Watches & Wonders 2020 highlights: Cartier, Panerai, Hermès and more launch daring luxury timepieces at Geneva’s first digital-only fair



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The world of watches has certainly seen plenty of disruption this year. Not only did Covid-19 cause manufacturers and shops to close, it also meant that the biggest horology events of the year – namely the Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly SIHH) and Baselworld fairs, which were expected to happen simultaneously for the first time in. But as the saying goes, the show must go on. Just, in this case, in a different format.
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The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, organiser of Watches & Wonders Geneva, acted quickly to move the fair into the digital realm to allow its 30 participating brands to broadcast information about their new releases for the year. Not all brands chose to make use of the platform, but the ones that did certainly did not hold back.

“We asked ourselves if it was appropriate to launch watches during such difficult times,” said Wilhelm Schmid, the CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, “but we believe that right now it is important not to give up on everything, and also to enjoy all the beautiful things life has to offer”.

Resounding success

The ‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Split-Seconds chronograph – Tempo. Photo: Vacheron Constantin
The ‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Split-Seconds chronograph – Tempo. Photo: Vacheron Constantin

The first half of 2020 saw the launch of some truly complex timepieces, including a number of minute repeaters, often considered one of the most difficult complications to design and construct. Born of the need to tell the time in the dark in an age when people had to rely on candlelight, today’s watch lovers and collectors covet what is considered a masterpiece of precision mechanical engineering.

The most complex minute repeater watch to debut this year is almost certainly from Vacheron Constantin. Its La Musique du Temps Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Split-Seconds Chronograph – Tempo is a double-sided watch that houses a whopping 24 horological complications, including a minute repeater that chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes on demand. Created in Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers department, the watch has a total of 1,163 parts and is a one-off piece destined for a single collector.

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Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. Photo: Jaeger-LeCoultre
Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication. Photo: Jaeger-LeCoultre

Another impressive timepiece is the Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication from Jaeger-LeCoultre, a brand known for its skill in constructing minute repeater watches. The watch houses the brand’s patented crystal gongs, which are soldered to synthetic sapphire crystal that acts as a sound amplifier, making for a fuller, richer sound when struck, compared to conventional minute repeaters. To enhance the clarity of the minute repeater, Jaeger-LeCoultre also has a patented silent strike governor that eliminates the background buzzing characteristic of older striking mechanisms.

Roger Dubuis’ new Excalibur Diabolus in Machina. Photo: Roger Dubuis
Roger Dubuis’ new Excalibur Diabolus in Machina. Photo: Roger Dubuis

Those seeking an innovative version of the minute repeater complication might appreciate Roger Dubuis’ new Excalibur Diabolus in Machina. The gongs, visible through the dial side, are tuned to C and G flat, a pair of notes that form a dissonant tritone.

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A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. Photo: A. Lange & Söhne
A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. Photo: A. Lange & Söhne

A. Lange & Söhne has released a new version of its Zeitwerk Minute Repeater. First launched in 2015 to much excitement, the watch is unique in its chiming patterns – instead of chiming the hours and quarters like conventional versions of this complication, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater chimes out 10-minute increments followed by single minutes. The new version has a beautiful blue dial and white gold case, while the movement has gongs that are polished instead of satin-finished for a more pleasing aesthetic.

Tour de force

The single most popular complication debuting in new watches across the board this year was the tourbillon, which turned up in numerous timepieces that were both technically impressive and breathtakingly beautiful.

For instance, the Vacheron Constantin La Musique du Temps Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Split-Seconds Chronograph – Tempo, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication.

The latter features a whole host of astronomical indications as well as an orbital flying tourbillon that both rotates on its axis once every 60 seconds and performs an anticlockwise circuit of the dial in one sidereal day – a.k.a the time that it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis relative to the stars, which is around 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.

Panerai Submersible Pangaea Tourbillon GMT Mike Horn Edition. Photo: Panerai
Panerai Submersible Pangaea Tourbillon GMT Mike Horn Edition. Photo: Panerai

Another noteworthy tourbillon timepiece is the Panerai Submersible Pangaea Tourbillon GMT Mike Horn Edition. The movement, the hand-wound calibre P.2005/T, is made entirely out of titanium – yes, that includes the tourbillon cage.

For those who prefer a more subtle take on the formula, there’s Laurent Ferrier’s Grand Sport Tourbillon. The watch houses the same hand-wound movement with a double balance spring that won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in 2010. But true to the brand’s discreet nature, the impeccably hand-finished movement and its accompanying tourbillon are only visible through the sapphire caseback. The watch is very limited in production – only 12 pieces are available.

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Yet another creation that stands out is Vacheron Constantin’s new Traditionnelle Tourbillon, the brand’s first ever self-winding tourbillon watch created expressly for women. It houses the new in-house ultra-thin calibre 2160, first introduced in 2018 without a watch. The fact that the brand has chosen to debut this new movement in a ladies’ watch is acknowledgement that there is a growing market of discerning female collectors who appreciate such technical finesse.

IWC has also thrown its hat into this haute horlogerie ring with its new Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. On top of its two complications, the watch has also an extended power reserve of seven days, thanks to the twin barrels in its movement. Two versions are available, one in platinum and the other in the brand’s 18-carat Armor Gold, a proprietary rose gold alloy that is supposedly harder and five- to 10-times more wear-resistant than conventional 5N gold.

Material gain

The beginning of a new decade also saw several brands experiment with new materials. The aforementioned Panerai Tourbillon GMT Mike Horn Edition watch is made out of EcoPangaea hi-tech steel, recycled from the driveshaft of the Pangaea, the sailing ship captained by world-renowned explorer Mike Horn.

The brand also debuted a new material called Fibratech, which is composed of natural, sustainable mineral basalt fibres. This material, which has not been used in watchmaking before, is 60 per cent lighter than steel and highly resistant to corrosion. This makes it an excellent material for Panerai’s sporty, go-anywhere timepieces such as the new Luminor Marina Fibratech.

The Altiplano Ultimate Concept. Photo: Piaget

A rugged new material is also the star of Piaget’s newest release, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. Technically, the watch was first revealed in 2018 as a proof of concept as the thinnest mechanical watch in the world, a title it still holds. At that point in time, however, its absurd thinness (2mm) meant that it was not robust enough to enter regular production.

Now, however, Piaget has re-engineered the case out of a new cobalt-based alloy that is supposedly 2.3 times stronger than gold, making it possible to put the watch on an owner’s wrist. Even then, a mere 0.12mm of cobalt will separate the movement from their skin.

Hermès’ new Arceau L’Heure De La Lune is distinguished by its dial-sized moonphase indication. This year, the maison makes that complication more unique by using material from a meteorite from Mars for the dial. Talk about out of this world.

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Skeleton crew

Generally seen as having a more niche appeal, the skeletonised watch is having a surprising renaissance in 2020, with brands such as Cartier, Hermès, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin adopting the aesthetic.

Cartier’s skeletonised Tank Asymétrique watch. Photo: Cartier
Cartier’s skeletonised Tank Asymétrique watch. Photo: Cartier

Cartier delighted collectors with skeletonised timepieces in its new Pasha de Cartier and Tank Asymétrique collections, both of which were completely revamped from their vintage editions. The Pasha is characterised by its round case – unusual for a Cartier watch – a square rail track on the dial, four large numerals, and chained cabochon crown, which hides a second smaller winding crown beneath it. The Pasha de Cartier Tourbillon Skeleton has all these features, but has removed all the extraneous material on the dial and movement to draw further attention to what is left behind.

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The revamped Tank Asymétrique does much the same, skeletonising almost the entirety of the dial and movement to emphasise the diagonal slant of the watch. Even if skeletonised watches are not to your taste, the regular time-only Tank Asymétrique watches are gorgeous, timeless propositions.

Cartier’s president and CEO Cyrille Vigneron says of the watch, “This new modern avatar shows that [the Tank Asymmetrique] has not lost any of its beauty. In these unexpected times, what we cherish might just be its timelessness.”

The Hermès Arceau Squelette. Photo: Hermès
The Hermès Arceau Squelette. Photo: Hermès

More surprising is the Hermès Arceau Squelette, which features a smoked sapphire crystal dial that allows a dial-side view of the skeletonised self-winding movement that lies beneath. The numerals on the dial are cut out, and the slim hands appear to float above the dial, lending an unexpected lightness to the design. Considering that Hermès has scarcely created skeletonised watches before this point, this is an interesting addition to its horological stable indeed.

Elsewhere, Arnold & Son’s Nebula 38 features a skeletonisation that highlights the symmetrical architecture of the brand’s movement. Speake-Marin’s One&Two Openworked Tourbillon is unique in placing its flying tourbillon asymmetrically on the dial at 1.30. Thanks to the skeletonisation, wearers can see that the tourbillon is flanked on either side by its barrel and micro-rotor to bring a pleasing balance.

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