Watch this space | SIHH
The world’s wealthiest – largely dressed in black – sip Champagne, sampling foie gras and talking in hushed tones. This extraordinary gathering? The annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva.
Some say it’s strategically timed so that it’s ahead of Baselworld. Not that you can compare them, really: they’re both leading watch events but only anyone who is anyone is asked to the SIHH – top watchmakers (many of them part of the Richemont stable) ask pre-eminent clientele, dealers and a smattering of journalists to attend.
Within the world of luxury watches, this is the invitation to receive. The most incredible timepieces are on display and (if you’re an extremely lucky journalist or a massively wealthy buyer) there’s the chance to chat to higher-ups from the maisons.
The SIHH is also a sure indicator of the future of watchmaking; it’s the only trend barometer worth measuring. So what’s the forecast for this year?
Surprisingly low prices
The days of luxury timepieces having exorbitant price tags are over. Montblanc, for instance, launched its Heritage Chronométrie Collection at the SIHH. It’s a snap at €2 850 (with a strap) and €2 950 (with a steel bracelet). It made sense to target a wider audience, Jérôme Lambert, the company’s chief executive officer, exclusively revealed to Real Estate at the SIHH. ‘We’re not dropping our standards – these value offerings still have the DNA and soul of our maison,’ he stressed.
Surprisingly high prices
While Montblanc was offering luxury timepieces with a (relatively) affordable price tag, it was clear that economic woes have not deterred watchmakers from producing the occasional super-opulent timepiece. Richard Mille divulged its RM50-02 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph at the SIHH. Developed in partnership with Airbus Corporate Jets, it costs $1 050 000 and only 30 will be produced. Incidentally, the company also launched a nifty mechanical fountain pen, the RMS05, which features a nib that pops out at the push of a button. Compared to the watch, it’s a steal at €91 600 (plus local taxes).
While there may be exceptions in South Africa – Cartier, Montblanc and Panerai (its first shop in Africa opened in February this year) – the maisons more commonly have brand boutiques overseas. And now, more and more are opting to sell selected timepieces through their own stores. Typically, these are limited editions, such as Piaget’s Emperador Coussin XL 700P, a cushion-shaped watch that was revealed at the SIHH and has an exclusive 118 pieces.
Some say this could lead to higher prices because the maison has no competition. Others say that prices could drop because the middleman has been eliminated. This is, of course, a moot point – cost is largely irrelevant to top-end buyers.
Watches as jewellery
This is neither new nor surprising but it was emphasised at the SIHH when Cartier dazzled visitors with a flamboyant collection of 13 distinctive timepieces. While each was extraordinary, three stood out: the Tourbillon Mystérieux Azuré pendant watch calibre 9463 MC, Dragon Mystérieux watch calibre 9981 MC and Panthère Mystérieuse pendant watch calibre 9981 MC. The culmination of thousands of hours of work, these white-gold creations feature a treasure chest of jewels – with the additional benefit of being able to tell the time.
Bespoke to the fore
Now, even limited pieces are not considered exclusive enough, with many maisons confirming that it’s truly customised items that are gaining the most popularity. This trend was indicative of the way in which the world is changing, explains Dominique Bernaz, the head of Atelier Cabinotiers (the bespoke arm of Vacheron Constantin). ‘Designer brands have become so accessible that they’re almost commonplace. As a result, bespoke is becoming sought-after among the mega wealthy. The kind of clients I deal with have custom cars and buy original paintings so expect a level of exclusivity,’ he told Real Estate.
Gold regains its shine
There was a time when gold watches were considered crass but this is no longer the case and this year, gold outshone steel by nearly two to one. That said, few were yellow gold. Rather, rose, pink, red and white dominated.
Power of the purse
In the past, the luxury watch market was predominantly the domain of men but now brands are finally aware of women’s buying clout and adjusting their strategies accordingly. As a brand that has long treated their female audience with the same importance as their male buyers, Piaget has a 50 per cent female customer base. The increased focus on women is thanks to their changing interests, explains Chabi Nouri, the director of marketing, communications and brand equity. ‘They’re far more interested in aspects such as movements than ever before,’ she says.
Retro still rules
Luxury watchmakers and legacy are synonymous – the story, the craft, the past: these are all intrinsic to their perceived value and this is reflected in their pieces. Panerai always looks to its history before creating anything new. Its CEO, Angelo Bonati, is passionate about remaining true to the maison’s heritage despite criticism that his watches are large and too weighty. ‘Yes, the Panerai watch is heavy. It is big; it is strange. But it is different and it has a strong personality. Most importantly, there is a history here,’ he says.
The new models in its Radiomir 1940 collection reference those created for the commandos of the Italian navy in the forties. Accordingly, the case is made of AISI 316L stainless steel with a polished finish and it is water-resistant to 10 bar (a depth of about 100m).
Blue is the new black
Black – which used to be the most popular dial colour – isn’t the only obvious choice any more. Take, for instance, the latest Vacheron Constantin Overseas models which feature a translucent blue lacquered face that perfectly offsets the luminescent gold hands and redesigned Arabic numerals. Incidentally, the new sports watches come with nifty interchangeable bracelets and straps.
Straps are more important
Previously, the face was the main event but maisons such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc all concentrated on straps at the SIHH. Some of these companies are even going in-house – Montblanc’s Jérôme Lambert says that the maison produces its own straps in Italy. Others have partnered with specialists. IWC, for instance, is working with Italian shoe manufacturer Santoni, and Roger Dubuis has partnered with Parisian brand Massaro.
Text Charleen Clarke