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Like Watches for Chocolate

The Geneva SIHH show offers the 'skinny' on new Swiss timepieces.

Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day Tourbillon Openworked

Switzerland is famous for its savory chocolates but luxury watches may be its most delicious export. SIHH, the annual private showcase, is a virtual confection shop for the world’s yummiest timepieces. It’s where 16 elite brands (Cartier, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, etc.) unwrapped their top-secret timepieces for a first taste in Geneva, the historic home of haute horlogerie.

Watchmakers packed so many bells and whistles into this year’s collections one could have mistaken SIHH for a music venue (that’s not even counting pleasant dings from ultra-thin minute-repeaters that echoed the halls). Limited edition hallmarks (pink, rose and red gold case finishes), modern materials and unique decorative arts dominated collections aesthetically.

L: A. Lange & Söhne’s "Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna", R: Reverse side of Terraluna with moon phase indicator was an SIHH showstopper

Many brands crafted cases in futuristic ceramic (Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon), bronze (IWC Aquatimer) and/or Diamond-Like Carbon or “DLC”  (Montblanc Time Walker Extreme Chronograph). Some even decorated dials with enameling that depicted florals or exotic scenes from world cultures.

The big winners: women, chronograph lovers and haute-complication connoisseurs. Bovet paid women an ultimate tribute with the Récital 9 Tourbillon Miss Alexandra, which boasts a seven-day tourbillon, open-worked moon phase and an accurate moon cartography (all on a watch dial!)

Who manufactures tourbillons better than A. Lange & Söhne? Its super precise 1815 Tourbillon rocked the house but the brand’s Terraluna perpetual calendar rocked the SIHH universe. Terraluna features a regulator style display and crescent-like power reserve on the dial, but the graphic orbital moon indicator on the watch’s backside was a showstopper.

Chronographs remain so popular and fun, you could virtually toss them in a sandbox and watch kids fight over these toys. Chronographs (see Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor Chronograph in black matte ceramic) are versatile—sporty, casual, sometimes dressy—and will probably have a similar shelf life as Twinkies.

Audemars Piguet’s avant-garde Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon with ceramic bezel, crown and upper bridge

Skeleton complications scattered the show like bones at a natural history museum. Vacheron Constantin’s spectacular Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon Openworked platinum watch with three-dimensional dial motif proves complications are best viewed inside out.

Geneva collections offered some surprises. Cartier, renown for its jewelry pedigree, introduced a pink gold diver watch. Baume & Mercier revealed its first ever tourbillon. FP Journe launched its first women’s collection and Parmigiani offered its first round ladies automatic, the urban Tonda Metro. Breva’s Genie 02 Terre watch forecasts the weather. Can it predict which way the trend-winds are blowing?

Massive watches built for Hollywood action heroes are shrinking in favor of downsized, refined timepieces ideal for sophisticated wrists—like Piaget’s Altiplano 900P, which at 3.65 mm “thick,” sets a new record for thinnest mechanical watch ever.

To some, SIHH collections were bittersweet (branded “too conservative”). That all depends on perspective. Some brands are downshifting, waiting for a turn in the world economy, after which they’ll inevitably accelerate plans for riskier experimentation. The times dictate the timepieces—likely why brands (Panerai and Parmigiani included) unveiled new watch collections with youthful appeal and friendlier pricing.

SIHH and its elite brands earned their “haute” status once again. SIHH 2014 wasn’t a blockbuster but it was a hit. Geneva always offers us something we crave—even if it’s a morsel of Swiss chocolate.

Acronym stands for: Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie
Location: Geneva Palexpo
Dates: January 20-24, 2014
Number of Exhibitors: 16
Exhibiting Space: 30,000 square meters
Attendance: Approximately 14,000

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