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The Handbook

SIHH 2019: The Watch Report

"Expectation being the unreliable gauge that it is, it’s important to remember that the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie – SIHH, for short – is a festival of fine watchmaking and not a breeding ground for mainstream watch brands," says Robin Swithinbank, our new Contributing Watch Editor, from Geneva. "We’re talking bewildering complications and impossible métiers d’art, diamonds and devilish detail."

This year’s edition of SIHH, on which the curtain fell yesterday, was no exception. A showcase of the finest Swiss watchmaking talent, Robin shares his 2019 highlights...

Reinventing The Wheel

As a rule, watch brands – particularly the bigger, more established players – aren’t in the habit of introducing all-new collections. They have their icons, their cash cows, and they sensibly prioritise them. Bucking that trend this year is Audemars Piguet, whose Code 11.59 collection marks a stunning departure from its usual fare, typically centred around the mighty Royal Oak sports watch. There are 13 Code 11.59 references, from the Self-Winding time and date only model, through to five high-end complications, including the Minute Repeater Supersonnerie that chimes the time on demand. 

The key to its success will be whether Audemars Piguet customers, existing or otherwise, embrace its complex design. The round case has an octagonal central section; the hollowed-out lugs bind to the bezel but not the case back; and the double convex crystal focuses the eye on the dial’s exquisite details. Fascinating development. 

Starting With Finishing Touches

Fine watchmaking’s natural bedfellow is métiers d’art, a French term describing the rare handcrafts employed to decorate watch cases, dials and movements. Jaeger-LeCoultre showcased its in-house creative prowess with a trio of pieces in its Master Ultra Thin collection, all of which feature a sumptuous and sartorially versatile fan-motif guilloché dial painted in midnight blue enamel.

  • "Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled The Master Ultra Thin collection, characterised by a sumptuous fan-motif guilloché dial painted in midnight blue enamel."

Going Back In Time

Trust in designs plucked from the archives remains high – looking back on better times, some might say, but also to the golden age of watch design, roughly the period between 1940 and 1970. Montblanc only opened its watch division in 1997, but in the two decades since it’s absorbed the fabled Minerva factory, with us since 1858.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Minerva created a litany of era-defining chronographs, some of them now reborn – visually at least – as the Montblanc Heritage collection. The range includes half a dozen models, all with those signature dot hour markers, from an accessible automatic that looks terrific on a Milanese bracelet, through to a monopusher chronograph (that’s started, stopped and reset through a single button – in this case, at 2 o’clock) with a beautifully arcane movement built entirely by hand in that same Minerva factory. 

Chasing Icons

The industry is far less burdened by icons than it would have us believe, but among those there are, several belong to SIHH brands. 

Cartier’s voguish Santos, first seen in 1904 and reborn last year, returned this year as a slimline quartz, offering a series of design refinements. The slimmed down Roman numerals and the trim case (it’s 31mm across and 7mm thick) give it a crisper look than those pieces we know already.

IWC meanwhile, has injected new fuel into its Spitfire collection of pilot’s watches, a line with direct design links back to the 1930s. The mix of steel and bronze cases is winning, while for the first time the entire line is powered by movements made in-house at IWC’s Schaffhausen manufacture.

Beyond SIHH

LVMH’s Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith are no strangers to Geneva during SIHH, even though they conduct their business from beyond the show’s walls. The next phase in Hublot’s partnership with contemporary artist Richard Orlinski produced half a dozen new versions of the Classic Fusion, bringing bright coloured ceramic, sapphire crystal and his signature angled forms into the limelight.

TAG Heuer announced the world’s first hairspring made of a carbon composite in the Carrera Nanograph, a technical innovation that could prove to be one of the big stories of the next decade, just as developments in silicon have been over the last decade and a half. And Zenith announced a raft of pieces, prime among them being those linked to the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, the Swiss house’s legendary high-frequency chronograph calibre. A gem-set pair of those will be exclusive to Harrods.

By Robin Swithinbank