Horology round-up: The best timepieces of 2020 so far
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Novel times require novel solutions. The centuries-old watchmaking world, like numerous industries, found itself scrambling to adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances as the novel coronavirus tore through continents and forced businesses and entire countries into lockdown.
Cancellations were inevitably announced for traditional watch fairs and trade shows such as Baselworld. While some brands opted to delay or postpone novelty releases to later in the year or 2021, others took this as a challenge to accelerate their digital adoption. The inaugural Watches & Wonders fair, formerly known as the Salon de la Haute Horlogerie held annually in Geneva, migrated its whole agenda online, from presentations on new timepieces by participating brands to analyses and insights by industry experts. Several watchmakers chose to host digital events, engaging regional journalists or distributors on platforms such as Zoom for private unveilings or inviting stakeholders to join them in live releases on their websites or social media accounts.
While missing the adrenaline from being on the ground at these events, digital launches have been increasingly working their way into marketing strategies and Covid-19 proved an ideal time to test their effectiveness. We joined Watches & Wonders 2020 and some of our favourite brands as they released their novelties for the year and found ourselves no less wowed by the mechanical ingenuity and exquisite artistry for which the industry is renowned. Here is a selection of some of our favourite timepieces thus far.
Since its first brand appearance in 1914, the panther has become synonymous with Cartier. The grand maison taps into this legacy in the latest Ronde Louis Cartier, capturing a close-up of the large cat in straw and gold marquetry. New to the toolbox of marquetry materials, the precious metal allows for volume and realistic bas-relief rendering. The meticulous labour involved in this creation ranges from the 65 individually shaped and satin-finished white, yellow and pink gold elements that form the feline’s head to the enamelling of the eyes and spots on the coat. Not only did the marquetry craftsman have to be specially trained in the use of gold, novel techniques were also explored, such as the embedding of yellow gold wires into natural straw. Each 42mm white gold construction required over 100 hours of attention, so just 30 individually-numbered timepieces were crafted.
A style icon from the 1930s, IWC celebrates its Portugieser line with haute horlogerie updates. The Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph draws its name from the troika of eponymous complications. A flying hacking minute tourbillon at 6 o’clock turns the 43.5mm display into a theatrical performance, while a retrograde date track in the west portion of the dial and flyback chronograph functions affirm the engineering capabilities of the 152-year-old manufacturer. Enlivening the timepiece is the in-house Calibre 89900, a powerful automatic movement that supplies 68 hours of autonomy. Two versions are available, each restricted to 50 pieeces: the first, a maritime-inspired boutique edition in 18-carat Armor Gold with a blue dial, while the second sees a silver-plated dial housed in platinum. Pull this piece off effortlessly at work, play and the hours in between.
When Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded in 1883, it was built on a bedrock of horological ingenuity and artistic accomplishment. The Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication harnesses almost two centuries of expertise to assemble a tourbillon, minute repeater and celestial vault. The splendour of the astronomical constellation is emphasised by the tourbillon’s eternal dance and the divine harmony of the chimes, made round and full with patented crystal gongs and articulated trebuchet hammers. A golden sun-shaped pointer on the constellation disc indicates the date, month and relevant Zodiac sign while double concentric rings spell the hours and minutes respectively. The multi-level dial – black for the pink gold version and blue in the white gold edition, each limited to eight pieces – features a central heart decorated with tiny stars and a star chart depicting the Northern Hemisphere night sky as viewed from the Vallée de Joux.
The ardent adventurer dreaming of icy landscapes to conquer will want to add the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere to their collection. This year’s esoteric theme is inspired by the Seven Summit mountaineering challenge: The holy grail of climbing conquests comprises the highest mountain peaks on each continent. In this new model, the seven summits and Mont Blanc are marked in blue dots on the northern and southern hemisphere globes set on the dial. Gearing wearers for the exploits ahead is the mechanical MC 29.25 calibre. Certified by the Montblanc Laboratory Test 500, the robust movement operates a world-time complication inclusive of date, second time-zone, 24-hour scale and day-night indication. The blue tableau is encircled by a bi-directional stainless steel bezel and wrapped in Grade 5 titanium.
What began as an ambitious dream turned into a commercial reality for Piaget this year when it launched the Altiplano Ultimate Concept at Watches and Wonders 2020. The world’s thinnest mechanical watch is a gossamer-like 2mm and calls upon a host of innovations and clever designs, including an integrated winding crown, reimagined barrel and energy regulation structures and a specially engineered case melded with the wafer-thin movement. A power reserve of over 40 hours cements this as the new benchmark in the canon of ultra-thin watches. To achieve the same height as two stacked credit cards, gold was eschewed in favour of a cobalt-based alloy case that has thrice the strength of the precious metal, and is thus more difficult to machine. So indiscernible is its overall weight that the wearer would be hard-pressed to remember it is wrapped around their wrist.
Under the shield of quality that is the Poinçon de Genève, Roger Dubuis pairs disruptive design with an extraordinary feat of haute horologerie to forge the 45mm Excalibur Diabolus in Machina. The latest Excalibur model is fitted with a minute repeater that chimes the Diabolus in Musica or ‘the devil in music’, a tritone chord outlawed in medieval religious music for its dissonance. Amid the curious skeletonised expression of geometric rigour and chaos, function is integrated into the fun form, from the Hours, Quarters and Minutes disc at 11 o’clock that visually illustrates the time intervals being chimed to the flying tourbillon that has been a brand signature from the start. While you have to see – and hear – this superior spectacle to believe its distinction, chance would be a fine thing as just a single piece was produced.
Exquisitely illustrating nature in motion is Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers, a collection of one-of-a-kind creations that demonstrate the mastery of the maison’s craftsmanship. Fine champlevé enamel brings to life a quartet of singing birds: A hummingbird, blue jay, blue tit and robin each occupy the left section of a two-tiered dial while a 60-minute and 24-hour guilloché track, the latter marked only by the numeral 12 in the middle, trail the right rim. Time is second to the sheer beauty of the enamelling, however, executed in a rich palette of colours with subtly graded shades imparting realism and dimension. Framed in pink or white gold, these works of art represent the finest of watchmaking traditions and techniques.
A. Lange & Sohne
The best things take time – several months, in fact, where the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is concerned. The world’s only timepiece to combine a mechanical jumping numerals display with a decimal minute repeater is incredibly complex to produce and assemble. Instead of striking quarter-hours, the mechanism sounds 10-minute intervals as a logical complement to digital time displays – wearers hear what they see and vice versa. At 7.52 for instance, the low-pitched gong strikes seven to indicate each hour, five double-tones mark the 10-minute intervals and two high-pitched strikes announce the elapsed minutes. The crystalline chimes complement the purity of the timepiece’s design: its oversized displays sit snugly within a 44.2mm new white gold case while German silver time bridges plated in rhodium contrast the mesmerising deep blue dial and matching hand-stitched leather strap. The 30-piece limited edition watch is available exclusively at Lange boutiques.
If the unexamined life is not worth living, an unexplored universe is a waste of, well, space. Zenith continues to push the known boundaries of the watchmaking world with the first violet chronograph movement, pairing the intense colour with its highest-frequency chronograph in regular production. The Defy 21 Ultraviolet houses the El Primero 21 chronograph calibre whose 50Hz frequency is capable of tracking time to 1/100th of a second. The open dial features three grey chronograph registers, matching flange ring and a white-tipped central chronograph hand, contrasted by the vibrant violet movement with angular bridges. A matte sandblasted finish evokes the metallic nuances of the 44mm titanium case, imbuing the timepiece with an enigmatic character that shifts from warm to cool in different lighting.
H. Moser & Cie X MB&F
Hot from the oven of innovation is the brand new Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon, the sculptural result of a highly-anticipated collaboration between independent watchmakers H. Moser and MB&F. The former borrowed the latter’s concept of three-dimensional movements to create a one-minute flying tourbillon that hovers above the dial through a ventricular opening at 12 o’clock. The kinetic timepiece draws its name from a tourbillon equipped with a cylindrical balance spring, favoured in 18th-century marine chronometers for its superior isochronism. Another MB&F legacy is the tilted dial adopted by Moser for its hour and minute subdials, inclined at 40° so only the wearer is privy to the time. Protected by a sapphire dome, the exquisite steel watch comes with a fume dial in two shades of blue, green, burgundy or off-white.