It’s no secret that the watch industry has been going through hard times in the past year or two. Exports are down for the past 14 months with anywhere between 4% and 14% decline each month. Richemont, owner of brands like Cartier and IWC, has decided to do away with a group CEO, and divide up the role between its two favourite sons: Jerome Lambert and Georges Kern.
Put out to pasture, or leaving for pastures new, are the brand CEO’s of Dunhill, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, and Vacheron Constantin. There are exceptions to the downward trend in sales, of which Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille are the highest profile names, but generally the industry is doom and gloom.
Yet, at this year’s SIHH there was little sign of any pessimism. In fact, quite the opposite: a number of brands have chosen to use the decline as a signal to reposition. Breaking down the Swiss watch export statistics there were some notable counter trends.
First, steel cased watches that offered a value proposition continued to sell well. Second, the market for the established watches in the five figure sum tier: the iconic designs that are well known and loved continue to sell. Third, high end watches, with a very limited production run, still had their niche market.
Hence, for this year’s SIHH if you look past the marketing PR that is, at times, quite annoying, then there were some watches that were just damn good! In no particular order, although I have tried to divide them up a little into “areas”, here are the top eight all neatly packaged up!
Insane horology for the very high rollers
Top marks here again for Richard Mille.
Richard was back to his very best form with the RM 50-03 McLaren. A year on from signing a 10-year deal with the famous Formula 1 team, sealing a partnership to share technology and design work, and the result was the perception defying RM 50-03. How could a watch so light be so robust? Yet it is.
Richard went the extra mile here. He pulled in the pioneering Nobel Prize-winning physicists at the University of Manchester who developed Graphene, who were working with McLaren, and introduced the new material into the NTPT carbon case material. Because of the resilience and low mass properties, the new integrated material could be used in the movement itself for bridges and component parts. This reduced the weight to just 7g for the movement; 30g for the whole watch (including the strap). Brilliantly innovative and good to see Richard back on his “racing line”!
Richard Mille RM 50-03
Watches for the everyday
The classic brands come through: Audemars Piguet and Laurent Ferrier.
Laurent Ferrier always produces beautiful watches: they just are! And this year was no exception. The Galet Micro Rotor “Montre Ecole” in steel is understated brilliance. It has everything you would want from an everyday high horology watch. The simple dial, the polished steel case, but most of all the proprietary micro rotor movement that lies beneath the dial makes this watch, perhaps, the perfect everyday watch.
Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor Montre Ecole
Audemars Piguet is always everyday high-end horology: especially the Royal Oak. Once described as the “ultimate chic” when it comes to watches, Audemars went one better this year by introducing a full yellow gold Royal Oak Jumbo ref. 15202 with a blue dial. Just stylish, just chic, and so much gold! It is for the everyday: to be admired by others and by yourself for that matter! If you are a budding Auric Goldfinger, then this is the watch for you!
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra Thin
Affordable and good value horology
There was also a new line in producing good quality affordable watches: Cartier and Jaeger stand out. If the current market conditions are pushing the Swiss and German watchmakers into manufacturing watches that are good value for money, then as a consumer, how can we argue with that?
In the category of new value for money watches, top marks should go to Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Retro-inspired sector dial madness is de rigueur at the moment, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date does the job nicely. Clean lines, nice proportions, and an in-house manufacture makes this watch a compelling proposition.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date
But top of class has to go to Cartier for the Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat in steel. This watch does tick all necessary boxes: steel case, proprietary Cartier design, in house movement, and the distinctive Cartier box. Cartier watchmaking has been overhauled by the extremely talented Carole Forestier, and it shows through the line.
Drive de Cartier Extra Flat
Another value for money offering was from IWC. This year they were concentrating on the Da Vinci case with the tagline of unravelling the beauty of time. Not sure about that so much, but the steel Perpetual Calendar Chronograph does offer some exceptional value for money for the complications. The IWC perpetual mechanism is not only the most ergonomic and accessible perpetual calendars out there, it is also the best value for money. Couple that in with a flyback chronograph, and you have a watch that packs a lot in for the chunk of change required to acquire it. The grey dial and blue sub dials are eye catching and legible – great watch.
IWC Da Vinci
Ulysse Nardin had a number of watches that were innovative including a countdown regatta chronograph that makes intuitive sense: the hand runs counter clockwise. But the value for money offering must go to the Classico Manufacture with a blue grand feu enamel dial.
For the money, it is a great watch. A blue enamel dial, polished steel case, and an automatic movement with that distinctive blued anchor rotor. Sensibly proportioned with a 40mm diameter case.
Ulysse Nardin Classico Manufacture
Finally, Parmigiani with the Bugatti Aérolithe. Once again, Parmigiani showing some form and value.
Nicely presented dial and read out, highly polished titanium lugs with the distinctive lugs, and a colour scheme on the dial and sub dials that make the readout very legible.
Parmigiani Bugatti Aérolithe
Let’s face it, if you have one of the cars, you can definitely afford this and it would be a must to time your acceleration towards the next speeding fine!
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Dr Andrew Hildreth – London
Dr Andrew Hildreth had been “into watches” since he was five! An enthusiast, collector, and author based in London, he has written for QP, iW and the Watch Journal (among other publications) for print media; PuristSPro and HODINKEE for online media.