Watchmakers' blaze of blue at Geneva fair

A Clifton Baumatic watch sits on display at the Baume & Mercier SA stand during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan 15, 2019.
A Clifton Baumatic watch sits on display at the Baume & Mercier SA stand during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan 15, 2019.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - Blue is the new black.

At least in the world of watches it is, if offerings at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva were any indication.

What started out as a trend a couple of years ago has taken root and there was no escaping the colour and its various hues - aquamarine, azure, cerulean and indigo - at the four-day watch fair which featured 35 exhibitors and ended on Thursday (Jan 17).

Brands from Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet to Jaeger-LeCoultre and Baume & Mercier were among those taking the blue route, splashing the colour on the straps and dials of their timepieces.

Jaeger-LeCoultre, for instance, unveiled a Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel watch which features a guilloche enamelled midnight blue dial, while A. Lange & Sohne's 25th anniversary edition of its iconic Lange 1 watch boasts a deep blue strap with matching indices and striking blue hands.

The use of new materials was another noticeable trend at the SIHH, a barometer of all that is new and fashionable in the watch world.

IWC used ceratanium - a hybrid material which boasts the hardness and scratch resistance of ceramic and the lightweight and corrosion-resistant properties of titanium - for the first time in a pilot's watch in a new Top Gun collection.

Panerai released several models with cases and bezels made from carbotech, a composite material based on carbon fibre.

Not to be outdone, Ulysse Nardin unveiled new watches from its Freak family which are fashioned from carbonium, another carbon-fibre material used in the aeronautical industry.

This year's SIHH also saw a strong showing of complex mechanical movements.

The perpetual calendar - a sophisticated horological mechanism that knows not only the number of days in each month, but also the year so it can automatically adjust for leap years - was especially popular, with almost every brand trotting out one.

Audemars Piguet, for instance, included a perpetual calendar in its new Code 11.59 collection. Ditto Montblanc, which introduced one in its Heritage range.

Other brands took it one step further. Vacheron Constantin turned heads with its Traditionelle Twin Beat, which has a power reserve of more than 65 days on standby mode, thanks to its two balance wheels. This technical feat cuts out the need to reset the watch even if it is unworn for two months.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetuel, meanwhile, boasts multiple haute horological complications, including a minute repeater which plays the chime of Big Ben in London.

Besides flexing their technical muscle, brands also appeared more adventurous this year.

Richard Mille kicked into playful gear, releasing a colourful and whimsical 10-piece series of candy-inspired timepieces it named the Bonbon collection.

Ulysse Nardin eschewed sweetness for sauciness, working with Italian erotic comic artist Milo Manara to create a series of erotic watches. The handpainted timepieces tell the story of a woman who finds love and passion with a mermaid.

The willingness of maisons to take risks hints at the return of optimism to an industry which has weathered some turbulence in the last few years.

Indeed, figures for global Swiss watch exports rose 3.9 per cent last November to 2.06 billion Swiss francs (S$2.8 billion), the first time export value has crossed the two-billion mark in three years.

Other than an interesting crop of watches, this year's SIHH - which saw a large turnout of celebrities including actors Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper and model Karolina Kurkova - was significant for other reasons.

It marked the last time the event would be held in January. Starting next year, SIHH will take place in late April, followed immediately by the other big watch fair, Baselworld.

It was also the last outing for Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet, which felt the event no longer serves their strategic needs.

Other brands, however, are resolutely staying put.

Mr Wilhelm Schmid, head honcho of A. Lange & Sohne, said: "Where else on this globe can I find, within four days, all important journalists, important retailers, a lot of important customers and see my competitive environment without moving?"

Five interesting timepieces at SIHH

The 35 watchmakers at this year's SIHH unveiled thousands of new timepieces boasting different movements and other features. Here are five interesting ones:

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel

Boasting a thin 39mm case made from white gold, this beauty is just 10.04mm thick and is powered by the in-house Calibre 925. Its most attractive feature is it guilloche enamel dial in a stunning shade of blue, executed by artisans trained in Le Sentier, home of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Guilloche is the art of engraving intricate patterns on watch parts such as dials and cases. Limited to 100 pieces, it comes with a blue alligator strap and has a power reserve of more than 70 hours.

Richard Mille Bonbon Collection

There are 10 models in this colourful and whimsical collection, each produced in an edition of 30 pieces. Designed by artistic director Cecile Guenat, they feature candies, pastries and fruits and are based on three of the brand's iconic models: the RM07-03, RM16-01 and RM37-01. There are two lines: Fruits (six models) and Sweets (four models). The miniature sculptures - from liquorice to lollipops and candied lemons - in the watches are made from powdered enamel and fine sand, and painstakingly painted in acrylic and lacquered by hand. The model featured here is the RM37-01 Cerise.

Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition

This watch celebrates the brand's collaboration with Guillaume Néry, the French free diving champion who broke four world records. It boasts a striking titanium case with a unidirectional rotating dive scale bezel fashioned out of blue ceramic. The dial has a shark grey textured background and comes with luminous white markers, allowing for easy reading even in the dark. Complementing the rugged good looks of the watch - a sturdy chronograph with a flyback function - is a blue rubber strap. Water-resistant up to 300m, it is powered by the in-house P9100 calibre. The screwback bears Néry 's signature and his final record of 126m.

Hermes Arceau L'Heure de la Lune

A head-turning double moonphase watch, this Hermes timepiece features two stationary mother-of-pearl moons, above which hovers a set of floating dials to tell time and date. The dials rotate around once in 59 days to show you the moonphases of both the northern and southern hemispheres. There are two versions of this 43mm watch. One has a meteorite dial, the other, an aventurine one. Both models have white gold cases and are fitted with the Hermes calibre H1837, and are limited to 100 pieces each.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar

The perpetual calendar is a marvellous and wondrous mechanism to own but if it should ever run down, resetting the calendar indications including the age and phase of the moon could be a task beyond us. The Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar - one of the most talked-about pieces at this year's SIHH - has a neat solution to this problem. It can function on active mode which beats at a frequency of 36,000vph, or it can be put on standby mode, with the frequency slowed down to 8,640vph. The standby mode has a power reserve of more than 65 days.