From January 16-20, 2017, all eyes were on Geneva, host to this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). For the most part, it was business as usual, and despite a difficult 2016 for the Swiss watch industry, watch manufactures were ready to show off.
For the second year in a row, SIHH included independent watchmakers, such as MB&F, HYT, and Ressence. They showcased alongside Richemont Group brands like Cartier, Panerai, IWC, and Piaget, and other industry big names as Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, and Ulysse Nardin. For the first time, however, SIHH opened its doors to the public on the last day of the event. Is this a sign of more inclusivity from watchmaking’s biggest brands?
Once the dust settled, we poured over all the announcements, pictures, and press. While there certainly was a diverse range of timepieces presented during the exhibition, we identified some common themes for the year. Here are the top trends from SIHH 2017 as we see it.
Cool New Materials
It was all about cutting-edge materials for some brands. For instance, Panerai’s new Lab-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech 3 Days uses carbon in several forms on the interior and exterior of the watch in innovative ways. The use of carbon composites in the Caliber P.3001/C means that the movement requires no lubrication is guaranteed for an unprecedented 50 years! Panerai fashioned the Carbotech’s case from a carbon fiber composite, giving each watch a unique look. And, the dial is covered in carbon nanotubes to give it a rich deep black hue. Contrasting with the all-black shade of the watch is the bright blue lume that comes alive in the dark.
At the core of Richard Mille’s philosophy is the use of high-tech substances. Its new RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1 is the perfect example of that. Made in collaboration with the McLaren-Honda F1 racing team, the RM 50-03 is the world’s lightest split-seconds tourbillon chronograph. This was achieved in part due to a nanomaterial called Graph TPT (aka graphene) that is simultaneously six times lighter and 200 times stronger than steel. So how light is the lightest split-seconds tourbillon chronograph on earth? A minuscule 38 grams—strap included.
Arguably the most talked-about watch of SIHH 2017 was the black ceramic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar. The watch world has a current love affair with ceramic. One glance at the new Royal Oak’s exterior, and it’s easy to understand the infatuation. A notoriously challenging material to use, Audemars Piguet admits that it takes five times longer to make a ceramic bracelet than it does a steel one. Yet, once finalized, the new Royal Oak has a distinct textured style that is resistant to high temperatures, thermal shocks, and scratching. Pretty impressive.
Extra-Thin Is In
In contrast to the wide array of large, masculine, and sporty watches presented, there was a solid collection of elegant and slim dress timepieces too. Case in point, the new Piaget Altiplano 60th Anniversary Automatic. Ultra-thin movements have been Piaget’s area of expertise for six decades, and its Caliber 1200P movement (measuring a mere 2.35mm thick) is now housed in a contemporary 43mm case.
Possibly the most wearable watch to make its debut at SIHH this year was the Cartier Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat. Although the Drive de Cartier is only in its second year, it’s quickly establishing itself as a go-to men’s dress watch. The cushion-shaped case of the new, extra slim version measures 39mm wide and a paltry 6.6mm thick. The overall style is unmistakably Cartier, and it has the added benefit of the in-house automatic caliber 1904MC-PS.
The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date received a lot of attention for its more accessible price point. While the improved affordability is certainly welcome, the design of the watch itself deserves some notice. The 39mm steel case at just 8.5mm thick encases the Caliber 899/1 that drives the three hands and date function. The blue accents on the two-tone silvered dial match the blue leather strap, creating a well-balanced timepiece. We’d expect nothing less from Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Flexing Technical Mastery with High Complications Pieces
Despite current industry conditions, some watchmakers didn’t shy away from flaunting what they can do. Following up last year’s achievement of the most complicated pocket watch ever created, Vacheron Constantin presented their most complicated wristwatch thus far. The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 possesses an astonishing 23 complications—most of which focus on astronomy. Apparently, its new owner paid approximately $1 million to add it to his collection.
Another unapologetic demonstration of technical mastery comes from A. Lange & Söhne. Its Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Mérite keeps the fusée and chain mechanism that the Pour Le Mérite collection is known for, with an added split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar with a moon phase indicator, and tourbillon. It’s a cornucopia of watch complications, making this year’s Pour Le Mérite the most complex version to date.
SIHH 2017 also saw some old favorites either resurrected or refreshed. The 80s icon, the Cartier Panthère, made an unexpected comeback. It comes in two sizes (22mm and 27mm respectively), and its materials run the gamut from sporty stainless steel to lavish diamond and gold.
Another watch model with its roots in the 1980s is the IWC Da Vinci. The Da Vinci started as a round watch, only to be replaced with a tonneau shape. Now, it’s coming back in full circle—round again. The latest Da Vinci collection includes a men’s Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph in addition to the Da Vinci Automatic 36 and the Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 for women.
Montblanc’s TimeWalker line also got a revamp this year. The new releases have a vintage motorsports vibe emphasized with rally straps, dials resembling dashboards, and red and black shades. Montblanc added five new versions to the collection, including several limited editions.
Judging by SIHH’s new watches, industry players are reacting to last year’s slump with a two-part approach. On one hand, they’ve given haute horology collectors (and the media) a solid range of interesting timepieces to covet. But with an eye on the future, they are also producing more accessible timepieces. We’ll if this trend continues at Baselworld.
Images ©: Header; c/o Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève. 1; Audemars Piguet. 2; Cartier. 3; Vacheron Constantin. 4; IWC.