Every January since the early nineties, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) has been tempting trade and collectors alike with the best that selected watch manufactures have to offer. In the earliest days, the list of exhibitors was limited to five (Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Piaget, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth) but by 1999, this had been expanded to 18, and the number has remained relatively stable; today, SIHH’s sixteen brands include some of the most intriguing and exciting watchmakers in the world, as well as many of the most powerful.
The Foundation that operates SIHH has maintained a set of central tenets that most #watchnerds will probably find hard with which to disagree: SIHH’s list of exhibitors should reflect (in the eyes of the Foundation) “historic” brands / manufactures, “ateliers and Master Watchmakers which produce their own movements and creations” and brands that “invest in Fine Watchmaking by inventing and creating”. Of course, underlying all this is a widely-held view that SIHH is merely a media vehicle for the Richemont Group – who no longer wanted to be associated with the increasingly Swatch Group-led BaselWorld. Whatever the reasons for their inclusion, there is no doubt (in my mind at least) that SIHH remains highly relevant and an important date in the #watchnerd calendar.
Perhaps this is why it is so galling to have missed yet another year.
However, my loss is your gain (all three of you). For while you are forced to attend press presentation after press presentation, ask questions you know have already been answered, watch the same wan smiles speak the same horological platitudes, be rushed around Geneva in your chauffeured bus carrying heavy bags of photographic equipment, battery chargers, ‘phones, and other gadgets, and then drink yourselves into an early grave before getting a taxi back to the hotel, only to find that there’s not nearly enough time to grab some sleep but just enough time to pack for your flight home, I can be objective. Probably.
Modern day alchemy: David Zanetta, Denis Flageollet and Pierre Jacques continue to perform horological magic. While De Bethune are producing more watches than ever (over 300 per year), they are still managing to imbue every new model with the kind of micro-mechanical retro-futurism that appears to have almost universal appeal. At SIHH, there were two De Bethunes that caught my eye: the latest in the Dream Watch line – the DW5 – and another ‘Digitale’, the DB28. I’ll write more about the latter in another post (it deserves more than a few lines) while the sleek lines of the former remind me of the Jean Andreau-designed, Saoutchik-built 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6C “Xenia”.
The DW5 takes De Bethune’s mantra of “not doing more – doing better” to new heights: the simple, polished titanium curves are shaped around the hand-wound DB2144 calibre; a small window exposes the deceptively straightforward jumping hour and analogue minute displays, while a central sphere of titanium and blued-steel indicates the moon-phase; a cabochon-cut ruby caps the crown.
While the uncharitable may point out the not inconsiderable similarities between the DW5 and the Hamilton Ventura, the photos I have seen so far are stunning; on the wrist, it almost looks like a piece of jewellery – but then, don’t so many De Bethunes?
Panerai revisits its roots: the announcement of a pocket watch collection that builds on last year’s skeletonised tourbillon version was a surprise. Stripped-back and with a highly polished sheen guaranteed to have you reaching almost continuously for your microfibre cloth, this is a supremely meta announcement. You will recall that the earliest Panerai contained Rolex movements (and crowns) and were delivered to the Italian Navy in c.1938. The cases of these watches appear to be based on the Rolex Oyster pocket watches (ref. 2533) from the previous decade (rotated by 90 degrees and with soldered lugs allowing a strap to be attached). Are these Panerai novelties an homage to the inspiration of their first watches? Probably not.
The Rise of Biver: the announcement that JCB is to take over as Head of Watches at LVMH from 1st March 2014, while not strictly SIHH-related, means that he takes creative control of Zenith and TAG Heuer, two brands that (like Biver’s Hublot) have recovered well over the past five years. The role will bring him back into close proximity with Jean-Frédéric Dufour – placed by Biver as CEO of Zenith in 2009. TAG, like Zenith, has looked to its past to drive its future, re-issuing vintage models and ensuring that more people are aware of the brand’s unrivalled motorsport history. I hope that the triumvirate of Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer will continue to flourish under Biver’s stewardship.