Geneva Fairs Spotlight Luxury Watch Trends

SIHH Sees ‘Bright Future’

The 12th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), held April 8-15 at the Palexpo Center in Geneva, Switzerland, was one of the most successful to date. Thanks to rising attendance, a growing stable of top brands, and pacts with the Basel World Watch and Jewelry Show and SIHH’s landlord, show officials anticipate what one SIHH report calls “a very bright future.”

Attendance topped 10,000 for the first time, 10% higher than last year’s number. Also in attendance were some 800 members of the press—a 30% increase over the 2001 figure.

Despite gloomy global economies in 2001 and early 2002, exhibitors reported very good results. “Prestige watchmaking is standing up better to the current economic slowdown than the rest of the luxury goods sector,” noted a post-SIHH summary.

Aiding attendance and business was the addition of four more prestigious brands—Van Cleef & Arpels, A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Jaeger-LeCoultre—bringing the number of show exhibitors to a record 18. All four are owned by the Richemont Group, which launched SIHH in 1990. The other vendors are Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin—all owned by Richemont—Audemars Piguet, Bovet, Daniel JeanRichard, Girard-Perregaux, Roger Dubuis, Parmigiani Fleurier, and Perrelet.

An agreement last year with the Basel show finally coordinates (and overlaps) the two fairs’ dates through 2007. Brands in both shows—as well as their retail clients—had campaigned to have the dates aligned because many foreign customers were unwilling to travel to Switzerland twice in the first weeks of each new year to attend the two shows.

A further benefit for SIHH from the Basel pact is a new seven-year contract with Palexpo, guaranteeing use of its venues for those dates. (SIHH was bumped from its original date this year because of a car show.) The exhibition hall used by SIHH this year was expanded (to 18,000 square meters) and refurbished by Palexpo, and an additional, larger hall is under construction. The new hall will be available to SIHH for 2003 (April 7-14) and will provide more spacious facilities for the show.

Following are some 2002 debuts and eye-catchers.

  • Audemars Piguet marks 30 years of Royal Oak, the first stainless-steel sport watch, with new ads, a book about the watch, a new line of jewelry named for it, a new Web site, a new program to track and speed deliveries to AP retailers, and several new Royal Oak models. These include the Royal Oak City of Sails chrono, official watch of the Swiss challenger Alinghi in the America’s Cup race; and the limited-edition Royal Oak Concept, which was 30 months in design and production. Concept incorporates innovations for future AP watches, including a titanium bezel; a space-age alacrite case; a simpler, rounded design; a new generation movement with anti-shock tourbillon; pushpiece time adjuster; and water resistance to 500 meters.

  • Baume & Mercier celebrated 172 years with limited editions of the Hampton Spirit chronometer in pink or white 18k (172 each), featuring a wide rectangular case reminiscent of media screens. Also new from Baume & Mercier: Linea Variations, a jeweled watch with 104 top diamonds and five different bracelets and straps; and CapeLand S, a titanium-and-steel chronom-eter with bracelet of alternating polished and satin-finished links, rotating bezel, and water resistance to 200 meters.

  • Cartier’s many debuts include Divan, with horizontal rectangular case (18k or steel), silver-grained dial with Roman numerals and seconds function, Cartier quartz movement, blue steel hands, wide strap in red or brown, and water resistance to 100 ft.

  • Also new from Cartier is the Art Deco Pasiphaé, with square bezel in a round case with mottled motif, on a unique bracelet (a strand of white 18k on one side, two strands on the other); jeweled Himalia with eye-catching white 18k and diamond-set asymmetrical dial; the large white 18k Tortue, with enameled zebra motif dial set with diamonds (a new process); and two new dual-time movements in its Collection Privée Cartier.

  • Dunhill’s many new watches include the Citydiver (in its oversized facet watch line, Dunhillion) with a functional diving counter. The watch is equipped with an automatic movement, visible through the see-through back, and a black dial with three-part construction, Superluminova hands and numerals, and rubberized leather bracelet. It is water resistant to 50 meters. A crown at 2 o’clock operates the diving counter.

  • IWC, one the oldest makers of pilot’s watches, offered its largest yet—the aptly named Big Pilot watch (46 mm). The steel watch has a large seconds hand, anti-reflecting sapphire glass protected against drops in air pressure, and water resistance to 60 meters. It uses a new automatic movement, IWC’s exclusive Pellaton winding mechanism, and has a seven-day power reserve. A special feature prevents the movement from running down. Also available is a limited edition of 500 in platinum.

  • Jaeger-LeCoultre debuted a new version of Reverso Septantième. Its new case—the largest yet for the 70-year-old rectangular swivel watch—houses a new JlC movement, with seconds at 5 o’clock, day/night indicator, large date display, and eight-day power reserve. Production is limited to 500 in platinum and in pink 18k. The Reverso Neva for women sports a wavy mosaic of 550 small diamonds on its white 18k case cover, while Reverso Gran’Sport Duo has two time zones. In contrast to the Reverso is the round Master Compressor Memorox, based on the watch of the 1960s.

  • German watchmaker A. Lange&Söhne debuted two watches at SIHH. Lange 1 (in yellow or rose 18k or platinum), the brand’s flagship model, is enhanced with an always-moving moon phase display powered by a continuous hour-wheel drive. Its deviation is only one day in 122.6 years, thanks to its precisely engineered gear train. Other features include twin mainspring barrels for a three-day power reserve, and a progressive power reserve indicator. The rectangular Grand Arkade has a patented whiplash precision index adjuster on a hand-engraved balance cock. Both watches have a patented outsized date, stop seconds, sapphire crystal glass and caseback, and solid silver dial with gold appliqués and hands.

  • Montblanc has 56 new models, including two lines that differ from its traditional watches. The Profile Collection has quartz chronos, two large watches, and 12 women’s models, including six jewelry watches. The steel Summit Collection has very flat casings—a new shape for Montblanc—and dials in various colors.

  • Also new: A solid gold (18k) automatic chrono in its Sport Collection; Montblanc’s first medium chrono for women, the steel, diamond-studded Lady Chrono, with rose-colored mother-of-pearl dial and alligator strap, in its Star Steel Lady line; and accessories in rubber and in stainless steel for “design-conscious” young adults.

  • Officine Panerai, the Italian brand known for extra-large cases, black dials, and popularity with film stars, unveiled the steel Luminor Marina Automatic 44 mm, with small seconds dial and date window; a new 42-mm automatic Panerai Radiomir; and its first Panerai Luminor Marina in gold (150 pieces), all in its Contemporary collection. There’s also a redesigned hand-wound movement for Panerai Luminor 44 mm in the brand’s Historical collection, and a re-issue of its Panerai Luminor Marina 1950 (1,950 units, over two years) in its Special Editions collection.

  • Parmigiani Fleurier showed a dozen new models, including a new version of its Forma watch; a new line of automatic Basica watches, with dials in 18k brushed satin or translucent enamel; and an entirely new Quantième Perpétuel Rétrograde (the first created and manufactured in-house, including a new automatic movement with precision moon indicator) in the brand’s Toric line.

  • Piaget’s many introductions include the classic ultra-thin Piaget 1967, with a 2.1-mm mechanical Piaget movement, on a thin gold bracelet; a large collection of interchangeable bracelets/straps for the Miss Protocol Allongée; additions to its contemporary women’s tonneau series, with Roman dial and oversized numerals, the intended flagship of Piaget’s women’s jewelry watches; and a women’s jeweled version of Upstream, the men’s watch with folding bezel at 12 o’clock. Also new is a limited edition (100) of a self-winding pink 18k Upstream with 40-hour power reserve, silvered dial, dauphine hands, and small second hand at 10 o’clock.

  • Roger Dubuis (who limits each model to 28) added a new collection called GoldenSquare. Available in three sizes, it has an 18k cambered square case on a leather strap pierced with many little holes for comfort. It uses a hand-wound or automatic mechanical movement stamped with the famous Geneva Hallmark.

  • Van Cleef & Arpels added an 18k and diamond women’s line called Lianne (with the crown on back), featuring bracelets of two or three separated chains—a “snake” chain which can be worn as a necklace, and a serpentine chain (with 18k spheres at either end, one with the watch) that winds around arm or wrist.

  • Also new is the brand’s first pendant watch, in ebony, white 18k, and diamonds; a new version of its 1936 Padlock watch, with a supple bracelet in white or yellow 18k and various diamond settings; and an 18k (white or yellow) bracelet of three to five rows of square links for its Cadenas and Cadenas S. Vacheron Constantin, the oldest luxury watchmaker in uninterrupted operation (since 1755), celebrates two events: One is the 30th anniversary of its classic 1972 with trapezoid case, in a limited edition with yellow or white 18k Milanese bracelet. The other is the company’s 247th year, marked with 247 platinum versions of its self-winding skeletonized to-and-fro calendar men’s watch. The model features a 38-hour power reserve, a view of its day and date calendar mechanisms, and a stylish “Côtes de Genève” pattern on the main plate. Also, the brand’s power reserve watch—the star of its Complications line—received a facelift in the form of a silvery finish dial with engine-turned vertical stripes, power-reserve indicator, Roman numerals, and 18k markers.

Muller Adds MORE Luxury Brands to ‘Watchland’

Taking a leaf from the big watchmakers’ book, luxury watchmaker Franck Muller’s Watchland Group is becoming a mini-conglomerate of haute horlogerie brands, produced in Muller’s workshops on Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

First, there was Muller. Last year, he added the European Watch Co. (EWC) and two suppliers of dials and mechanical parts. This year, luxury watchmaker Pierre Kunz joined the Watchland Group, and company sources say yet another acquisition is possible. All three brands exhibited in Muller’s Fifth World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie (WPHH), April 6-14, 2002.

Kunz specializes in automatic retrograde timepieces—i.e., hands that move backward to measure a new period of time. They feature guilloché dials, classic fluted “Empire” cases, Côte de Genève decoration on the bridges, and a guilloché rotor with platinum. His first collection includes watches in gray 18k, including a chrono with pushbuttons embedded in the case; an impressive red 18k tourbillon; and the line’s masterpiece, the PKA 004, with retrograde hours, minutes, and moon phase, on a black-and-white dial in platinum case.

EWC’s watches are created by Roberto Carlotti, distributor of Franck Muller watches in Italy. The three lines—Panhard, Armada, and Legionnaire—feature ergonomically shaped watches in polished steel, matte black, or brushed titanium, in small, medium, and magnum sizes. Small sizes also come in gold for women.

This year, EWC debuts include the automatic diamond-set titanium M8 with 9.7 cts. of diamonds, blue mother-of-pearl dial, and white crocodile strap; the square Grand Guichet (42 mm, with dials in blue, black, white, or sand); and Diablo (42 mm, with independent jumping seconds and split seconds hands). EWC’s Lady Quartz M2 comes in red 18k, with seconds counter and day/date.

Muller debuted his women’s diamond-set Cintrée Curvex Chronograph Quartz, in red, white, or yellow 18k, with guilloché dials in white, pink, or blue; and his Tourbillon Revolution, the fruit of years of technical and aesthetic research. Several patents protect its new mechanism, including a pushbutton-activated tourbillon that rises to the sapphire crystal for viewing. Muller also added calendar, moon, and perpetual calendar functions to his popular Long Island line, and expanded his year-old jewelry line.

A high point was a gala marking Muller’s 10 years as an independent watchmaker and the fifth annual WPHH. Muller, a master watchmaker and one-time consultant to Geneva dealers and collectors, launched his brand in 1992, billing himself as the “Master of Complications.” Since then, he and his craftsmen have created more than 500 models and two-dozen “world premiere” complications and have registered almost as many patents.

In 1998, he withdrew from the SIHH, contending too many quartz watches were being allowed into the haute horlogerie fair, and started the WPHH. Last year, Muller opened “Watchland”—two 15,000-square-meter two-story buildings with state-of-the-art watchmaking facilities, where his staff and associate watchmakers create luxury watches and complications. Last year, Muller produced about 30,000 watches.

Bvlgari Watches: Hope for Better 2002

The Bvlgari Group, the Italian luxury jeweler, had a good fiscal 2001—except for watches. But this year, the company hopes to improve its figures in that arena.

Net revenues in 2001 rose 13% ($687.6 million), with sales up in all geographic areas except the Americas, and in all product categories except watches, which dropped 6% for the year and 27% in the fourth quarter. Watches provide 39% of Bvlgari’s turnover, slightly more than jewelry.

“[It was] an atypical year,” said Francesco Trapani, Bvlgari’s chief executive officer. “The first half [we had] excellent sales and profits, while the second half was influenced by the tragic events of Sept. 11 and by a deteriorating socioeconomic environment.” He attributed the drops in watch revenues, in part, to “missing sales to retailers, [who] aimed at reducing their existing stock.” However, Trapani expected an upturn in 2002’s second half and predicted, “Recovery of demand should rapidly bring about replenishment of inventories.”

Bvlgari’s luxury watch brands include not only Bvlgari-Bvlgari, but also Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta. Bvlgari bought them in 2000, along with Manufactures de Haute Horlogerie SA, makers of components for high-end watches, and united the two in a Bvlgari company called Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta Haute Horlogerie SA.

Bvlgari now has repositioned Gérald Genta to focus on people who are “nonconformist, free-spirited,” says a spokesperson. Debuts include a new version of the automatic Sport Retro, with a thick 41-mm round case (in steel and pink 18k, set with pink sapphires and diamonds, black and white diamonds, or black diamonds and rubies), black carbon fiber dial, and black rubber bracelet. The model features jumping hour, retrograde minutes, and calendar functions.

The Sport Bi-Retro, with a 45-mm steel case, has a dial with a net-like surface; orange details for seconds, minutes, hours, and date; and an exclusive bi-retrograde automatic movement with jumping hours, retrograde minutes, and calendar.

Daniel Roth aims at the vintage collector. Its debuts include a dual-face tourbillon in white or pink 18k or platinum 43-mm case, with a 200-hour power reserve (a first) in its Masters Grandes Complications collection. The front dial has Daniel Roth’s typical off-center three-zone second display, and the back shows the date and power reserve. The brand also has new versions of its successful Perpetual Calendar and Datomax, with new 41-mm cases in white or pink 18k or platinum.

Bvlgari’s debuts included the B.zero1, a 22-mm steel watch for women, based on its B.zero ring. The mother-of-pearl dial comes in various pastel shades with matching straps. Replacing the crown is an adjustment push-button in back.

The brand’s new steel Rettanglo for men and women has a streamlined 45-mm case (49 mm for the chrono version), black dial with oversized 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock markers, and rubber bracelet with steel links. Also new are two additions to the Diagono Professional line: the Tachymetric Chronograph and the GMT.