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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Watches at SIHH Show Advancements in Design, Function and Application

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 100

When watch brands talk about case and bezel design, new uses for materials and minor additions to tradition timepieces you know that the Swiss watch industry has entered a cooling off period. Maybe that’s a good thing as the high-flying sales of recent years, primarily due to China’s phenomenal economic expansion, couldn’t possibly last forever.

The recently concluded Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva was a case in point as the industry may be preparing itself to a world economy with more stable growth through all regions. Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of innovative watches to be seen at this year’s event. I listed seven or my favorites among the 16 watch brands (12 of which are associated with luxury conglomerate Richemont) who display at what’s been called the world’s most luxurious and exclusive watch event. These timepieces stood out for their advancements in design, function and application.

Montblanc TimeWalker Chronograph 100
At SIHH, the company introduced the TimeWalker Chronograph 100 (top photo), with a hand-made movement made by the Montblanc-owned Villeret manufacturer. This pushes the price of this popular watch to 50,000 euro ($68,000). Formerly known as Minerva, the Villeret watch company in the Swiss town of the same name is known for its hand-made watch movements, built in an old-world Swiss style. Montblanc bought the company in 2006, changed its named and used its watchmaking techniques and philosophy to produce high-end luxury timepieces under the Villeret name.

SIHH 2014 marked a turning point for Montblanc as it introduced several new branded products with high-performance Villeret movements, led by TimeWalker Chronograph 100. This change seemed to have happened overnight. The person most often credited for this is Jérôme Lambert, the former Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO who took the same position with Montblanc just six months ago.

The TimeWalker Chronograph with the MB M66.25 caliber can measure intervals to the nearest 100th-of-a-second, a feat that Villeret (as Minerva) pioneered in 1916. The watch has a large, red chronograph hand that completes a full 360-degree circuit on the main dial in one second. The manually wound movement uses one balance for the time indication and a separate balance for the chronograph. The watch display depicts hours and minutes from the center with a subdial for the seconds at 9 o’clock. Counters for 60 elapsed seconds and 15 elapsed minutes are at 6 o’clock. The watch is housed in a case made of a mix of titanium, stainless steel and carbon fiber. The watch, limited to 100 units, will be available in the fall.


Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planétarium Poetic Complication
Leave it to the French luxury house to create a watch that is beautiful, efficient and teases the imagination. This new timepiece aspires for no less than the heavens above and returns to earth with the solar system that fits on a wrist.

The timepiece provides a miniature representation of the movement of six planets around the sun and their position at any given time—Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—which can all be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The movement of each planet is true to its length of orbit: it will take Saturn over 29 years to make a complete circuit of the dial, while Jupiter will take almost 12 years, Mars 687 days, Earth 365 days, Venus 224 days and Mercury 88 days.

The unnamed self-winding mechanical movement contains 396 separate parts and is equipped with an exclusive module developed in partnership with the Christiaan van der Klaauw, a Dutch brand known for its hand-made astronomical clocks and watches.

The watch displays the time using 24 hour indicators located at the outer edge of the dial. The hour markers are divided further into 15 minute intervals. A shooting star made of pink gold rotates around the clock marking the correct time. The story continues on the back of the watch, where the oscillating weight is engraved with a starry composition. The day, month and year are set using two push buttons and viewed through two apertures on the dial. In addition, a “lucky day” can be set by the owner using a rotating bezel. On a date set with a red triangle against a graduated calendar, the Earth will move to a position directly below the star engraved on the sapphire crystal. The brand says it’s a sign of good luck.

A selection of hard stones are used to depict the planets: turquoise for the Earth, serpentine for Mercury, chloromelanite for Venus, red jasper for Mars, blue agate for Jupiter and sugilite for Saturn. They are positioned around a sun in pink gold. Each of these elements, along with the shooting star, is fixed on its own aventurine disc. The deep blue dial is sprinkled with gold to depict stars.


Piaget Antiplano 38mm 900P
The luxury watch and jewelry brand is known for its thin watches. This year the company received a lot of attention through its introduction of the Antiplano 38mm 900P, the world’s thinnest mechanical watch at 3.65mm. The company manages this by merging the ultra-thin case with the ultra-thin movement. Specifically, the hand-wound movement, instead of being stacked as is typical, is spread across the bottom half of the dial.

The movement has a total of 145 parts, including some wheels that are a mere 0.12mm thin. The back of the case also serves as the mainplate. To save millimetres, the entire mechanism and the hand-fitting system are contained within the thickness of the balance-wheel itself, thus entailing an off-centered display of the hours and minutes as a subdial. Working within this confined space, Piaget devised a suspended barrel hanging from a single bridge on the dial side, contrary to classic barrels that are also fixed to the mainplate side. This unusual device doesn’t deter the performance of the mechanism, which has a power reserve of about 48 hours.

In addition, instead of fitting the hands above the bridges, Piaget has placed them underneath, thereby freeing up space between the cannon-pinion and the crystal. This eliminates any deformities to the hands of the watch due to the effects of unintended extra pressure.


Richard Mille RM 037
It’s difficult for me to imagine the man and the brand, Richard Mille, being behind on anything. However, his declaration of 2014 of being the year of woman is behind the same declaration I made a year earlier. Despite this, the company is arguably the most forward-thinking in the Swiss watch industry. It is known for using techniques and materials from the aeronautics and car racing industries to build timepieces that are groundbreaking in application, use and design. Mille is certainly forward-thinking enough to know that there are at least some women who want to wear exceptional mechanical timepieces.

The RM 037 collection pretty much mirrors what he has done for men’s watches in a smaller package. The skeleton movement baseplate with bridges is made of black PVD treated grade 5 titanium. There’s a large date at 12 o’clock created from two skeletonized, rotating discs, and a function selector that allows the wearer to choose between winding, neutral or hand-setting, without pulling the crown in different positions. Two pushers resembling drops of water are placed between 10 and 11 o’clock (date adjustment), and 4 and 5 o’clock (function selector). The action chosen appears in a small window (H-N-W) between 3 and 4 o’clock. The CRMA1 caliber movement combines satin finishes with chamfered, blasted, brushed and polished areas, including rare black polishing. The crown is impossible to dislodge, according to the company. The case is available in 18k red with scratch resistant ceramic bezels in white or black, or full cases in 18K red or white gold, accompanied by a stone setting and dial variants in precious and semi-precious materials such as diamond, onyx, pearl and jasper.


Greubel Forsey QP à Équation
The “watch inventors” have come up with another highly complicated timepiece piece called the QP à Équation. The company says it has reinvented the perpetual calendar by integrating the “Equation of Time” as well as other practical functions and indications that improve clarity. The priority was to simplify the displays and make it easier to set the perpetual calendar by using a bi-directional winding crown. If the timepiece has stopped for several days, simply pull out the crown checking the selection indicator near 2 o'clock. Turn the crown back and forth to change the calendar and all the different indications change by themselves.

The Equation of Time is the difference between solar time and mean time, which can vary from a few seconds to as much as 16 minutes during the year. The Equation of Time is the conversion factor between solar and mean time. The solar time is located at the back subdial.

The most frequently sought information, namely the day, date and month, is displayed on the front dial. Information that is less often required is on the back of the timepiece. In addition to the Equation of Time, the seasons and the current year in four figures is on the back of the timepiece on two superimposed transparent discs. The first disc is driven by the date wheel and has a scale in minutes indicating the difference between solar and mean time. The second disc, which goes around once a year, has a figure shaped like a manta ray, and divided into four sections in red and blue to show whether the Equation of Time is positive or negative.

The watch is contained in a white gold case that measures 43.5mm in diameter and is 16mm high. It includes a 24-second tourbillon inclined at 25 degrees. It's not often a tourbillon function gets second billing.


Calibre de Cartier
The French luxury house introduced several brands at SIHH, but the one that attracted the most interest is its mechanical diver’s watch, which represents a return to the sports category of watches for the brand after a long absence.

The Calibre de Cartier is water resistant up to 300 meters. To prevent any accidental rotation or alteration of the dive-time indication, the bezel only turns in one direction. It can be adjusted to 30 seconds with a clear sound while turned. The markers signaling each 5 minute period are clearly indicated. The thickness of the watch was reduced to 11mm, without jeopardizing the integrity of its diver’s functions. The in-house 1904 MC movement is further enhanced with a fine regulating system and a stop-second mechanism.


Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Ajourées
The iconic brand has released several new models for SIHH 2014 that features its multi-layered skeleton process that the company refers to as “openwork.” In the case of the Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Ajourées collection I’m focusing on, the openwork technique is combined with Grand Feu enameling.

Vacheron has been using its openworked process on its watches 1924. However, this collection represents the brand’s first openworked version of an iconic in-house movement, the caliber 4400. An artistic three-dimensional appearance is achieved by carving the caliber in curved lines, removing half the material and leaving interlocking pieces that looks like lace. The carving and finishing process takes about three days for each caliber. The Grand Feu enameling appears as a ring around the dial in either black, blue or grey.

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