Minutes & Seconds

Watch fair ticking along well

The mood was upbeat at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, with the industry showing recovery from the slump

The IWC booth at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which was held in Geneva last week. Jaeger-LeCoultre deputy CEO Geffroy Lefebvre (right) with brand ambassador Benedict Cumberbatch.
The IWC booth at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which was held in Geneva last week. ST PHOTOS: WONG KIM HOH
The IWC booth at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which was held in Geneva last week. Jaeger-LeCoultre deputy CEO Geffroy Lefebvre (right) with brand ambassador Benedict Cumberbatch.
Jaeger-LeCoultre deputy CEO Geffroy Lefebvre (right) with brand ambassador Benedict Cumberbatch.PHOTO: JAEGER LECOULTRE

There was a common gripe among journalists and retailers attending the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva last week: It was not easy to grab lunch.

Although there were many stations offering free drinks and servings of lobster bisque and "Japanese ravioli" (gyoza), empty seats were hard to come by.

There was no such problem in the last couple of years at the annual watch fair, one of the two most important (the other being Baselworld) in the Swiss watchmaking calendar. The reason? This year's event attracted some 20,000 visitors, 4,000 more than last year.

Many pundits attribute this to a recovery in the industry which has been dogged by a slump in the last few years. Indeed, figures appear to bear this out.

According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Swiss watch exports last November were 6.3 per cent higher than the same month in 2016. Exports for the first 11 months of 2017 were also 2.8 per cent higher than the same period in 2016.

There were other indicators. Share prices for watch conglomerates such as Richemont and Swatch grew by double digits in the past year.

Sales for independent luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet rose 12 per cent to hit nearly one billion Swiss francs last year.

It explains why CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias was in such a jolly mood at SIHH 2018, gifting journalists who asked "good" questions with bottles of champagne as the company unveiled its new collection and novelties for the year, including Royal Oak RD#2, the world's thinnest self-winding perpetual calendar.

The number of exhibitors at this year's SIHH - the 28th edition - has also increased. There were 35 exhibitors who took up 30,000 sq m of booth space this year, compared to last year's 30. One of the latest, and most famous, newcomers was Hermes.

The mood at the Palexpo, a cavernous convention centre where the annual SIHH is held, was buoyant. Exhibitors tried to outdo one another with elaborate booths. Piaget's was decked out like a seaside resort; Ulysse Nardin even had a "boudoir" decked out with fox masks and handcuffs to display its X-rated watch Classic Voyeur which featured naked figures locked in coital embrace.

Adding to the glitz were watch ambassadors, who are well-known actors. Piaget brought in Ryan Reynolds, Jaeger-LeCoultre had Benedict Cumberbatch while Montblanc trotted out Hugh Jackman and new Chinese ambassador Yang Yang.

The star attractions, of course, were the watches. Exhibiting brands pulled out all the stops. The trends which have hogged the limelight for the last few years, as brands grappled with a downturn brought on by economic disruptions and shifts in consumer spending, were still there.

For instance, Vacheron Constantin, Baume & Mercier, Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre all launched solid new lines of more affordably priced timepieces.

But perhaps indicating that a recovery is on the cards, more brands unveiled technologically innovative watches. Richard Mille, for instance, showed off its RM 053-01, designed for Argentinean world champion polo player Pablo Mac Donough, which boasts a laminated sapphire crystal that can weather heavy blows, a world first.

The Straits Times looks at some of the most exciting timepieces unveiled at the show.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept 

The first concept watch by Piaget, this is the thinnest mechanical wristwatch made. It is an unbelievable 2mm thick and that includes the case, the movement and the crystal.

In fact, it is so thin even the strap has to shaved to just 1.1mm thick (most straps are around 2.5mm). The crown too has to be unusually shaped: flat and recessed.

One of the most amazing things about this timepiece which can run for an incredible 44 hours and is water resistant up to 30m is that there is no balance cock or shock system; the ratchet wheel also doubles as the cover. Not destined for commercial production (yet), the invention of this watch - which took four years of research and development - called for the filing of five patents.

Cartier Revelation d'une Panthere 

This is a truly stunning piece which took Cartier five years to develop. A 37mm watch rendered in pink gold with a diamond-studded bezel, it houses more than 900 gold beads which tumble, like magic sand, across the dial to form the image of the brand's iconic panther. Depending on wrist movements, the panther pattern appears and disappears, looking as though it is floating above the dial.

Cartier holds two patents for this watch: one for the temperature-resistant liquid used to suspend the beads, and the other for the glass used to encase the liquid and beads. The dial comes in red, green and black. The version with the black dial is unlimited but the first two colours are limited to 100 pieces each.

IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition "150 Years"

A unique offering by IWC, this was adapted from a pocket watch made in the 19th century by watchmaker Josef Pallweber.

Featuring the digital hours and minutes display as it appeared in the original, it is powered by the 94200 hand-wound movement, tells the time with three discs and has a power reserve of 60 hours.

The beautiful dial - in white or blue - is achieved through the application of several layers of lacquer finishes. There will be 25 watches made in platinum, 500 in stainless steel and 250 in red gold.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin 

Audemars Piguet also upped the skinny stakes by introducing the world's thinnest automatic perpetual calendar: the Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin.

Boasting an overall thickness of just 6.3mm, it is rendered in platinum with a blue tapisserie dial. Powered by the 5133 movement, just 2.89mm thick, the watch has a power reserve of 40 hours.

Like the Piaget Altiplano, this is also a concept watch.

A. Lange & Sohne Triple Split 

Touted as one of the best watches at the SIHH, this new beaut by A. Lange & Sohne is a split-seconds chronograph.

Put simply, the watch allows you to time two events simultaneously. Most split-seconds chronographs are only able to "split" times less than a minute apart. The Triple Split, however, is an engineering marvel in that it can do so over seconds, minutes and hours.

Limited to 100 pieces, the handsome timepiece is housed in a 43.2mm white gold case.

Van Cleef Arpels Lady Arpels Planetarium

A gorgeous offering by Van Cleef Arpels, this timepiece features the Sun, the Moon as well as Mercury, Venus and Earth rendered with different coloured materials such as turqoises, green enamel and pink mother of pearl.

These illustrations move at the actual speed of the heavenly bodies, 224 days for Venus and 365 days for Earth. The Moon does a slow dance on the dial, rotating around the Earth in 29.5 days.

Set in a white gold case set with diamonds in the bezel and at the sides, the dial features a shooting star to tell the time.

The gem-embellished back of the watch is equally pretty, with apertures to display the day, month and year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'Watch fair ticking along well'. Print Edition | Subscribe