With the year’s biggest watch show cancelled, what was previously known as the Salon International de Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) held in Geneva has become a digital platform under the name of Watches and Wonders. The number of newcomers from outside the Richemont Group has grown and altogether, twenty watch brands presented their latest creations with a further ten soon to join.
Although not the same experience as seeing the watches and trying them on, the digital platform has allowed us to take a virtual tour and select some of the strongest designs for 2020. As expected in the current climate, there were fewer ground-breaking innovations but plenty of safe bets including new dial finishes and colour combinations. The exception is Piaget's Altiplano Concept (above) that makes a 2mm thin watch a commercial and very wearable reality.
Cartier, by far the strongest of the Richemont Group’s brands, always dominates the show with a greater presence than any other house and a large number of launches to match. The house’s offering for men focuses on a re-vamp of the long-serving Pasha. For women, Cartier introduces an entirely new design in the form of the Maillon (above). In true Cartier style, the design adds a playful twist to the luxury jewellery watch. Made of chunky gold links and with a variety of diamond-set options, its outstanding feature is the bracelet. The hexagonal links are off-centre as if twisted by a giant force to create an optical illusion. Quite literally a witty twist of the house's codes of elegance, the Maillon oozes Cartier savoir faire and design bravado.
Still focussing on women, Jaeger-LeCoultre presents the all-time classic Reverso with a new burgundy colour dial aptly named the Reverso One Red-Wine (above). This famous Art Deco-style watch first saw light of day in 1931 and remains one of the most enduring watch designs with its characteristic flipping case. Created to protect the glass on British officers' watches from damage by out of control polo balls during the Raj in India, this functional design has barely changed in its 90 years of existence. In this new version, the dial is decorated with a layer of glossy red lacquer over a sun-ray pattern created using the guilloché or engine-turned engraving technique surrounded by two rows of diamonds. While normally associated with a manual-winding movement, this version of the Reverso has a quartz movement for ease of use. The case back is blank leaving space for engraving a personal message while the cradle is decorated with a sun-ray pattern to match the dial.
Hermès joined the Richemont-led show a few years ago after abandoning Baselworld and the change suits this high-end luxury house well. This year Hermès delves into its archives and gives the Cape Cod (above) a raw and almost rough hammered finished called Martelée. Despite its work in progress appearance, a skilful goldsmith is called upon to create this dimpled, knobbly effect on the steel case and dial in which the hand of the maker is very much in evidence. The effect is enhanced with a layer of translucent lacquer tinged with graduated shades of grey. The Cape Cod case shape is formed from two halves of the house’s iconic chaîne d’ancre on anchor chain links, that date way back to 1991 when designer Henri d’Origny was inspired by maritime hardware. Trust Hermès to take an overlooked and unglamorous technique and apply it to an industrial-inspired design to end up with an unexpectedly chic new Cap Cod Martelée.
H. Moser & Cie, the niche watchmaker founded in 1828, surprises with a brand new, sportier look for this Swiss house that makes but 1,500 watches a year. The Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic (above) is not just a fresh design but has a new movement that was five years in development in cooperation with AGENHO. The result is the world’s first automatic chronograph with a central display and fly back function. Evoking the fluid lines of the early high speed trains of the 1920’s, the watch is a departure from the more classic looks we expect from this house.
Another house to give its traditional aesthetics something of a shake up is Vacheron Constantin whose Fiftysix (above) embraces a retro 1950’s look with a contemporary touch. The house’s impeccable horological credentials are on show with a version that features a full calendar displaying on the dial the day, date, month and moon phase. A less complex version offers a date window with a self-winding movement.
Borrowing materials from other industries and teaming up with sporting events is a trend we have seen in the watch world and now Panerai takes its turn. The Luminor Luna Rossa GMT (above) features a swatch of technical sail fabric on the dial as used by the Italian Luna Rossa sailing team that will be taking part in the America’s Cup in 2021. The GMT function is a nod to the globe-crossing ways of the sailing boats and with Italian panache, the black DLC case and the texture of the sail cloth make for a handsome and stylish combination.
Piaget returns to its roots with the Altiplano (below), the ultra-slim movement created in 1957. In 2018 Piaget upped the ante and unveiled the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, the thinnest mechanical watch in the world. Today, the concept becomes reality with three different versions of this hand-wound watch that is but 2 mm high, the equivalent thickness of a stack of two credit cards. Too thin to be made in gold, the case is machined from a new cobalt-based alloy that is 2.3 times stronger than gold. Wafer-thin yet able to withstand impacts, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is watch that defies the norms and sets new standards in micro engineering and material innovation.