For the third week of January every year, the great and good of the watch world decamp to Geneva for the Salon International de la Haute Horlorgerie (or “ess eee ach ach” as it is known to the Swiss).
It is an incredibly exclusive, invite-only event, rather like the Paris couture fashion shows, and, like couture, full of pieces that very few people can afford. However, that doesn’t mean it is irrelevant – at the luxury end it serves as a bellwether for what will be happening for the rest of the year.
Arriving as we did just after the Swiss National Bank had decided to decouple the Swiss franc, one of the trends was obviously price hikes, and the other major trend?
Women’s watches. Brands were falling over themselves to show collection firsts for women’s watches and explain how they were now listening to female customers. The result was some seriously desirable watches and we’ve picked some of our favourites below from the complicated to the classically sophisticated.
The Collection “Firsts”
At the more affordable end of the scale at SIHH is Baume & Mercier. The Classima (left) has been in Baume & Mercier’s oeuvre since the 1970s but this is the first time in its 40-year history that it has included women’s watches in the family.
This is another well designed selection of women’s watches from B&M – proving once and for all that Promesse wasn’t a fluke. It even has a bicolour version in the collection that doesn’t look like an 80s throwback, now that’s progress.
Another first is this beautifully understated Saxonia from Lange & Sohne. Women have been poorly served by this brand, as anyone who has seen the Little Saxonia Soiree will attest, which is such a shame when you see the exquisite pieces it makes for men. Thankfully that has all be redressed with this 38.5mm Saxonia, which was created specifically in response to women asking for one. Do ask, do get, it seems.
The Crazy and the Complicated
You don’t go to Roger Dubuis (left) for simple, classic watches; you go because you want something out of the ordinary. And this year, it didn’t disappoint. Its AstroSkeleton for women was inspired by Broceliande, the legendary French forest that supposedly contains Merlin’s tomb. The bare, somewhat masculine, bones of the movement were interwoven with delicate precious-stone flowers reminiscent of the thorn thicket that surrounds Sleeping Beauty. It works by softening the often-brutalist appearance of skeletonisation perfectly.
Also taking inspiration from nature was Richard Mille, who deserves an award for the fair’s most enchantingly whimsical complication, not words you usually associate with this brand. At the heart of its Flower Toubillon watch is a hidden flying tourbillon. When a button is pressed the petals move apart to reveal the tourbillon, which is then raised up. It’s beautiful, technically impressive and, what’s more, all this innovation has gone into a women’s watch.
It seemed quite a lot of brands were looking up for inspiration. Stars have always been a theme in watchmaking for obvious reasons but this year dials were studded with stars, glittering with moons or evoking the night sky with aventurine.
Jaeger-LeCoultre ’s Rendez-Vous collection has been the maison’s home for serious women’s complication since it first launched a couple of years ago. It has now added this gorgeous moonphase (right) into the mix. You can only tell the time from nine until three, but who cares when the watch looks this good.
Also getting celestial was Montblanc. Inspired by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s star clocks, which he used to navigate his passage to India, this elegant timepiece has a moon phase at 6 o’clock. This moon is embedded in the Southern Hemisphere, with the Southern Cross constellation that da Gama used as his primary navigation, clearly visible. Useful if you’re ever lost at sea south of the equator, we presume…
The Powerful Female Inspiration
You can’t get two more iconic powerful women than Jackie O and Wallis Simpson. So it wasn’t surprising to see watches brands using them both as reference points.
First up was Piaget (left), with its dress watch that was inspired by Jackie O’s style. It is based on an oval design that is part of Piaget’s heritage. The real marvel here is the bracelet. Each link is hand-engraved to create this iridescent effect, while the way in which the individual links are put together is such that the metal looks like material. It’s a truly amazing piece that perfectly marries Piaget’s watch and jewellery prowess.
Van Cleef & Arpels has been delving into its archives, heading back to 1935 for the Cadenas, which, like its Zip necklace was said to have been inspired by Wallis Simpson. Van Cleef & Arpels even has a purchase order for a Cadenas from King Edward, so it seems very likely. This jewellery watch has an angled case so that only the person wearing the watch can read the time and the double serpent bracelet is gorgeously Art Deco in style.
All that needs to complete the look is a member of an elite family on your arm.
The Most Talked About
People were talking about two things by lunch time on the second day: how exactly did you spell “Portugieser” and Vacheron Constantin’s new cushion shaped collection – the rather strangely named Harmony.
Joking aside about the returning of IWC’s Portuguese to its original name, one of the standouts from the reboot was this watch (left), marking the 75th anniversary of the Portugieser collection. It’s very simple-looking which allows the original IWC logo and old-school numerals to really take centre stage. A fabulous piece of retro styling.
Retro styling was also on the cards at Vacheron, with the launch of its cushion-shaped timepieces based on a 1928 reference. Although this is predominantly a collection of mono-pusher chronographs, this Dual Time from the women’s side (right) was what really caught the eye.
This is partly because the women’s chronograph isn’t a mono-pusher so looks a bit clunky, but also because this is a seriously lovely looking watch. The subtle use of diamonds, the blue numerals, powder blue strap, day/night sub dial – we love it all. A slice of horological heaven.