The watch blogs have been a-buzz the last few weeks with new goods unveiled at this year’s SIHH, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. As the name implies, SIHH is an event (invite-only) where the top dogs of the watch industry show off their newest, wildest, most elaborate and often most expensive creations. From complete calendars to tourbillons to things entirely new and novel, SIHH is wrought with the most excellent examples of watch making and haute horology. And though many of these fine works will eventually be for sale in one way or another, it’s not an event where you or I, or likely anyone we know, is going to find their next watch… unless they happen to have struck oil in their backyard or are about to invent cold fusion in their studio apartment.
That being said, as watch enthusiasts and fans of things mechanical, it’s an important event to be aware of… and the pieces exhibited are absolutely worth reading about, if only to appreciate the quite stubborn pursuit for accuracy and precision many of these time-telling contraptions display. And to that end I present to you just a few, a sliver, of the fine timepieces shown that demonstrate the mechanical genius that defines haute horology.
Piaget Emperador Coussin XL Ultra Thin Minute Repeater
Elegant is almost too coarse of a word to describe the watches of Piaget. We’ve lusted over their Altiplano dress watch before, the world’s thinnest automatic and perhaps one of its most refined, and now our jaws are agape for their new Minute Repeater. The Emperador Coussin XL Ultra Thin Minute Repeater is the world’s thinnest automatic minute repeater, and the brand’s first fully in-house minute repeater (a minute repeater, for those new to haute horology, is a watch with the capability to chime the time via tiny hammers and gongs within the movement when actuated by a trigger on the side of the watch…check this out). Though the watch case is quite large, at 48mm, it’s also extremely thin at 9.8mm. The movement, caliber 1290P, is itself only 4.8mm thick, yet contains 407 parts. Of course, being thin isn’t everything, and in the case of a minute repeater, volume is paramount. The design of the watch also has to take acoustics into consideration on top of mechanics and finishing. Piaget was able to reach 65db, which makes it plenty audible.
And since the movement here is the star, and a great success for the brand, the watch is skeleton style with a display back. The 1290P demonstrates a very high level of finishing, as one would expect for such a luxurious piece, including hand-beveled edges, golden screws, sunburst brushing and a platinum micro-rotor. The rose gold case is simple, as is Piaget’s style, but doesn’t lack for presentation. Most interesting, however, is the cushion shaped dial, which is the trademark of the Emperador series. At $250,000, and a limited edition of 10 in rose gold, this isn’t a watch you’re likely to come by.
IWC Ingenieur Constant Force Tourbillon Ref 5900
There is so much to say about this watch that I’m not sure where to begin. Perhaps with the photorealistic textured perpetual moon-phase display… the one that shows the moon positioning for the Northern and Southern hemispheres and has a countdown to the next full moon? Or the 96-hour power reserve thanks to the multiple hand-wound barrels? Maybe it’s the new interpretation of Gerald Genta’s iconic Ingenieur case, crafted from platinum and ceramic? A case that is both masculine and aggressive while maintaining the tastefulness that a genuine luxury watch requires?
Nah…though those are pretty cool things, but the star of the show, the guy that is hogging the limelight here, is the constant force tourbillon that unabashedly consumes nearly 1/3rd of the watch’s large dial. Tourbillons are pretty amazing to begin with, hence their position as a hallmark for a manufacture’s capabilities. An escapement mounted in an ever-rotating cage, designed in the late 1700’s by the man himself, Louis Breguet, to counteract gravity’s ill-effects on pocket-watch accuracy (breath)… these little mechanical marvels are as mesmerizing as they are difficult to manufacture. Well, IWC had to one-up the average and near pedestrian tourbillon by introducing a patented constant-force mechanism into the mix. Now, the amplitude of the balance (still there?) remains steady, keeping an equal flow of energy and thus maintaining greater accuracy… because, well gosh! Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to show up to a board meeting 5-seconds late due to an inaccurate tourbillon! Oddly though, it appears to only use the constant force mechanism for 48hr periods and then goes back to standard operation.
Nevertheless, IWC’s prowess is held in check by this beast of a movement that is riddled with complication. And of course, the watch itself is pretty easy on the eyes. The moon phase alone is a work of art, with each moon engraved to have every crater and crevice visible on the real moon’s surface. The sporty design and asymmetrical dial are welcome on a watch with such an overly refined and complex movement. I particularly ejoy that the tourbillon, moon phase and power reserve protrude past the edge of the dial, as though the 46mm platinum and ceramic case were caging them in. And unlike many watches with grand complications, the Ingenieur Ref 5900 actually seems like you could wear it out on the town. Like it was not built to live in a safe, but rather on a (daring) wrist. A modest $290,000 will secure yours today.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor
Before you read anything I write about the Excalibur Quatuor, watch this epic promo video (and do so properly…full screen HD and turn up those speakers, it’s worth it):
Yes, there was lightening. Yes, there was an Eagle that wore a golden crown and held a golden key (which represents the crest of Geneva)! YES! There was a stone that erupted in flames when Excalibur itself shot into the sky! The only thing that was missing was a closing scene of giant golden letters, covered in blood and burning with blue fire that read “Valhalla, I’m coming!” Anyway… if that video didn’t get you as excited as a Game of Thrones marathon, then check your pulse. Not only was it insanely dramatic, as any video for a watch called the “Excalibur Quatuor” ought to be, it revealed an element of a watch movement that typically you can only experience in person…the sound. Did you hear that insect-like clicking? That sound of 1,000 scarab beetles launched from a mummy’s curse? Well, that’s actually the four sprung balances whirling away in each corner of this massive and insane watch.
Whereas IWC turned to a constant-force tourbillon to ensure accuracy, Roger Dubuis went in a different and all together unique direction to similar end. The Quatuor utilizes four balances, operating independently though linked together in pairs, to tell time via their average. This is achieved through calculations done mechanically via the 5 differentials (3 linked to the balances) the watch employs (this is to the best of my knowledge, this watch is pretty heady so I recommend further reading). As you can plainly see, this watch is a vigorous exercise in movement innovation that illustrates Roger Dubuis’ in-house capabilities. Not that this is a brand known for simple movements and subtle watch design.
Aesthetically… this is one vicious looking watch that draws upon the name Excalibur. Dark surfaces, sharp hands, cryptic markings and a bezel that looks like it was forged by a blacksmith come together to honor the machine within. As though that were all not enough, there are two version of the watch, one with in a pink gold case limited to 88 pieces, and another limited to 3 pieces, made out of Silicon (not silicone), which is a world’s first. Silicon is extremely light and extremely hard, at half the weight of titanium and 4 times its hardness. Clearly, with its matte grey appearance, it suits both the look of this watch and its spirit of innovation. Start saving, because the pink gold version comes in at about $413,700 while the Silicon version is a cool $1,089,000.
By Zach Weiss