Most journalists who visit Watches & Wonders walk around the show in pursuit of interesting and, ideally, surprising technological innovations. I do it, too. And though there were much fewer spectacular complications this year, some manufacturers left me feeling pleasantly surprised. How? A pinch of good humour (and humour is still a medicine in this industry).
It’s what made me smile when I saw the famous Kermit the Frog from the Muppet Show peeking out of the aperture of the ProPilot X Kermit Edition from Oris.
Rolex got even more imaginative with a playful version of the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36, which displays the words “Love”, “Peace” or “Hope” instead of the day of the week, and one of 31 specially designed emojis instead of the date. The mesmerising dial consists of colourful puzzle pieces made from Grand Feu enamel, classified as one of the “métiers d’art”. And though the term “métiers d’art” evokes long-gone eras, in the new Day-Date this age-old technique is used in a rather tongue-in-cheek way. Well done for not taking yourselves too seriously!
Chanel also showed us a funny surprise. Each of the five watches in the Mademoiselle Privé series evokes symbols associated with Gabrielle Chanel and takes us back to a time when Chanel watches did not yet exist. In her atelier on rue Cambon in Paris, Gabrielle Chanel always had two tools at hand: scissors suspended from a ribbon that she wore around her neck as a necklace, and, on her wrist, an indispensable tool for every seamstress – a pin cushion. That’s why the cases of all models in the series are shaped and sized like a pincushion (with a diameter of 55 mm!), and the dials show motifs of the most famous Chanel designs: a lace camellia, a quilted handbag, gold chains with pearls, diamond embroidery and a tweed jacket. My favourite was the last one showing a jacket at the stage of being cut. It is “trimmed” with 92 diamonds and there are miniature gold scissors, a tape measure and a thimble. It is surrounded by a gold chain – the same as the one sewn into every Chanel jacket (this is the secret of their perfect fit). The Mademoiselle Privé series is art for art’s sake and very much in the style of Chanel.
However it was Cartier that moved me into a completely different world. Their Santos-Dumont Skeleton watch has an original micro-rotor resembling a miniature model of the “Demoiselle” aeroplane, which was built by Albert Santos-Dumont in 1907. Looking at the dial, the plane appears to be flying over the Earth. It looks really fun but this is some serious watchmaking, because it took Cartier almost two years to develop the new calibre which consists of 212 parts.
One of the unique creations at W&W was also the minimalist Slim d’Hermès Cheval de Légende by Hermès with a galloping horse motif on an enamel dial. The silhouette of the horse is formed by 1,678 gold or enamel balls applied by skilled enamellers and surrounded by 52 baguette-cut diamonds. The craftsman used a laser to create tiny indentations in the hand-polished dial, then applied gold balls and fired the whole thing in a kiln. This is an extremely complicated procedure, as removing the dial a few seconds too early or too late can ruin the whole work. The second design composed of blue balls is made in a similar way, but this time the balls are crushed enamel crystals, which are selected before firing then moistened and applied to the dial with a brush.
I am glad that Watches & Wonders includes projects that don’t take themselves too seriously and even inject a bit of irony into the watch world. I really did feel like I had been invited to play. After all, this event has not only watches in its title, but also wonders.