We’d already been given a foretaste of what a virtual watch fair could be with Watches and Wonders 2020. This year, the online format truly got into its stride while everyone else stayed at home. No doubt looking ahead to brighter days, when we are again free to travel and move around, brands unveiled colourful, feel-good watches designed to lift the spirits and bring joy to our hearts. Rarely has a watch fair so enthusiastically embraced our innate desire to welcome spring and its promise of a fresh start… an inclination made manifest across every segment.
Now that blue has become a staple of the watchmaker’s palette, green is emerging as a serious alternative, particularly in the sport segment where vivid green dials were spotted on a number of models, including TAG Heuer’s new Aquaracer, IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Chronograph in a 41mm diameter and the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K diver from Tudor. Green is also a match for more complex models, in a crisp mint shade on the Speake-Marin Dual Time, tourmaline for the Chronoswiss Open Gear ReSec or fresh from the forest at Piaget with its Altiplano Ultimate Concept. Even the classics have adopted green’s hues, from the Patek Philippe Nautilus to the Tank Must de Cartier or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso.
But green is the tree that hides the forest; just one of a whole medley of colours: orange at Rolex, Ulysse Nardin and Nomos, pink at Corum and Oris, ice blue at Purnell, bright yellow at Hublot, tobacco brown at Montblanc and vivid red at Rebellion. For Chanel and Roger Dubuis, precious gems sparkle in rainbow shades. Elsewhere, hardstone dials weave their magic, as at Arnold & Son or H. Moser & Cie. Not content with outward appearances, colour has taken up residence inside the movement too, on Purnell’s tourbillon cages or on plates and bridges at Zenith.
While these invigorating colours certainly hit the spot, so does the antipodean absence of colour, replaced by total transparency. Never before have so many brands brought out watches that use sapphire for the case, movement, even the bracelet. Chanel set the ball rolling last year when it introduced the J12 X-Ray, made entirely from sapphire and now with coloured sapphire gemstones on the bezel. Hublot, which has considerable experience of this notoriously difficult material, presented the Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire whose movement appears to float inside the case. Others have followed in their wake. Louis Vuitton has imagined a Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève Sapphire with three colour options. Purnell’s Escape II reveals all while Rebellion’s ReVolt comes in three different sapphire cases.
Complications also seem to have magically aligned with the desire most of us have to return to a normal life, sans lockdowns or curfews and with the possibility to travel. Fittingly, dual time and world time watches were well represented at this year’s fair. Rolex chose to revisit its Explorer II. Chopard unveiled new editions of the GMT One and the Time Traveler One. Panerai has added a GMT function to a chronograph in its Luminor range. The Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph is front and centre at Patek Phillippe while Louis Vuitton presented the Tambour Curve GMT Flying Tourbillon in a titanium case.
Alongside these “conventional” displays of different time zones, brands have put their imagination to the test and incorporated rotating or static orbs into dials as a highly visual means of tracking time’s progress around the globe. The Montblanc Geosphere, which returns this year in desert tones, is an excellent example, as is the GMT Sport from Greubel Forsey and the Arnold & Son Globetrotter. Special mention must be made of the Star Legacy Metamorphosis with its two astronomical displays, also from Montblanc, as well as Vacheron Consantin which has made “Celestial Time” the thread that runs through its Les Cabinotiers collection this year. This is most spectacularly expressed in the Planetaria whose two rotating hemispheres are connected to a jumping perpetual calendar, regulated by a dual-axis tourbillon.
Which brings us to another area in which the Watches and Wonders brands have excelled this year: the perpetual calendar. While still something of a rarity compared with, say, the tourbillon (now such a “staple” brands could almost be tempted to leave it out entirely), this complication – engineered to accommodate the whims of the Gregorian calendar – has stamped its presence on the new releases. Some of the most notable perpetual calendars unveiled in Geneva are from A. Lange & Söhne (Lange 1), Montblanc (Heritage collection), IWC (Big Pilot) and Vacheron Constantin (Overseas). As for Bulgari, it claimed its seventh world’s-thinnest record for the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar.
World records aside, showstoppers – watches of remarkable complexity – were thin on the ground, suggesting that brands are saving their most elaborate or innovative pieces for after the pandemic. The few that did debut during Watches and Wonders Geneva were impressive nonetheless, starting with a trio of “mysterious” watches from Cartier. Ulysse Nardin embarks us on a Vertical Odyssey, in honour of its 175th anniversary, whose stop-offs include the Blast Hourstriker, a repeater with a contemporary twist, an unexpected UFO (short for Unidentified Floating Object) clock, and a Diver X Skeleton. Jaeger-LeCoultre is another brand blowing out the candles, for the 90 years of its Reverso. To mark the event, it unveiled the Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185, a spectacular piece whose 11 complications include astronomical functions that have never been attempted before. Fans of automata watches will fall head over heels for the fabulous Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem.
The last word goes to the métiers d’art, responsible for many of the “wonders” in the fair’s title. Resplendent with precious stones, Cartier’s Baignoire Turtle and Tortue Snake, Bulgari’s Divissima Allegra, Chopard’s Impériale collection and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Precious Flowers are all stunning examples of the gem-setter’s craft. There is more delicate gem-setting on the cages of Purnell’s Tourbillon and on Louis Vuitton’s Spin Time. Leather is put to imaginative use by Hermès as a mosaic on the Arceau Pocket Aaaaargh. Possibly the most outstanding illustrations of the métiers d’art came from Louis Moinet, which introduced a set of eight one-of-a-kind watches dedicated to the “marvels of the world” and a set of four inspired by the Space Race. They run the gamut of the highly skilled artistic crafts and remind us that watches also have a story to tell.