Unexpected Answers: A Round Table Discussion Of SIHH 2014
Did you ever wonder what it sounds like when journalists get together among themselves and chat about impressions from a week-long watch fair? If so, wonder no more because here we’re providing you with the opportunity to listen in on some private conversations between well-known tastemakers of both the print and online worlds right here at Quill & Pad.
Welcome to our post-SIHH 2014 discussion, which I am happy to moderate (ED). We bring you some of the best and most educated opinions in our industry on the fair, the mood and the watches we saw right here!
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder Quill & Pad
BC Ben Clymer, founder and executive editor of Hodinkee.com
TB Timothy Barber, Editor of QP Magazine
SW Suzanne Wong, Editor-in-Chief of Revolution Asia
RJB Robert-Jan Broer, founder and executive editor of Fratellowatches.com
LN Louis Nardin, editor-in-chief of thewatches.tv and freelance journalist
JH Jason Heaton, timepiece editor at Gear Patrol and frequent contributor to Revolution, Men’s Journal and Hodinkee
KH Kristian Haagen, author, contributor and auctioneer
TK Tomasz Kiełtyka, owner and editor of chronos24.pl
FG Frank Geelen, founder and executive editor of Monochrome.nl
SW: I don’t know about everyone else here, but I always have a fantastic time at the SIHH. I’m lucky to be based in Singapore, where the watch market is strong and the watch culture is sophisticated and (I like to think) regionally trend-setting, but there’s nothing quite like coming to Switzerland for the fairs and really getting a feel of the energy that drives our industry. As a whole, I thought this year’s fair was stronger than the last.
ED: So who pushed the envelope for you all?
BC: I think Jaeger-LeCoultre did with its flying tourbillon and innovative minute repeater that not only uses a double-jointed hammer system, but also essentially cuts out any “blank” sound when there are no quarters to chime.
Piaget’s 900P, the thinnest mechanical watch in the world, was also a standout on this front, using the case back as the movement’s plate (see Piaget Altiplano 900P Ultra-Thin: Contender For The “Galaxy On The Wrist” Award for more information).
Van Cleef’s Christian Van Der Klaauw-conceived Midnight Planetarium was also a favorite, along with Cartier’s Astrocalendaire with tourbillon (see Rotonde De Cartier Astrocalendaire Perpetual Calendar: A Greek In French Couture? for more info on this). These were two pieces that caused me to sit back and say, “Wow, how did they even do that?” With a movement entirely void of levers, this is a new take on a perpetual calendar. All these watches are actually “doing something,” not just rehashing existing concepts, and I give them a lot of credit for this.
IS: My favorites in the “pushing-the-envelope” category included Cartier’s Astrocalendaire, the Greubel Forsey QP with Equation of Time and Van Cleef & Arpels’ first in-house movement, which was developed for the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs GMT by Agenhor. A few of the Richard Mille ladies’ models also caught my eye.
JH: A. Lange & Söhne’s Terraluna didn’t get as much fanfare as last year’s Grand Complication, but felt more accessible and unique.
TK: As usual, each brand tried to present a showpiece designed to inexorably cause a “WOW” effect. In my opinion, and I am probably not alone in my judgment, the most outstanding timepieces of this year’s event were the Terraluna by A. Lange & Söhne and the eleventh member of the Hybris Mechanica collection by Jaeger-LeCoultre. These two timepieces are the finest examples of haute horologerie and an extraordinary demonstration of German and Swiss craft and skill. Bravo!
RJB: The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planetarium (with a bit of help from Christiaan van der Klaauw), the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Hybris Mechanica 11.
ED: So A. Lange & Söhne and Jaeger-LeCoultre are fairly universally unanimous. And who didn’t push the envelope in your opinion?
RJB: Although I like the new Baume & Mercier Clifton 1892 Flying Tourbillon, I don’t see a real connection with the 1892 tourbillon pocket watch the brand was referring to. The Clifton seems to have become their horse to bet on to be honest, and with models like the Clifton Retrograde they have created a beautiful collection with enough to choose from.
However, I am a bit scared that it might become a milking cow and people will start to lose interest at some point. There is nothing wrong with having only a few models in your collection that are really strong. No need to change or add new variations each year.
FG: One problem I saw regarding the “wow factor” was that some of the most impressive timepieces were introduced weeks before the opening in e-mail launches, so the shine of new things was already a bit gone.
TB: As Ben alluded, the race to ultra-thin goes on. And on, and on. And certainly risks becoming repetitive and tedious. But the two record breakers at SIHH this year were both stone-cold classics: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra-Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon is a quite astonishing achievement, and refreshingly understated compared to previous Hybris Mechanica watches.
Piaget’s Altiplano 900P, the thinnest mechanical watch ever made, is of course seriously clever, but again it’s the look of the thing that seals the deal: it’s a far more ballsy, assertive design than we’ve seen from Piaget of late, especially in its awfully polite Altiplano models, and I think it’s an absolute whizzer of a watch.
ED: Don’t forget the Vacheron Constantin minute repeater, which was actually launched at Watches & Wonders. It, too, deserves mention here as an amazing, classic and classy ultra-thin model at the SIHH.
SW: Wei Koh (co-founder of Revolution) and I have been saying for the last year that the next trend to characterize high-complication watchmaking in the market will be ultra-thin complications, and it’s good to see this year’s offerings bear this idea out.
Biggest buzz at the fair
ED: So, beside watches that pushed the envelope what was the biggest buzz factor at the fair for you this year?
FG: Surely, the biggest buzz at the fair was the price of Montblanc’s newest line, the Meisterstück Heritage collection, and in particular the Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar. It is the most affordable perpetual calendar on the market. It also looks stunning!
BC: As for consumer products – which I tend to think is any watch under $20,000 (yes, I realize how twisted it is to consider an amount close to half of the average household income in New York state as “consumer oriented”) – there were a few surprises.
Panerai’s new line of Luminors using the manually wound, in-house P5000 was a highlight for me. It offers a great 8-day power reserve with a manufacture movement for under $8000; it’s tough to argue with that.
Then there was Montblanc, who, under the leadership of ex-JLC-CEO Jérôme Lambert, came out swinging with an entirely new line of watches called the Meisterstück Heritage. Here you found a true perpetual calendar in steel for just $12,800. Sure, it’s a modular movement and the finishing isn’t what one would like to see on a perpetual calendar, but, come on, under 13k for a real QP?? That’s just plain awesome.
IS: The most talked about watch was surely the incredibly affordable Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar. But I hope Montblanc’s retailers let their customers know how much servicing this perpetual calendar is likely to cost, because I think that many buying a complicated watch like this for around $13,000 will get a big shock at servicing time.
Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planetarium was an eye-catcher and generated a buzz, but at 44 mm is likely to be overly large for many of the intended customers.
JH: There were some really refreshing surprises: the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage collection was so tasteful, especially the Minerva-based Pulsometer. Panerai seemed all about the chronographs this year, and I loved the Radiomir 1940 limited edition chronos, again with Minerva movements and great proportions.
ED: Well, Montblanc surely created the biggest buzz for me at the SIHH altogether. Mainly because of what you all have pointed out in addition to a few other real beauties like the TimeWalker Chrono 100 and the new Nicolas Rieussec chronograph with those cool lume hours that only show up in the dark.
But, for me, buzzworthy was also the fact that Montblanc introduced Hugh Jackman as an official ambassador (everywhere but in the United States, that is). There was quite a crowd surrounding the booth the evening the announcement was made! This brand seems to be well on its way to horological stardom.
ED: Tastes are certainly different, but it is always interesting to hear what personally interests the professionals. So who had a favorite?
KH: Again, I must vote A. Lange & Söhne as the winners of this year’s show. Not only because of the spectacular Richard Lange Terraluna and Grand Lange 1 Moonphase, but also because of the almost invisible changes to other models, which once again proves that radical changes, multi-colored dials and exotic case materials are for the trendsetters, but not for serious watchmakers.
IS: My watch of the 2014 SIHH wasn’t particularly feminine, nor particularly artistic, and neither was it especially complicated. It was by Van Cleef & Arpels and featured just three indications on its unostentatious dial: retrograde minutes and two jumping hours (the second for a second time zone). This was the most poetically (and accurately) named GMT I’ve ever come across: Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs, which translates as “Time here and Time Elsewhere.”
BC: Were there any watches at SIHH 2014 that I really want for myself? Yes, one. And it costs $201,000, which means I’ll never own it. I’m talking about A. Lange & Söhne’s 1815 tourbillon with stop seconds and zero reset in platinum. Sure, this is the first tourbillon with two such combined features, but what makes this piece so appealing to me is the 39.5 case size and typical Lange attention to detail. I’m not a tourbillon guy at all, but this is one I’d wear proudly.
For a moment I thought I would really want Montblanc’s Heritage Pulsograph with the Minerva movement, and then I found out it was $34,000. That’s more than I paid for my Lange 1815 chronograph, and frankly there is just no comparison. So, there were a bunch of nice and thoughtful watches at SIHH 2014, just not right for me. (If anyone has $200,000 I can borrow, I’m open to barters….)
TK: If I was allowed to take one of the presented watches back home, this would most conclusively be the “Navy” version of the Royal Oak Offshore by Audemars Piguet. On one hand it does not significantly differ from the previous models in the collection, but the way it looked and felt on my wrist would definitely make me wear it for a much longer time. Seriously, I am almost dreaming about it.
ED: Jason, as the resident specialist on diver’s watches here, what did you think about IWC and Cartier’s unexpected diver’s watches?
JH: I was prepared to be disappointed by the new IWC Aquatimer lineup, but was pleasantly surprised by all of them (except the Perpetual Calendar, which has no place in a dive watch lineup), which are so much better in person than in the early press photos. On the other hand, I just can’t get behind the new Cartier diver, which I tried hard to like. I’ll say it appears to be very well made and leave it at that.
BC: …the first diver from a historically significant brand in jewelry, and the other a refresh from a manufacture known for dive watches. One is ISO-certified and one isn’t…can you guess which is which? Yes. The new Cartier Calibre Diver is ISO-certified and really very refined with a thin case and lovely look.
Then there is the whole new line of IWC Aquatimers – none of which are ISO-certified – in enormous 45mm+ cases. I think this fact alone says a lot about the goals of both Cartier and IWC right now, and it has left many a little dismayed about the future of the great Schaffhausen brand.
ED: Again, tastes can be so different! Suzanne, what other trend did you notice?
SW: I tried to tell people that I was seeing a greater emphasis on women’s watches this year (what are the odds that a female editor-in-chief would have her eye out for that, right?), but somehow this doesn’t seem to be something that people have noticed. It’s something that struck me, however, and I’m unilaterally pleased with it. There were some particularly fine-looking Jules Audemars women’s pieces that I saw – but I’ve always been partial to that collection.
ED: Ian and I saw it too. We were particularly thrilled with the Richard Mille focus, for example, in a dedicated collection. Then there were the absolutely drool-worthy Ornaments Fabuleux by Vacheron Constantin, not to mention the ladies’ Malte pieces.
IS: Many brands are now taking watches for women very seriously indeed, and there were quite a few absolutely stunning ladies’ models presented at the 2014 SIHH. About 75 percent of the new Ralph Lauren collection was dedicated to the fairer sex, and there were beautiful ladies’ watches by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Piaget in addition to those that Elizabeth already mentioned – many of which featured incredible crafts and artwork.
JH: If I had to call out any trends, it seems there’s a subtle shift back to smaller watches altogether, a renewed interest in gold, and more emphasis on ladies’ watches, all trends that happen to carry no interest for me personally but are probably positive moves for the industry overall.
IS: To us, 2014 also appears to be the year of the perpetual calendar, also known as the “QP”: “Quantième Perpétuel” is French for “perpetual calendar.” Models ranged from the incredibly affordable Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar by Montblanc, retailing for around $13,000, through to the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna by A. Lange & Söhne, and Cartier’s Astrocalendaire with its “amphitheatre” display.
However my favorite was what must be the easiest perpetual calendar in the world to both read and set: Greubel Forsey’s QP, which has its calendar indications in a logical line and can be set forward and backward just by adjusting the date through the crown. And as an added bonus, it also includes an equation of time indication on the back.
TB: It’s interesting to see people shaking up the world of the perpetual calendar. Greubel Forsey and Cartier are both addressing not just how the information is presented, but how to overcome the difficulties of setting normal perpetual calendars (as a few others have already).
Possibly more significant, though, is Montblanc’s remarkably affordable version in its new Meisterstück Heritage line. At under £8,000, it’s not just affordable, it’s downright CHEAP. On an ETA base with a Dubois Dépraz QP module, it tells us a lot about where Jérôme Lambert intends to take Montblanc.
I have to say I don’t find it an especially attractive watch though, whereas the chronograph launched as part of the same family, the Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph, was probably my watch of the SIHH. A tremendously handsome piece with its Villeret (Minerva) movement, it will do more for Montblanc’s credibility as a watch brand than the polarizing, always-trying-slightly-too-hard Nicolas Rieussec watches. Bringing Villeret movements into the mainstream(ish) Montblanc collection is a brilliant move.
Audemars Piguet, again and again
TB: Something that didn’t seem to generate much SIHH buzz, but I think is quite significant, is AP’s new 42 mm Royal Oak Offshore chronograph with in-house movement. With its associations with bling, ostentation and celebrity, and a slew of celeb limited editions I didn’t care for, the ROO was really trying my patience.
Besides which, I just can’t get past those humungous square pushers on the big chronograph models; they completely unbalance the design. But at 42 mm this suddenly becomes a cool watch again, and the new, svelte pushers are just right. A strongly commercial move for AP, and after all the grand complications, skeletonized pieces, limited editions, etc. of the last couple of years, it’s great to see the big AP story being a mainstream watch.
KH: I also like the fact that Audemars Piguet pretty much kept the original design and size of the 1993 Royal Oak Offshore. The annoying (at least to me) gap between the winding crown and crown protection was eliminated by a decent-sized crown. Furthermore, the dial is now galvanized and featuring slightly smaller indexes, which makes the Offshore anno 2014 look like it should: a revamped version of an already great watch. So thankful that AP did not opt for crazy new stuff and spacecraft details. Bless…
ED: So, were the watches once again generally aimed at European-style taste? The past few years were painfully obvious in terms of the targeted consumer.
TK: You mean: is the era of the Asian dragon’s domination on the luxury watch market beginning to wane? This, I do not know, but for sure there is a noticeable turn toward the European market. Many of this year’s SIHH exhibitors not only decided to focus on classic design, but also to get more exposure to journalists from this part of the world…in fact, the presentation rooms were packed tight. For the first time ever, I noticed that not all my colleagues were lucky enough to get a place to sit during them.
TB: Indeed, the SIHH’s low point was not being able to get into the Cartier presentation because there wasn’t enough room. This has to be addressed for the 2015 edition.
KH: So many guests this year, even though Watches & Wonders in late 2013 obviously had taken its share of Chinese guests. More journalists than I can remember ever attending, proving that watches are a sexier subject to write about now more than ever.
LN: But what about the quality of the presentations? Marketing directors and product managers are not speakers. It is an art to captivate an audience, to explain the really interesting details.
ED: Interesting view, Louis, though I’d rather hear about the watches from the people who make them than a professional speaker. I was more bothered by the lack of space in which to do it this year!
IS: Agreed. Too many brands appear to feel as though their jobs done when presenting to a room full of journalists, but unless the journalists are paying attention, then its a waste of time. Good presenters at the press conferences stand out because they are so few and far between. But what about the famous parties and night life?
KH: The best party I went to was not even a party. It was instead A. Lange & Söhne’s booth, where we shared a cold (and much-needed) beer with the brand’s CEO, Wilhelm Schmid, and the King of Instagram, Anish Bhatt. The atmosphere was relaxed: no A-list Hollywood stars, supermodels or MTV darlings were needed for the bar to fill up, but we all felt entertained, happy and slightly drunk.
RJB: This was only my second SIHH, and I guess I still have to get used to the ambience compared to Baselworld. It is almost over-luxurious with expensive presents, lunches, champagne, wine, etc. Little to complain about, though the group presentations were too crowded and left little room and time for decent photo shoots.
IS: And on a final note, I was very happy to see the first prototype of the wordily named “Le Garde Temps: La naissance d’une montre” tourbillon movement beating away at the little atelier in the Greubel Forsey stand. When we are surrounded by incredibly well-finished complicated timepieces, it’s good to be reminded from time to time just how much work goes into the making of each watch.