This week was SIHH – that’s the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève, to give it it’s full title, and that means some of the world’s biggest horology brands came together to unveil their latest creations that will be seen on discerning wrists in the year to come. A few themes developed, including advances in material science as well as an anti-Apple Watch, but rather than ask you to trawl through myriad blog pages covering every inch of the show, WIRED has put together a neat edit of the innovative SIHH wristwatches that should be on your radar in 2019.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
As its name suggests, a perpetual calendar is intended to give the correct calendar indications perpetually – regardless of the uneven lengths of months, leap years, etc. Perpetuity does rather depend on keeping the thing running though: with most perpetual calendar watches, if you only wear the thing occasionally, you’ll need to give it a wind every few days to avoid having to reset all the indications when you finally put it on (a job sometimes requiring the services of a watchmaker).
Various brands have addressed this in the last few years by making their examples easier to set. But Vacheron Constantin has come at the problem from a different perspective: given calendar indications require less energy to keep them running, why not enable the watch to switch over to a low-energy mode to keep the calendar ticking over while the timekeeping goes dormant?
The Twin Beat’s name comes from its two escapements, each fed by the same mainspring (a watch’s power source), but each with its own oscillating frequency that the user can switch between. In Active mode, with the 5Hz (36,000 vibrations per hour) escapement running and normal timekeeping in play, the watch will run for four days. But in Standby mode, the other escapement is activated with an escapement of just 1.5Hz (10,800 vph) – enough to keep the calendar running for a whopping 65 days.
Vacheron Constantin has patents pending on the movement, which is also relatively thin, despite the complexity of what’s inside it, making the watch as sleek and wearable as any other perpetual. Kudos to Vacheron, too, for a design style that brings contemporary edge to one of watchmaking’s most classical complications. £195,000 vacheron-constantin.com
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph
The beating heart of a watch is it’s hairspring, the tiny spiral spring whose lighting-fast concentric oscillations regulate the timekeeping. Generally made from the nickel-iron alloy Elinvar, accurate hairsprings are also extremely difficult to produce in industrial volumes – just a couple of companies supply almost the entirety of the Swiss watch industry.
TAG Heuer, however, has found a workaround that could have far-reaching consequences. The Nanograph is the first watch to feature a new hairspring made from a carbon composite developed specifically for the purpose. Cooked up in a chemical reactor machine within TAG’s in-house research unit, the spirals are formed from carbon nanotube molecules to an exact geometry, a process that takes a couple of hours. The resulting hairsprings are considerably lighter than traditional springs, are non-magnetic, and require no fine-tuning by a watchmaker. The composite is also considerably more elastic – and therefore shockproof – than silicon, a material a handful of brands have begun using for nano-engineered hairsprings, and rather less costly to produce.
“It’s a combination of mathematics and cooking,” quips TAG Heuer’s general manager Guy Sémon, who also happens to be the architect of the process. “The spirals can go into any movement, and they’re easier to assemble, too.”
Natural, then, that this game-changing component should be unveiled in a futuristic-looking watch, the Heuer 02T with chronograph and high-tech tourbillon, whose dial features a motif inspired by the microscopic hexagonal pattern of the carbon nanotubes. £20,750 tagheuer.com
Ressence Type 2
Belgium’s Ressence caused considerable excitement a year ago when it announced its e-crown concept, which installs a tiny solar-powered module within a mechanical watch, via which it can connect to an app an automatically set itself to the right time. One year on, and what was then a prototype is now a market-ready product, and arguably one of the most revolutionary advances in modern horology.
Ressence, whose watches employ an orbital display in which dial elements rotate around each other, was helped out on the tech side by Tony Fadell, famous as “one of the fathers of the iPod”. Between the traditional automatic movement and the mechanical module Ressence makes to control the orbital dial display is a cluster of 87 minuscule components, including an energy cell, touch sensor, micro gearbox, motor and hand-position reader. Connected via a printed circuit board, these analyse the position of the hands and, if the watch has stopped after being set down for a period, set the display to the right time (information it receives by Bluetooth from a specially developed phone app).
All it takes to set the watch is a simple tap on the crystal, which activates the E-Crown, and it will also monitor the watch once a day to keep it to the most accurate setting. The E-Crown is effectively solar powered: it gets its 1.4 joules of required power from a system of shutters which fly open to allow light in that powers photovoltaic sensors to start it up and keep it running. £33,100 ressencewatches.com
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetuel
For sheer horological grandeur, nothing at SIHH comes close to the sumptuousness of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new addition to its Hybris Mechanica range of ‘grand complication’ wonder watches. It’s the fifth JLC model to feature a gyroscopic tourbillon tumbling away at its core. The first appeared in 2004, and the Gyro watches have come to symbolise the absolute pinnacle of the brand’s craft. This might just be the grandest of the lot, and includes a perpetual calendar indication and a minute repeater that, rather than the succession of two-note dings found on “normal” minute repeaters, chimes out the Westminster Quarters, the four-note melodies sounded by Big Ben.
The remarkable thing about this watch – which packs in over 1,050 components, including a silence-reduction mechanism “to optimise melody cadence” for the repeater, a one-minute constant-force mechanism to ensure constant energy through the movement, crystal gongs for the repeater, and a jumping minute hand for extra precision – is just how wearable it is. Watches like this, especially with multi-axis tourbillons rotating in three dimensions, tend to be enormous, for understandable reasons. Jaeger-LeCoultre has put painstaking research into ways to reduce the size of complex mechanisms, and, at 43mm across, this white-gold piece is no bigger than plenty of regular watches. That, in itself, is an extraordinary achievement. £800,000 jaeger-lecoultre.com
Panerai Submersible BMG Tech
Panerai has been leading the way in pursuing new case materials for its watches recently, and this diving watch brings together two different high-tech substances. The case is made from BMG-Tech: a bulk metallic glass alloy that’s something of a superhero material thanks to its ‘chaotic’ structure, with superior strength and high resistance to corrosion, shocks and magnetism. The turning dive bezel, meanwhile, is made from carbotech, a tiger-striped variant of carbon fibre in which Panerai has been finding increasing mileage thanks to that aforementioned tiger-stripe pattern. In other words, there’s pretty much nothing this watch can’t endure, and it’ll look very good doing it. £13,000 (available September) panerai.com
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked
Audemars Piguet’s slogan, “To break the rules, first you have to master them”, gives an idea as to the brand’s innovation-first approach. Though, in this case, the rule being broken is the one that states that a mainstream AP watch should be octagonal in shape. Such has been the all-encompassing success of its eight-sided Royal Oak (introduced in 1972) and chunkier Royal Oak Offshore lines, that traditional round watches have become more or less a minor sideline for the brand. Until now.
Putting a round watch up against the most famously innovative and revolutionary modern watch design of all is no easy task, clearly: Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak’s designer, took a couple of days to map it out, whereas Code 11:59 has been in development for six years. The emphasis, though, is on pushing the watchmaking arts to the extreme in every detail, from the fantasia of hand-finishing techniques to the sapphire crystal with a curved internal dome and convex outer form, creating a strange optical effect. Even the logo itself has been galvanically grown in gold, a process akin to 3D printing.
The range has been launched in a series of versions, including automatic, chronograph, tourbillon – all with brand new movements – as well as a perpetual calendar, minute repeater supersonnerie and this mesmerising skeletonised tourbillon. From £23,800 audemarspiguet.com