SIHH: The latest watch trends and launches to know now

We bring you the finest watches and key trends from Geneva’s SIHH, the annual showcase of all things haute and horological

A Virtuoso IX watch model by Swiss watchmaker Bovet is displayed on the opening day of the 28h International Fine Watchmaking Exhibition SIHH, on January 14, 2019 in Geneva.
 / AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI
Powered by automated translation

Outwardly, the Palexpo complex near Geneva Airport couldn’t look less suited to hosting the rarest treasures of luxury watchmaking, let alone the A-list brand ambassadors flown in for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie’s glitzy soirées. However, things rapidly change once you’ve turned your back on the E62 motorway thundering below and the Easyjet Airbuses roaring overhead, and set foot on SIHH’s plush carpets.

With every one of luxury group Richemont’s watch brands setting up at neighbouring pavilions in a tasteful shade of cream, it’s as if London’s Bond Street has had a ceiling installed and its cars removed, and been given a lick of magnolia.

Visitors pass a show logo as they arrive for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. The elephant in the room at this week’s Swiss watch fair in Geneva is that the industry is still struggling to find buyers for all the timepieces it has produced over the years. Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg
Visitors arrive for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. Bloomberg

SIHH, now into its second quarter-century, is nothing less than the most extravagant and exclusive trade show in the world. After a tentative few years (as tentative as anything showcasing wristwatches that cost roughly the same as a new family car can be), we can safely report that the haute in its name is most certainly back for good, with a welcome smattering of highfalutin grand complications. There were exuberant colours to rival a Dulux swatch book, space-age materials beamed straight from the Enterprise and a welcome return to unabashed, ultra-glam femininity.

Here are the five key trends – and their highlight timepieces – that will be hitting the vitrines of your friendly local jeweller soon.

A material world

Ulysse Nardin Freak X. Courtesy Ulysse Nardin
Ulysse Nardin's Freak X. Courtesy Ulysse Nardin

The all-important research and development departments of Switzerland's finest have seemingly been burning the midnight oil. Any brand worth its eggshell-fronted place along the revered halls of SIHH had a whizzy new material to brag about, and rightly so. Materials science has a frontier role at the bleeding edge of luxury watchmaking, bringing genuine innovation to a mode of timekeeping for which mechanical principles have barely changed in 200 years.

Panerai has taken the highly relevant planet-friendly route, with a particular type of titanium made from aeronautical scraps, reducing CO2 emissions by a factor of four during the case-making process. Also picking bits up off the aviation industry's floor is Ulysse Nardin, with its futuristic, carousel-based carbonium used in the Freak X, and coating titanium waste with scratch-proof carbon, in the process, reducing its environmental impact over comparable materials by 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, IWC has given its new Double Chronograph Top Gun the high-tech treatment by making the case in ceratanium. It is created by machining a high-purity titanium alloy into its case or component shapes, then baking it in a furnace to diffuse oxygen into the material, which causes the surface of the metal to transform into ceramic.

But the show wasn't all high-tech alloys with sci-fi names. Over at Speake-Marin, Montblanc and again IWC, that good old salty seadog, copper with a hint of tin (aka bronze), was taking pride of place. With exposure to body oils and moisture, bronze patinates and forms a protective oxidised crust unique to every wearer. For Montblanc, this patina will particularly complement its three new khaki-green-dialled 1858 models – which are as ruggedly handsome as the sort of man they are targeting. 

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph. Courtesy Montblanc
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph. Courtesy Montblanc

But the show wasn't all high-tech alloys with sci-fi names. Over at Speake-Marin, Montblanc and again IWC, that good old salty seadog, copper with a hint of tin (aka bronze), was taking pride of place. With exposure to body oils and moisture, bronze patinates and forms a protective oxidised crust unique to every wearer. For Montblanc, this patina will particularly complement its three new khaki-green-dialled 1858 models – which are as ruggedly handsome as the sort of man they are targeting.

Fifty shades of blue

Fiftysix Complete calendar
Calendrier complet
Phase de lune. Courtesy Vacheron
Vacheron Constantin has launched additions to its FiftySix collection. Courtesy Vacheron Constantin

From salmon to acid green via fire-engine red, there was a rainbow of colours arching over this year’s SIHH. But whether midnight, cobalt, petrol or even diesel, blue continued to be watchmaking’s favourite shade outside of monochrome this year.

So hats off to Vacheron Constantin for taking the colour more seriously than most, finding the most perfect blue possible. Its new "retro-contemporary" FiftySix collection has been updated with a mesmerising petrol blue in contrasting opaline and sunray textures.

Next door, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled a trio of Ultra-Thin Masters, all sunray-engraved using antique guilloche machines and coated in a shimmering blue enamel. Appropriately for a brand that first found fame by kitting out the Italian Navy's elite frogmen, Panerai was all about water this year, focusing solely on its Submersible diving range. So it was no surprise to see blue throughout its launches, too. The dazzling number of shades, however, was enough to give you the bends. There was cerulean-blue luminescence on the dial of the Submersible Carbotech PAM 01616; the Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition PAM 00982 had an almost royal-blue ceramic bezel; while the limited-edition PAM 00983 has an aquamarine-accented dial that graduates from black to blue to mimic the waters of Moorea, where one of 15 lucky purchasers will get to learn to freedive with the titular Mr Néry himself.

Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled a trio of Ultra-Thin Masters. Courtesy Jaeger Le-Coultre 
Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled a trio of Ultra-Thin Masters. Courtesy Jaeger Le-Coultre 

Over at Girard-Perregaux, every single release from the venerable manufacturer was – you guessed it – blue, all the way from the G-P super-butch Laureato Absolute chronograph to the demure and dainty Cat's Eye Celestial, with its twinkling midnight dial of aventurine glass.

Bovet, meanwhile, presented the Virtuoso IX, a blue-dialled, double time zone, 10-day power reserve, big date flying tourbillon. A new movement has been placed in a Fleurier Amadéo convertible case, which can be transformed from a wristwatch into a reversible timepiece, a pocket watch or table clock.

Serious sparkle

Cartier Revelation d'une panthere. Courtesy Cartier
Cartier Revelation d'une Panthere. Courtesy Cartier

Last year's vogue for mid-size, gender-neutral designs found some brands twitching, then outwardly rebelling, with full-on feminine maximalism, and more diamonds than you can shake a pickaxe at.

It was Piaget's ultra-thin and renowned Altiplano that got the stone treatment – diamonds setting the entire dial of a particularly ritzy one-off, with baguettes on the bezel (all totalling a rather impressive 6.5 carats). Also adhering to the view that you can never have enough diamonds was Parisian grande maison Cartier, which swapped the tiny gold balls in last year's Révélation d'Une Panthère for 1,000 of the precious stones. They glide down the crystal dial to form the face of a panther, which holds for a brief magical moment before trickling to the bottom. It's a dramatic trick, the precise mechanics of which Cartier is remaining very tight-lipped about.

Similar wizardry with secrets hiding in plain sight could be found at HYT – a high-concept atelier occupying SIHH's Carré des Horlogers sideshow of indie auteurs. A circular tube of liquid is HYT's signature feature, telling the hours where two differently coloured immiscible fluids meet, sucked and squeezed by miniature bellows.

This year, the mechanical biochemistry of "HO Red Fluid" got the particularly contrasting treatment of 1,206 diamonds, with the most gnomic but pleasing reasoning why: "We have been trained to spot sparkles so we could find water by the reflection of the sun," explains creative director François Nuñez. That's good enough for us.

If all this seemed excessive, Jaeger-LeCoultre was on hand to offer something a bit more restrained. Its new Rendez-Vous features two rows of diamonds beautifully claw-set to allow in plenty of light, setting the stones on fire. The timepiece also comes on a leather strap for what the brand has deemed a more everyday approach. Diamonds aren't just for after
dark any more.

Fun times

Richard Mille MARSHMALLOW. Courtesy Richard Mille
Richard Mille's Marshallow. Courtesy Richard Mille

The past decade has been a strange one for Swiss watchmaking. After a run of breathless expansion and soaring profits stretching back to the 1990s, the wheels predictably wobbled – but never came off, mind – with the financial crash of 2008. With things soon back on track, the crucial Chinese market clamped down on its culture of gifting, and in 2015, the Swiss franc’s value against the euro was uncapped, sending the cost of exporting goods spiralling.

All of this has meant the (perhaps necessary) demise of high-octane über-complications and extreme proportions, but also one very essential ingredient: fun. After all, we're talking irrational, emotion-led indulgences here – if the luxury-car and art worlds can enjoy themselves, why can't the world of watches?

Well, thankfully, we might be seeing the return of something more than just safe vintage revivals and pared-back silver dials, most notably over at Richard Mille, where high-tech, tuned-up “racing machines for the wrist” are enjoying a dessert course this year. The liquorice whirls, marshmallow flumps and candied fruit adorning the dials of pieces in its Bonbon collection are equal part Willy Wonka flight of fancy and technical genius.

Roger Dubuis can always be relied on for amped-up virility, so it was particularly fun to see it burning rubber with another no-compromise practitioner of "voracious hedonism" (their expression) – Lamborghini. The new tribute to the Huracàn Performante hypercar picks out the quirky dashboard dial in flashes of acid-house yellow, while the strap comes upholstered in race-ready Alcantara.

But maximum fun points go to Romain Jerome. A boutique outfit that exhibited in SIHH's lower-ceilinged Horlogers cul-de-sac, the luxury brand has added to its portfolio of Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros tributes with the ultimate nostalgia trip: an official tie-in with DC Comics.

First up is its Joker chronograph and half-skeletonised Two-Face model, complete with spinning-coin seconds dial.

In perpetuity

A Lange Sohne- Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. Courtesy A Lange Sohne
A Lange & Sohne's Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon. Courtesy A Lange & Sohne

Running through SIHH like the writing in a stick of Brighton rock, there was one horological complication to be found everywhere last month: the perpetual calendar. Telling the correct date every day of every month, even on leap years (except 2100, when we skip a leap, so to speak), it’s one of horology’s most prestigious added functions, but also one of the hardest to pull off without cluttering up the dial.

So it’s frankly extraordinary that Jaeger-LeCoultre has managed to almost nonchalantly throw a calendar into the mix, when that mix – dubbed (deep breath) Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel – already boasts a mesmeric, spherical tourbillon cage tumbling in space at six o’clock, framed in blue by four musically tuned gongs.

On demand, the precise time – down to the hours, quarters and minutes – is chimed to the tune of Big Ben’s melody. Yours for €800,000 (Dh3.35 million), excluding taxes. To keep things economical, Jaeger has opted for three small window displays for the day, year and month, but when a perpetual calendar takes centre stage, the classical arrangement is three subdials, plus a moonphase indication, balancing out the dial with pleasing cross-shaped symmetry.

Look no further than Baume & Mercier’s Clifton Baumatic QP, or for a masterclass in pared-back élan, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, which reduces the internal mechanics to a wafer-like 4.05-millimetre thickness.

Then there’s grandmeister A. Lange & Söhne – the brand that single-handedly established Saxony’s tiny village of Glashütte as the epicentre of fine German watchmaking back in the 19th century. The now-Swiss-owned, but still Glashütte-made, brand is celebrating 25 years since its post-Berlin-Wall revival, and the gorgeous salmon-pink-gold Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon couldn’t be finer proof of its Patek Philippe-rivalling prestige.

Baume et Mercier Clifton Baumatic M0A10470 QP perpetual calendar. Courtesy Baume et Mercier
Baume et Mercier's Clifton Baumatic QP. Courtesy Baume et Mercier

Rarely has someone found fault with a single Lange watch in its entire history, which is more than can be said for Audemars Piguet this year, whose brand-new Code 11.59 collection was the talking point of SIHH. It brings round watches back to a brand that has leaned almost entirely on its octagonal Royal Oak, but not without incorporating an eight-sided case band sandwiched between circles, hugging your wrist with open-worked lugs.

Luckily, everyone could agree that it was the perpetual calendar version of Code 11.59 that worked above all others. The traditional subdials float in a night sky of aventurine glass, offering a sublime and romantic allusion to our Gregorian calendar’s astronomical origins.