Keep a Close Watch: The Best Luxury Timepieces of SIHH 2019

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Olivia Palermo at SIHH 2019 | Photo: Courtesy of Piaget

When you’re in Geneva, it seems like the whole city exists to remind you of its fine watchmaking legacy.  Walk down an average street in the center of town and you will see young horologists in the windows of workshops with magnifying lenses screwed to their eyes, focusing intensely on the mechanisms before them. Listen closely enough, and perhaps you will hear the tick of hands and the whirr of gears beneath the surface of the ground. Drive down the Quai du Général-Guisan on a clear night, and across the lake formidable names are illuminated. Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, Mont Blanc. The city runs on watches.

Everywhere you look, you cannot escape the reminders. And why would you want to? It would be like going to Disneyland and trying to avoid Mickey Mouse.

Precision, innovation, aesthetics. Every house lays claim to the same qualities, and yet so few are worthy of the world’s most elite watchmaking fair, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie – or SIHH as it is thankfully abbreviated in the industry. In 2019, there were only 35 exhibitors total. In the hallowed halls of PalExpo, a spectacle unfolds every year, a chance for the likes of Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, and other esteemed brands to elbow to the front of the proverbial queue. In this elevated arena, there is no objective best, as each brand and design has its own strengths, which all come down to a matter of taste. Extremely refined taste, that is.

The problem for watch enthusiasts is defining exactly what they want in a watch, what makes them tick, so to speak. Do they want to wear a sporty chronograph on the wrist, reflective of a sense of adventure and perhaps an interesting hobby like diving, sailing, or mountain-climbing? Then IWC Schaffhausen, Baume & Mercier, and Panerai are your brands. Maybe you’re more interested in a little (or a lot of) razzle dazzle, in which case, you will no doubt be attracted by the luminous offerings of Hermès, Cartier, Piaget, and Audemars Piguet. At SIHH, narrowing down your proclivities and tastes is a good problem to have.

In Savoir Flair’s guide to the best releases and novelties of SIHH 2019, you’ll be able to navigate the luxury watch world like an insider, and discover all of the latest offerings from the world’s most elite watch makers.

Cartier

Defying the status quo, resurrecting the old, and forging a path for the new, Cartier had one of the biggest and most exciting presentations at all of SIHH. Occupying a massive wing of the venue all to itself, the brand used every ounce of its prestige to display its new releases in incredible fashion.

Inside the Cartier salon, we met with Marie-Laure Cérède, the Creative Director of Watchmaking, and one of the few women working in this realm. As she passionately and knowledgeably walked us through every new release, we got the sense that fine watchmaking was her destiny, and her appointment to Cartier, inevitable.

She’s the brilliant mind behind one of Cartier’s most beautiful creations ever, the ‘Revelation d’une Panthere’ which first debuted at SIHH in 2018. Featuring hundreds of gold beads that cascade down the dial of the watch to reveal a panther’s face, Cérède had her work cut out for her this year when it came to engineering a new version – one that would stun and mesmerize beyond the level of the first ‘Revelation d’une Panthere’. For 2019, she replaced the gold beads with real diamonds, which actually made the cascading complication more difficult to achieve as the diamonds were not uniform on their surface and had more difficulty gliding smoothly through the liquid they were suspended in. Regardless, she was able to break through on a solution, and the results are nothing short of astonishing.

Also in the line-up of the new and exhilarating were Cartier’s sleek new ‘Baignoire’ designs. These gorgeous, curvy watches come in both simplified and extravagant versions, with the extra-large style presented in dense diamonds and finished with a spiked bezel.

Girard-Perregaux

Women’s watches from Girard-Perregaux are created to capture an ongoing dialogue between the earth and the sky. For more than two centuries, the haute horological brand has been dedicated to traditional heritage combined with constant reinvention.

Glittering in the Girard-Perregaux cosmos we find the ‘Cat’s Eye’ style, so named for its gently sloping oval-shaped face. At SIHH this year, the ‘Cat’s Eye’ watch came in three gorgeous looks, which all featured a plum blossom flower on the dial. The discerning watch enthusiast is invited to choose between deep midnight blue aventurine, Mother of Pearl, and diamond versions.

The ‘Cat’s Eye Majestic’ watch, which comes in an oblong shape, stays true to the Girard-Perregeaux heritage while providing aventurine adventure by way of its ‘Celestial’ and ‘Tourbillon’ models.

Piaget

At SIHH, insiders were welcomed to the #PiagetSociety, which was styled as a social beach hangout, complete with real sand inside its branded salon. While the theme felt rather whimsical, its new pieces were out-of-this-world cool, especially in the case of its new ‘Altiplano Meteorite’ collection, which featured real iron meteorite  – a material as everlasting as a diamond. The corsuscated dial was polished to a high-shine, revealing marks that are individually unique. Given the rarity of the material, no two are identical. These handsome watches are more masculine in appearance, but we predict a new generation of young women finding the allure of these sturdy pieces.

For feminine timepieces, Piaget is outshining the competition with diamond-paved new versions of its ‘Possession’ style. This year, they feature interchangeable straps in cherry-pink alligator leather. Two versions have matching pink dials and hour markers, as well as 18k rose-gold cases and diamond-set rotating bezels, while the other two come in white gold. The diamond version is especially stunning due to its snow setting, which features 726 stones made from 6.58 carats.

Piaget’s exquisite ‘Gala’ style – so named for Salvador Dali‘s prismatic and endlessly fascinating wife, Gala Dali – was reinvented as the ‘Limelight Gala’ with a new gemsetting of 4.8 carats and an openwork setting that puts all of the spotlight on the stones. This curvaceous timepiece combined both high jewelry and artistic beauty for a look that was one of our favorites of the fair. 

Jaeger-LeCoultre

When it comes to the “Art of Precision”, Jaeger-LeCoultre is the master, having created a tourbillon so precise that it stands in a league of its own. For those who have no clue what a tourbillon is, here’s a quick lesson: Due to the delicate nature of watchmaking, no matter what you do to prevent it, gravity will work on the watch hands, slowing them down over time and making the measure imprecise. That is why, traditionally at least, everyone used to wind their watches at the end of the day, to “reset” the mechanism and ensure precision. A tourbillon is a small, counterbalancing whirlwind inside of the watch that works to diminish the effects of gravity. Without getting too far into the complicated mechanics of a tourbillon, suffice to say that having one present on a high-end watch isn’t just for show, it’s for necessity.

The ‘Hybris Mechanica’ that Jaeger-LeCoultre invented is a gyrotourbillon made from 1,050 parts and completed with 12 unique patents, making it the most complicated watch in the world. It is so precise that the gyro completely cancels both the effects of gravity and energy on the watch.

At SIHH 2019, Jaeger-LeCoultre debuted its ‘Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Calendar’ timepiece, which features a perpetual calendar that uniquely chimes the Westminster melody. It also unveiled its ‘Master Ultra-Thin Moon Enamel’ timepiece, which features a sunray, handmade guilloche, and a grand blue enamel dial with a moon complication. The ‘Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Enamel’ style spotlights an ultra thin tourbillon, paired with an laser-engraved date calendar. Each style comes in a limited-edition quantity of less than 100 each.

Finally, at Jaeger-LeCoultre, a new moon rises on its ‘Rendez-Vous’ collection for women. Featuring a griffe setting, these timepieces exemplify high-jewelry savoir faire. The new moon design features a dial made from Mother of Pearl, encircled by diamonds, as well as a moon complication and two choices of alligator leather strap.

IWC Schaffhausen

IWC Schaffhausen is the producer of some of the world’s most thrilling watches for men, and they’re so good that women want to wear them too. For evidence, look no further than the brand’s cadre of brainy, brilliant, intriguing brand ambassadors like Karolina Kurkova, Rosamund Pike, and Hend Sabri.

At SIHH 2019, IWC – without a doubt – had the most elaborate and most exciting brand activation we’ve ever seen. Not to be outdone by other houses who occupied their own wing, IWC took flight with the #SilverSpitfire, an iconic plane that has been resurrected by the watchmaker for a manned flight around the globe slated for later this year.

Inside its salon at SIHH, a replica plane spread its impressive wings, making it the ideal place at the fair to snap some eye-popping photos. They also went all out on a gala affair that attracted thousands in their best-dressed finery to enjoy an evening of entertainment inside of a massive airplane hangar – the perfect place for wheeling an actual Spitfire plane in to to kick off the dinner.

The ‘Spitfire’ watch, naturally, supports the over-the-top theme of the event, but it is the ‘Portofino’ collection that really catches a woman’s eye. These sleek, sophisticated timepieces didn’t see any new debuts at SIHH, but they were still the talk of the celebrity circuit (Pike and Kurkova specifically mentioned their beauty to us in exclusive, forthcoming interviews).

IWC Silver Spitfire
Photo: Courtesy of IWC

Audemars Piguet

In what is Audemars Piguet’s last year to officially show at SIHH, the brand pulled out all of the stops. In a room filled with stadium-seating, brilliant commercials splashed across a triptych of television screens, depicting the likes of Serena Williams talking passionately about her love of her Audemars Piguet ‘Royal Oak’ timepiece.

The ‘Royal Oak’ is certainly Audemars Piguet’s most recognizable style, but this year the brand expanded its vocabulary. The new ‘Code 11:59’ collection has an interesting narrative, with the time signature referring to the minute before midnight, the moment right before a new day begins. Filled with promise and kinetic energy, the ‘Code 11:59’ style repurposes the ‘Royal Oak’s’ hexagonal bezel, employing the shape for the case middle instead. It also features a handsome double-curved profile, a raised 3D logo, and a self-winding chronograph. The collection includes a ‘Flying Tourbillon’, a ‘Perpetual Calendar’, an ‘Openworked Tourbillon’, and  ‘Minute Repeater styles.

As much respect as Audemars Piguet earned at SIHH for its bold new direction and high complications, it is its high-jewelry watch that impressed the most. In fact, we’re going out on a limb and saying it was the most dazzling watch of the entire fair. First, the numbers: the Audemars Piguet ‘Haute Joaillerie Sapphire Orb’ (which, incidentally, barely resembles a watch) took 1,050 hours to create. It features more than 12,000 stones of sapphire, diamond, ombré orange sapphires, and is arranged in six graded shades of blue and orange, each in 20 different diameters ranging from 0.5 mm to 1.5 mm in size. Named for Le Brassus, the river that flows outside of the home of Audemars Piguet, this outrageously over-the-top timepiece will make your jaw drop when you see it in person.

Hermès

Although Hermès is one of the world’s most recognizable and sought-after luxury brands in the world, at SIHH, it is something of an outsider. Because the brand is not known for fine-watchmaking, it has a steeper hill to climb in proving its worth and merit, but it is nothing if not equal to the task.

What Hermès does better than most at SIHH is storytelling, allowing its new releases to live at an intersection between craft and art in a way that produces some truly unique timepieces. For 2019, Hermès’ focus was on dreams, drawing from a quote by Jean-Louis Dumas: “Head in the stars, feet on the ground.” What this translates to as far as watch design are collections dedicated to reaching beyond what one normally associates with the category, namely, thought-provoking collaborations with bright, young artisans.

The ‘Galop d’Hermès’ watch highlights the brand’s envelope-pushing efforts. Rejecting traditional watchmaking designers, they have instead tapped Ini Archibong for a rare collaboration, resulting in a feminine collection of gently curving watches with flared dials. Archibong’s goal was to capture the feel of women in motion, while retaining an iconic sense of design befitting Hermès’ luxury legacy. The results are gorgeous, minimal, and instantly classic.

The ‘Cape Cod Chaîne d’ancre’ style is another feminine timepiece that is both a traditional jewelry watch and something that can be worn every day (that’s pretty hard to find in the watch world). Based on the design that originated in 1938, the new version features smaller, more integrated diamonds for a more subtle look.

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