As with fashion, watches never sleep. (Well, some do when their power reserve runs out). The watch industry is always moving forward, developing with technological innovations and intriguing new designs. Although, it must be said, it moves at a far slower pace. Whereas trends dominate fashion and change every season, they can take years to evolve in the world of Swiss watches, which makes sense as a single timepiece can take years to conceive.
And just as the world’s fashion weeks dictate which trends we’ll be wearing next, there are two events that take place each year which inform those with a passion for wristwear. The biggest (just about) is Baselworld, where the likes of Rolex, Tudor and TAG Heuer unveil their latest creations; and the other is the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, which is home to Cartier, IWC, Montblanc and thirty two other luxury houses. Both take place in the spiritual home of watchmaking, Switzerland; and both see brands try and one-up each other by unveiling the boldest, baddest and most expensive ways of telling the time.
Want to know what top CEOs, rappers, and those who re-mortgage their house for a bit of metal will be strapping to their wrists in 2019? You’re in the right place. These are the best releases of SIHH 2019.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra Thin With Pink Gold Dial
There was plenty to discuss at the Audemars Piguet stand this year. The controversially designed new Code 11.59 collection garnered the most attention, and a raft of new takes on the Royal Oak popped up, but it was this simple ‘time only’ addition that swung us most.
It can be described as subtle in SIHH terms, and is as understated as a £50,000+ watch can be. It’s essentially a ‘regular’ 39mm Extra Thin Royal Oak, yet made from white gold rather than steel and features a striking pink gold coloured dial that screams ‘seventies playboy’. Wear with a cream linen suit at your peril.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire
Military watches have never not been cool. It’s something about the functionality perhaps – knowing they were built for a purpose – and the simple, easy-to-read designs. IWC made them for both World Wars and has always been known specifically for its pilot watches. Enter the Spitfire collection – a new line that takes inspirations from the brand’s militaristic heritage.
There is barely a brand that hasn’t turned to its archives for inspiration, and why not? Classic, simple design will never date. This Spitfire is the entry point into the range and it’s about as basic a timepiece as you’ll see from IWC. The brushed steel case (no polishing anywhere), wide luminous hands for legibility in the dark, easy to read numerals and canvas strap are all hallmarks of classic pilot’s watches. The red Spitfire logo? A bonus addition to what might be the only watch you’ll ever need.
Cartier Santos de Cartier Chronograph
There is no other brand that makes sports watches that retain such elegance as Cartier. The Santos collection was relaunched last year to widespread acclaim, and this is the latest expansion to the range.
Although it looks like a regular chronograph, the start/stop button is actually on the left hand side as opposed to the more usual right, and the reset button lies within the crown itself, creating a slightly more minimal and therefore dressier silhouette than is usually the case with sports watches. Add to this a black/steel mix case and black rubber strap and you’ve got a watch that’ll take you from the boardroom to the gym with effortless style.
Montblanc Heritage Automatic
Montblanc has one of the more impressive offerings of any of the brands on show, not just because of its sheer variety but also due to its ability to sit within such a broad price range. Watches start from under £2,000 for a simple time-only piece and end in the hundreds of thousands with bejewelled tourbillons.
This year, and at the bottom end of the spectrum, lay this retro-inspired piece from an entirely new line: the aptly named Heritage collection. Harking back to Minerva watches of the early-to-mid 20th century (the group acquired Minerva in 2006), it features a subtle sector dial with contrasting textures, a mixture of circular hour markers and numerals and in this guise, striking blue accents.
A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 “25th Anniversary”
The colour blue has been trending in horology for a few years now, so much so that it’s become a permanent fixture in many brands’ collections, and with no disappearance in sight. A. Lange & Sohne turned to the shade for the first watch it announced to celebrate 25 years of its Lange 1 – the German brand’s signature timepiece.
We’ve spoken numerous times about the benefits of tonal dressing – an all navy or all black outfit can work wonders for one’s personal style, yet a tonally coloured watch can be equally cool. Simply wear this as part of a monochromatic look or use it as a statement piece, mixing the vibrant blues of the strap and dial accents with contrasting shades.
Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic 5 Days Chronometer
Baume & Mercier has long been on our radar, mostly for its incredible value for money. Out of all the watchmakers on show at SIHH, the Swiss brand is easily the most accessible, with watches starting just over £1,000.
That value was taken to new levels last year though with the release of the Baumatic, the brand’s first watch with an in-house movement. This year, the range has been extended further, with this particular model – complete with a 5 day power reserve – a noted highlight. Just look at that blue-to-black dial.
JLC Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetual
A single glance at this will tell you it’s no regular watch, but rather a piece of wrist art reserved for the planet’s one per cent. The latest in a series of multi-axis tourbillons produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre, it’s about as complex as the Large Hadron Collider and nearly as expensive.
JLC has gone all Tony Stark with the miniaturisation here, creating a spinning tourbillon significantly smaller than previous models, allowing the watch to boast a 43mm case size – something which arguably would have been impossible 10 years ago. That’s not all though – the watch’s party trick is a chiming mechanism that replicates the sound of London’s Big Ben, a strangely nostalgic touch in the wake of Brexit. Oh, and it costs €800,000.
Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech 47mm
If The Terminator was to be reincarnated as a materialistic watch lover in 2019, this is surely the watch that would adorn his manly wrists. Panerai has focussed its efforts on its most specialised dive watch family – the Submersible – this year, and this is just about the coolest addition yet.
Made from the brand’s patented Carbotech material, it’s a stealth watch lover’s dream, albeit with a case size on the large size, coming in at 47mm. It’s essentially a tribute to Panerai’s relationship with the Italian navy, which it’s been supplying to since the mid 1960s. The camouflaged-inspired dial and ‘Marina Militare’ script can remind the wearer of the heritage at stake all the way down to 300m below sea level, but it works equally well when paired with a tonal outfit on dry land.
Piaget Altiplano Grey Meteorite Dial
Piaget is a brand known specifically for its incredibly thin, equally elegant dress watches, that slip easily under a shirt cuff as though they’re not there. It’s a recipe that’s been replicated more times than we can count, from other high-end houses down to affordable quartz watches found on the high street.
This piece takes things in a fresh new direction though, all thanks to its dial which has been crafted from a meteorite. Thanks to this, each of the 300 watches produced as part of this collection features a dial that is completely unique. Wear with your finest dinner jacket and instantly be the smartest man in the room.
Ulysse Nardin Freak X Carb
Yes, it’s true, nobody really needs watches nowadays as we all have phones which accurately tell the time. But no phone looks this cool. The latest in Ulysse Nardin’s Freak collection, this is a more affordable, simplified take introduced to make the innovative line more accessible to a wider array of people.
It features an unconventional dial layout, with the movement itself actually telling the time – there are no boring regular hands in sight. Instead the movement actually rotates around the dial, with the central bridge indicating minutes and the most prominent wheel signifying hours. It comes in three editions but the matte Carbonium cased version is arguably the best looking. This is a watch that makes regular tickers look incredibly dull. Disclaimer: wearing it won’t make you any more interesting though, be warned.