Geneva’s spectacular showcase of luxury watchmaking may not have boasted the horological fireworks of previous SIHH fairs, but young men and strong men have never been better served.
Outwardly, the Palexpo convention centre couldn’t look less suited to hosting the great, the good and the downright glamorous of luxury watchmaking – let alone for a whole week. As you emerge from Geneva Airport’s rail terminus into the freezing fog of a mid-January Monday, Palexpo’s vast grey-aluminium cladding looms miserably, the E62 motorway roaring past on your right, Easyjet Airbus after Easyjet Airbus roaring skywards to the left.
However, things rapidly transform once you’ve tottered precariously over an icy footbridge and set foot on the red carpet of the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Ironclad skies and suburban bleakness yield to a hushed, champagne-hued cocoon of luxury. With each and every one of the Richemont Group’s watch brands setting up multistorey pavilions throughout the cavernous exhibition complex, it’s as if Bond Street has had a ceiling installed, its cars removed and everything given a lick of magnolia. With bar upon bar serving bottomless Pommery and succulent sushi.
Knowing full well that someone’s got to do it, last week The Watch Gallery duly rolled up its sleeves, waved goodbye to Dry January, and selflessly took one for the team.
If we’re honest, no one was expecting anything close to the horological fireworks of yesteryear – the Swiss industry’s export downturn last year would surely preclude anything too ambitious. And while there was indeed a greater focus on core, entry-level collections (if indeed anything at SIHH could be considered “entry-level”), balanced out dramatically at the other extreme by a host of epic super-complications (we’re looking at you, Vacheron Constantin with your symphonic grande sonnerie) there was nonetheless a prevalence of imagination and positivity.
But being journalists, we do like to pigeonhole. And there did seem to be two major trends for 2017, which far from the predicted messages of “compromise” or “consolidation”, felt like they’d been a long time coming. Simply put, it’s all about the sporty chap and the feisty female.
In terms of the former, Baume & Mercier has even coined its own demographic: the “gentlesportsman”. But chuckles aside, the super-slick Clifton Club collection perfectly encapsulates that new breed of metrosexual athlete – less in favour of Wednesday-night five-a-side-and-a-pint, more about a Saturday-afternoon tennis knockabout or a track day at Silverstone. Over at Montblanc’s stand, a similar thing was happening with its Timewalker range – crisper lines, touches of ceramic, a racy colour palette of black, white and red. Fresh, accessible, and versatile.
At the higher end, Girard-Perregaux has wisely broadened its Seventies “sporty luxe” icon, the smoothly octagonal Laureato. As well as the Royal Oak-esque steel number with textured blue dial, there are some shamelessly retro bicolour varietals too – less tennis or Silverstone, more lunch-hour-racket-ball with Gordon Gekko.
As for that feisty female? She’s better served than anyone this year, thanks to her better-than-ever self-purchasing power (kids don’t have to replace a career these days, after all), plus her improved appreciation for proper watchmaking beyond the notorious “shrink pink” treatment of men’s models. This fiercer femininity was writ large at brands like Cartier, where another gaudy-gold retro icon, the Panthere, got a well-deserved reboot. Or Audemars Piguet, whose Royal Oak is getting hammered this year; quite literally, as the Florentine jeweller Carolina Bucci has applied her trademark shimmery frost to the crisply defined facets of AP’s octagonal case using a pneumatically powered punch.
Across the bustling halls of SIHH, two more masculine brands were leading with watches for the fairer sex, namely Jaeger-LeCoultre and its wildly successful Rendez-Vous collection and IWC, that self-professed firmament of machismo, whose Da Vinci dress range takes over from the Portofino 37mm as every ladies’ one-stop shop for pared-back elegance.
Frankly, we can’t wait for next year’s bleak trudge along the E62 hard shoulder – once safely ensconced in the beige embrace of SIHH, it’s always well worth it.