Nostalgia for normalcy
Last year was difficult for Swiss watch brands: according to data published by the Swiss Federation of Clock and Watch Manufacturers’ Associations (FHS), exports fell by 21.8% compared to 2019, and in terms of value they were at the level of the 2010 quotations (in 2020, they amounted to CHF 16.9 billion, and in 2010: CHF 16.2 billion). Commentators talk about a lost decade this industry is about to face. Making up for the losses will certainly take a long time, and it is unclear whether ten years would be enough to return to excellent results from several years back (less than CHF 17 billion achieved last year is a decline compared to the record export in 2014, i.e. CHF 22.3 billion). The results would be even worse were it not for China, which is the largest importer of Swiss watches. Despite the pandemic, Swiss exporters recorded double-digit increases there: by 20% compared to 2019, and by as much as 39.4% compared to 2018. And this is the only good news for the Swiss, as the remaining markets in the top ten suffered significant losses. For example in the USA (second on the list of importers), imports have fallen by 17.5%, and in Hong Kong (third on the list) by as much as 36.9%. The crisis was most noticeable on the European markets, as the value of exports fell by 25.2%. Statistics also show that the Swiss are exporting fewer and fewer watches: in 2000, there were about 30 million of them, and last year only 13.7 million. How did manufacturers react to this new situation? They do their best to get customers’ attention.
This year’s virtual Watches & Wonders showroom differed in several respects from what we already knew. Instead of luxurious booths arranged in Geneva’s Palexpo, exhibitors and visitors had to meet online. It was there that press conferences, discussions and presentations were held (as reported by FHH, the organizer of the showroom, as many as 500 conferences and 400 presentations were organized over the course of a few days, attended by as many as 23,000 guests). Another novelty was the number of exhibitors. This year, even more of them applied, since the brands belonging to Richemont were joined by: Patek Philippe, Rolex, Chanel, Chopard, Carl F. Bucherer, LVMH brands (TAG Heuer, Zenith, Bulgari and Hublot), and smaller companies, including Oris, Nomos Glashütte and Chronoswiss. Until now, most of them would showcase their new products only at the Basel fair, which is why their participation in Watches & Wonders strengthened this event a lot.
The latest collections are dominated by common sense and pragmatism — the manufacturers have drawn conclusions from the crisis and have stopped nervously outdoing one another in the number of additional features (although the competitive struggle becomes more intense). This year’s Watches & Wonders showed more watches reminiscent of the good old days. Especially when it comes to design, with retro, vintage and oldschool still not going out of fashion.
The examples are many. Among the classic models, the Historiques American 1921 by Vacheron Constantin stood out. This year marks one hundred years since Vacheron Constantin launched a watch for the US market with an original cushion-shaped case and a dial rotated 45 degrees. The timepiece has been designed for owners of the first automobiles so that they do not have to take their hands off the steering wheel while driving when they want to check the time. The modern re-edition of this watch has a larger case (40 x 40 mm) made of white gold. Designers also moved the small second hand to 3 o’clock (in the prototype it was at 6 o’clock). The movement was hand-wound caliber 4400 AS with a 65-hour power reserve, which is visible under the transparent caseback (also a sign of our times).
Chopard also had a reason to celebrate; during the Watches & Wonders, it celebrated e.g. the 25th anniversary of its manufacture with the presentation of the L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25, the first watch of this brand with jumping hour indications. Despite its rather modest appearance, the L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25 could shine with its unique, hand-wound movement with a high power reserve of up to 8 days.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre brand, on the other hand, celebrated the 90th anniversary of its most famous model, the Reverso. The noble celebrator appeared in its original version of Reverso Tribute Nonantième, coming from a limited series of 190 pieces. This watch was the first to use the so-called jumping hour (this feature is visible on the case back; apart from it, you can also see the minutes and the day/night indicator on the disc). The main dial, in turn, shows the traditional time indications (with a small seconds hand at 6 o’clock), as well as a date display in a double window at 12 o’clock and indications of the phases of the moon at 6 o’clock. To make it feel more traditional, the hand-wound caliber 826 with a 42-hour power reserve was used as the movement for the anniversary Reverso.
The atmosphere of the 1930s is also brought back by the Calatrava Ref. 6119G by Patek Philippe. Since its emergence in 1932, the Calatrava has been the paragon of a classic timepiece.
It owes its timeless appearance to clear lines, balanced proportions and minimalism, as this model’s style referred to the Bauhaus philosophy, very popular in the early 1930s. At that time, functionality and precision were what mattered the most, which was achieved thanks to the use of precious materials and a solid movement. The new version of the Calatrava has a case (39 mm) made of white or rose gold, finished with a decorative bezel adorned with the guilloche Clous de Paris design (this design first appeared in 1934 and has been inherently associated with the Calatrava ever since). The indices are driven by the new hand-wound 30-255 PS caliber with a 65-hour power reserve.
Montblanc also opted for retro: the 1858 Monopusher Chronograph Origins Limited Edition is in the style of historical watches with a stopwatch. Its huge case (49 mm in diameter) is made of bronze and owes its unusual size to a reconstructed, nearly 100 years old movement that is hidden under the case back.
Another brand, i.e. IWC, proposed e.g. a smaller version of the classic Big Pilot, whose case has “shrunk” to 43 mm, but is fitted with a quick strap replacement system. Thus, the owner can change the strap to a steel bracelet on their own. The smaller Big Pilot is driven by the automatic caliber 82100 with hour and minute indications and a central second hand (you can see it under the transparent case back).
Rolex also refreshed its evergreens, gracing Watches & Wonders e.g. with new versions of the
Explorer, Explorer II and Cosmograph Daytona models. As always, the most emotions were raised by the arrival of the new Daytona, as there have been line-ups of almost every new version of this watch for years. This time, Rolex offered three golden variants. The most interesting of them was the one with a dial made of an iron meteorite with a characteristic porous structure. Something else has changed in the Daytona apart from the new dial: glass covered with an anti-reflective coating on the inside was used for the first time.
Colorful, preferably green
As you can see, retro has been among the major trends for another year in a row. Are historical motives a recipe for difficult times? Probably not, but it seems that in this new situation, a watch’s functionality matters more than the “wow” effect. And inspirations from the past are perfect to draw from, since all it takes is adapt the old design to modern expectations. In addition to the aforementioned evergreens, the new version of the Riviera model by Baume & Mercier is also noteworthy. The name of this watch is associated with the casual and carefree style of the 1970s. The first Riviera was launched in 1973 and had a distinct case with a diameter of 35 mm, finished with a twelve-sided bezel. Later on, this model changed many times over, appearing in different versions, and then disappearing from Baume & Mercier’s permanent collection. This year it has made its return. What is the new Riviera like? Quite different. All that’s remained from the prototype is the characteristic angular bezel. The rest was adapted to the expectations of the modern customer: the case was enlarged to 41.5 mm, a modern movement was used (the automatic caliber BM13-1975A has a 5-day power reserve and is more resistant to magnetic fields) and the watch is equipped with a quick strap replacement system. On Watches & Wonders, Baume & Mercier showcased several versions. The most interesting is the one with a translucent, navy blue dial, which perfectly matches the elegant, marine atmosphere of the Riviera.
This watch can also serve as an example of another trend that could be noticed at Watches & Wonders, i.e. the blurring of the boundaries between sports and everyday watches, and between typically men’s and women’s timepieces. Both trends are nothing new, as they were already visible in the fashion world before, and the pandemic only contributed to reinforcing them. In times when we usually work remotely, a comfortable outfit often becomes a formal one. The case is similar with watches: in the past, sports models (e.g. those for divers) were worn during sports or in leisure time. Now they have become so common that they are worn with almost everything. Sports models gained a more chic look. An example is the aforementioned Riviera and the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight with a green dial and (for the first time) a gold case, as well as a refreshed version of the well-known Aquaracer shown by TAG Heuer. The most fashionable version of the Aquaracer Professional 300 is wrapped in a titanium case finished with a twelve-sided bezel. The bezel rotates in one direction (its work has been improved, so it is now handy to use) and has a satin, green inlay with an engraved 60-minute scale, with a characteristic triangle for 12 o’clock. The whole is complemented by a green dial with bold hands, large, applied hour indices covered with a thick layer of luminous mass and a date display at 6 o’clock (a round magnifier above the date display is located on the inside of the sapphire crystal). The indices are driven by the caliber 5 (it was created on the basis of the ETA 2824-2 caliber).
The last two watches, i.e. Black Bay Fifty-Eight and Aquaracer Professional 300, represent a trend that one can safely say is this year’s big hit. Of course, it is about green dials that dominated the collections of most brands. The first signals that this color is trending appeared two years ago. Back then, it was said that green is the new blue and blue is the new black, because more and more watches with blue dials would appear every year. Looking at this year’s collections, it seems that green is no longer the color of the brave and appears in all constellations: from classics (e.g. Pioneer Center Seconds Mega Cool by H. Moser & Cie.), through a modern interpretation of the regulator (Open Gear ReSec Paraiba by Chronoswiss), to the ultra-flat, technically advanced Altiplano Ultimate Concept La Côte-aux-Fées by Piaget. And even such a conservative brand as Patek Philippe did not resist this trend with the launch of the famous Nautilus with an olive green dial (Ref. 5711/1A-014).
Let’s be eco
For some traditional watch brands, making extravagant models is a matter of honor. And events such as Watches & Wonders are a great opportunity to show off something that will keep everyone talking. After all, the original complexity or materials that have never been used before are a great lure to convince not only the richest collectors, but also eccentrics, to approach the brand. The Hermès brand boasted an interesting and very fresh idea this year. Its new, versatile H08 model has a cushion-shaped case that is associated with the retro style, but this is just for the sake of appearance. The housing is made of a composite that includes graphene. The bezel and the crown, in turn, are made of scratch-resistant ceramics. The H08 is therefore a very interesting proposition for those seeking original timepieces.
While in the “cutting-edge materials” category, this year’s undisputed winner is Hublot and its unique tourbillon watch. The Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire not only has a clear case, but also a transparent bracelet. They are both made of sapphire crystal manufactured in the company’s workshops. The Hublot experts have mastered the processing and art of manufacturing watch parts from this difficult material, so that they can show their new pieces every now and then. In the Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire, you can see everything clearly, and the complex movement (caliber HUB6035) looks like it has been frozen in a block of ice.
When it comes to using unconventional materials, the Panerai and its Submersible e-LAB-ID PAM01225, made almost entirely of recycled materials, is right behind the Hublot watch (and first in terms of sustainability). As much as 98.6% of it consists of recycled materials. The 44 mm case, multilayer dial and bridges are made of the so-called eco-titanium, a titanium alloy made of 80% recycled material. This results in four times less carbon dioxide generated during manufacture. Panerai also uses other recycled materials: luminous mass, silicon, sapphire crystal and the raw material for the manufacture of hands. The eco-friendly Submersible is powered by an automatic caliber P.900e (“e” stands for recycled materials) and comes with a strap made from recycled PET bottles.
In keeping with the eco spirit, we should also mention the modern version of Cartier’s Tank Must SolarBeat, powered by the SolarBeat photovoltaic movement. This watch has no traditional battery, but a special charging system: the solar energy reaches the photovoltaic cells under the dial through perforated Roman numerals. As the manufacturer assures, this clever system will require servicing only after 16 years. In the Tank Must SolarBeat model, the strap is ecological as well: it is not made of animal leather, but of material that was created by processing apple scraps. Cartier boasted that with this solution it is possible to reduce the carbon footprint and water consumption, which is needed in the manufacture of conventional leather.
The need to be more eco-friendly has been talked about in the watch industry for several years now. What some brands are already doing, offering watches with straps made from old plastic bottles, vegan leather or supporting NGOs for environmental protection, can be considered the start of tangible action. This is the direction that all big brands should follow.