sihh 2020

The best watches of Watches & Wonders 2020

It may have rebranded as ‘Watches & Wonders’ this year, but the Swiss watch show is as impressive as ever — even during a lockdown...

It was the best of times to rebrand; it was the worst of times to rebrand. SIHH, the famed watch and jewellery trade show, revealed last October that it would be calling time on its clunky acronym, instead deciding to rebrand as the much slicker, alliterative Watches & Wonders. How were they to know, back then, that a pesky pandemic would be about to throw a spanner in the intricately mechanised clockworks?

It’s a shame. But, though the relaunch of the Swiss show — organised by Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie and populated mainly by Richemont brands including A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC — has been unceremoniously shunted online for its inaugural years, it may been something of a blessing in disguise. Watches & Wonders has been given a chance to start afresh both in name and intention, and has created an online platform that’s exciting to explore for trade professionals, journalists and enthusiasts alike.

So, if you’ve not already spent your weekend trawling through the novelties, we’ve picked out ten of our favourite new timepieces from the show. Take a look…

Introducing the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

No, your eyes don’t deceive you. The newest novelty from Piaget really is that thin. When this wild horological experiment first ticked onto the scene in 2018, we never thought that the Swiss watchmaker would make it part of a permanent collection. Hell, neither did they. And yet here we are.

It measures a tiny, impossible, infinitesimal 2mm thin — which is slimmer than most movements, yet alone overall watches. It’s impressive stuff. But even more commendable is that Piaget didn’t rest on its laurels after creating the world’s thinnest mechanical timepiece. Far from it. In fact, almost as impressive as the mechanical achievement are the customisation options for the Altiplano Ultimate. With over 10,000 combinations of colours to personalise on your subdial, movement plate, hands and strap, this is a watch as singular as it is slim.

The second coming of a surprisingly practical icon, the Cartier Tank Asymetrique

Another mind-bending design, this time from French jewellery giant Cartier. But, while the Tank Asymetrique may look as pioneering and perplexing as Piaget’s Altiplano above, this design actually winds back the hands of watchmaking — and is a knowing callback to an almost identical watch from 1936.

It’s the fourth watch in the Cartier Privé series — following previous years’ relaunches of the Crash, Tonneau and Cintrée models — and will be made available in three metals, with 100 models each crafted from platinum, pink gold and yellow gold. All will have the timepiece’s signature cabochon-set winding crown and, although we know that they’re an acquired taste, we love the look. Why? Chiefly because of practicality. The strange shape may look like a style statement, but it’s actually a practical choice: when you raise your wrist to read the time, the dial lines up with your eye-line perfectly.

A watch that rules the waves, the IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide Chronograph

IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide Chronograph

IWC Schaffhausen, as always, came out in force for Watches & Wonders. In fact, two of the luxury Swiss watchmaker’s timepieces feature on this list of our favourites. But this, our first choice, is perhaps the standout of its new collection. Housed in an 18k rose gold case, with a blue, gold appliquéd dial and ticking with gold-plated hands, the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide Chronograph is the stuff of sophisticated maritime adventure.

There’s a double moon phase display here, used to show spring and neap tides, and a ‘tide tracker’ to indicate when you can expect high tide. It’s a completely new movement, according to IWC, and one that also boasts an adjustable timer at 6 o’clock, ready to be set to your individual location to run local tide cycles. And then there’s that integrated blue rubber strap — an unusual sight next to such a precious case, but proof if it was ever needed that this chronograph can stand up to the worst the ocean has to offer.

With retro nostalgia in spades, the Montblanc Heritage Monopusher Chronograph

There’ll always be room for vintage-inspired watches. Surely everyone would agree with that. But salmon-coloured vintage-inspired watches? We’d expect that to raise a few more eyebrows. Thankfully, if your salmon suggestions are ever met with skepticism, just point detractors in the direction of Montblanc. The Swiss watchmaker’s 2020 Monopusher Chronograph is limited edition, quietly handsome — and proudly salmon.

Of course, that’s not all it has going for it. There’s also the automatic calibre with a 48-hour power reserve, the Sfumato alligator leather strap, and a whole host of adornments and additions to bolster that salmon coloured dial — from curved Dauphine hour and minute hands to a chronograph minutes subdial with period-appropriate ‘payphone’ indications. Undisputedly the sapphire crystal in the crown of the watchmaker’s latest Heritage collection.

A beacon of quality watchmaking, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

Of course, you can throw all the salmon-coloured dials, asymmetric cases and ultra-thin timepieces you want at us — but, at the end of the day, we’ll still just be bowled over by good old fashioned well-made mechanisms. Just take Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest high complication. Even the Master Control Chronograph Calendar’s name makes it sound like it means business. And boy does it.

Originally a range of the 1990s, the Master Control collection actually takes its name from Jaeger’s punishing 1,000-Hours Control Certification. The range has always been a beacon of hardy, reliable and envelope-pushing innovation, and this latest headliner, a triple-threat of chronograph, triple-calendar display and moonphase, is the best yet. Classic bicompax chronograph design, handy pulsometric scale and a generous 65 hour power reserve? What more could you want?

A larger-than-life take on a classic, the Cartier Santos-Dumont XL

Remember last year, at what would be the final SIHH, when Cartier grabbed the attention of attendees with its refined, re-established Santos-Dumont? It made a big splash. This year, presumably wanting to make another sizeable impression, Cartier has unveiled a new model. And, how do you make a bigger splash? Simple. Make your watch bigger.

Introducing the Santos-Dumont XL. It really does what it says on the 18-karat pink-gold case. It’s a similar design, with similar proportions and similar dial, but on a bigger scale — bulking up by 3mm to a healthy 46.6mm. Strangely, the French brand has gone for a thinner movement, using the same calibre 430 MC that makes the ultra-slim Piaget Altiplano above tick, but other than that it remains reassuringly familiar — and an apt homage to the 20th-century’s larger-than-life aristocrat-cum-aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont.

A small package; a good thing, the IWC Portugieser Automatic 40

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40

It’s cool to be small — or so suggests the current watchmaking trend for downsizing. And we couldn’t be happier. For, while some of the watches higher up on this list use retro quirks and vintage designs to appeal to modern markets, many transpose these traditional features onto much larger dials. Not so for IWC.

Although the storied Swiss watchmaker may have introduced a new Portugieser Automatic 42, it has also surprised us with a 40mm iteration. Based heavily on the original Portugieser Reference 325, this watch also features a small seconds subdial at six o’clock — not to mention a pleasingly clean dial design and a wholehearted focus on the one thing a Portugieser should do; tell the time in style. One for the new collectors out there.

A work of art of your wrist, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton

Have you ever seen a travel-oriented watch that looks so terrifyingly delicate? We’d wager we haven’t. But then, this is a Vacheron, so there’s probably nothing to worry about. With its open-worked ultra-thin perpetual calendar movement, this newest, most intricate offering from the Swiss watchmaker is described as a piece that ‘perpetuates the travel-driven spirit of the Overseas collection’. But surely even the most fantastic views you’ll come across when globe-trotting will pale in comparison to the sight of this on your wrist?

Just look at it. That entirely open-worked, ultra-thin anthracite grey mechanism is visible through a transparent sapphire dial, which itself bears applied 18K pink gold hour-markers. It’s got additional quick-change straps — leather and gold, but we prefer the blue rubber. And that Maltese cross-shaped oscillating weight is beautifully highlighted by its shade, satin-brushed and finished by hand. We just can’t take our eyes off it.

Retro, rough and ready, the Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph

Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph

There’s something reliably rugged about Montblanc’s watches. We’ve seen them worn with smart suits, we’ve watched them blend with business casual — we’ve even seen them sitting snugly under the cuffs of black tie tuxes. But each and every timepiece the brand creates also looks just as at comfortable on a mountainside. And this, the Minerva-inspired 1858 Monopusher Chronograph, is no different.

In a 42mm full satin-finished stainless steel case, the chronograph boasts a black and beige two-tone dial that calls to mind more vintage timepieces. The watch also features a telemeter scale and is powered by Montblanc’s automatic monopusher chronograph calibre — one that indicates elapsed time with a central seconds hand and a 30-minute counter. It’s the kind of watch Indiana Jones would wear; old of face and set on a cognac-coloured aged calf leather strap — but with abilities its antiqued appearance belies.

Never out of its depth, the A. Lange & Söhne White Gold Odysseus

Odysseus, the hero of Greek mythology, frequently found himself in strange, unexpected situations. What an apt namesake, then, for A. Lange & Söhne’s latest. Although the model was first released last October — around the same time SIHH’s rebrand was announced — this new version comes cast in white gold. It’s a luxury timepiece, undeniably. But on a rubber strap, it’s now ready to be thrown into an extreme sports situation. Odysseus indeed.

With a white-gold case and hands, grey dial and embossed groove detailing, the Odysseus is as sophisticated as sports watches come. But, if you’ve clocked the blood-red 60 on the bevelled argenté-coloured flange ring and the tapered buttons surrounding the crown, its heavy-duty credentials won’t come as a surprise. It may be refined, but this is a watch with the brawn to back up its beauty.

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