With the world striving to survive countless turbulent current events, our fanfaring the return of a high-end wristwatch trade show may feel a little out of touch.
However, product pricetags and canapé catering aside, it’s important to recognise that today’s ribbon-cutting on the doors of Richemont’s Watches & Wonders is — as with so many other industries coming out of hiding; blinking in the post-pandemic light — a huge sigh of relief. It’s a reassurance for the hundreds of thousands of people perpetuating and subsisting on this otherwise joyfully anachronistic craft.
W&W is a child of the global lockdown: only ‘physical’ now, after two years of digital presentations, having evolved January’s ‘Salon de la Haute Horlogerie’ at Geneva Airport’s outwardly dreary Palexpo venue (inwardly, as cosseting as a velour sofa by Cartier) – a result of mopping up high-rollers like Patek Philippe, Rolex et al. who had fled spring’s tanking Baselworld event.
Industry gossip and troublesome current affairs aside, the wristwatches themselves are as buoyant in creativity, passion and import as ever. Your phone might tell better time, so the adage goes, but it’s not about the time (as the other adage goes). It’s still about the perpetuation of so many crafts – all packed into 38 or 42mm’s worth of metal – which tick with their own heartbeat forever, unlike your other ‘devices’ with obsolescence built in. Things have never looked so classy, either, as our pick of the 13 top exhibitors at Watches & Wonders demonstrate:
Just when you thought A. Lange & Söhne’s Grand Lange 1 couldn’t be more refined
A reduced height of 8.2 millimetres will mean little to most, but it’s everything for the exacting practitioners of Saxony’s horological phoenix, A. Lange & Söhne.
Ever since reviving things just south of Dresden after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lange has made it their business to care about engraved swan-neck balance cocks and newly introduced recessed subdials just as eponymous forefather Adolph-Lange did from 1845, everything finished by hand, by feel alone. Now? Not only thinner, but nipped and tucked to perfection.
A. Lange & Söhne’s Grand Lange 1
The Chopard Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon is a bird of prey caught in a flat spin
A modern take on Chopard’s breakthrough ‘St Moritz’ sports watch of the Eighties, co-CEO Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s latest brainchild is a cocktail of disco-glitz bracelet, blended seamless with robust case construct.
It now comes spiked with one the trickiest mechanisms for a watchmaker to tame: a ‘flying’ tourbillon, which really does seem to be whirring in mid-air, as it’s mounted from just one side. What’s more, the whole ultra-sophisticated package is entirely realised in-house, encased by Lucent Steel A223, an exclusive, ultra-resistant and brilliant alloy.
Chopard Alpine Eagle Flying Tourbillon
Teleport to Japan’s mystic heights with Grand Seiko’s 'Mistflake' Spring Drive GMT
It’s the surrounding, snowy mountain slopes – in combination with world-class horological nous, of course – that conspire to make Grand Seiko’s factories almost indistinguishable from Switzerland’s finest.
It’s something not lost on Japan’s finest, whose third variety of ‘snowflake’ textured dial debuts at Watches & Wonders, adorning a 24-hour time-zone watch powered by Grand Seiko’s revolutionary electro-mechanical Spring Drive technology. Said to be a sign of good weather to come, ‘Mistflake’ alludes to the mist between the Hotaka peaks overshadowing the Grand Seiko Shinshu Watch Studio in Nagano prefecture. Perfectly timed for spring, then.
Grand Seiko 'Mistflake' Spring Drive GMT
Buzz the tower wearing a IWC Schaffhausen Pilots Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Lake Tahoe in white ceramic
However you feel about it, Tom Cruise has felt the need, the need for speed (again), with Lieutenant Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell hurtling back onto the big screen this year (and don’t kid yourself, we’ll be going in our droves).
Maverick’s hopping from the cockpit of the Cold War’s last analogue hotrod, the F-14 Tomcat, to the supersonic supercomputer that is the F-35 Lightning – so it’s only right that the official watchmaker to the real-life ‘Top Gun’, aka US Navy’s Strike Fighter Instructor (SFTI) school in Fallon, Nevada pushes the envelope with its own high-tech.
To whit: IWC’s fleet of Top Gun Pilot’s chronographs, in a new Pantone-accredited palette of white ‘Lake Tahoe’, green ‘Woodland’, ‘Jet Black’, among others – all realised in coloured ceramic. Two further are crafted from ‘Ceratanium’, which through near-alchemical feats of engineering, yields a titanium alloy watch, fused with a coloured zirconium-oxide ceramic surface. In other words, unlike Goose back in 1986, easily able to survive a flat spin and botched ejection.
IWC Schaffhausen Pilots Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Lake Tahoe in white ceramic
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Perpetual proves QP’s can be sporty
The fickle nature of a ‘quantième perpetuel’ would normally preclude this delicate assortment of mechanics – telling the correct date regardless of leap years, let alone 30-day months – featuring in a sports watch. But we’re talking Jaeger-LeCoultre here; ‘the watchmaker’s watchmaker’; the Joux valley’s original complication maestro.
If they could make a reliable, hammer-action alarm function for a diving watch, then 50 years later they can certainly adapt that Sixties ‘Polaris’ version of the Memovox with a timeworn, in-house perpetual calendar mechanism. Now featuring the Southern Hemisphere as well as Northern in the moon phase, and ticking autonomously for 70 hours. That midnight-blue graduated dial, too. Tuxedo? Wet suit? Perfect match, whichever way.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Perpetual
Pair your carbon foiling monohull with a Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro Luna Rossa
Panerai may have upped sticks from Italy to Switzerland almost three decades ago, but the florid Florentine lingo is still very much alive and keeecking with its cushion-case diving watches (originally developed in secret with Rolex for wartime frogmen). We’ve had the all-black ‘Tuttonero’, and now the wonderfully named ‘QuarantaQuattro’ Submersible, doubling down on the titular 44mm case diameter.
Principal among them, the latest declaration of fidelity with fellow Italian fashionista, Prada and its Luna Rossa America’s Cup sailing team – a steel automatic good down to 300m, whose butch proportions settle smartly on the wrist thanks to a natty, Prada-stripe fabric strap, inlaid on recycled rubber.
Panerai Submersible QuarantaQuattro Luna Rossa
Not what anyone expected to lust after, unconditionally: Patek Philippe Calatrava ref.5226G
The ‘Pilot’ interpretation of Geneva’s favourite son was divisive enough a few years back, but especially now with purist-goading ‘Calatrava’ nomination.
Semantics aside, however, it’s impossible not to swoon at this surprisingly spry, yet sepia-tint number. It debuts Patek Philippe’s new caseband ‘hobnail’ pattern, but also a rough and ready – or rather, exquisitely crafted – charcoal gradient dial, that’s all shearlings and goggles.
Patek Philippe Calatrava ref.5226G
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King is still the steely steal of the century
If you can get an “in” with your dealer, this is the steel Rolex you want – a bargain given the bleeding-edge alloy science and iterative mechanical nous that it embodies, as well as an aesthetic masterstroke of cockpit instrument by way of sports watch.
Air-King symbolises the Rolex’s role in the 1930s golden era of pioneering aviators, accompanying Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller, who, in 1934, made a return voyage from London to Melbourne in record time with a twin-engine De Havilland Comet.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King
Trust the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante to see you home
Swoon, if you will, at that fine barleycorn guilloché pattern, sweeping across that “Milano Blue” dial. Perfectly twinned with finely knurled single-piece platinum bezel. The polymath brand from the brand of Michel Parmigiani finally comes of age, in super-suave fashion with a single watch.
Its titular ‘catch up’ Rattrapante complication features two superimposed hour hands: one in rhodium-plated gold and the other in rose gold. Pressing the pusher at 8 o’clock causes the upper rhodium-plated gold hand dedicated to local time to jump one hour forward, revealing the rose gold hand which displays time in the wearer’s place of residence. Perfection, home or away.
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante
Rolex’s Root Beer’s back, thanks to little brother Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G
The lurid Seventies combo of brown and yellow made the 24-hour rotating bezel of Rolex’s GMT-Master ref. 1675 (1970) a clincher, in the custom of one Clint Eastwood – explaining the Root Beer’s other nickname, ‘Dirty Harry’ (even though Eastwood’s most famous character sported a Timex as he blew away the bad guys).
Significantly more affordable, let alone accessible, is Tudor’s take on the icon in combination with steel and gold case (and bracelet if you want). The in-house movement inside is chronometer rated, rocksolidly integrated, seamlessly styled, therefore as horologically thirst-quenching as a bottle of Bundaberg.
Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G
Smooth, with many bits: the ‘Orange’ TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300
Having breathed a new zest for the life aquatic into its ultra-affordable range of diving watches, the twelve streamlined facets of Aquaracer Professional 300’s rotating bezel now frame a face in a colour for our times, ‘urgent’ orange. A symbol of safety and security at sea, the tone strongly contrasts against the blue of the ocean, remaining highly legible as you swim deeper and deeper.
Orange is also one of the universal colour pantones for speed, security and records; it’s used on racing tracks (traffic cones too of course); plus NASA spacesuits. It also happens to be rather happy-making, and stylistically versatile. As the latest in a legacy kicked off by 1978’s cult collectable, the reference 844, TAG Heuer has nailed the Seventies look, as well as created a ‘throw on and forget’ timepiece for any get-up or circumstance.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300
Vacheron Constantin’s salmon-dial Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph goes platinum
Do not adjust your screens, we haven’t missed a decimal point, the pricetag is correct. But believe us, this is an haute horlogerie masterpiece of micro-mechanical artistry, from Switzerland’s most venerable practitioner, fully deserving of its 43mm x 13mm showcase in 950 platinum.
The spellbindingly architectural Calibre 1142 QP inside evolves a manual-wind chronograph movement nonpareil, perpetual calendar functionality woven in, all topped by a salmon dial so sumptuous you’ll want to sprinkle it with dill. And the dial receives as much painstaking craftsmanship as the 324 components it displays: counters finished with circular satin-brushed rings and finely snailed centres; relief platinum moon alternately smiling or melancholy depending on the phase, surrounded by a starry frost.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
The Zenith Chronomaster Open is back, as breezy as ever
By 2003, interest in mechanical timekeeping was truly hitting its stride, after two decades reasserting itself over newfangled, cheapo quartz technology. The idea of sapphire-crystal display casebacks was becoming a fixture, for highfalutin bragging rights, but it was Zenith who introduced the ‘Open’ first, proudly framing its high-frequency El Primero movement’s ticking regulator assembly, dial-side.
Revisiting the iconic tri-colour configuration that adorned Zenith’s world-first self-winding chronograph in 1969, 2022’s revival retains the colourway thanks to a hesalite crystal element. At the same time readable as a subdial, but still allowing a view of the silicon star-shaped escape wheel, twitching at 36,000 vibrations per hour.
Zenith Chronomaster Open
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