Watches And Wonders 2021 (Formerly SIHH) Round Table: What We Liked And What We Didn’t (With Photofest And Videos)
As our world evolves, watch brands search for how to best present new watches to the press and retail partners. As if the emerging digital era isn’t already challenging enough, COVID-19 has made change more difficult, more urgent, and more imperative.
In a fortuitous trial run for a new-age solution, LVMH staged a small invitation-only fair comprising three of its watch brands – Zenith, Hublot, and Bulgari – at Dubai’s Bulgari Resort in January 2020. Due to the ensuing pandemic, LVMH Watch Week turned out to be the only watch fair for the next seven months.
The same CEO behind that found another answer to the big fair question in the August 2020 COVID reprieve: Bulgari’s Jean-Christophe Babin successfully ran the first Geneva Watch Days as a possible virus-friendly solution for future watch fairs.
And now in spring 2021 with Europe mostly back in lockdown, Watches and Wonders (formerly SIHH) just staged its first entirely digital fair. Well, almost entirely. Those in Switzerland may have had the opportunity to attend a variety of socially distanced, masked-up events and exhibitions surrounding the week of new watch launches.
And those lucky enough to be in China may have attended the physical version of Watches and Wonders in Shanghai.
For the vast majority of watch lovers and professionals, though – including us – the digital fair was the only option available.
Please join this Quill & Pad round table discussion where we discuss what we did and didn’t like at the inaugural (and hopefully final) digital edition of Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021.
Our panelists are:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident nerd writer at Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector at Quill & Pad
MG Martin Green, resident gentleman at Quill & Pad
SZ Sabine Zwettler, Quill & Pad contributor
The obvious: how did a digital fair work for us?
IS: Well, that was an adventure! One surprise that I didn’t expect was to feel as exhausted following a fair from the comfort of my own home as I usually do after a week in Geneva. Zoom fatigue really is a thing.
And as with the physical Watches and Wonders, some brands did presentations that made you hungry for more while others had you wondering about an afternoon nap.
ED: I will admit that even after a couple of hours, I may have already been experiencing some Zoom fatigue – so if the presentation wasn’t really eye-catching, it certainly didn’t stick out in my mind. And to that point, I commend two companies in particular for crafting amazing, to-the-point, surprising, eye-catching presentations: Tudor and Greubel Forsey.
In addition to punchy, pre-recorded videos – Greubel Forsey’s even involving PR and marketing head Michel Nydegger jumping out of a helicopter James Bond style! – that not only held my attention, but kept me rapt, these two brands introduced memorable watches that were perfect for this type of fair.
IS: Great marketing works: the video presentations from both Tudor and Greubel Forsey had me loving the watches well before I’d even decided if I liked them or not. After finishing the fast-moving and fun Tudor short video presentation I thought that the rest of the presentations would pale in comparison. And then out of left field came Greubel Forsey with a helicopter, and I was up, up, and away again.
MG: First and foremost, I must compliment Watches and Wonders for the platform they set up. After some hiccups on the first day, it became mostly reliable and dependable. While I do think that this format adds something, I found this the most challenging fair I have ever done. Spending 12+ hours behind my laptop for days gave me burning eyes and a rather unhealthy tint to my face. It was great seeing a lot of people, even though it was digital, but overall I found many meetings not as satisfying as in a physical form.
GG: Sadly, for those of us in the Americas the “live” digital aspect of the fair was pretty much a non-event as almost all of the announcements and panels took place between my bedtime and morning alarm. I’ll confess that I picked up most of my news on the fair from news summaries and Instagram posts, although I have spent a decent amount of time going back and viewing some of the other introduction videos and panel discussions.
JM: Watches and Wonders 2021, the show that came and went for me with little fanfare thanks to not attending any physical event and not having time to follow along live with the virtual releases and presentations. To the extent that I was able to follow, I checked social media every few hours during the show to see if anyone was talking about anything incredible, which helped keep me aware of some of the key releases.
While I have watched a few of the recordings of initial presentations and will watch much more over the coming weeks as I cover new pieces, there is a tinge of missing out that I can’t shake. Getting back to a fair in person is really going to be important for me to feel like part of the industry again.
MG: Most brands did better than expected displaying the products in a digital way, but it is simply not enough. I had to adapt, asking pointed questions about the weight of watches and their sizing or specific details.
And while I was “in” the presentations, my email inbox exploded with reminders for presentations, requests to join presentations, deadline details, special announcements, brands reaching out to squeeze in more appointments, links to images – it was a never-ending and almost unmanageable stream.
ED: Though in truth, Martin, because we weren’t trying to run to the bathroom or trying to find a cup of coffee in the 15-minute breaks – my coffee stream was perfectly attuned to me right from my kitchen! – we had a few moments to at least sort those emails, which meant that when the digital extravaganza was all over, I didn’t come home to 3,000 new emails but rather just a couple hundred (which I am still dealing with as we speak – note to brands’ PR managers: please don’t send me links that expire in seven days!).
Two other advantages: my feet don’t hurt, and sweatpants were the chic accessory du jour – every jour, except those in which I was a live guest in one of the presentations, including a segment on The Morning Show.
IS: Yes, casual was in! As somebody who loathes having to wear a suit and tie, I was pleasantly surprised by how few presenters wore ties, even many working with prestigious brands. Long may the more casual trend continue.
And, by the way, Belle Donati was an excellent host of the daily Morning Shows and would be my pick to host the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
MG: It also didn’t help that Watches and Wonders is larger than the SIHH ever was – almost twice as large thanks to several brands having left Baselworld in favor of this Geneva-based event. The number of new watches was almost like an avalanche, and quite a few great watches didn’t get their deserved amount of time in the spotlight.
To me, this all proves that physical fairs are not a thing of the past, but of the future, with introductions spread out a bit more through the year in which short digital fairs can perfectly supplement. A clever blend could benefit everyone, but going all-digital takes away too much of the emotion – and that is the main ingredient of the category of watches we talk about here.
IS: In terms of brand presentations, stilted, polished performances were a turnoff as it felt like I was watching a dry delivery to the masses, whereas the more casual affairs made it feel like I was part of the conversation. A. Lange & Söhne’s presentations and Connoisseur Conversations were a great example.
GG: And I was honored to participate in a panel discussion with Phillips’s Alex Ghotbi and CEO Wilhelm Schmid of A. Lange & Söhne, and of course that was brilliant!
ED: As did I, Gary, in a conversation on women in watches. A. Lange & Söhne’s hub was simply brilliant.
GG: One limitation of a virtual structure is that it’s even easier for non-participating brands to hold their own video events during the week of the show and tailgate on the attention generated by the participating makers with Breitling and Audemars Piguet notable examples.
For a conservative company, Patek Philippe did something quite clever in my view by sending folks on their watch owners’ list a link to an extensive “members only” introduction video that was not distributed more broadly, in a sense skiing both on piste as a show exhibitor and off piste with its own independent communication streams.
ED: Gary, I would not be surprised if that “extensive ‘members only’ introduction video” wasn’t the same one we journalists also saw. It was extremely good; Patek Philippe got the presentation style just right and kept it interesting with the variety of settings and a real bevy of beautiful new introductions.
But enough of our impressions, as interesting as they may be. Let’s get to the meat of what was presented . . . starting with two very timely and important new “trends.”
Timely topic: eco-consciousness
MG: It is amazing to see that eco-consciousness is not optional anymore within the watch industry. And Panerai leaped forward this year by making it the center of the brand’s future strategy. A clever move as clients pay more and more attention to their own footprints and those of the companies and brands they are invested in.
I was especially taken by Panerai’s move to make the sustainable eLAB-ID open source, transparently naming the companies who contributed so that they both share in the glory and make it also possible for other brands to connect.
ED: In the days since Panerai released its amazing open-source eLAB-ID, I have seen a lot of cynicism online regarding it. But I too think that someone has to start pushing the conversation and the technology, which hopefully will become more commonplace as time goes on. This is an absolutely incredible initiative that deserves to be praised rather than mocked.
JM: I will always push for any and every company, no matter what industry, to be more eco-conscious and mindful of the entire value chain of production. I don’t care about your political affiliations or ideology; it is a demonstrable fact that the current iteration of capitalism we have is working at a frantic pace to strip the world of every useful resource in search of profit. And the most basic introduction to economics or math class covering growth and sustainability highlights that growth as a concept is unsustainable in the long term. Not without finding a way to get off-world and getting access to vast amounts of new resources.
So no matter how much conservative economists or business-minded people hem and haw, you are wrong if you think this way of life can continue unabated. I will always applaud any attempt to be more efficient with resources, reduce waste, and prevent pollution.
Do I think any of the efforts will make a massive impact on a global scale? Not much right now, no. But efforts have to start somewhere, and if everyone just waits around for Coca-Cola, Walmart, or Amazon to lead the way, we are screwed.
So while I ask any and every brand to do more until they are themselves 100 percent carbon neutral or even carbon negative, I would never poo-poo anything that is a step in that direction. But it is only a step; it is a long road and brands need to keep walking, and hopefully like Forrest Gump others will see these brands walking or running toward sustainability and join them on the journey.
GG: I think it’s all good; I’m more inclined to pay attention to ethical and socially responsible sourcing practices than eco-oriented initiatives, and it’s great on that front to see the most influential brands including Cartier joining in with pioneers like Chopard. As far as saving the planet goes, I don’t see myself trading in my leather straps for synthetics anytime soon, though.
Timely topic: how did brands do in addressing (or not addressing) the current prevailing opinions on gender-equal/unisex watches?
ED: These past few months conversation has emerged, primarily on Instagram and Clubhouse, but also in print, regarding how watch brands often seem to forget 50 percent of the population – and that it is no longer modern to attach a gender to a watch. The gist of the discussions is: let people decide for themselves whether they like and want to buy a certain watch. I addressed a lot of the discussion points in One Woman’s View Of What Women Want In Watches.
These discussions have been so plentiful (and so widespread) that I was excited to see what brands might do with this during Watches and Wonders. And somewhat disappointingly, some just barreled through like they usually do, disregarding or ignoring these rather public conversations, while a few responded in quiet ways – notably present, for example, in Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Rénier’s talk with Suzanne Wong as they discussed the outstanding and utterly lustworthy Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique. Toward the end of the session, Rénier replied in answer to one of the questions regarding the piece’s size, “Ladies can wear the Quadriptyque. The Reverso watches we release this year, including the Quadriptyque, can be worn by men or women.”
MG: I expected brands to do more with this, but not many went on record. To some extent, I also understand this. A brand like Nomos Glashütte never really marketed its watches toward a gender anyway, so why should it be emphasized for these watches now?
Most vocal was perhaps Cartier, as its CEO Cyrille Vigneron mentioned it extensively in his closing speech. In a way this is quite ironic as Cartier very quickly became a unisex brand when it transitioned from a family-owned firm to part of a luxury conglomerate. Cartier lost this again in the 1990s when bigger watches became fashionable, and it was deemed feminine by many male watch enthusiasts.
In fact, Vigneron’s predecessor, Bernard Fornas, exerted a lot of effort and resources trying to put Cartier on the map again as a brand (also) for men.
In that vein, I was rather surprised to hear La Montre Hermès CEO Laurent Dordet position the stunning H08 as a men’s watch. To me, Hermès is a unisex brand pur sang, and I can think of quite a few women who would love to wear the H08 and will look amazing doing so. A missed opportunity in my book.
GG: Talk is cheap; when it comes to addressing shifts in preferences or coming to terms with past failures of product policy, I look to the watches being introduced. I did see a bunch of launches this year that moved beyond the “massive for men” vs. “shrink it and pink it for women” orthodoxy.
Going back to 2020, Rolex went heavy on 36 mm diameter watches and followed up at this show with the Oyster Perpetual 36 mm and Datejust 36 with palm leaf dial, both of which I see finding homes on wrists of all genders.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso continues to be a line that can be worn by anyone, including many women of my acquaintance, as can the new A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 with aventurine dial. And a close male friend of mine is actively pursuing an allocation for the new Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 green dial – the one with the diamond bezel.
Watches are a big market, though; while it’s well overdue to expand the inventory of watch references that invite women as well as men, I see it as neither likely nor desirable that we will see the total elimination of gender-specific watches – any more than we should expect to see universally unisex offerings in couture, jewelry, or accessories.
JM: While I am aware that this has always been a weak spot for the watch industry, I do feel I have been missing any of the current dialogue Elizabeth mentioned. I did notice a few brands pointing out their models as gender neutral or reframing models as unisex.
ED: Fantastic if you noticed that, Joshua!
Watches and Wonders 2021: best in show
GG: For me, nothing in the show came close to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique, a watch that pleases both the eye and the ear while incorporating a dizzying array of complications. I never even knew that the orbit of the moon around the earth wasn’t on the same plane as the earth’s around the sun, let alone that you could develop a complication featuring it! As a long-time Reverso fan and owner I was hoping for something big from JLC and the brand did not disappoint.
MG: That is a very tough question because 2021 is a year in which many great watches have been introduced. Several brands have shown that they are worthy custodians of their companies’ legacies, first and foremost Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Other brands, like H. Moser & Cie, Trilobe, and Greubel Forsey have also shown a very consistent way of evolving with exciting and thought-through pieces.
If pressed, though, I must say the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique is the best of show for me. Why? Because it contains a sensational number of complications with still-wearable dimensions made with passion and combining several crafts.
ED: You do not have to press me to pick the JLC Quadryptique as my best in show, Martin. I do it freely!
JM: There is absolutely no way with my love for mechanics that I could put anything other than a new Hybris Mechanica piece by JLC as the best in show. It’s a Reverso with four dials and 11 complications, plus four different moon phase displays (synodic northern and southern hemisphere, draconic, and anomalistic) with 1,111 years of precision. This is an incredible watch in any regard.
Not only does it hit all the right notes aesthetically (at least for me), it is another engineering marvel. It also requires me to update my list of most accurate moon phase watches as this now ranks in at #8 right behind De Bethune (by one year of precision, so I may need to dig into the math or inquire with the companies for the exact calculation down to the day). The watch is complicated enough that a full write-up won’t be short and sweet, and it was one of the watches that excited me the most because I wasn’t expecting such a major release in a virtual fair. The Hybris Mechanica was the pinnacle of Watches and Wonders 2021.
IS: There were several “minor” standouts for me, including the IWC Big Pilot 43 (great idea to show the ease of changing straps in the video), the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, and the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 with silver case and taupe-colored dial.
In another year the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary tourbillon perpetual calendar Planetaria would easily have taken best of show, but in 2021 it unfortunately ran up against the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque, my best in show and I expect nearly everyone else’s too!
ED: Well, that’s five for five.
MG: A very, very strong runner-up for me is the new Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119, which combines very strong design with an amazing new movement. This might be the watch that marks the dress watch’s return.
Watches and Wonders 2021: object of desire
GG: So many! I’ll start with the battling dress perpetuals, the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar (in either metal, which is good as I have heard that the pink-dialed watch is sold out) and Patek Philippe Reference 5236P with its in-line calendar display and 3448-style case.
Still perpetual but sportier, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Squelette in white gold was eye-popping. And as long as you’re buying, I’ll take the second-generation GMT Sport from Greubel Forsey with its matched titanium bracelet.
IS: It’s hard to go beyond the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique or the Vacheron Constantin Armillary Tourbillon Planetaria, but I can’t help but feel they would be safe queens and I like watches I would wear. And while the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar with pink gold dial is lustworthy, my object of desire is the Greubel Forsey GMT Sport. I have liked it since first sight but struggled to reconcile the unusual ovoid case shape with what I’d always considered a more formal brand image.
The blades of the helicopter in the video presentation blew any doubts away: with its 24-second inclined tourbillon, GMT function, and world time (with 3D globe!) display, all with Greubel Forsey’s impeccable hand finishing, what’s not to love? And as if the watch itself wasn’t sensational enough, its metal bracelet is a work of art by itself.
SZ: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar in white gold with salmon-colored dial. This Glashütte-based manufacture masters all grand complications and is a virtuoso in combining them. We have seen no less than seven such statement pieces combining the perpetual calendar with a tourbillon or other highly complex functionality.
Putting just the perpetual calendar into the spotlight is a bold statement that speaks for the sheer beauty of it. Lange again came up with a magnificent design exuding a timeless appeal. The off-centered time display works extraordinarily well for a perpetual calendar. There is no overlapping of any indication and you can read all the information at a glance.
The clarity of the dial underscores the character of all the individual elements, including the date display on the periphery, the excellently crafted moon phase with an expressive blue night sky, and the retrograde date display along the left side. It is also noteworthy that Caliber L021.3 is already Lange’s 67th manufacture movement!
MG: Watches and Wonders 2021 produced many objects of desire. In no particular order, I was also especially taken by new A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, both because it finally brings a pure perpetual calendar to this collection and because the brand nailed the design and material combinations.
Purnell outdid itself with the Escape II Absolute Sapphire, which I love because the sapphire crystal case allows a view of the diamond-set multi-axis tourbillon cages from literally every angle. Sapphire crystal does not always add something to a watch to this extent.
What a year it is for Vacheron Constantin as well! With the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin Collection Excellence Platine, it might have introduced the ultimate gentleman’s chronograph. Less understated, but equally admired by me, is the Les Cabinotiers Regulator Perpetual Calendar combining diamonds with sapphires. The integration of the gemstones is so perfectly done that the stones really become a part of the watch itself, not an add-on, elevating it as a whole.
JM: The object of desire for me, outside of a dozen other watches that make me drool, is often going to include my favorite complication: the moon phase. And while the JLC Reverso Quadriptyque is the star of mega complications, the Arnold & Son Luna Magna is the emotional winner for me with an insanely massive (12 mm) spherical marble moon phase. While it isn’t as precise as the JLC with a more typical 122 years of accuracy, the aesthetic and visceral appeal of the Arnold & Son cannot be understated.
Spherical moon phase displays are something that I have an incredible fondness for for a variety of reasons, and the bigger the better. Mechanical magic on my wrist is the main reason I love watches and so something like the Luna Magna is almost perfect for encapsulating that idea while meshing it with my love for astronomy and the moon in general.
Also, it is the object of my desire because at CHF 43,000, it is closer to the realm of possibility than the €1.35 million JLC. Granted I wouldn’t ever be able to afford the A&S Luna Magna either, but it’s only the price of an expensive car instead of the price of a mansion in some hip neighborhood I could never dream of living in. So combining that teeny, tiny possibility with my absolute love for the concept and execution of the Luna Magna, it has officially grabbed my heart this year.
ED: It’s strange, but not getting to touch the watches has really made a standout (aside from that incredible Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique) object of my desire more difficult than usual. I usually fall deeply in love with some watch during the course of a fair, but this time they feel slightly two-dimensional to me. I hope that passes soon . . .
However, two did hit me rather hard in the heart, and I suppose that if I ever see them in the metal, it might be all over for me: one is the A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 with aventurine dial (wowza!) and the other is the Reference 6119R-001 Patek Philippe Calatrava in pink gold. What an amazing update to this classic, a watch that I have always loved with its hobnail guilloche bezel. I did catch myself gasping for air during the presentation.
Watches and Wonders 2021: most disappointing watch
GG: I’m interested to hear what everyone else has to say here, as within the show proper I thought the brands stressed quality over quantity this year; and at least of the brands I followed, there weren’t any real stinkers that came to mind.
Outside of the show, though, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon with its unfortunate anatomical placements of tourbillon and hands and its bombastic introduction spectacle took the term cringeworthy to an entirely different level. As long as brands like Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and A. Lange & Söhne keep their eyes on the ball I think they will see Audemars Piguet’s veering off toward being a poor man’s (relatively speaking) Richard Mille as good news,.
MG: Fortunately for Audemars Piguet, it is not part of Watches and Wonders, so officially I’m not going to mention here the Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon.
I wonder sometimes when watching a terrible movie whether the director and actors realized while making it that it is that bad. And I wonder the same thing about the Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon.
A watch that I didn’t understand at all was the new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL. To me, it is a watch that solves a problem that doesn’t exist. “If a pilot accidentally hits his watch against a hard surface in the cockpit, for example, accelerations are in the range of 300 to 1,000 Gs.”
So you make a watch that can withstand an impact of 30,000 Gs . . . most likely the owner will not survive the same impact, but his or her next of kin will be happy to inherit the watch? I probably wouldn’t have given the watch a second thought if it looked like anything IWC is currently making. By setting it so far apart from the rest of its collection with a design that I swear I have seen before on AliExpress, it burned itself in my mind and not in a good way.
ED: While I agree with both Gary’s and Martin’s views here, I’m going to tag Rebellion for this category, which not only had perhaps the least interesting presentation of all but introduced a rather uninspired new variation on the watch that is most affordable in its collection.
The Twenty-One 3 Hands Tour Auto was described as being inspired by the steering wheel of a 1920s Panhard. Powered by a Concepto movement and featuring quick-change straps, it comes in at CHF 3,300. However, it is housed in a very large 46.95 x 16.4 mm, very Panerai-inspired case. The rest is perhaps a matter of taste, but for me this timepiece doesn’t fit the way that Rebellion has gone about its bold, unapologetic timepieces up to now.
IS: I had two disappointments, one small and probably inconsequential to anyone but me (and perhaps Joshua); the other more serious and for a watch I otherwise loved.
The first was the Arnold & Son Arnold & Son Luna Magna. I love its dial side featuring a massive three-dimensional moon globe set in a deep blue star-studded aventurine sky. And the movement through the sapphire crystal display back is a joy to behold, especially with the lunar cycle display and indication making setting the moon phase a breeze.
But in an age when Ochs und Junior can offer a moon phase accurate to one day in nearly 3,500 years for under $7,500, one day in 122 years for the $45,000 Luna Magna was disappointing to me. Not that I expect that little technicality will worry too many clients, and I otherwise thought it an excellent watch.
My second disappointment was bigger because I expected more from the brand. While the watch press has been going gaga over the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Reference 5236P, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my colleagues here picked it as a show standout, I went from Inline Perpetual Calendar fanboy to massive disappointment as soon as I saw its superficially beautiful movement from the back. Disappointment not just for Reference 5236P but what it foretold about the future of Patek Philippe (and to be fair most, if not all, the top brands): fine hand-finishing is no longer a priority and no longer a necessity.
There are two quick-and-dirty shortcuts I use to judge watches (taking price into consideration):
1. If it has a date, then how far it’s set in from the periphery of the dial gives a good indication of whether the movement fills the case (good) or if it has a small caliber with a surrounding spacer ring filling the void (less so).
2. If it’s an expensive watch meriting, or purporting to have, superlative hand-finishing, I look for sharp internal angles on the movement bridges. Flowing curves can look very nice but are now relatively easy (read: cheaply) to significantly finish by machine. Polishing sharp internal angles demands (at least at present) highly skilled craftwork.
Apparently Patek Philippe doesn’t consider a $130,000 watch worthy of any hand-finished internal angles, assuming (and by all indications so far quite correctly) that few will notice anything but the movement’s (relatively hands-off) pretty, sensuous curves.
In a recent article, Mixing Money And Watches: A Collector’s Lament On The Current State Of Our Hobby, GaryG wrote of one of the drivers of increasing secondary market prices is “ . . . a flood of low-information buyers who haven’t formed their own senses of what’s good and instead of asking ‘what do I like?’ are asking both ‘what do other people seem to like?’ or, too frequently, ‘what will go up in value’?”
I’m disappointed because my feeling is that Patek Philippe’s reputation is following down the same path as that of Mercedes-Benz: from a brand that was once considered to be the best to just good enough.
JM: Now before you revolt on me, let me explain. I love the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar: it is incredibly beautiful, the movement is awesome, the execution and layout are sort of perfect. A. Lange & Söhne knows how to design a display, and for the first “simple” perpetual calendar that focuses solely on that complication, Lange knocked it out of the park. I am fairly certain it will become an icon and leader for the brand.
So why is it my most disappointing watch? Because my favorite pieces from A. Lange & Sohne are, and will always be, from the Zeitwerk collection and because it was both uniquely Lange and decidedly un-Lange.
I will always, always, prefer avant-garde design over classic design; it’s just where my aesthetic sensibilities lie. This doesn’t mean I don’t adore nearly every piece that A. Lange & Söhne puts out; on the contrary, it is hard not to love what the brand does.
But after the Odysseus I fear we may not see something stray from the core aesthetic of A. Lange & Söhne, which includes the Zeitwerk, as definitively Lange for a while, if ever again. Economically this makes total sense, but I crave new and different. I want to see the ideas that designers never get approved because it’s hard to imagine they will sell well to A. Lange & Söhne’s core audience.
I think anyone that critiques design could see that even the Odysseus was a much, much more restrained deviation from the standard aesthetic for the brand, and it had a lot of pushback too. So when you combine that response (even though it did sell out, criticism is always taken seriously by management and the design team) with sales goals, I fear the Zeitwerk may be the anomaly for the brand for a while when it comes to risky design decisions.
And so every time the brand releases an awesome new watch that fits nicely into one of the existing collections or launches a new collection that feels conservative in comparison, I can’t help but feel my hope for another iconic and groundbreaking release like the Zeitwerk slipping away.
There is a reason I like brands like MB&F, who are always changing it up: I like completely new ideas. And since A. Lange & Sohne is one of my all-time favorite brands and is near and dear to my heart, I yearn for more. I yearn for their designers’ freedom to create and for the wilder ideas that might not be commercially successful but would be stunningly gorgeous and unique and show a completely fresh design to the world.
So that is why the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar is disappointing to me, because it is awesome and will be successful, and the more that these collection additions are successful the less likely it is that I will get what I want, and so it’s a bittersweet success.
Watches and Wonders 2021: fun watch
IS: I suppose the Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem is fun in a macabre sort of way, but my fun watch (fun, but unfortunately, quite expensive) from W&W 2021 isn’t a watch at all but a clock: the Ulysse Nardin UFO.
It’s a gimballed ship’s clock featuring three independent time zones and an incredible 12-month power reserve from six vertically stacked barrels, all housed in a handblown, capsule-shaped glass. Simply stunning.
GG: For me, A. Lange & Söhne’s Little Lange 1 with blue aventurine dial is not “fun” in the sense of being highly affordable but more in terms of being whimsical and self-indulgent – I’d certainly wear that as a dress-up piece, assuming that we ever have the chance to dress up again! At a price point more in my true “fun” range I didn’t see that much; the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso with green dial might qualify if it weren’t part of the green siege we seem to be undergoing at the moment.
SZ: Cartier Cloche de Cartier. This historically inspired debutante is definitely my favorite new release when it comes to pure joy. I can’t help but smile when I look at this most unconventional case reminiscent of a service bell at a counter. It evokes the image of a small Art Nouveau hotel in the heart of Paris, where a concierge responds to your ringing and hands you the room key with a friendly smile.
The shape is not new, it stems from a brooch created in 1920. As I learned, Cartier has launched several limited edition versions of it over the course of the last century. Its distinguishing feature is the dial turned 90 degrees so that the wearer can read the time on the wrist without having to first turn it. This ingenious design also allows transformation into a desk clock.
The dial is unmistakably Cartier, displaying the signature railroad track for minutes, two sword-shaped hands, and bold Roman numerals that follow the asymmetrical shape. And, of course, the crown is set with a cabochon.
Powered by the 1917 MC manufacture movement, it is available in a platinum, yellow gold, or pink gold case. My favorite is the latter, which is paired with a beautiful gray dial on which all elements are color coordinated. The Cloche de Cartier was definitely the star for me in the dress watch category.
MG: For sure the Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem. While this would not be a watch that I would instantly pick up to wear, once seen in motion you simply wouldn’t want to take it off as it is so much fun to watch. What could have been very whimsical is not because Louis Vuitton devoted all its expertise and craftsmanship to it. No detail escaped scrutiny. Even the crown offers the LV logo intertwined with a skull – just like the movement, where Louis Vuitton’s ingenuity comes further into play.
ED: The magic of that Tudor presentation seems to have jolted me into something of a quiet longing for that new 39 mm Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 encased in silver – which is strange for me as I’m not really a sports watch person, nor am I particularly enamored of the color taupe. But together it just all works.
JM: Unfortunately, my first choice of a fun watch is sadly still under embargo, so my runner-up for fun watch is none other than the H. Moser & Cie. “eraser watch,” aka the Endeavour Centre Seconds Concept X seconde/seconde/, which just rolls off the tongue! This is probably one of the tamest oddball concepts H. Moser has ever released, when you consider past gimmicks like a $1 million watch entirely made of Swiss cheese or the Frankenwatch honoring industry icons that resulted in almost immediate cease-and-desist orders.
With that in mind, the Concept X seconde/seconde/ is truly just a fun take on the idea of minimalism that H. Moser is so often in search of – “erasing” everything that isn’t necessary for its watches such as logos, indices, and artistic flourishes that just busy up a dial. The hour hand has been replaced by a pixelated eraser, providing a rather amusing visual as if the watch itself is an artistic collage poking fun at the luxury watch industry.
Adding to the fun, the Concept X seconde/seconde/ also comes with a giant framed artistic rendering of the watch entitled “Less Is More,” implying it truly is a playful collage providing commentary on the brand and industry. It’s a limited edition and has made more than a few people shake their heads. But that is always the fun of an H. Moser & Cie concept piece that doesn’t take itself as seriously as the people disparaging the pieces. Every time H. Moser & Cie. releases something fun like this, I am reminded why the brand is consistently one of my favorites!
Watches and Wonders 2021: what we might buy with our own money
GG: Sorry to be repetitive, but it’s another Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso: the Tribute Nonantième with super-classy semi-jumping hours and day/night indicator on the reverse that takes real advantage of the “closed back” polo tradition of the Reverso line, but is opened up just enough to tell us the time of day or night.
My only reservations (other than the fact that they may be sold out already) are the price point and the “semi” part of the jumping digital hour display, which moseys along to the next numeral during the final five minutes of each hour rather than snapping crisply at the top of the hour.
SZ: Nomos Glashütte’s Metro Neomatic 41 Update. The young manufacture from Germany is always good for surprises, and updating the Metro line with its innovative date mechanism was definitely a surprise. And what a nice one!
Looking at the dial with its perfectly coordinated pattern of tiny dots and numbers that look like a subway map of a major city, it feels like the date should have always been a part of it. I also like the bright orange color that reminds us to seize the day and embrace it with a positive spirit. The price tag is attractive too. For €3,500 you get a sophisticated timepiece with an award-winning manufacture movement made in Glashütte.
JM: When talking about watches to buy with our own money, this is always a very limited category for me. I honestly can’t see myself spending over $10,000 simply due to my financial realities even if my favorite pieces are astronomically expensive.
Yet I am never at a loss for pieces I would want and consider picking up, and this year it was made even easier as Nomos Glashütte was included in Watches and Wonders as the event saw a truly odd and fresh grouping of brands after the kerfuffle of Baselworld 2020 and the global pandemic changing nearly everything in the watch industry.
As a result, the release of the Nomos Metro Neomatik 41 Update is probably the piece I would also most would want to acquire too, Sabine. To this day I am still without a Nomos in my paltry collection and the Neomatik line has always caught my eye. The Update is a beautiful addition to the category, and I love the design of the calendar display combined with the mechanical implementation of the date mechanism.
The in-house DUW 6101 caliber is a fantastic movement that represents a ton of value, just like every Nomos timepiece, and if you are a fan of the Bauhaus-inspired aesthetic of this brand then the Metro Neomatik is kind of a no-brainer. And since the Nomos is a very clean, modern watch, it is going to be pretty versatile, not to mention a reliable companion for years. I will never not recommend a Nomos timepiece for a high value-to-cost ratio, and if you enjoy the aesthetics it is hard to beat.
MG: It might have been the fact that this fair was digital, but while I enjoyed many of the new watches, not many made me reach for my wallet.
ED: I’m feeling exactly the same way, Martin. I really, really need to see and feel watches to develop that kind of relationship with them.
MG: That said, two watches were an exception. I have always been a big fan of the Reverso, and the new Tribute Small Seconds with green dial ticks all the boxes: stylish, well proportioned, good movement, and most of all green! Another one is the new Nomos Glashütte Club Campus. Yes, this may be the brand’s entry-level watch, but with the new dials in Future Orange and Absolute Grey, I think they are spot on: refreshing and timeless.
ED: That all having been said, I could really imagine purchasing my first Patek Philippe: the Reference 6119R-001 Patek Philippe Calatrava in pink gold. However, that new A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 with aventurine dial could also have me reaching for my wallet . . . the sheer beauty of both watches shines through even in two-dimensional photographs.
IS: I’ve lusted after a Tudor Black Bay ever since it launched and until Watches and Wonders 2021, my heart longed for a Black Bay Fifty-Eight with blue dial and bezel. But now the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 with silver case and taupe dial tops my wish list. And hats off Tudor for both a ten-year (transferable) service interval and a five-year warranty. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before that becomes the norm.