2016 was a tough year for the watch industry. Even as we approached the final quarter of the year, whispers of doom and gloom found their way into the pessimistic prattling of watchmaking’s less-established maisons.
But it seems 2017 might be able to breathe new life into a formerly flagging market. This year’s iteration of SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève) held in Geneva between 16th January and 20th January was bustling with brands keen to show off their newest wares. There was renewed joie de vie about proceedings that has been palpably absent in the past 18 months, but why is this?
I personally believe the industry is experiencing a ‘back-to-basics’ renaissance. It is a fortuitous fluke that consumer tastes seem, over the past year and a half, to have reverted to the simple classicism of old.
Of course, there are plenty of brands that still straddle the boundary between the absurd and the inspired, leaning on the ‘shock-jock’ portion of the market. If you want 50mm cases hewn from a material previously thought to exist solely within the Marvel Universe, you’ll find plenty of willing renegades happy to help. But if you want substance over style, the major manufactures are there to oblige.
From a manufacturing standpoint, this antiquarian phase is a godsend – manufacturing these watches costs a hell of a lot less in research and development, does not require significant retooling in the machining stage, and will populate the back catalogue with timeless pieces far more likely to remain in vogue than trend-chasing flash-in-the-pans.
So let’s take a brief look at three watches (in no particular order) that hit the nail on the head this SIHH:
Cartier de Drive Extra Flat
Following last year’s release of the Cartier de Drive, which was, in my opinion, a home run hit at the time, the Extra Flat refines the concept while adding a more unisex dimension to this piece. You don’t often see non-round super-thin watches. At 6.6mm thick, this piece is accessible to anyone that knows class when they see it.
Lange & Söhne Lange 31
Lange & Söhne don’t often make mistakes. Their style is so quintessentially theirs, and so exquisitely bracketed, as long as they keep doing what they’ve done for the past two decades, they’ll always be right at the top end. This piece sports a deliciously muted dial, teamed with exceptional functionality.
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600
With 23 complications, it is one of the most complicated wristwatches ever created. It differs wildly from the other two pieces listed here, as it is a one-off. Unique as it may be, its message is universal – the old ways will endure. Time is precious and should only be recorded by objects worthy of the task.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.