By Rebecca Doulton
For the next four days, the SIHH will be commanding centre stage here in Geneva showcasing the Richemont Group stable of watch brands. And taking a cue from the off-Broadway phenomenon, a handful of independent watch brands are taking advantage of the incoming international watch journalist traffic and displaying their novelties in luxury hotel salons dotted around the city.
On Sunday I popped in to the Four Seasons hotel to see what Christophe Claret watches has up its sleeve for Baselworld 2015 in March. In a striking departure from its highly complicated gaming watches, Claret has created a timepiece dedicated to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. No chiming bells and no roulette wheels, this year Claret has gone classical and placed a miniature gold bust of a Roman emperor in the centre of the dial of his new watch Aventicum.
As was customary with the Romans, they managed to conquer even the most recondite corners of Europe, and Switzerland was no exception. Aventicum was the ancient capital of Roman Helvetia for more than 300 years, and Claret became fascinated with the archaeological digs in Avenches, which included the discovery of a solid gold bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius found in 1939 when an old pipe was being cleaned.
The gold replica of the bust of Marcus Aurelius, measuring less than 3mm, has been placed in the centre of a dial. Knowing how hard it is to visualise such a tiny object, Claret has come up with an ingenious system of parabolic mirrors - called a mirascope - to magnify the bust making it look almost twice its natural size. In fact, looking at the watch again, it reminds me of Rome's landmark circular Pantheon with its coffered dome and central opening.
Encircling the bust and forever trapping the head of Marcus Aurelius is a labyrinth-like decoration and a gold bezel with Roman numerals. Having solved the problem of how to magnify the miniature bust, Claret had to solve the dilemma of where to place the hour and minute hands. The solution was to place them under the mirascope and create two small pointers that orbit the external circumference of the dial.
The gaming vein runs thick through the blood of Christophe Claret watches, and he has managed to sneak in a chariot race on the rotor of the movement. Five chariots race around the mini circus and the carriage finishing above the letter "A" of Aurelius is the victor. Latin buffs can have fun deciphering the inscription on the caseback, which reads: Perfice omnia facta vitae quasi haec postrema essent.
Aventicum will be available in two limited editions: 68 pieces in red gold and anthracite PVD-treated, titanium; and 38 pieces in palladium-rich white gold and anthracite PVD-treated, titanium.