One of the great traditions of SIHH is the Cartier dinner Sunday night, the evening before SIHH officially commences. It’s an opportunity for the press to catch up with one another and mentally prepare themselves for days to come with overtures of fellowship and bonhomie with their professional compatriots from the world over.
This is a good thing.
And then there’s the “suite” at the Hotel President Wilson where the US press contingent is billeted, which constitutes a whole ‘nother tradition whereupon the press really catches up with one another…
This is also a good thing.
For RedBar, SIHH 2018 began with a bang of epic proportions that had its inception not at the PalExpo, but at the aforementioned Hotel President Wilson with none other than yours truly going toe-to-toe at the bar with Halim of Watch Collecting Lifestyle, Josh Shanks of Watchonsita, Gary Girdvainis of iW Magazine, Mark Bernardo of Watchtime, Jack Forster of Hodinkee, and pretty much every other watch tome of note in North America. This isn’t a winner-takes-all contest, mind you, but rather, an acknowledgement that we’re all about to enter the arena, kick open the doors of the “big show” and let slip the dogs of war. Given that we might lose a compatriot to the fog of war, why not party like there’s no tomorrow?
Overly dramatic? Definitely, but SIHH is no ordinary watch show, and it requires an extraordinary lift from its attendees. RedBar has been, and remains up to the task.
With the above in mind, it’s worth noting that I did manage to wake up Monday morning at a reasonable hour, get myself (relatively) presentable, have breakfast and catch the shuttle to the PalExpo convention center in time to make my first appointment of the day. This is not to say that I wasn’t hungover – let’s be honest here, my default mode is “hungover” – but I looked worse than I felt. (Mind you, this isn’t a new sensation for me, but at SIHH everything is magnified to epic proportions.)
My partners in crime this year are the inimitable Atom Moore, who’s skills behind the lens need no introduction; Jacob Sotak, the Editor-in-Chief of SHIFTed Magazine, and a truly gifted writer; and James Lamdin, the founder of Analog/Shift, who, all things being considered, is cool enough to be at SIHH simply because he’s James Lamdin (and he’s been attending the show since time immemorial). This is my dream team, literally and figuratively, so let’s get down to brass tacks and start talking watches…
Our first stop of the day was with IWC, who just so happened to be celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. Given that their founder, Florentine Aristo Jones, was raised in Boston, their booth did its level best to emulate the look and feel of turn-of-the-century Beantown with design cues that went heavy on the exposed brick and, well, um, Boston-related stuff.
I already had the privilege of previewing their collection a couple of months ago in NYC during a pre-SIHH event they held for press, so I figured that I’d already seen it all. As such, I certainly wasn’t expecting the brilliant Tribute to Pallweber in stainless steel with a deep, blue lacquered dial (up until now, only the gold Pallweber had been previewed, with a hint towards an even rarer – and more expensive – platinum version). This version of the watch is significant for two reasons: 1) it’s gorgeous; and 2) it actually puts the Tribute to Pallweber within the reach of mere mortals such as myself. Sort of. At approximately $23,000, those “mere” mortals had still better have some serious scratch on hand for discretionary purchases.
Fortunately, I’m almost as smitten with the new Big Pilot Big Date (make mine blue, please) and the Pilot Chronograph with its deep, off-white lacquered dial. My only criticism with the latter is a familiar one for many, in that the case could stand to shave a couple of millimeters off its diameter.
Other collections that got the 150th Anniversary treatment are the Portugueses and DaVincis; the Aquatimer and Ingenieurs sat this one out.
After IWC, we raced over to the Jaeger-LeCoultre booth, which has grown in scope this year, with two levels and a full-size vintage car modeling jig front and center to emphasize their focus on “makers”.
We – as in the world – had already seen the Reverso Tribute Duoface Limited Edition (100pcs only), but this was the only piece shown by the manufacture in advance of the show. I have to admit that I like this, since it means that I get to share in the anticipation with the rest of the rest of y’all. So, what were they hiding up their sleeves? Nothing more or less than an entire collection paying homage to their Polaris watch from 50 years past.
While my heart belongs to the 1000 piece Polaris Memovox limited edition, which is a restrained reimagining of its iconic forebear, there’s something to be said for each of the pieces in the collection. Available are a three-hander, with or without a date; a chronograph in steel or gold and a titanium chronograph world timer. Dials can be had in either black or blue (or grey in the case of the pink gold chronograph).
Before I move on to our next stop of the day, I have to admit to playing the role of fanboi in their booth thanks to the inclusion this year of Casa Fagliano in the form of Eduardo Fagliano and his son, who were on-hand to showcase their extreme craftsmanship with strapmaking demos. As the owner of one of a Tribute to 1931 Reverso US Edition, which was the first watch to ever include a strap from the famed Argentinian polo boot maker, I couldn’t resist getting a pic of my beloved in the hands of the master.
Our next stop was at Baume & Mercier, who wowed us last year with the affordable and fun Clifton Club collection. This year they wowed us – and the industry – with their Baumatic, which is the first production piece from any Richemont brand to feature a movement with a silicon hairspring. I have be honest here, I’m surprised as heck that out of Richemont’s sizable stable of manufactures it was Baume that was chosen to debut this technology, which will most likely spread to other brands under their umbrella. That said, I’m also proud of them. The only criticism that one could reasonably levy at the Baumatic is the name, which is emblazoned on the dial. Otherwise, the watch is masterclass in restraint with a right-sized case and sober design details that draw liberally from the Clifton Club, which I’m already an avowed fan of.
We were also treated to an expansion of the Indian motorcycle-themed chronographs (the “Scout” is my favorite, with its grey dial and partially exposed movement on the dial side) and an entry-level quartz Clifton Club with a solid bezel.
From Baume, it was a dash across the show floor to Vacheron Constantin, where the big story was centered on their first entirely new collection in years, the FIFTYSIX. (No, I’m not shouting, that’s how they spell it. Given that I made “RedBar” into one word, I can’t really take issue with them for this – branding is as branding does.)
The FIFTYSIX is their new entry-level collection, taking over from the Quai D’Ile. It features a three-hander with date, a day-date with a power-reserve display and a right proper complete calendar with moonphase. I say “right proper” because it’s my favorite piece, particularly in stainless steel, though overall the collection hits a metric ton of right notes. The case takes its design cues from Vacherons past, but does so without being a slave to nostalgia. There’s just enough surface detail to offer visual pop, but nothing shouts “look at me!”, branding be damned. Basically, it’s everything that you would expect from a right proper member of the Swiss “holy trinity” of watchmaking.
Not content to leave well enough alone, Vacheron also took the opportunity to introduce a new addition to the Overseas family with a dual-time model, as well as a new Metiers D’Art series that pays homage to hot air balloning, of all things. (They’re gorgeous.)
With some time to kill before our next appointment, we headed to lunch with IWC’s in-house historian, David Seyffer and Tonny Berteloot, the moderator of their official forum. Both are old friends, and between the two of them, it was a true challenge not blow my food and drink all over the table thanks to the inordinate amount of laughing their effortless back and forth resulted in. (PRO TIP: Skip the show floor restaurants, with their fixed menus, and head downstairs to the employee lunch room, which features a buffet-style set up.)
After lunch we regrouped at the “Carré des Horlogers”, or Independents Square to meet with SIHH bad boys, H. Moser et Cie. It goes without saying that the one watch we wanted to get some wrist time with, the so-called “SwissIcons”, was persona non grata, so we contented ourselves to spending time with the entirely new Endeavor Flying Hours, which takes the orbital wandering hours concept, perhaps most famously associated with fellow independent, Urwerk, and the Audemars Piguet Star Wheel of yore, and strong arms it into Moser’s established aesthetic. It’s gorgeous, like all of their pieces (save, perhaps, for the aforementioned SwissIcons watch), and with a list price of approximately $32K, it’s surprisingly affordable. At least for rich people.
Since we were already in the neighborhood, we also stopped in to say hello to our buddy Jason at Christophe Claret. For some odd reason, the theme this year is “snakes”, which manifested itself in the form of not one, but two versions of the Maestro – the Mamba and the Pantherophis. Neither sat well with James “I don’t like snakes” Lamdin, but even he had to admit that they were playfully executed and artfully crafted, as all Christophe Claret’s watches are. My take? They’re fun, regardless of what one’s stance on vile, slithering, cold-blooded creatures is, and they fit right in with the rest of Christophe Claret’s portfolio.
From Christophe Claret, it was nary several yards over to Ressence to take a gander at their much hyped eCrown concept and Type 2 hybrid mechanical watch. Now, I wish I could explain to you exactly how this thing works, but I can’t. For that you’d need to have brand founder Benoit Mintiens, or his partner in crime, Gaetan, sitting next to you explaining everything in minute detail. Which, I’m ashamed to say, we had. But, since I’m not all that smart or clever, I contented myself with oohing and ahhhing over the Type 2’s epically domed titanium case.
Yes, this is a concept piece, but make no mistake, it will see production. By their estimates, another six months or so of testing is required, but once it hits shelves, the lucky few who are able to acquire one will truly have the best of both worlds, with an entirely mechanical watch that can be autonomously wound and set with down to the second precision via a self-powered electronic circuit. The want in my soul is strong.
The old cliche that states you save the best for last definitely applied to our Day 1 of SIHH, with our final one-on-one appointment taking place at A. Lange & Sohne. I need to be very clear here: they killed it. Again. I know I joke about how boring they are in that each and every year they bring something ridiculously awesome to the table, and SIHH 2018 was absolutely no different in this regard. The Triple Split is nothing short of a revelation in person. The case finishing, the dial execution, the unparalleled movement design and intricacy…. All the hallmarks of the brand were on display in the sort of effortless unison that only ALS seems to be able to pull off.
Of course, there were also other treasures on display in the form of the 1815 Homage to Walter Lange, the Little Lange 1 (which, while marketed as a ladies watch, I would totally wear myself) and the drop-dead gorgeous Saxonia Thin, with its shimmering aventurine-like copper-blue goldstone dial.
It’s also worth noting here, that tradition dictates that you take your appointment with Lange over a frosty glass of Radeberger beer and pretzels. I’m nothing if not a stickler for tradition.
Did I say that Day 1 of SIHH was over and done with? Yeah, no. Thanks to our good friend, Vincent, we were able to squeeze in a sitting at Laurent Ferrier to ogle their new Annual Calendar Montre Ecole, a watch that I’ve been jonesing to get my hands on since images first leaked of it. There aren’t words to describe just how much I love this small independent, and the black dial version of the annual calendar is easily one the highlights of the show for me.
Okay, now we’re done with Day 1.
Time to get ready for Day 2…