If I ever make it, I suspect I’ll find heaven is a little like SalonQP. It’ll be less crowded and with a decent restaurant, but definitely the same idea. Champagne, cocktails, every watch from haute horlogerie artworks to beaters. And some of THE warmest, most interesting people you’ll meet.
Because of the sheer richness of the show, this is very much a personal perspective. There simply isn’t time to get round every display case AND talk to everyone, so you’ll end up missing as many good things as you see. So, take a champagne flute from that passing waiter and follow me…
Now you’ve had time for a couple of sips, it’s worth a stop at the Watches of Knightsbridge booth. Here, it’s not the quantity of the watches on offer that’s the point – it’s the quality. A unique gold Ferrari JLC Reverso for a start. Simon from WoK suspects it was a one-off commission for an F1 driver with a home on the Isle of Man, but there’s still plenty of mystery about it. It was sharing a case with a seriously rare vintage Vacheron Constantin ref. 4072 and a black-dialed gold Daytona.
It’s always worth asking Simon where he thinks the smart money is going. This year, as last, he’s looking at military watches. That explains the gorgeous tropical dial Milsub he was displaying alongside its Tudor equivalent and a 6542 Rolex GMT II. Moving on before I reach for my wallet…
From the ancient (relatively) to the modern. At the truly eye-popping, bank account imploding end of the market, the chaps from the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève had brought their Roadshow to town. These are watches that will make anyone’s jaw drop; the only question is how far. For example, it’s tough to work out whether Bulgari’s “Diva High Jewellery Emeralds” is a watch with a beautifully jewelled bracelet or a beautifully jewelled bracelet with a watch. If you’re thinking about one for your Christmas list, best get saving. It’s a gnat’s over £404,000. A. Lange & Söhne had their Terraluna on display, the watch that picked up the GPHG Calendar prize. Clearly, it does everyday things like tell you the time, but it also tells you the month, which phase of the moon you’re looking at and the date. For ever – it’s a perpetual calendar. And it is so fixatingly beautiful that there was a line of people cheerfully offering to sell their grandmothers to raise the £141,000 purchase price.
Upstairs, Jonathan from the splendid Page & Cooper was, as usual, raising the tone both sartorially and with P&C’s selection of watchmakers. It’s always good to catch up with Mikael Sandström from Halda, but this year he had the new Race Pilot Steel with him too. Running the lovely Zenith 685 movement this is a classic Halda. Heavy, large, beautifully made. And it’s very unlikely you’ll spot another on someone else’s wrist.
Squale and their ever-knowledgeable MD Andrea Maggi have been quietly getting on with something gorgeous. It’s a GMT Vintage Master with a new enamel bezel. Powered by an ETA 2893, it’ll come with a choice of rich red or black bezels, a blue or red dial and the usual Squale attention to detail. With luck, it’ll be hitting the market early next year.
Sinn – a P&C stalwart and one of my favourite watchmakers – were at QP too. The precision of their work makes a Lexus look like a post-pub, Friday afternoon Morris Ital. The UX – amongst others – was on show. ‘Unique’ is overused, but there aren’t too many watches around with an oil-filled submarine steel case, a thermo-compensated, 7-jewel ETA 955.652 movement and that’s waterproof to 12,000 metres. At that depth, if you’re still worried about your watch letting in water you’re probably wearing your underpants over your tights and have a large S on your t-shirt.
It was good to see another of my favourites – Fortis – making a comeback to the UK. And not with some oversized, overblinged attempt at recreating former glories either. Fortis’ Max Wedel explained that they’ll be sticking to their knitting with proper aviation, space and marine models and the new Terrestris line is due in early 2015.
It’s always good to catch up with Bradley Price from Autodromo. If he can’t infect you with enthusiasm for watches, motor racing and anything with an engine, you clearly sold your soul earlier in the evening for a De Bethune DB29 tourbillon.
Bradley was showing his stalwart Prototipo range – including the new blue-dialed variant – as well as the new Stradale model. He talked about how cool it would have been to have made the chapter ring on the Stradale from sapphire, despite it already sitting under a sapphire crystal. He moved on to explain the way that each facet of the Prototipo – and Prototipo Nero – is finished in contrasting ways. That’s the sort of attention to detail and desire for making classic, thoroughly wearable watches that Bradley does so well. Mind you, he’s equally happy debating the merits of his Alfa Romeo GTV versus ’67 Volvo Amazons. Think he won that argument.
Over the way from Page & Cooper were Merlin Schwertner and the Nomos team. If there’s a friendlier, more generous bunch of people in watchmaking I’d like to meet them. Nomos have a knack of making watches that look simple but somehow give you a new detail to look at each time. Probably the best example is the Metro, with the in-house swing system assortiment. It’s rather less bauhaus than Nomos’ usual offerings, but has the same sort of clarity of design. It’s gorgeous, but I would have come home with a 42mm, manual winding Lambda, one of the newest models, in white gold. It’s powered by the DUW 1001 movement (a properly in-house calibre of serious beauty) and has a power reserve indicator that’s a work of art in itself.
As always with Nomos’, the little things make you smile. For example, the balance cock is hand engraved. That’s not unusual at this end of the market, but the words engraved on it are – “made with love in Glashütte”. And one very much gets the sense they mean it. Look at that strap too – it’s a heavy, hand-sewn, rembordé Horween Shell Cordovan with a custom-made gold buckle. That means, because the two halves of the strap are fused with pressure and heat, it lasts and stays beautiful. No water gets in at the edges and it can’t fray. Proper workmanship.
Zenith were showing off their new printed (not stamped or cut) silicon escapement . This is far from a gimmick. Silicon moving against silicon creates very little friction. So little that the escapement no longer needs lubrication. Also, because the manufacturing process is so precise, tolerances are massively reduced. So the escapement’s performance soars while the need for maintenance plummets. A good excuse for a glass of champagne on the bench, I’d say.
Christopher Ward were talking about their SH21 movement. They’re a generous bunch, so even if you’d hit the champagne too hard, they were encouraging you to try your hand at building one yourself. Virtually, at least with their new movement assembly game: challenger SH21
With all the controversy about in-house movements this year it was refreshing to chat with Antoine Schott, the Assistant CEO from CW’s movement partner Synergies Horologères. His openness and enthusiasm for watchmaking and CW’s watches was great to see. He spoke about how so many Swiss watchmakers aren’t huge corporates with huge plate-glass HQs. They’re still small businesses, hand-making and hand-assembling watches. He explained that the goal was to create base calibres that were flexible enough to allow different watch businesses to offer high-quality movements with different features at different prices. Certainly seems to be what CW are doing with Synergies Horologères. I would definitely have walked away very happily with a C9 on my wrist.
By the end of the evening I was ready to sit down, have another glass of champagne and listen to concert pianist Dora Deliyska playing Beethoven. It helped that next to her Bosendorfer was a Porsche 550 Spyder and – classic motorcycling icon – a 1939 Series A Vincent Rapide. Heaven? Not quite. I couldn’t find the key.