most people would not expect from the typically simple Panerai wearing experience. It isn’t cheap at 17,000 Euros, or easy to buy, given that only 99 will be made for the Panerai flagship store in Firenze, Italy (Florence) – but this is a piece we think Panerai collectors will fawn over with ease. panerai.com
Like most other “new” watches for SIHH 2015, this Richard Mille RM 11 isn’t new – but the RM 11 is one of the most iconic pieces in the larger Richard Mille collection which has experienced countless executions over the years. So why is it on the list here for 2015? Well, for the first time, Richard Mille has added the option of a titanium bracelet for a men’s watch. 2015 actually sees two other Richard Mille watches for women with bracelets – though none are quite as impressive as that for the RM 11. Cool looking and comfortable, the RM 11 on the bracelet immediately feels like something which has been in the Richard Mille family for a while. Its mostly brushed surfaces are given delicate, polished beveled edges, and the clever spring-loaded deployant Richard Mille fans have enjoyed on the brand’s bracelets for a while. richardmille.com
A discreet Greubel Forsey watch? It can happen, and it did happen, with the new Tourbillon 24 Secondes Tourbillon Vision. This is the most basic looking Greubel Forsey timepiece ever, and it even comes with an actually totally round case without the brand’s typical “asymmetrique” bulges – well save for the tourbillon bubble on the caseback (which you can’t even actually feel while it is on the wrist). Of course, the Tourbillon 24 Secondes Vision isn’t actually simple, as the dial uses a pantheon of complex construction techniques only a brand like Greubel Forsey would even consider putting so much effort into. The Vision uses a modified version of the existing 288-piece movement with an inclined tourbillon that rotates once each 24 seconds. The dial display only has the time with subsidiary seconds dial and a window shows a rather discreet view of the tourbillon which can be better viewed through the rear of the watch. At 43.5mm wide in 18k white gold for 2015, this limited edition of 22 pieces is a unique selection of design elements and masterful technique that shows the range collectors can expect from one of the most meticulous timepiece makers around. Price is north of $300,000. greubelforsey.com
The watch so grand they named it twice? For what Jaeger-LeCoultre lacks in clever product naming they make up for in sheer horological excellence. The Master Grand Tradition Grand Complication for 2015 doesn’t offer a new movement, but it does offer a highly refined, fresh way of enjoying this existing Jaeger-LeCoultre collection model that contains the extremely admirable in-house made Caliber 945 which, like the Duometre family, contains a movement with German Silver plates. Want an exotic mix of high-end complications? How about a sidereal orbital tourbillon that, in addition to oscillating like a normal tourbillon, makes a full rotation around the dial once each day – according to sidereal time (which varies from “civil” time just a little bit). In addition to the tourbillon and astronomical complications, that Grand Master Tradition Grand Complication also just happens to have a rather impressive minute repeater that uses Jaeger-LeCoultre’s crystal gong system that help gives the chimes the best sound possible. Price is north of $200,000. jaeger-lecoultre.com
Wait, didn’t the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 watch come out when the brand “re-launched” in 1994? Yeah, and for the brand’s most basic yet iconic watch, little has changed in over 20 years. For 2015, A. Lange & Söhne revisits the Lange 1 not with major design changes, but with a freshened-up movement that is fully in-house, including an A. Lange & Söhne produced hair spring. The dial of the 2015 Lange 1 offers a few of the modern touches A. lange & Söhne has recently given to the Lange 1 collection. At 38.5mm wide, the Lange 1 is modestly sized, and there is the larger Grande Lange 1 as well. We appreciate that A. Lange & Söhne is putting a lot of effort into strengthening their core collection models as well as ensuring that even at their beginning prices consumers are getting the most bang for their buck when wanting to enjoy this premiere German luxury watch brand. Price is 29,800 Euros in 18k rose or yellow gold and 42,300 Euros in platinum. alange-soehne.com