Dream Watches From the Edge of Time Dazzle at Geneva’s Premier Watch Expo
Extraordinary timepieces glittered at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, with innovative designs captivating watch collectors.
Watch lovers and collectors, rejoice! This year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (known as SIHH) introduced a trove of treasurable timepieces from virtuoso watchmakers. Combining refined craftsmanship with consummate artistry, 18 illustrious maisons and 17 brands presented their newest watches, including classics that have been revived and enhanced for the modern wearer.
Held from January 15–19 at the Geneva Palexpo, the 28th edition of the invitation-only watch fair was graced by an illustrious newcomer: Hermès, one of the top luxury brands in the world, showed its watchmaking prowess at the Salon for the first time.
Here are some of the highlights from the fair.
To say that Cartier’s Révélation d’Une Panthère was one of the standout watches is something of an understatement. This timepiece is truly revelatory. When it is held upright, over 900 minuscule gold beads glide across the dial to form, for a captivating moment, the raised head of a panther. Long associated with Cartier’s designs, the panther motif acquires a new visual power in this dazzling watch, which was five years in development. Cartier has patented the freeze-resistant liquid in which the beads float, and the special glass that encases it.
The Révélation d’Une Panthère is set in a 37mm pink gold case with a diamond-set bezel. Purchasers have a choice of red, green, or black dials: The red and green pieces are limited to 100 watches in each color, but black is unlimited. The Révélation is a conversation-starter, a watch to gaze upon over and over again.
Back in 1904, Cartier introduced the Santos de Cartier, the first gentleman’s wristwatch, which enabled motorists, pilots, and men about town in a hurry to glance at the watch face quickly without fumbling for fobs in waistband pockets. With its elegant square case and urban-architecture aesthetic, the Santos de Cartier was truly a no-nonsense masculine watch. At this year’s SIHH, Cartier re-launched this classic with a sleeker bezel that harmonizes more dynamically with the lines of the strap.
Designed for maximum comfort, the Santos de Cartier strap is now available in steel, gold, calfskin, or alligator skin, and these different versions can be changed at will thanks to the invisible Cartier QuickSwitch system, which blends into the structure of the case. The length of a metal bracelet can be adjusted at the touch of a button that unlatches the attachment bar, enabling a brushed metal link to be added or removed.
“Audacious” is the word to describe Cartier’s limited Libre Collection of five new ladies’ jewelry watches, each of which plays on the maison’s trademark oval shape.
An oval within an oval, the Baignoire Débordante, inspired by the Baignoire Allongée. surrounds an anthracite dial with a white gold case set with diamonds and intense black spinels. The bezel sits around the dial like a lace collar of openworked gold. Fifty pieces are available.
The white-gold Baignoire Infinie sets a tiny black dial with a radiating bezel in a circular field of diamonds, Tahitian mother-of-pearl, and black spinels. Twenty pieces are available of this watch.
The more exotic Baignoire Etoilée sets a lateral black oval dial textured with lozenges and surrounded by a bezel with a diamond-studded top and a black spinel lower half. Stones magnificently adorn the wide bracelet. This is a watch seemingly either out of ancient Egypt (if they had had them then) or 1920s Hollywood, customized for 12 wearers only today.
The Baignoire Interdite is not only exotic, it’s a compellingly strange work of art. The lateral white gold case and diamond-encrusted bezel are wrapped in large glossy black Roman numerals coated in ADCL. Fifty pieces are available.
The Cartier Crash, the other member of the Libre Collection, is the most surrealistic—imagine the melting gold pocket watch in Salvador Dalí’s 1931 The Persistence of Memory turned into a wristwatch, solidified in a stepped yellow gold case, and given Roman numerals and a dial featuring concentric circles. There are 50 pieces of this beguiling watch available. Whereas the other Libres have quartz movement, the Crash is manual-winding.
The pièce de la resistance of Audemars Piguet’s ladies’ offerings at SIHH is the frosted gold edition of the 1995 Millenary design, which originated in the early 1950s. Introduced on the ladies’ Royal Oak at SIHH in 2017, the frosted gold was designed in collaboration with Florentine jewelry designer Caroline Bacci. The frosted elements—including the bezel, the lugs, and parts of the case—deploy an ancient Florentine gold-hammering technique.
This exquisite watch comes with a strap available in rubber, alligator, textile, or velvet, each available in an array of colors: purple, light green, blue, grey, red, or pink. The Millenary also comes in rose gold and white gold editions that boast intricate handmade Polish-finished bracelets. All the Millenary models have elliptical cases—smaller than before—and off-center dials with subdials available in opal. They have a good deal more sparkle than before, too.
Masculine design is personified by Audemars Piguet’s 1993 Royal Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph—a watch as robust as its formidable name—which has been revitalized in two new limited-edition series of 50 in chunky 45mm cases. One comes in stainless steel, the other in 18-carat pink gold. The case alone is a marvel, with glare-proofed sapphire crystal and caseback, a stainless steel or pink gold bezel, a black ceramic screw-locked crown and pushpieces, and sandblasted titanium or pink gold guards.
The dial is black with white gold hands and a luminescent coating; the bracelet is black rubber with stainless steel or pink gold pin buckle. You don’t have to be an admiral or flight commander to wear the Royal Oak Offshore, but it might make you feel like one.
Debuting at SIHH this year, Hermès made a colorful splash by introducing a new version of its 1978 Arceau watch created by Henry d’Origny, the company’s legendary artistic director. The 36mm steel Arceau Casaque is a timepiece that communicates joy as well as it tells the time. Influenced by the company’s equestrian past and inspired by a classic French children’s board game, the Casaque watch fuses in its dial the silhouetted motifs of a horse’s curved hoof print left in the sand and, on top of it, a horse-head shape from the game. The dials—in striking red, yellow, green, or midnight blue—are made from Champlevé lacquer and enamel transferred to hollows in the base. The watch retains the stirrup-shaped lugs—added by d’Origny to make the classic round watch more playfully asymmetrical—but not the original’s Arabic numerals. Simultaneously modern and nostalgic, the Arceau Casaque is a watch for lovely days out in the spring and summer.
Hermès’s penchant for working with outside designers afforded a match made in heaven when the venerable Parisian maison engaged the furniture designer Marc Berthier to create the aesthetically joyful Carré H square watch (slightly curved for comfort) in 2010. At this year’s salon, Hermès introduced two new editions of the Carré H in dark grey and black, each 38mm x 38mm in size (rather than 36.5 x 36.5).
The ampler dimensions enhance the watch’s innovative features, including its Arabic two-digit numerals, its center-of-dial guilloches, and its delicately colored second hand. The strap comes in natural or black Barénia calfskin with a steel pin buckle. Demonstrating the idea that simple is beautiful, the Carré H is a watch that looks effortlessly and unpretentiously modern—and always will.
Thin is beautiful is the watchword of the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch—which, at 2mm thick, is the slimmest handwinder in existence. The Altiplano displays all its components in a design that seems to merge the dial with the caseback. It was four years in development and features a new high-tech cobalt-based alloy; five patents were issued in its making.
To achieve this feat, the Swiss company stated that its watchmakers had to completely rethink “the regulating organ.” They incorporated a barrel without a cover or a drum, a control mechanism enabling selectime time settings, and a winding, telescopic crown that fits perfectly into the case middle, complementing a more precise placement of the watch glass. Owing to its sensitivity, the supremely elegant Altiplano is not for everyday use, but to be saved for the most elegant of occasions.
Beyond the conceptual stage, the team behind Piaget’s Possession Collection is not marking time but continuing to innovate. The steel-and-gold-case watches, which echo Piaget’s Possession rings in their design, feature a turnable bezel, set with a diamond, that enables the marking of any specific hour or minute.
What makes the Possession watches remarkable is their visual versatility. With their diamond set-hour markers, they look classical and haute, yet the more brightly colored of the strap choices—including red, turquoise, blue, and dark green—impart a vivacious element of fun to these bold watches. The cases—framed by bezels set with colorless diamonds—come in rose gold, the dials in traditional silver or a range of semi-precious stones: lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, and malachite.
Eighteenth-century hot-air ballooning is the delightful pictorial theme of Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers Collection, which introduces five different watches inspired by the balloons that ferried the Montgolfier Brothers and other aérostiers in their conquest of the skies.
The maison’s artisans and watchmakers realized that the gold-engraved images were so beautiful that they did not want to clutter up the dials with hands. Instead, an innovative mechanical movement shows the minutes, hours, day, and date in apertures along the edge of the dial. Other apertures afford the wearer—or curious observer—tiny glimpses of the watch’s mechanism. These are modern watches as miniature spectacles, made with the Age of Reason in mind but also with a touch of wind-blown Romanticism.
Coming down from the clouds, Vacheron Constantin showed its more pragmatic side with the launch of its FIFTYSIX Collection, consisting of three affordable men’s watches modeled on the classic but under-sung “ref. 6073” watch of 1956—a pioneering self-winder. The new editions feature luminous hands, integrated faceted lugs, and screwdown casebacks. The watch comes in 18-carat rose gold with a silver dial or steel with a grey dial. Small subdials show the day and date, and there’s a power-reserve indicator—a nice practical touch—just above the “6.”
Trust Van Cleef & Arpels, which has long experimented with starry and astrological themes, to come up with a new collection of watches—called Poetic Astronomy—that double as heavenly bodies.
The maison’s spectacular exhibits at SIHH were its Poetic Astronomy watches.The Lady Arpels Planétarium watch shows the movements of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth and its Moon against the backdrop of a glittering night sky. This is a transporting watch, with an aura of an especially magical automaton.
The stars similarly sparkle in the dials of the 12 Midnight Zodiac Lumineux watches, the familiar astrological signs of which are sculpted in white gold and blue glitter enamel. Each watch is equipped with an exclusive light-on-demand module that can illuminate your night or day via a natural phenomenon called piezoelectricity that was discovered in the 18th century.
This customized module incorporates a ceramic blade that vibrates when the wearer moves, generating electrical energy that feeds between four and six LEDs: Press a button and they backlight for about three seconds, creating a constellation constructed from the dial’s translucent enamel beads.
While watches are fundamentally objects of earthly handicraft, it’s wonderful to see that they can still reach for the stars.
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