“In the end, there was no tsunami,” says Franco Cologni. “We’ve been in turbulent seas but the waters are subsiding.” The chairman of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the invitation-only watch fair held in Geneva every January, is telling whoever will listen that the industry has seen off the worst of the crisis.
Indeed, after a difficult 2009, when Swiss watch exports slid by almost a quarter, good news ushered in this year’s event as the opening day saw luxury group Richemont, which owns 12 of the 19 brands in this show, report a modest rise in sales. Cautious optimism was even heard among retailers. “We’ve hit the trough in the market but things are now set to go up again,” says Denis Asch, owner of watch boutique L’Heure Asch.
First-time exhibitors Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille further brightened the mood as the cognoscenti had even more elaborate tourbillons to drool over. Inspired by the automotive and aerospace worlds, Mille unveiled his RM 017, featuring a movement baseplate in carbon nanofiber, along with several chunky pocket watches.
Still, the focus remained on the heavyweights. Vacheron Constantin updated its ultra-thin Historique from 1955 – slimmed down versions were popular this year – and invited its Japanese lacquer artist to demonstrate the painstaking work needed to decorate its watch dials. At Cartier, the company unveiled its ID One, a concept watch that doesn’t require adjustment so wearers won’t have to worry about pricey after-sales servicing.
Elsewhere, IWC went with a nautical-themed stand to showcase the revamped Portuguese series, which included the Yacht Club Chronograph with a rubber strap. Italy’s Panerai, which uses Swiss-made instruments, rolled out a new movement for its Radiomir 42MM and did it up in a flash of pink gold. And Jaeger-LeCoultre, famous for its Reverso, continued its foray into mountaineering with its butch Extreme Lab 2 that was tested on a trek through the Himalayas.
Another area the marque was keen to explore was the world of social media, as it announced plans for its own Facebook page. “This is an opportunity for us to open the doors of the manufacture to fans,” said Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Jérôme Lambert. “The benefit is to create a different dynamic around the brand.” Besides buzz, the brand no doubt hopes to benefit with a bigger order book.
Five Monocle picks:
Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph 45.4 MM in steel with black rubber strap.
Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 with automatic chronograph in 18-carat pink gold.
Rotonde de Cartier flying tourbillon skeleton 9455 in 18-carat white gold.
Patrimony Traditionnelle 1141 QP with manual-winding movement in platinum.
Radiomir 42MM with manual-winding movement in pink gold.