SIHH 2016 was an uplifting watch trade show experience for the aBlogtoWatch team this year – as well as the watch industry, in my opinion. From the perspective of watch journalism and editorial, there was a lot to be excited about, as well as many interesting stories to cover. Compared to the last few years – which tended to be quite slow – the brands displaying at SIHH this year in 2016 had a larger quantity of more impressive watches to show. We see totally updated collections, as well as revised classics, and of course, some stunning “mega watches.” While SIHH was still something we could easily wrap our minds around, it was still full of variety, value, and enough wow-factor to keep us glued to our keyboards trying to cover the cool stories each day.
Before we get to the watches which as a team we feel are the top 10 timepieces of the show, I want to discuss the new “revised and expanded” SIHH this year, as well as some overall trends and industry sentiments. SIHH had a minor facelift but, more importantly, had a brand new area (the “Carré des Horlogers“) that housed a slew of some of our favorite independent watch makers. This new area features mini-booths for some of the top small watchmakers in the world – a situation which, when announced, told me that SIHH was finally ready to be inclusive of other brands in the same way that the FHH is. It perhaps shouldn’t surprise you that most of the same people who organize the SIHH also run the FHH (Foundation of Haute Horology).
The presence of the small brands did not take away from the impressive “grande” presence of the major “maisons.” Richemont’s finest and their close colleagues such as Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani, Richard Mille, and Grebel Forsey all had interesting things to show. What differed was the volume of new watches that was tremendous at some brands (say, Audemars Piguet), to more selective releases such as those from Piaget and Greubel Forsey.
In any event, there was strength at all the companies showing at SIHH 2016, and the feeling I got was that brands are taking market realities seriously, as well as focusing on products that consumers really want as opposed to padding the market with SKUs. A deeper look into this trend seemed to hint an even greater focus in 2016 on products to be sold directly to consumers via brand boutiques as opposed to mainly via third-party retailers.
It has been a growing trend for a lot of watch brands of sufficient size to further increase their mono-brand boutique presence across the world, while at the same time reducing the number of third-party retailers that they work with. That means if you were previously used to the idea of buying a new IWC watch at a local independent watch retailer, in the future, you might very well be buying that same watch at an IWC store directly. There are both positives and negatives to this trend, of course, but among the two positives are 1) more specifically interesting watches that the brand feels you certainly want (as opposed to sometimes seemingly random models that look like they are meant to be bolstering the size of a collection) and 2) more reasonable prices in a lot of instances.
Not that “luxury is dead” or anything, but pricing across the board seemed to be getting a bit more steady and focusing on the upper as well as entry-level ranges of the market. IWC and Baume & Mercier led the pack when it came to asserting “bang for your buck,” but even Greubel Forsey released a more affordable watch collection (despite being extremely limited). I’d say that the watch industry seems to be paying a lot more attention to what consumers want and what they say that they want – but, of course, as a function of what those brands feel their core DNA is all about.
A. Lange & Sohne, for example, showed off their beautiful and mega-priced Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. But aside from this exclusive lusty piece of horology, it is clear that they will see a lot more sales traction in the Saxonia Moon Phase with its easy-to-love dial, case size, and automatic movement.
When it comes to exciting new or updated collections, Cartier, as always, does not fail to introduce something new with the release of the Drive de Cartier collection of cushion-shaped men’s watches. Vacheron Constantin delighted the enthusiast world with a very well conceived and totally updated Overseas collection that has no fewer than five new models and three new movements.
Just as we saw in 2015, the color blue is once again a force to be reckoned with in 2016. The hue that loves to wax and wane in popularity is trying to make a serious push to get on your wrist, finding itself in a whole slew of watches as accents, dial colors, and strap colors. Perhaps one of the most easy-to-miss new blue watches that I think are stunning is the new Cartier Calibre Diver watch in blue (available in both steel and gold). Speaking of gold, there is once again no shortage of it. In fact, we have very few new steel watches aside from the usual suspects at brands like IWC, Panerai, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Gold is always going to be a inescapable part of the luxury watch experience, and for 2016, you start to see yellow gold showing up again – namely in Audemars Piguet who is really pushing a lot of new Royal Oak models in yellow gold.
Gold colors in the watch industry are funny because there doesn’t always seem to be a reason why yellow gold is not preferred. For many years, it was all about yellow gold, and then rose/pink/red gold started to dominate. Why? Brands would point to the fact that consumers seemed to not prefer yellow gold because it was “too showy” or that they preferred the warmer look of rose gold. Of course, the more reddish gold alloys are nice, but I think the watch industry pulled away from yellow gold in a dramatic way that wasn’t really necessary. In my opinion, the “return” of yellow gold across more products is an obvious move, so long as brands don’t abandon something else. In my opinion, all gold colors should be equally represented.
At the higher end, we see a lot of impressive watches – many of which we cover below in our top 10 watches. Of course, SIHH 2016 had its fair share of diamond-decorated luxury wonders, but thankfully, most of the high-end models seemed to derive much of their value from complicated movements or, otherwise, artistic dial creations. I’ve noticed a real preference for “art dials” at the higher-end of the spectrum which is a good sign for design lovers who want a lot of visual beauty when spending the big bucks. Even something like the new Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon had an element of hand-engraving as part of its value proposition.
The watch industry seems quite set on its future being about forming closer, more direct relationships with consumers, as well as refining brand images. This latter area is where so much confusion seems to exist. On the one hand, a brand feels that having too much varied product and experimentation confuses consumers and dilutes their carefully honed sense of image and personality. On the other hand, if they never experiment or release innovative products that people don’t expect, the brands come across as being really boring and perhaps even a “one-trick pony.”
Faced with these issues, brands continue to cycle through overall brand and product strategies as well as leaders and personnel. In my opinion, there is too much “musical chairs” going on, as many of the most talented individuals seem to move around way too much or exit the watch industry as quickly as they entered it. Luxury timepieces can be a harsh mistress, but I think the industry should really focus on celebrating creativity and good management more and encouraging talent to remain in quality positions, as well as ensure that really modern and innovative thinking is identified and encouraged to stay in the industry.
I’ll sum up by saying once again that, from a product perspective, the aBlogtoWatch team was mostly really happy with a lot of the impressive products shown at the world’s premier luxury watch show. SIHH 2016, of course, is still really focused on the higher-end, but there are values for buyers of the $10,000-and-under watches, and well as pure horological magic for those collectors able to spend top dollar on the most impressive and exclusive wrist watch treats.
Now, without further ado, let’s see our Top 10 picks from SIHH 2016…