The Geneva fair saw the debut of a surprising number of entry-priced timepieces
If you’ve ever been to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, you know that “affordable” is the last word you’d associate with the fair, or any of the products presented there. Known for its sleek and sophisticated setting, exclusive invite list, champagne and foie gras lunches, and extraordinary timepieces—many priced north of $300,000—SIHH is a bastion of wealth and privilege, troubled global economy be damned.
And yet, 2016 will be remembered as the year that the fair’s prestige brands rolled out a slew of reasonably priced models, some as low as $3,950! Lord, even Richard Mille and Greubel Forsey, two of the fair’s most extravagant watchmakers, introduced entry-level pieces—though take that news with a grain of salt. The former’s notoriously expensive collection now starts around $100,000 for the new RM67-01 Automatic Extra Flat Watch (though exact pricing has yet to be confirmed). And the latter’s range, which typically hovers around $500,000, now includes the Greubel Forsey Signature 1; in stainless steel (a first for the brand) with blue dial, the piece retails for around $170,000.
Here are five of my favorite affordable introductions, arranged from least to most expensive:
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII – $3,950
IWC Schaffhausen’s revamped Pilot’s Watch collection includes two new models—the Pilot’s Watch 36 and Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII—priced at $3,950, “absolutely a new entry price for the brand,” says PR manager Jamie Williams. I’m particularly fond of the latter model. Simple and elegant, much like the original Mark 11, introduced in 1940, the Mark XVIII is a paragon of minimalism: Big and round Arabic numerals, a date window at 3 o’clock, and a caseback engraved with the outline of a Junkers Ju 52 plane (the definitive aircraft of the 1930s) are its chief design features. This one’s going on my shopping list!
IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
Baume & Mercier Clifton Chronograph Complete Calendar – $4,990
A handsome complicated men’s watch for less than $5,000? Baume & Mercier’s new Clifton Chronograph Complete Calendar delivers on that promise and then some. Housed in a 43 mm steel case, the 1950s-inspired model features—as its name would imply—a chronograph and a complete calendar. With its sun-silvered dial, 48-hour power reserve, and fine finishing, it’s the perfect starter gift for watch connoisseurs-to-be. (A two-tone version retails for $5,450.)
Baume & Mercier Clifton Chronograph Complete Calendar
Cartier Drive – $6,500
One of the fair’s most talked-about introductions was the new Drive de Cartier collection of cushion-shaped men’s pieces. Available in steel and rose gold editions equipped with in-house automatic movements (the model shown here is powered by calibre 1904-PS MC), the line starts at $6,250 for the steel version with white dial. I’m partial to the slightly more expensive black dial in steel (both launch in May). But any way you cut it, this is one sexy men’s watch. I’d call it a sure thing.
Drive de Cartier in steel with black dial featuring a self-winding manufacture mechanical movement; Vincent Wulveryck © Cartier
Panerai Radiomir 1940 with white dial – $10,000
With its snazzy white dial, the new Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic Acciaio (PAM655) from Panerai certainly looks different. But what you can’t see is that it functions a little differently, too, thanks to its automatic P.4000 movement made entirely at the Officine Panerai manufacture in Neuchâtel. The 42 mm watch (shown here in a polished steel case) is a pretty good deal for in-house know-how. And it points the way forward for Panerai: The brand is planning to phase out all base models with ETA movements over time and replace them with in-house calibers.
Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic Acciaio (PAM655) with white dial
Vacheron Constantin Overseas in Steel With Date – $19,900
The big story for Vacheron Constantin this year is the overhaul of its sporty Overseas collection, which offers an entry price of $19,900 for a simple date model in stainless steel. That may sound steep for a straightforward mechanical movement, but get this: The in-house calibre boasts the Hallmark of Geneva, watchmaking’s most prestigious third-party certification. Sold with three strap options—a steel bracelet, rubber, and alligator leather—the watch is versatile, mechanically impressive, and really, really, ridiculously good looking!
Vacheron Constantin Overseas in steel with date
Public Service Announcement
So you know that expiration date on your passport? Don’t let it lull you into thinking you’ve got until that very day to travel overseas. I showed up at JFK on Saturday, Jan. 16, with plenty of time for my evening flight to Geneva only to be told that I couldn’t board the plane unless I changed my return ticket to Monday, Jan. 18 (which would have given me 24 hours in the city). That’s because my passport expires April 18 and they wouldn’t let me into Switzerland without a full three months remaining on it. I ended up bagging the trip and buying a one-way ticket home to LA that night, so I was a spectator to SIHH this year. Won’t be making that mistake again!