GENEVA - Two years after Covid-19 forced it to go online, Watches & Wonders 2022 is finally unfolding as a live event - with a digital component as well - in the world's watchmaking capital.
Held at Geneva's Palexpo convention centre, the trade fair - formerly known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie - started on March 30 and ends on April 5.
Boasting nearly 40 exhibiting brands - from big guns such as Rolex and Cartier to independents including H. Moser & Cie and Ferdinand Berthoud - it marks a welcome mask-free return to full-scale face-to-face presentations, reuniting watchmakers and jewellers with retailers, journalists, collectors and hobbyists.
For the public as well as those for whom travel is still not safe or possible, keynote speeches, expert opinions and new product releases are also broadcast live from Palexpo and available online and on-demand.
The mood at the fair is buoyant and understandably so. Despite the pandemic, Swiss watch sales, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, hit an all-time high of 22.3 billion Swiss francs (S$32.8 billion) in 2021, up 31.2 per cent from 2020.
The participating brands have spared no expense to deck out their booths to make the reunion a memorable one.
IWC has a high-tech shipping container-style set-up; Van Cleef & Arpels' booth looks like a bejewelled garden; Hermes lures with a stunning piece of immersive artwork; while Jaeger-LeCoultre transports one to the celestial realms.
The biggest attractions, of course, are the timepieces themselves. Here is a sneak peak at some of this year's novelties.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT Master II
Rolex started the ball rolling at the fair with a jaw-dropper that came out of left field: a southpaw or destro (left-handed) version of the GMT Master II.
Word is that the watch, which has the crown on the left and the date window at nine o'clock, is a tribute to Rolex head honcho Jean Frederic Dufour, who is left-handed.
It boasts a striking green-and-black Cerachrom bezel and, like other GMT Master II models, is water-resistant to 100m.
The watch is powered by the in-house 3285 automatic GMT movement, which has 10 patents and boasts, among other features, 70 hours of power reserve, a shock-resistant Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers.
Nicknamed the Sprite GMT, this 40mm beauty is available with either an Oystersteel or Jubilee bracelet.
Price: $15,240 (Oystersteel); $15,540 (Jubilee)
IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Lake Tahoe
IWC's Top Gun line made its debut in 2007 and, since then, one of the most distinctive features about these watches has been the use of advanced materials.
In 2019, the brand launched the Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert - in sand-coloured ceramic. This year sees the addition of two models - Lake Tahoe and Woodland - in white and green ceramic respectively. IWC worked with Pantone to define the colours and come up with the names.
The Lake Tahoe model, with a black dial and black hands coated with luminescent material, is especially eye-catching. Fitted with a white rubber strap with distinctive embossing, it is inspired by crisp white naval uniforms and the wintry landscape of Lake Tahoe, a mountainous area between California and Nevada in the United States, frequently flown over by pilots of Topgun, the US Navy's Fighter Weapons School.
The crown and pushers of this 44.5mm chronograph are made of steel while the caseback - engraved with the Topgun logo - is made of titanium.
Both the Lake Tahoe and Woodland editions are fitted with the in-house self-winding IWC calibre 69380, which boasts 46 hours of power reserve.
Zenith Chronomaster Open
The Chronomaster Open made its debut in 2003 to offer a tantalising peek into the wizardry of the high-frequency beating heart of Zenith's El Primero calibre.
With last year's introduction of an upgraded El Primero, which boasts a 1/10th-of-a-second chronograph function, the watchmaker reckons the Chronomaster Open should get a revisit too.
Available in three options (two in stainless steel, with either a silver or black dial; the other in rose gold, with a silver dial), these new 39.5mm models look like last year's wildly successful Chronomaster Sport, albeit without the bezel and with a hole in the heart.
It has a fetching tri-colour dial, cut open to reveal the intricate Calibre El Primero 3604 - modified from the Chronomaster Sport's Calibre 3600 - underneath. The silicon escape-wheel and lever provide a 60-hour power reserve.
Price: $14,500 to $30,800
A. Lange & Sohne Richard Lange Minute Repeater
German watchmaker A. Lange & Sohne has but four offerings at Watches & Wonders.
The one generating the most excitement is the Richard Lange Minute Repeater, its first minute repeater in seven years. Unlike previous efforts like the Grand Complication or the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater, which marry chiming mechanisms with other complications, this model goes it alone.
The result is a beautifully proportioned 39mm Teutonic class act with an arrestingly austere white enamel dial, striking heat-blued steel hands and a discreet red accent at 12 o'clock. Just 9.7mm thick, it is also a lot more slender than other minute repeaters on the market.
When the repeater is activated, the gong hammers strike the two gongs - tuned by hand - coiled around the new hand-wound calibre L122.1.
With the centrifugal governor rotating at more than 2,000 revolutions a minute, the strikes have a uniform cadence, with the acoustics gorgeously amplified by the platinum case.
Price: €409,000 (S$613,000), limited to 50 pieces.
Cartier Masse Mysterieuse
The French maison has been enjoying a hot streak for the last few years, captivating horological fans with a slew of offerings which are both aesthetically pleasing and mechanically solid.
It has descended on Geneva with a treasure trove of novelties, including the aptly named Masse Mysterieuse, an enigmatic timepiece where all components are packed into half the size of a regular movement.
And if that is not befuddling enough, the movement, which looks as though it is floating, is also the winding rotor as well.
It has to be seen to be believed.
Cartier apparently went through five designs and several prototypes over eight years before coming up with the calibre 9801 MC. Its brain-teasing intricacy is highlighted through the watch's open-worked architecture.
Fashioned from platinum, the 43.5mm watch has a crown set with ruby cabochon to match the 43 jewels used in the movement, which has a power reserve of 42 hours. It is fitted with a dark grey alligator leather strap. High jewellery versions are also available.
Price: Upon request, limited to 30 pieces.