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SIHH 2016: Managing Expectations

My early read of the upcoming SIHH 2016 debuts leads me to believe we’re going to see a year of careful watch designs. A few watch companies may just prove me wrong (I’m talking to you Richard Mille and Van Cleef & Arpels) but with a bevy of vintage themes already announced from many of the exhibitors at the Geneva fair, this year will be especially strong for those consumers who prefer what’s been successful in the past.

Don’t get me wrong. I love IWC’s new Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36, a just-announced 2016 model that hews to the firm’s legendary Mark 11 in both size and flavor. And I’ve found myself staring longingly at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Reverso Classic, which bolsters the Reverso’s automatic options. Have you seen pictures of the incredible A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst dial? No watch collector with any sense of history –or taste–will be able to simply walk by anywhere these pieces are displayed without experiencing heart palpitations.

But with economic woes in many countries and an ascendant vintage market globally, a truly novel approach can seem self-indulgent and even risky for long-established watchmaking businesses. The surer bet will of course pay the greatest dividends over the long haul for these companies.

I haven’t even boarded a plane for Geneva (only two hours left!), so perhaps I’m judging the scene too quickly. And most early debuts do tend to be the least controversial of any year’s designs. Typically a watch company will unveil its the big piece, the year’s highlight watch, during the show itself, which commences Monday. We at iW let you know what we see in this vein starting tomorrow.

Must-sees

Already I’ve seen a few pieces that bear a second and third look, and those I’ve seen only in pictures will require an immediate visit Monday. Of the former, that Cle de Cartier Automatic Skeleton and the new pink gold Cartier Crash deserve more wrist time. I look forward to eyeing these and many more from what I suspect will again be an SIHH highlight: the watches designed by Cartier’s director of movement development Carole Forestier-Kasapi. Likewise, the revamped IWC pilot’s watches will be on my to-see list as well. Those aware of the 2016 Montblanc debuts, including a new (affordable) Heritage Chronométrie collection annual calendar and a dual timer, can be assured I’ll again place those on my wrist for another up-close review.

I have yet to try on the Piaget Emperador Coussin, an impressive (in pictures at least) electro-mechanical timepiece that may just be the boldest debut gambit from any of the more traditional SIHH companies. Yes it’s an historically based concept recalling Piaget’s pioneering role in developing Switzerland’s quartz technology, but its case and open dial design is far bolder that one might expect. How will Piaget outdo this when the show opens next week?

In a truly contemporary vein, I expect much from Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis this year as each has already displayed 2016 pieces with styles that emphasize each brand’s specialized technology. I’m already willing to wager a few francs that Richard Mille will enchant collectors with another whimsical (and pricey) mechanical work that will draw crowds of photographers to its display windows like last year’s RM-019 Tourbillon Fleur. And I’m planning an immediate jaunt to see what Roger Dubuis creative genius Alvaro Maggini has developed for his firm’s always entertaining SIHH display extravaganza. I expect a rainbow of colors, at least, given the year’s focus on its Velvet collections for women. Over at Audemars Piguet, will we see (or hear) another cutting-edge Concept watch like last year’s monumental Royal Oak Concept RD#1 repeater?

Finally, there’s a new room at the SIHH called Carré des Horlogers, and it’s to be filled with the newest timepieces from nine of Switzerland’s best-known independent makers: MB&F, Christophe Claret, DeBethune, H. Moser & Co., Hautlence, HYT, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier and Urwerk. These are companies that offer watches representing a wide range of styles. Ironically, it was high-tech hydro-mechanical watchmaker HYT that already debuted the most retro design among these independents with its handsome H2 Tradition.

I expect that just the presence of these successful niche watchmakers within the SIHH will have a palpable influence on the overall tone of the show from 2016 and beyond. Their ability –as independents– to push design envelopes may encourage such behavior beyond their single display booth. We’ll let you know in 2017.

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