With SIHH 2018 set to open tomorrow, now is as good a time as any to take a look back at last year, and talk a bit about what we saw, what worked and what the general mood was like.
It’s no secret that the watch industry is in flux, with musical chairs being the name of the game in the corporate suites from Switzerland to the United States. Combine this with a shaky world economy and a soft market for luxury goods, and you have a less than stable landscape for our favorite brands to operate in. One of the most obvious reactions to these trends is an overdue focus on value, which is significant given that we’re talking about an industry which typically operates above such concerns.
SIHH 2017 definitely reflected these sea changes with new faces at familiar brands and entire collections that paid more than mere lip service to the notion of (relative) affordability. Indeed, simply walking the show floor, one could immediately see that the overall vibe was more subdued than years past, with less emphasis on flash and cash, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The industry needed a body check, and boy did they get it. Years of unrestrained price increases may have have borne fruit in the short-term, but ultimately it proved not to be sustainable, which opened the door for brands like Baume & Mercier, for instance, to step with their brilliant Clifton Club collection.
Yes, I said “brilliant”. Honestly, I’m still surprised by my reaction to the Clifton Club, but even with a year to get used to it, my ADLC version still puts a smile on my face when I strap it to my wrist. It’s not easy to come up with a design that’s so right, for lack of a better word, without stepping on another brand’s toes. The lazy alternative is usually to come up with something so contrived and outlandish that it’s immediately labeled a non-starter. With the Clifton Club, Baume & Mercier created something almost wholly original, yet without artifice or hyperbole. And then they went the extra step of pricing it properly, with most of the pieces in the collection coming in comfortably under $2K.
Across the hall at Montblanc, where the high end is staked out by their Minerva caliber-carrying standard bearers, such as the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter LEs and the haute Villeret collection, the mid-level was fleshed out with a refreshed TimeWalker collection designed by none other than Davide Cerrato. Whereas Baume & Mercier started from scratch with the Clifton Club, the TimeWalker was a preexisting collection, which meant that Davide’s task was both easier and harder. Easier in that he had a baseline to work with, but harder because the end result had to remain recognizable as a TimeWalker, yet still stand on its own. In my opinion he succeeded admirably, with a bold, yet not overtly masculine design that retains the hallmarks of the original TimeWalker, but brings it up to date with a refined design language that pays homage to the racing theme that inspired Davide. With the exception of two halo pieces, the Rally Timer and insane Chronograph 1000, the bulk of the collection came in at under $5000 – again, there’s that whole “value” thing. My favorite piece from the collection (excepting the aforementioned halos, that is) – the Chronograph UTC in DLC finished stainless steel.
Of course not everyone was concerned with pinching pennies, and indeed, the usual suspects came loaded for bear with the sort of horological firepower that you would expect, price be damned. Naturally, this group included SIHH big dog, Audemars Piguet, who stunned attendees with their ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, but believe it or not, our favorite was the Royal Oak Frosted Gold. On paper, “frosted gold” might sound a bit like a bridge too far, that is unless you live in Miami, wear a lot of white and have a predilection for self-illuminating champagne bottles. In reality, the effect is far more subtle, yet just as eye-catching as one might imagine. For 2017 this unique case treatment was restricted to the 33 and 37mm Royal Oaks, with a 41mm limited edition released back in October. This year we’ll see new colors offered in conjunction with this unique finish, along with a titanium/platinum version of the iconic Jumbo, yet more variations on the Royal Oak Offshore Diver and another RD concept piece, but will we see new models in the Jules Audemars and Millenary collection?
I noted last year that A. Lange & Sohne was almost boring in their stubborn insistence on blowing everyone’s minds year after year, and 2017 was no different with the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Merite and, a bit closer to earth, the 1815 Annual Calendar.
Overall, however, I would have to say that our favorite collection of the show belonged to Jaeger-LeCoultre and their completely reimagined Master Control collection. For starters, the watches – a three-hander, a world timer and a chronograph – are simply gorgeous. Couple this with their relatively aggressive pricing, and you have the best of both worlds: proper Swiss watchmaking at a price that actually makes sense. If pressed, I’d opt for the chronograph, but James Lamdin, ever the purist, was smitten with the three-hander. JLC has been teasing us with silhouetted images of a new chronograph for 2018, but doubtless that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the watchmaker’s watchmaker at SIHH this year.
So, what does 2018 have in store for collectors? While many brands have already tipped their hats to an extent, it’s a fair bet that they each held something back to surprise us with. With less than 24 hours to go until showtime, we’ll find out soon enough.