Neutrality and a stable currency help reinforce Switzerland’s image as a haven of tranquillity within Europe. The same could be said for the country’s high-end watchmakers, who at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva seemed blissfully indifferent to the downgrades and debt crisis sweeping the continent.
Business at the week-long, invitation-only watch fair Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, a precursor to the bigger Basel Watch Fair, was anything but dismal. “It has been unbelievable,” said Richard Mille, a niche watchmaker. “After the first day many models were already sold out.”
Known to push the horological envelope, Mille pulled out all the stops with a model sporting a case made of sapphire – the chf1.6m (€1.3m) price-tag didn’t deter collectors from shelling out for five. Meanwhile, Swiss luxury group Richemont, which fielded 12 of the 18 brands at the event, was decidedly bullish, with marque Vacheron Constantin filling orders for all 19,000 pieces in two days as it celebrated the centenary of its tonneau-shaped Malte. Independent house Audemars Piguet celebrated its own anniversary, marking 40 years of the pioneering Royal Oak, the Gerald Genta-designed octagonal case that created a market for luxury-priced stainless steel wristwatches. Eight versions, some in new case sizes, were on show.
Others mining their archives for inspiration included Le Sentier-based Jaeger-LeCoultre. Its Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph, with luminescent coating, referenced its breakthrough Memovox diver model from the 1950s. Elsewhere, iwc presented its latest Top Gun pilot watches at a stand that recreated an aircraft carrier complete with fighter jet.
Stealing some of the spotlight from the “Swiss made” brands was A Lange & Söhne. The German marque updated its Datograph dial to make reading time easier on the eye.
Top five watches
Panerai Radiomir 1940 Limited edition 47mm hand-wound movement in red gold, alligator strap.
Cartier Tank Anglaise 36.2mm self-winding movement in 18-carat rhodium-plated white gold.
A Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down 41mm with hand-wound chronograph in platinum, crocodile strap.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph 40.5mm with self-winding movement in steel, leather strap.
Audemars Piguet Extra-thin Royal Oak 39mm with self-winding movement in stainless steel.