luxury

At SIHH 2018, luxury watchmakers swap vintage for innovation

Published 18th January 2018
Ressence Type 2 e-Crown
Credit: via Hodinkee
At SIHH 2018, luxury watchmakers swap vintage for innovation
Written by Jack ForsterGeneva
Jack Forster is editor-in-chief of online specialist watch magazine Hodinkee.
For the last few years, the watch industry has witnessed the resurgence of vintage-inspired watches and more affordable timepieces. However, at this year's Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH), the impressive selection of technologically advanced offerings suggest that the appetite for innovation -- and the high prices it commands -- has not disappeared completely.

Slimming down

One of the most talked-about watches at SIHH 2018 comes from Piaget. The company publicly unveiled the flattest mechanical wristwatch ever made: the Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch, which is just 2 millimeters thick. (While the company is best known for its fine jewelry, it has a long history of specializing in extra flat watches.)
Audemars Piguet also introduced a slim new model: Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin. The self-winding watch comes equipped with a perpetual calendar (a mechanism that can correctly detect the length of each month, and doesn't need to be manually reset at the end of the month) and a 2.89-millimeter movement.
Both watches are concept pieces and not available commercially -- at least for now. But German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne has displayed two notable complicated watches that are available for purchase.
Piaget's Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch purports to be the thinnest mechanical wristwatch of all time.
Piaget's Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch purports to be the thinnest mechanical wristwatch of all time. Credit: Courtesy Piaget
One, the 47,000-euro ($57,550) 1815 Homage to Walter Lange, was produced in honor of the company's founder, who passed away last year. Its second hand jumps once per second, and, because it can be stopped and reset to the zero position, can also be used as a timer.
At a higher price point is the A. Lange & Söhne $147,000 Triple Split, a watch with a simple name but a lot of parts -- 567 in the movement, to be precise. This is a type of watch known as a split-seconds chronograph, which lets you time two events simultaneously. Most split-seconds chronographs can only "split" times less than a minute apart, but the Triple Split can do so over seconds, minutes and hours.

Independent innovation

Among the most visually stunning watches on display at SIHH is Van Cleef & Arpels' Lady Arpels Planetarium. The $245,000 watch puts the planets of the inner solar system on your wrist, showing the actual positions of Earth, Mercury and Venus around the sun, and the position of the moon around the Earth. The time is displayed by way of a comet that moves around the dial once per day.
Continuing the out-of-this-world theme, Officine Panerai debuted the highly complex L'Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT. It's the company's first watch with a moon phase complication.
Greubel Forsey's new GMT Earth world-time watch features a miniature globe rotating inside the mechanism.
Greubel Forsey's new GMT Earth world-time watch features a miniature globe rotating inside the mechanism. Credit: Courtesy Greubel Forsey
But this year's SIHH has also shown that small independent brands are often willing to take bigger risks than their larger rivals. (Van Cleef & Arpels, Officine Panerai, A. Lange & Söhne and Piaget are subsidiaries of Richemont.)
Greubel Forsey, who specializes in exotic complicated timepieces with elaborate hand-finishing, displayed the new GMT Earth world-time watch, which features a miniature globe rotating inside the mechanism. It's more a wearable art object than a watch and, at around 610,000 Swiss francs ($635,760), is priced as such.
Catering to more understated tastes, independent Belgian brand Ressence has unveiled its Type 2 e-Crown Concept. The watch, which was created with iPod co-designer Tony Fadell, contains a solar-cell chargeable electric motor, and connects to an app that can automatically set the time or change time zone.
These models are all notable departure from the classic watches that have been in style recently. But watch enthusiasts of any taste and budget can appreciate the inventiveness the industry's watchmakers and designers still have to offer.
Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie is on until Jan. 19, 2018.