: SIHH 2019 Review Part 1
Text Nicholas Biebuyck, Sean Li
Photos Nicholas Biebuyck

Once again, the watch world gathered in Geneva in January to attend the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, although it was far from routine. We already knew that this would be the last SIHH for Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, as both had announced weeks ago that they would withdraw after 2019 to focus on their own, independent events. We were also informed more recently that in 2020, SIHH and Baselworld would, once again, align their dates, moving to a late April and early May time frame, rather than the January and March schedule of recent years. These two topics seemed to invariably come up in conversation in the hallways, amongst the usual question of what watches had impressed so far. How this will pan out remains to be seen, for it felt already like SIHH is a marathon ever since the Carré des Horlogers more than doubled the number of brands in attendance, and it must be said, there were quite a number of interesting collections to be seen already; tacking on a visit to Baselworld immediately afterwards seems rather daunting at the moment.

In any case, we’ve had a few days now to reflect on the SIHH introductions, and here is a compilation of the key watches that have impressed us in Geneva. Rest assured that there will be much more detailed coverage of the more technical pieces at a later date; until then, we hope you enjoy these highlights.

A. Lange & Söhne – Zeitwerk Date

The Zeitwerk is one of A. Lange & Söhne’s most recognisable timepieces, with its oversized digital display for the hours and minutes. The apparent simplicity belies the complexity of the calibre that enables the display, which harkens back to the clock at the Semper Opera House in Dresden, the inspiration for many of Lange’s digital displays. While we’ve seen the maison’s watchmakers spend much of their efforts on chiming versions of the Zeitwerk in recent years, it now gains a date display. Again, this may seem straightforward, date displays are not the cutting edge of horological complexity. However, the Zeitwerk Date implements it in a unique way, with an outer ring of numerals etched onto sapphire, under which a red marker highlights the current date. The date is, of course, accompanied by a quick adjust pusher at 8 o’clock, but it’s joined by another pusher at 4 o’clock, which is used to make corrections to the hour display. Zeitwerk owners know that they could set the time forwards or backwards, but the addition of this hour adjustment feature makes it even more seamless, not to mention particularly useful when traveling across time zones. The Zeitwerk Date is larger than its predecessors, at 44.2mm; however, its calibre is 1mm thinner than before (while doubling its power reserve to 72 hours), giving it an arguably more balanced profile on the wrist.

A. Lange & Söhne – Richard Lange Jumping Seconds

Other models might have stolen the limelight on the stand housing beer and pretzels this year, with both the Lange 1 and the Zeitwerk celebrating their 25th and 10th anniversaries respectively, but a new colour way for the Richard Lange certainly impressed connoisseurs of the brand. The model was launched in 2016 with a platinum case, then in 2017 it was made available in pink gold, both of these previous versions featuring a solid silver dial, but it is this years release that is the most striking with its classic combination of a white gold case and contrasting black dial. A limited edition of 100 pieces as per previous iterations, it also retains the magnificent calibre L094.1 with its one-second constant force mechanism, zero-reset function and discreet power reserve indicator in the window below the centre of the dial, all in an extremely appealing 39.9mm case.

Audemars Piguet – CODE 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

You have undoubtedly seen the many comments made about Audemars Piguet’s new CODE 11.59 collection. Now that some time has passed, and we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the new watches, we have to say, as always, that it needs to be seen in person before an opinion can genuinely be formed. It’s certainly too early to say how the collection in general will perform on the market, but we can’t help but be impressed by one of its flagship watches, the Minute Repeater Supersonnerie. You’ll recall that the Supersonnerie first saw the light of day in 2015, as Audemars Piguet’s RD #1 watch, before being unveiled formally in 2016. The goal was to make the best sounding mechanical minute repeater ever, and it’s hard to argue against AP’s achievement. The Code 11:59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie receives the same patented gongs, and benefits from the case construction that allows the chiming function to be heard easily. It’s also virtually bereft of the mechanical noise that often accompanies and dampens the sonic quality of the chimes. The dial Is presented in a smoked blue enamel, with 18K white gold applied markers and hands. It’s worth noting as well that it’s, so far, the smallest Supersonnerie yet, with a case diameter of 41mm and a thickness of 13.5mm, whilst its predecessors ranged from 42 to 44mm diameters, with thicknesses of 14 to 16.5mm.

Audemars Piguet – Royal Oak Self Winding Chronograph 38mm

The Royal Oak has provided a rich canvas for Audemars Piguet since the original model was introduced in 1972, and although in recently years the direction has been towards larger watches, especially in the Overseas and Concept case styles, it was to much praise at SIHH 2019 that a smaller versions of the Royal Oak Chronograph was announced. Coming in at a Goldilocks 38mm in diameter and 11mm in thickness, the watch is extremely well proportioned and balanced, thanks also to the iconic bracelet. While it may not contain the shiny new in-house integrated chronograph calibre launched with the Code 11:59, the AP 2385, based on the F. Piguet 11.85, is a highly regarded, well tested, and a known quantity to experience watchmakers, featuring such niceties as a column wheel and vertical clutch, so should not be subjected to the usual snobbery of “sourced” movements. Available in stainless steel and 18K pink gold, with a selection fo different dial colour ways, the pricing is extremely aggressive, with stainless steel version kicking off at 187,000 HKD, slightly less than a 15202ST.

Cartier – Cartier Privé Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau Watch

We were surprised to see Cartier revive the “Privé” moniker at this year’s fair; the maison’s loyal followers may remember the small collections called Cartier Paris Collection Privée, or CPCP, which were available for a decade or so, from 1998 onwards. Today’s Cartier Privé takes the same ethos of revisiting shaped cases that eschewed the daring elegance that the maison established over the years, this time ‘round with its own in-house calibres, rather than the noble ébauches sourced from specialise manufactures. On this occasion, Cartier has chosen to study the tonneau case, and it’s the Skeleton Dual Time Zone that we’ve found of particular interest. Images truly don’t do the timepiece justice, for they do not give you an appropriate indication of the depth of the skeletonised 9919 MC calibre, nor of the subtle curves on the case that make the watch particularly comfortable to wear. Bear in mind that the calibre had to be completely redesigned and elongated to fit within the tonneau case, and, unlike its CPCP predecessor, is an integrated calibre such that the two time zones are linked; the second indication is advanced one hour at a time by the crown at 4 o’clock, which is actually a pusher.

Greubel Forsey – Balancier Contemporain

Greubel Forsey are of course most well known for their technical tour de force watches such as the Quadruple Tourbillon, Grande Sonnerie and GMT that contains a miniature spinning globe, but all of this innovation requires rather generous case proportions. So it was a very pleasant surprise for the brand to launch their first watch under 40mm (just making the cut at 39.6mm), in the shape of the Balancier Contemporain, which not only retains the signature style and high level of finishing found on other Gruebel Forsey pieces, but also the beautiful three-dimensional nature of their watches, with a mixture of layers, to accentuate the depth negative space within the movement. Limited to 33 pieces in white gold, with an additional 33 diamond set pieces houses in a slightly larger case (required for mounting of the stones), the design also focuses attention on the Greubel Forsey designed balance wheel, proving that even on the brand’s most “simple” watches, there is serious technical innovation.

Hermès – Galop d’Hermès

SIHH 2019 provided an excellent selection of accessible watches, which may have not been the focus of attention, but will inevitable contribute substantially to the bottom lines of the manufacturers who announced them. A personal favourite was the Galop d’Hermès, design by Ini Archibong whose background in architecture and furniture design provided a fresh perspective in the world of watches. With its elegant case form reminiscent of a stirrup, a motif that is echoed in the numerals for four and eight, the devil is in the detail, with the dial showing a level of craftsmanship and attention which is surprising at the price point. Featuring a textured outer and smooth recessed centre, combined with carefully considered type design for the numerals which taper to the top, it really shows what can be achieved when a talented designer in committed to the task, even with some degree of budgetary constraints in place. Offered in steel or rose gold, plus a version in each metal set with 150 diamonds, the range will undoubtably be a commercial success for the brand.

IWC Schaffhausen – Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium

It would be easy to gloss over the IWC’s new Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph; after all, the maison has done numerous variations on black watches over the years. However, take a closer look and you’ll see that, unusually, the black extends to every detail, including the pushers and crowns. This is thanks to IWC’s ceratanium, a new material that had previously been introduced with the Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar in 2017. It’s derived from a titanium alloy, which, when heated, develops a ceramised surface that is fully bonded to the metal. The advantage is that it retains the light weight of titanium, and the resistance to shock, such that it’s not susceptible to cracking like ceramic but gaining its resistance to scratches (it might dent though, so don’t go around bashing it just to show off its strength). Being a metal alloy, it’s also possible to make the smaller parts and more complex shapes, such as the pushers and crown, to give it a complete black look that is considerably more durable than traditional coatings like PVD or DLC. Let’s not forget that the double chronograph, also known as a split second or rattrapante, is one of the most under-appreciated complications, for it takes great skill to adjust the split second function properly.

Jaeger-LeCoultre – Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel

A real highlight this year for fans of great technical watchmaking, and intelligent engineering solutions to old-school problems is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel. Integrating the Gyrotourbillon, the fifth outing for the captivating regulating device, with a one minute constant force mechanism, plus a perpetual calendar that can be set both forwards and backwards, and last but not least, a Westminster Carillon minute repeater that uses four hammers to chime the melody of Big Ben for the quarters. Whilst not exactly diminutive, the watch is eminently wearable at 43mm in diameter and a thickness of 14mm, an impressive achievement given the thousand-plus components. Offered in an edition of 18 pieces with either a blue guilloché enamel dial, or more restrained silvered grained, this is a watch that will certainly warrant a more in-depth article examining the technical aspects of the movement in due course.

Richard Mille – Bonbon Collection

A brand familiar with being the centre of attention, Richard Mille really embraced it this year with the Bonbon Collection. Clearly not intended as watches for everyone, the collection really was everywhere during the course of the fair, with the lampposts in the middle of Geneva hung with banners displaying the watch and the outer cover of the Financial Times bearing the standout RM07-03 Marshmallow. Made up of two lines called Fruits (produced in carbon TPT combined with Quartz TPT) and Sweets (with the cases a combination of TZP ceramic and 18k pink gold), spread across the references RM07-03, RM16-01, and RM037-01, the collection was certainly polarising that it is impossible to deny the métier d’art on display. Liberal use of enamel for the Sweets collection, culminating in the three-dimension effected executed in the aforementioned Marshmallow, and intricate hand-painting used in the Fruits range, complete with sugar effect to certain components, prove that even when the brand appears to be having huge amount of fun, there is still serious consideration given to the craftsmanship. With suggestions that the brand will release a selection of more familiar conventional watches (by Richard Mille standards) later in the year, it was easy to interpret Bonbon as a message on the brand’s departure from SIHH: thanks for having us, good luck for the future, and most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Vacheron Constantin – Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar

Certainly one of the most talked about introductions at SIHH, the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar is a particularly ingenious solution to an age-old problem facing owners of that complication: that of keeping the watch properly set when it has wound down from its power reserve. We would argue that it’s rare to have a perpetual calendar as a primary watch, which means that, more often than not, after putting the watch away for a few days, if not weeks, it has stopped and requires not only winding but re-setting of its numerous indications. The Twin Beat addresses that issue by having two selectable oscillators, one beating at 5Hz, to provide the accuracy and wearability of a wristwatch, and the other beating at 1.2Hz. By switching to the slower oscillator, you’re able to get an astounding 65 days power reserve, with all indications running normally, including the instantaneous change for the perpetual calendar display. Pick up the watch, switch it to the 5Hz oscillator, wind it fully, and you’ll still get an impressive five days power reserve, all in an eminently wearable 42mm case with a 12.mm thickness only. The key to this was developing a very low friction perpetual calendar mechanism, which we will delve into in much greater detail in a future article.