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Watch and Brand News SIHH Trends of 2018, Part 2 – Pushing the Industry Ahead

As we noted in our first installment covering SIHH trends of 2018, there was a lot of ground to cover when examining this year’s show. While our initial feature focused on more design-centric trends—green dials, panda dials, and the return of proper women’s watches, among other things—this still leaves room for topics of a more technical nature.

Mechanical Trends of SIHH 2018

We’ve continued to see a pair of trends that were initially sparked among a small sect within the last year or so. After taking some time to digest, to reflect on all that was seen, touched, and heard, we’ve centered our sights on two key shifts that are set to impact what we’re going to see from the luxury watch world through the balance of 2018.

Thin is In… Again.

If one thing was clearly apparent at SIHH this year, it’s that the drive to innovate and advance the craft of high watchmaking seems revived and rejuvenated, like a phoenix risen from the ashes of the recent recession. It’s beginning to feel as though the days of nothing but new dial variants is fading into the background, and that spirit and ambition once far more prevalent is returning to centre stage.

With that, the battle of the Ultra-Thin watches rages on, and there are a handful of solid contenders in the ring with a few different angles of approach.

It’s truly a tough call to say who was the “belle of the ball” in the ultra-thin category, but at a fundamental level we have to hand it off to Piaget, whose Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch appeared in a solo display case, standing as a very effective middle finger to the likes of Bulgari, who continue to make repeated attempts at dethroning Piaget as the master of the thinnest watches on earth.

Before even getting to the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, Piaget had already snagged the title of world’s thinnest automatic watch back from Bulgari (a title they gained at Baselworld in 2017) with the Altiplano Ultimate 910P, but as if to add insult to injury, the Concept piece measures an impossible-sounding 2mm thick. As a point of reference, that entire watch is as thick as the sapphire crystal fitted on a modern Rolex Submariner. So not only did Piaget say “Hey Bulgari, we beat you”, but in the same breath said “we beat you, and here’s how we’re going to beat you again.”

When talking of slimming down calibers, the minimum size of a perpetual calendar has remained painfully stagnant for years—until now. Audemars Piguet, in very dark and closed quarters, showcased their new RD#2 Perpetual calendar at SIHH, whose caliber has been slimmed down to below 3mm (2.89mm to be precise). While technically in concept phase for now, Audemars Piguet’s product team did mention that roughly a half dozen calibers are in final “shakedown” testing to evaluate the viability and stability of the caliber.

In theory, this means the new poster child Royal Oak Perpetual Ceramic is soon to be dethroned as the most desirable AP on the open market. The best part? Being cased in platinum, the RD#2 is shockingly, and misleadingly heavy given its incredibly trim profile. There are times where an overly heavy watch can be a pain, but certainly not here.

While not shattering records or “changing the game” if you will, we were also treated to a properly refreshed Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra Thin Perpetual this year at SIHH powered by an all new caliber: the 1120 QP/1. While not a record breaker, the caliber is a very trim 4.05mm thick, with the entire piece coming in just over 8mm.

Sure this sounds thick by comparison to our other talking points, but for a casually-designed Overseas that’s designed for daily wear, its just as slim as it needs to be (not to mention fitting spectacularly on-wrist). Cased in 5N pink gold, the new QP is fitted with the same quick-change strap system as other members of the Overseas collection, and in this model will be offered with both rubber and leather straps (but no gold bracelet at this time).

Price Fixing (in a good way)

Incessant and unjustified inflation was a problem that ran rampant in the watch industry for years, and as all of the major watch brands start to become more savvy when it comes to the wants and needs of the modern consumer, we’re seeing a much more thoughtful approach to how new releases are being priced. This was a big year when it came to pricing strategy, and shockingly the clever moves came from every bracket of the industry, from the very entry level to more chart-topping offerings.

The first watch to catch our eye, not just in this category but at the show as a whole, is F.P. Journe’s sexy new Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante. A new model using the movement design principles of his $1M+ Only Watch entrant in 2017, the new model is being offered up in titanium, red gold, and platinum. Journe opted to add the piece to the LineSport collection, replete with rubber bumpers and a very casual microblasted finish to its cases and bracelets.

While polarizing in design, and very much Journe’s new “love it or hate it” watch (I LOVE it), its price of entry really isn’t half bad. The titanium example comes in at 58k CHF, and the red gold and platinum models list for 78,000 and 106,000 CHF respectively.

2018 was a big year for IWC, as they celebrated their 150th with a new Jubilee collection featuring beautiful white and blue lacquer dials on an assortment of new and classic models. Of course much attention was hastily paid to the Pallweber and the Big Date Big Pilot, but what what many failed to notice was the slim margin IWC is taking for the examples that are additions to current collections.

In the case of the white lacquer dial 3777 and the pair of Portugieser models, the former limited to 1,000pcs and the latter to 2,000, IWC is charging but a few hundred dollar premium. Considering the time-consuming process to craft those 12-layer lacquer dials alone, this is indeed money well spent.

In a similar category, Panerai’s pricing revelation flew quite low under the radar at SIHH. In revamping the entire due line from head to toe, not to mention the addition of some compact and highly desirable 38mm models, the brand also fitted the entire line with in-house calibers for the first time without adjusting pricing. Looking back at similar moves throughout the industry this effectively unheard of, and we have to tip our hat to Panerai for pulling it off.

Having mentioned the price gap between Journe’s titanium and gold models, this observation of Laurent Ferrier’s impressive play at SIHH will hit even closer to home. The big news from the brand this year was of course their all new Galet Annual Calendar Montre École, a very classic yet funky annual calendar powered by a brand new caliber.

Where the real shock, at least in our eyes, came when learning that the price jump between the steel and yellow gold models was a mere $5,000. In an industry where price variation seems to vary so much that you’d think brands were playing a game of “spin the magic wheel of margins”, this kind of price jump to gold is something that finally makes reasonable sense.

Last but not least, Baume et Mercier brought some serious technical heat to the entry-level segment with their new Baumatic models. For a paltry $2,790, Baume delivers a sleek chronometer-certified 40mm dress watch with a 5-day power reserve, from a caliber that uses  a silicon balance spring, escape wheel, and lever.

This kind of high-spec movement is immensely impressive in the entry level, and Richemont’s commitment to developing the technology with its entry-level brand is both fascinating and confounding. Either way, if it means more accurate and wear-resistant calibers in the entry-level segment, we’re all for it.

About Justin Mastine-Frost
Bold, adventurous, and well-executed. This is the calling card of timepieces Justin will always covet. From the deepest depths of the independents realm, to the latest and greatest limited-release novelties from our favorite big guns, Justin has gone hands-on with them — and more than likely has an opinion.

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