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April 21, 2008updated Feb 11, 2013

Swiss Watch Fair Highlights – 2008

By Pardhasaradhi Gonuguntla

By Laura Q. Hughes, Editorial Director

Fashion designers have their catwalk shows, and watchmakers, their trade fairs. In both cases, it’s a time for the luxury world’s most imaginative minds to reveal beautiful new creations, set trends, and take centuries-old products and invent them a-new. At the annual watch fairs that took place this April in Basel and Geneva, watchmakers outdid themselves once again—giving watch collectors, trendsetters and simply stylish dressers an abundance of new timepieces to covet. And covet they must, for the watches we saw this spring won’t arrive (for the most part) in stores until fall.

What’s worth waiting for this year, or even ordering sight-unseen many months in advance? On our two-week tour of the designers’ new collections, we saw mini-trends emerge that are bound to excite connoisseurs and also get a new group of shoppers to consider buying a luxury watch, or two, or more, this year. Our favorite trends, and examples of the hot new watches that will give those trends legs, follow. In addition, we invite you to come back to in June to download our exhaustive Elite Recommends: Luxury Watch Buyers Guide for the nitty-gritty details on each watchmaker’s most exciting new introduction. And for our selection of the best-in-show from the fairs, pick up the July/August issue of Elite Traveler or check it out in digital form from this web site mid-summer.

Return to Classics

Getting back to basics, and in many cases returning to sobriety, may not sound like a ground-breaking move. But it is a distinctive new direction for an industry that was defined in recent years by ever-growing case sizes and increasingly bedazzled gem-encrusted watches. These new classics—often based on archival designs with clean dials and sensible sizing—seem poised to become the watches one wears to impress in the boardroom, to pass down for generations, and to turn to when quality and good taste are key. Zenith is introducing a new, small case size of 37 mm for men in its “Class” collection. The rose gold version with moon phase is a timeless beauty. Similarly, the new Chronomaster Grand Date with open power reserve measures 40 mm in rose gold, a discrete and elegant chronograph. At Audemars Piguet, where the sporty angular Royal Oak case and oval Millenary case are legendary, a very classic new case shape is joining the line-up. It is still awaiting a formal name, but the rounded square design is pure class. In its first year, it will be made in platinum, and available as a minute repeater or a perpetual calendar. IWC is launching a Vintage collection, which consists of six designs based on watches from its archives. They will be available in steel and platinum, and the first 140 platinum pieces will be sold as sets (for about $241,000). And surprisingly, avante-garde watch company Hautlence, which took a tv screen shaped case to house its revolutionary new movement three years ago, is adding a new, traditional round case, called the HLQ.

High Doses of Diamonds

At the opposite end of the spectrum, diamonds (and other dazzling gems) are dressing up the cases, dials, buckles and even movements of luxury watches, this time for both men and women. Patek Philippe of course has new versions of its classic, collectible masterpieces. But the house also offers remarkable diamond-set timepieces this year, most notably the Nautilus set with baguette cut diamonds, for about $142,000. Hublot, which was the first to put the humble material rubber to luxurious use as a strap, is incorporating a spectrum of decadent gems and diamonds on its next introductions, resulting in colorful and glamorous options for women. Michael Beaudry, the California-based jewelry designer known for his masterful work with white and colored diamonds, is extending his repertoire to men’s complicated watches with tasteful diamond accents. Gucci furthers its trademark horsebit motif with its new Chioda rectangular watch for women, which features pave diamond horsebits at all four corners. Bedat’s brand new line of watches for women, No. 2, is a curved oval shape, often filled with delicate diamonds, and its mark of distinction is discovering that the “8” marker missing from the dial resides instead on a lower lug. Perrelet marks a strong return to the watch world with a collection of timepieces for women called Diamond Flower. The company is a watch legend for having created the rotor; in Diamond Flower, a gem-paved bloom serves as a working rotor as it whirls atop the dials of these feminine pieces. Ellicott’s Lady Tuxedo Chronotimer gives the traditionally sporty, masculine chronograph a decidedly glitzy and womanly look, which is a winner for evening. Expectations are always high for fine jeweler Harry Winston to deliver stunning diamond watches, and this year they do it again. The new ladies watch, Avenue Square, features two time zones and a diamond case, resulting in a style the reflects the urban glitter of Fifth Avenue and Times Square in New York. Milus is evolving its popular women’s watch, Marea, into the fine jewelry watch segment by adding precious stones—rubies and diamonds—to spectacular effect. London-based Backes & Strauss traces its origins to fine diamond work, and this year it displays its proprietary diamond cut and skilled settings with the new Royal Berkeley (an octagonally-shaped case covered in octagonally-cut diamonds) and the oval Prince Regent (a one-of-a-kind watch set entirely with baguette diamonds). Franck Muller introduces a new line of watches for women this year called Affinity. These tonneau-shaped gold pieces contain diamonds to various degrees—maxing out at the fully set version. Fine jewelry-maker Van Cleef & Arpels continues to raise the bar for uniting complications with extremely beautiful designs this year, and two stand-out examples are its Jour et Nuit diamond-set 38-mm watch that features a sapphire sun and diamond moon revolving around the aventurine dial as the day unfolds, and the Midnight in Paris watch whose aventurine dial contains the constellations as they would appear in the sky above Place Vendome based on the present time of year. Roger Dubuis is recasting its most successful models for men for women by adding brilliant diamonds and colorful gems to cases, bezels and dials.

Innovative Complications

New ways to tell time, or aspects of time…imaginative creators are able to re-invent this process in boundary-bursting ways. World’s first, smallest, thinnest, never-before-mastered—these superlatives go hand-in-hand with the newest innovations and complications. Maurice Lacroix’s big introduction is the Memoire 1, which is the world’s first mechanical chronograph with a memory function that permits the user to switch between real time and the chronograph functions without losing data. De Grisogono’s Meccanico appears to display the time as digital LED, but rather than being powered by a battery it is run the classic way: mechanically. Jean Dunand, which only creates one-of-a-kind pieces, reveals the world’s first instantaneous perpetual calendar on cylinders with a minute repeater this year. And FP Journe also takes the minute repeater to new lengths—this year it introduces a 4-mm-thick minute repeater in steel: the world’s thinnest.

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Tourbillon Trend

Tourbillons, those whirling, orbiting, complicated cages within watches that compensate for the effects of gravity on accuracy, continue to rate as an extremely popular complication. Greubel Forsey is one of the masters of it, and this year the company can officially display its completed quad-tourbillons, which were in the works for many years. Breguet is adding a tourbillon to its Eritage line of rectangular watches. The two-axis tourbillon has a bridge that also serves as the 6 marker on the dial. Bovet’s Seven Day Tourbillon is self-winding for the first time this year, and it is available with or without a baguette-set case. Cartier adds an elegant flying tourbillon to its successful new round watch, Ballon Bleau. In celebration of its 275th anniversary, Jaeger-LaCoultre launches four special watches, one of which is a perpetual calendar tourbillon in pink gold. Badollet’s Stellar Crystal Ball Tourbillon is embellished with an inner bezel of jade, and a movement and tourbillon cage that incorporates meteorite (customized versions using onyx, mother of pearl, and other materials are possible too).

Times for Travelers

Watchmakers are giving elite travelers more ways to keep track of their comings and goings, in any time zone. Breitling’s Bentley watch, a 49-mm case with asymmetric lugs, is newly offered as a GMT. Carl F. Bucherer updates its popular TravelTek Triple Time Zone watch to reveal the date wheel in the multi-layered dial. And Girard Perregaux puts a new twist on world time watches. Its WWTC 24-Hour Shopping indicates when the world’s great shopping avenues (Rodeo Drive, Orchard Road, Bond Street, etc.) open for business.

Mastering Materials

The materials that are used to make watches—both inside and out—garnered extra attention at the fairs this year as gold and platinum hit record high prices on commodities markets, diamonds continued to rise in price, fashion-conscious shoppers sought out exotic skins like ostrich, stingray and alligator, and man-made substances coated cases and perfected internal functions. Ernst Benz is making his first foray into gold watches, citing an Olympic year as an auspicious occasion to go for the gold. Blancpain is refining its 50 Fathoms dive watch by using a diamond light carbon (DLC) process instead of PVD coating to blacken its stark black case, bracelet and rotor. Ulysse Nardin, a front-runner in the use of silicium within its movements, is now using the material for the hairspring, escapement wheel and additional parts of its Sonata. And Vacheron Constantin’s new “Quai de L’lle” cushion-shaped watch contains the same materials and processes used on Swiss banknotes and passports to create anti-counterfeit qualities to the dial and other parts.

Beautiful Backs

As a way to add more beauty, and make the watch an even more personal purchase, some designers are paying extra attention to the design aspects of the backs of their watches. Engraved movements through clear casebacks are worthy of public display at Dubey & Shaldenbrand. Greubel Forsay has the story of the tourbillon engraved in tiny French type on the back of a watch. Chopard’s edition created just for the opening of its new Madison Avenue boutique has the New York City skyline engraved on its case back.


Finally, watch brands that share corporate values and design aesthetics with other companies are joining forces to create limited edition watches that unite aspects of both. Chanel tapped Audemars Piguet to provide the movement for its new limited edition black J12 with yellow gold details. Richard Mille, in celebration of jewelry house Boucheron’s 150th anniversary, reveals a limited edition of 30 Tourbillon RM 018 watches that incorporate movement wheels set with semi-precious stones, such as tiger’s eye, jasper, black onyx plus diamonds. And Parmigiani is collaborating with yacht-maker Pershing on a collection of sea-worthy watches that reflect the independent spirit of both manufacturers.

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