The good, the bad, and the ugly
Increasing the number of brands present at Watches & Wonders, the organizers also brought back big names from the now-defunct Baselworld. For a journalist, W&W is an excellent occasion to meet representatives of all the brands present. Or is it?
Every watch brand wishes (and some even expect) that each major publication and prominent journalist attend the Touch & Feel sessions, the one-on-one meetings with their representative, attend the brand’s keynote presentations and maybe have a photo shoot to present the novelties in the publication’s personal style. It sounds plausible when a publication has a small army of journalists and at least a photographer/videographer. But for small teams and solo journalists, it was impossible.
If we consider that a series of smaller fairs were held in Geneva City in parallel with “leftover” Baselworld brands and major independent brands, we can only conclude that many brands, inside and outside of W&W, remained unvisited and uncovered – at least not to their full potential. It is a big miss, for everyone.
Like any event of this amplitude, Watches & Wonders 2023 witnessed a huge number of launches. The number of shares on social networks exceeded all expectations, with 1.8 million posts mentioning #watchesandwonders and an estimated reach of over 600 million people – more than half a billion – an all-time high.
As in previous events, I had a hard time remembering all the pieces launched. That is why I decided to only cover the watches that had a good enough impact to remain in my memory. And I will also state the reason why. Since all the watches mentioned have impressed me in various ways, I will not classify them in a top, but instead I will present them in the alphabetical order of their brand names.
Crossing boundaries with Cartier
I am a long-time fan of Cartier, one of the brands that have impressed me since childhood. I consider Cartier one of the most daring and innovative brands that have managed to create icons before everyone else. Every watch lover should be familiar with Cartier Santos and Tank, of all the collections. This spring, it was not one, but three Tanks that caught my eye.
The unpredictable one – the Jewelled Tank
Although I am an avid fan of ladies’ watches, I was surprised to be impressed at such a level. Based on the classic Tank design, and featuring a quartz movement, the Jewelled Tank stole my heart. Manufactured in yellow gold, a material I usually avoid, since I prefer rose and white gold, the case measures 31mm × 24.2mm, and it is 6.75mm thick.
What impressed me most was the striking combination of black onyx and gold, adorned with 50 brilliant-cut diamonds. Two other diamonds are set on the crown and the onyx dial. The bracelet is created from enamel and onyx cylinders, the ends of which are highlighted by a gold nail set with a diamond.
Consider it a guilty pleasure, but I would wear this watch without a second thought. On the right occasion, of course. So, ladies, if you wear this watch, be prepared to be approached. It is a conversation starter. It looks fantastic on the wrist, and it left me speechless. Cartier Ref. CRHP101592
Classic with a twist – Tank Louis Cartier
From the Tank series, two other watches caught my attention, again for aesthetic reasons. The two guilty pieces are Ref. CRWGTA0175 and Ref. CRWGTA0176. The unmistakable signature of the Cartier style, geometry and contrasts are the subject of continuous creative research. These two versions of the Tank Louis Cartier use graphic motifs in gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and white gold—in an homage to the Tank Must dials of the 1970s—to create an optical grid.
I was captivated by the sunray dial on which rectangular shapes play with light in a spectacular show. The dials entailed some complications in manufacturing, necessitating several steps for each color obtained.
Available in yellow and rose gold respectively, on an alligator strap, the two Tank Louis Cartier models are equipped with the 1917 MC movement with manual winding. The look of the Tank on the wrist is a classic, this model remaining one of the most recognizable wristwatches ever created.
Czapek & Cie Antarctique Révélation
Czapek is a small independent brand that reestablished François Czapek as one of the pivotal names in watchmaking. During his lifetime, Czapek was quickly recognized as one of the greatest watchmakers of the nineteenth century. Purveyor to the Imperial Court, Watchmaker of His Imperial Highness Prince Napoleon. He wrote a book on watchmaking, one of the first of its kind ever written in Polish. At its height, the company had boutiques in Geneva, Warsaw and Paris, Place Vendôme.
The new company takes pride in its name and creates spectacular pieces with exceptional technicity and exciting aesthetics. I have followed the brand since its inception in 2012 and visit them on every occasion. Watches and Wonders 2023 was a good opportunity for me to be amazed by their latest creation, the Antarctique Révélation.
Part of their sports collection, the Antarctique Révélation is a skeletonized watch that brings everything on the face of the dial. The watch features the new caliber SXH7, a worthy follower of the 2021’s Rattrapante and its SXH5 movement. In a world of circular economy and environmental awareness, the recycled platinum rotor shows the brand’s commitment to the next generations.
The Révélation, as the name suggests, reveals its most important constituents. The elegant skeletonization brings the new design to the forefront, offering an impressive technical show. Not only is the concept impressive but the decorations are exceptionally executed. Perfection in the small details is something that Czapek & Cie has genuine reasons to be proud of.
The Antarctique case measures 40.5mm in diameter, and being only 10.6mm thick, the watch is easy to wear in most conditions. The bracelet with Czapek’s exclusive “Easy Release” system and micro-adjustment device can be changed in minutes with a rubber strap, for lighter and sportier wear.
One for the ladies – Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Precious Colors
Besides Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre is another manufacturer guilty of timeless designs and the creator of perhaps my all-time favorite watch model – Reverso. History shows that Reverso was a stage on which many artists showcased their artistry. With fans among many prominent personalities worldwide, the reversible case of this legendary watch has allowed for an impressive number of original plays and shows.
For W&W 2023, Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to return to the Art Deco origins of Reverso and express the exceptional technical skills of the brand’s artisans via the ladies’ model, the Reverso One. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Precious Colors is a tour-de-force of decorative craftsmanship involving miniature-painted grand feu enamel with diamond-set accents, creating an optical illusion of depth and movement. Up to 15 firings are necessary to create this masterpiece, and each step could be fatal for this sensitive technique. If we consider that the sides are coated with enamel, the level of craftsmanship required is achieved over years of trial and many failures.
The last step is to decorate the case with diamonds using the grain-setting technique, in which tiny claws of gold are raised from the flat metal surface to hold each stone in place. Working with sharp tools and diamonds can easily damage the precious enamel. The setting requires 45 hours of meticulous work, in addition to the preceding 80 hours of enameling work.
This marvel is powered by the hand-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 846, a small and delicate movement perfect for this Reverso.
Unfortunately, the pictures do no justice to its beauty, so I recommend visiting the nearest JLC boutique to explore the Reverso One Precious Colors surfaces and to try it on your wrist. It is definitely worth it.
Fun for the wrist – Oris ProPilot X Kermit Edition
Kermit the Frog is the latest guest of the Oris brand. Oris is renowned for its unusual, well-chosen collaborations. And what I love about this collaboration is that Oris selects special partners, and the collaborations have a deep significance. The best known is the Aquis diving collection using dials made of recycled materials where the PET plastic recycling process produces random patterns, which means no two dials are the same.
For the Kermit Edition, Oris collaborated with Disney to produce the ProPilot X Calibre 400 with a fun, joyful dial. The collaboration with the most easy-going guy on the planet, Kermit the Frog from The Muppet Show, is meant to entertain, to put a smile on our faces. Considering this timepiece was intended as a tool watch, such a fun decorative element is meant to bring joy in difficult moments and not only.
I was immediately drawn to the magnetic green dial and the cheerful Kermit at 6 o’clock. Manufactured of satin-finish and sand-blasted titanium, the new ProPilot brings the lightness and effortless comfort of the collection but with a cheery twist. The watch is powered by the in-house caliber 400, a robust and reliable movement that Oris is proud of.
Parmigiani TONDA PF Minute Rattrapante
Parmigiani is all about immersion into the heart of purism. Of an almost understated elegance, the watches produced by this independent manufacturer come with exceptional characteristics. The most definitory one consists in the superb finishes on all the watch elements, whether case, dial, or movement.
No exception for the TONDA PF Minute Rattrapante that follows last year’s idea of GMT Rattrapante. But instead of using a GMT hand hidden under the hour hand, the new watch uses minutes as a time base. It conceals the other hand in 18k rose gold, which will calculate minutes in five or one-minute increments on demand. Pressing on either pusher will make the rose gold hand jump according to the desired increment: five minutes via the pusher at 8 o’clock, and one minute via the one at 10 o’clock. The period of time to be measured will have elapsed when the rhodium-plated hand reaches the position of the 18k rose gold hand. It is returned to its position by means of the crown-integrated pusher, similar to the split-seconds function. A third pusher, located on the crown, allows the “rattrapante minute” to return to its hidden position by “rattrapant” (“catching up”) with the minute hand.
Although this function might come as a joke for the Haute Horlogerie die-hards, it is a spectacularly simple (to use, not to implement) function. A perfect example is cooking pasta… Although Parmigiani Fleurier toyed with the idea of diving intervals, the watch is much too far from being a diver’s watch used for serious situations. But the idea is cool and valuable.
The case is manufactured in steel with a platinum bezel, so even though the watch is only 40mm in diameter, the weight is something to consider. The dial reveals a Grain d’Orge hand guilloché, the brand’s signature ornate style. The color scheme is neutral, and only the connoisseurs will recognize it. Caliber PF052 is spectacular and full of details. When the watch is seen from the back, the rose gold micro-rotor is the one that totally steals the show.
Return to origins – Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE
Twenty-two years ago, Ulysse Nardin sparked a revolution – the silicon revolution. Not only did the Freak introduce the silicon escapement and the Dual Direct Escapement, but the first hyperwatch needed to be special in every detail – it featured no dial, no hands, and no crown. More than 20 patents were filed for it.
Freak ONE revisits the genius of Dr. Ludwig Oechslin and revives the original Freak. It is regulated by a silicon hairspring introduced in 2008 and an escapement treated with DIAMonSIL, a trailblazing synthetic diamond and silicon plasma surfacing treatment first applied to the Freak in 2007, that makes the movement abrasion and shock-resistant. The Freak ONE also synthesized the visual dynamics of previous generations of the Freak, from the notched bezel of the original 2001 Freak, to the open gear train of the 2013 Freak Cruiser, to the legibility codes of the 2018 Freak Vision. The black DLC-coated titanium and rose gold detailing are echoed in recent Freak iterations, such as last year’s Freak S.
But regardless of how complex the Freak One might seem, the daily use is simple: lifting the locker at 6 o’clock (the small plate with the Freak engraving) allows the bezel to rotate – setting the time. The Freak ONE’s automatic movement has a 72-hour power reserve. Its patented Grinder® winding system has been designed to capture energy at the slightest movement of the wrist. When needed, the Grinder® can be used to wind the barrel – easily accessible on the back of the watch.
The time reading is quite intuitive – the minute bridge (that holds the entire gear train, the oversized silicon oscillator, and the orbital 60-minute flying carrousel tourbillon) floats above the barrel cover, which makes a full rotation once every 12 hours, indicating the hour via a V-shaped pointer.
Both on and off the wrist, the Freak One is a spectacular hyperwatch easy to wear and set. It makes a statement. A statement started 22 years ago that still inspires watchmakers to pursue alternative Haute Horlogerie.