SpotlightBuilding up to SIHH 2019—Part 1: A Preview Of Fine Watchmaking
The 2019 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) will be held in Geneva from January 14 to 17, setting the tone for the year’s watch novelties and trends. Exhibiting brands have started previewing releases to be showcased at the watch fair, from which we take a look at some of the most exquisite, finely crafted timepieces that high-end watchmaking will offer in 2019
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The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, is the world’s most exclusive gathering in the watch industry. It began in 1991 as a showcase for five brands that decided not to exhibit their latest collections at Baselworld, and has since gone on to become the epicentre for announcing what’s new at the pinnacle of modern-day horology. This has actually been the goal right from the time it was conceptualised—for there to be an event that exclusively caters to the art of fine, high-end watchmaking.
There will be 35 brands showcasing their new watches at SIHH 2019. These 35 names collectively represent the state of the art, as far as watchmaking ingenuity and innovation go. These include the most highly regarded independent brands that enhance the exclusivity and cachet associated with the event. The brands that will be exhibiting are A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Bovet, Cartier, Girard-Perregaux, Greubel Forsey, Hermès, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Parmigiani, Piaget, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Ulysse Nardin and Vacheron Constantin. Whereas some noteworthy independents that will also present are H. Moser & Cie., Laurent Ferrier, MB&F, Ressence, Urwerk and Voutilainen. That’s as impressive a roster as one can find.
In the run-up to the event that will be held between January 14 and 17, exhibiting brands have started offering previews of what lies in store, to build momentum and excitement. In this two-part series, we will discuss some noteworthy announcements about brands and watches that we are really excited to see. While this story focuses on fine watches on the dressy and complicated end of the spectrum, part two features sports watches.
What Is Haute Horlogerie?
As this story and SIHH itself are dedicated to haute horlogerie, let’s take a quick look at these terms that are oft used, but not always defined and appreciated. ‘Haute horlogerie’ is generally understood as the art of fine, high-end watchmaking. It conjures many images, but is a little difficult to precisely define. It kind of falls into the ‘you know it when you see it’ category. However, in our opinion, it can be said that some hallmarks of high-end watchmaking are handcraft; exceptional finishing of movements, cases and dials; inclusion of complications; usage of precious and rare materials; and innovation in mechanical timekeeping technology through displays, materials and other means. As we have seen over the years, it is quite rare to not see at least a few of these attributes in novelties showcased at SIHH.
Interestingly, in addition to this, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), an organisation set up to promote and highlight fine watchmaking across the world, drafted a white paper in 2016 on what constitutes ‘fine watchmaking’. In the white paper, the FHH set out principles within seven areas of expertise according to which brands are measured: R&D, production and technical expertise; style, design, and artistic expertise; history and DNA; distribution and after-sales service; connoisseurs and collectors; brand image and communication; and training. Experts periodically evaluate brands on these parameters to determine whether they come under the fold of ‘fine watchmaking’. This list currently has a total of 74 brands and unsurprisingly, 34 of 35 brands on display at SIHH are on it.
Now let’s get onto a few glimpses of what will be showcased at SIHH 2019.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel
Jaeger-LeCoultre is fondly referred to as the ‘Watchmaker to the watchmakers’ and rightfully so. It has supplied movements and parts to some of the most storied and prestigious brands for decades. Jaeger’s reputation for robustness and innovation in mechanical timekeeping is unparalleled. This extends to the skills and know-how it possesses in the finer aspects of dial decoration and watch finishing, which is what they have brought to the table this year.
Jaeger-LeCoultre has announced a 100-piece limited edition of the Master Ultra Thin (MUT) Moon Enamel, featuring a blue enamel dial with handcrafted guilloché. It is encased in white gold, measuring 39mm, with a more detailed moon phase disc and an engraved date counter. The guilloché forms a sunray pattern on the dial, which will reflect light brilliantly at different angles. However, it is the coloured enamel on the dial that steals the show. Creating an enamel dial involves a lengthy process of applying glass powder on it and then firing it in an oven, causing the powder to melt, which provides the characteristic radiance and texture of enamel. It can even require several firings, and getting a consistent colour across the dial is notoriously difficult. This means rejections are common when making enamel dials and it is one of the reasons why regular production watches often don’t have them.
Seeing Jaeger-LeCoultre put this kind of flair and flourish on an otherwise somewhat serious watch that is the MUT Moon makes this limited edition a very exciting proposition. This one is really going to be a treat in the metal.
Parmigiani Fleurier’s Handcrafted Objects Of Elegance
Parmigiani’s eponymous founder Michel Parmigiani spent over 20 years restoring old clocks and watches before starting his brand in 1997 under the patronage of the Sandoz Foundation. This background has given him access and inspiration spanning centuries of mechanical technology and watch design. And that is what makes watches from the brand so eclectic. Even the novelties announced for SIHH 2019 are diverse. However, the standout is the unique piece Toric Capitole. The Capitole is pure horological muscle power, as it displays time using a wandering hours mechanism and has a minute repeater—the holy grail of watch complications. This complex movement has a total of 386 parts at work within its 34mm dimensions. The three rotating gears have four arms each, with the numeral at every end indicating an hour. The arm end and its position on the semi-circular minute counter on the top half of the solid rose gold dial are seen together to read the time. Just exceptional!
The Toric Chronometre—a quintessential Parmigiani timepiece—will now come with a dark grey handcrafted guilloché dial. It retains signatures such as the elongated date window and knurled bezel. The alligator leather strap, as for all Parmigiani timepieces, is made by Hermès. One remarkably cool detail that makes the Toric so endearing is that since it was launched in 1997, the knurling on the bezel on every piece that has left the factory has been done by the same craftsman. It’s these details that keep the romance of old crafts alive.
There is something in store for ladies too. The Tonda Métropolitaine Sélène has been introduced in rose gold. With launching a model for this collection in precious metal, Parmigiani has added another desirable element to a watch that checks many popular preferences in ladies watches today—a mother-of-pearl dial, a diamond-set bezel, and a moon phase indicator. The centre of the dial has a delicately crafted lotus pattern in rose gold that speaks to the femininity of the watch and the high level of attention to detail seen in Parmigiani watches in general.
H. Moser & Cie. Puts A Tourbillon In An Everyday Watch
Those who follow H. Moser know that they are an independent brand that make exceptional timepieces with the most exquisite dials and beautiful movement finishing. They do minimalism like few others can. They are perhaps even better known for not taking themselves too seriously and having a witty outlook on the watch industry, which certainly does not come in the way of their sheer watchmaking prowess. So some of what they do can come as a surprise—just like the Pioneer Tourbillon.
The tourbillon is an element, which, apart from being difficult to implement, tends to be reserved for watches that would generally be labelled classic or elegant. It is quite uncommon to see it on watches with an everyday, somewhat sporty character. However, in the Pioneer Tourbillon, H. Moser have put this marvellous rotating escapement into a 42.8mm case with 120m water resistance. There are more horological chops used in this watch, such as the tourbillon being modular for ease of servicing and an escapement with two hairsprings stacked one on top of the other to improve timekeeping accuracy. The dial has the instantly identifiable, gorgeous fumé finish in deep blue that has come to be recognised as a mark of Moser. The Pioneer Tourbillon is a limited edition of 50 pieces.
Montblanc Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph
While the Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph was first released in 2008, it could actually be viewed as one of the most important watches in Montblanc’s horological timeline. This was the watch that debuted the first fully in-house movement from the brand. And it was a mono-pusher chronograph that had rotating discs with a fixed pointer to display elapsed time, no less. Using rotating discs for the chronograph is a tribute to Nicolas Rieussec who implemented a similar system in one of the first chronographs invented in the early 19th century to time horse races. Rieussec’s mechanism also had rotating discs on which a nib would drop ink when the event to be timed was complete. In that backdrop, this is a concept well done and a story well told.
The 2019 release is the most refined one yet and has many stylistic updates, when compared with the original. It comes with a new anthracite dial and retains the case diameter of 44.8mm. The numerals are quite close to the Breguet style, giving the watch a classic flavour, though they appear a little less so in this iteration. The dial execution overall looks very good and this is doubtlessly a very distinctive looking watch. The movement too, is a treat to look at with symmetrical bridges and an overall architecture that make it aesthetically pleasing. The watch features a second time zone, day-night indication and nicely framed date window.
Vacheron Constantin will be showcasing two unique pieces from their Les Cabinotiers department that has their top watchmakers honour requests for commissioned pieces from collectors and clients, as well as come up with new ideas. One of these is the Grand Complication Phoenix, having a total of 15 complications with a lavishly engraved case. The second is a minute repeater tourbillon with a sky chart when you flip the watch around.
Tourbillons do feel like the flavour of the season as Piaget and Girard-Perregaux have also announced tourbillon watches. Piaget will release an Altiplano Tourbillon with a case that’s just 7.4mm thick, while Girard-Perregaux will have the Cat’s Eye Tourbillon for ladies with 97 diamonds set artistically on the dial, bezel, crown and buckle.
Each of the watches we’ve taken a look at has the respective brand’s signature all over it. Watchmaking heritage remains important and the brands too are staying close to their DNA. At the same time, they are offering exceptional dial finishes, complications and in-house movements, which really bring to life what SIHH is all about. There’s going to be a lot more in store once the fair kicks off.
With all the anticipation and buzz surrounding us ahead of SIHH 2019, The Watch Guide will be on the ground in Geneva to bring you all the latest updates from the fair, as we share our thoughts on the novelties. Stay tuned!