Editors' Picks The Most Interesting Releases At Watches & Wonders 2020

A selection of favourites from the re-branded take on SIHH that went completely digital this year.

by Amish Behl

2020 was to be the first year since 2008 when two of the world’s biggest annual watch fairs – Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and Baselworld – would be held back-to-back. While making it easier for those who would otherwise have to make two separate trips to Switzerland for these events (retailers, media and other stakeholders), it would also pack-in a whole lot of extended excitement for enthusiasts who are nowadays keenly tuned in to every little development in the world of watches.

SIHH had even rebranded itself to Watches & Wonders, and with this new look, seemed set to introduce a fresh format for watch trade shows, which have now existed for over 100 years (the first edition of Baselworld was held in 1917).

A glimpse of SIHH 2019 in Geneva. Image credit: FHH

Due to the Covid situation, this wasn’t to be. Baselworld first postponed (to 2021, curiously) and then cancelled. But Watches & Wonders decided to power on, albeit digitally. Watches & Wonders 2020 was going to an event held on a unified, digital platform – watchesandwonders.com – where about a dozen brands (primarily those part of the Richemont Group) would showcase their new releases via multimedia. The platform was opened to the public on 25 April and we saw key announcements come from the following brands:

  • Baume & Mercier
  • Vacheron Constantin
  • Cartier
  • Piaget
  • IWC
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre
  • Roger Dubuis
  • A Lange & Söhne
  • Panerai
  • Montblanc
  • Hermès

Interestingly, this is a platform that will keep getting updated over time as we see more releases from participating brands and partners.

As it stands, virtually or otherwise, Watches & Wonders is the only major watch fair taking place in 2020, so we decided to pick out some of our favourites from the new releases announced here.

Montblanc 1858 Automatic 24H

It’s worth kicking it off with something unconventional before getting to the predictable, but this watch was truly the most eye-catching one for me. The Montblanc 1858 24H gets its name from its 24 hour dial, as opposed to the usual 12 hour dial we see on most of our watches. 24 hour dials have always been relatively uncommon, but still found their way onto some watches till about the 1950s – an era when, perhaps, you would see them a tad more frequently. And it’s a single-hand watch – another rare element.

If someone were to describe this watch to me, I would have called it a gimmick and moved on. But what Montblanc has created puts quite a fun twist on it all and serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t take timepieces ALL that seriously. They’re meant to be a source of pleasure and this one sure seems to be one. It feels like an instrument more than a watch, per se, that demands to be taken on some kind of adventure (and you can check that box further because you can technically use it as a compass too).

It does feel kind of out-of-character if you consider the aesthetic one tends to associate with Montblanc, but if you’ve been following their work, there’s a fair bit of experimentation going on with their design language nowadays. In that sense, it’s coherent and at its very best, takes a risk – something which can’t be said for many brands out there. And no, you’ll never exactly know what time it is.

42mm case width. 11.2mm thickness. Steel case with bronze bezel. 100m water resistance. Automatic movement. Fabric strap, leather strap and bracelet options. $3,030 (~₹2,30,000)

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers – The Singing Birds

Les Cabinotiers is Vacheron Constantin’s specialist workshop, responsible for working on their highest crafts and complications that make their way into unique and bespoke pieces. The Singing Birds is a collection of four watches with beautifully enamelled dials depicting four different birds. Only one piece of each version will be made, making them unique.

Why am I talking about watches that we will probably never even see, let alone have the opportunity of owning? Because it’s easy to forget that watches can also be a canvas for all kinds of different arts and crafts (enamelling, micro-painting, engraving, gem setting, wood marquetry among others). And just as we hope that the art of mechanical watchmaking stays with us, these ancient art forms are absolutely worth preserving too. 

In that vein, it’s heartening to see Vacheron Constantin keep these crafts alive. Though it isn’t surprising in any way, as pieces like these have prominently featured in the brand’s collections over the years. The watch features a champlevé enamel dial – a technique wherein cells are carved out of a metal surface and then filled with enamel and fired repeatedly in a kiln. The firing is done until the colours are stabilised and the desired vitreous finish is achieved. In case of the singing birds, a single artist hand-fills each cell with enamel, drawing from a rich and nuanced palette of colours. The guilloché on the right side of the dial is also done by hand.

Time is displayed through a wandering hours system, whereby a satellite carrier has 12 hour numerals mounted on three arms – four each. The hour numeral moves along the arc over the course of 60 minutes, thus serving as a minute indicator as well. Once it ‘disappears’, the next hour numeral on the adjacent arm is seen at the beginning of the arc. It’s a nifty display and the space it allows on the dial lets the artwork shine without being obscured by moving hands. Combined with an ultra-thin automatic movement, it’s a charming representation of classical fine watchmaking as a mélange of crafts.

40mm case width. 12.37m thickness. Pink gold or white gold case. Hand-stitched alligator leather strap. Ultra-thin in-house automatic movement with Geneva Seal. 4 unique pieces with representations of hummingbird, robin, blue jay and blue tit. Price not announced.

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40

You’ll think it strange I’m saying this, but there aren’t as many great, everyday watches in the market as they ought to be. So I’m always personally most excited about this genre of timepiece. Also, SIHH (or now Watches & Wonders) isn’t the ideal hunting ground for luxury watches that remain relatively accessible , given average price points of Richemont brands (and I must stress on ‘relatively’ again, because we Are talking about a $7,000+/~₹5,00,000 watch here after all). 

On this front, IWC stole the show with their fresh, handsome take on the classic Portugieser, now in a more modest 40mm size. It’s simple, well-executed and delivers on the little touches like applied numerals and elegant leaf hands. Historically, as well as more recently, IWC’s stock-in-trade has been watches with substantial wrist presence. So, while introducing a 40mm Portugieser next to its 42mm sibling doesn’t significantly compromise on that USP, it still opens the door for this storied watch to a more size-conscious audience.

The Portugieser itself has always been a large watch, ever since it started life as a wristwatch with a pocket watch movement on the request of Portuguese merchants in the late 1930s. So while 40mm may still be at the higher end of dress watch sizes, it stays true to its origins.

An early IWC Portugieser from 1939. IWC has stayed quite true to the watch’s roots.

Versatility, a steel case and enough flair to turn its simplicity into something tremendously enjoyable. These are all hallmarks of timepieces that’ll serve you well no matter what situation or occasion you find yourself in. And the new IWC Portugieser 40 delivers each of them in spades. 

40.4mm case width. 12.3mm thickness. In-house automatic movement. Alligator leather strap. 3 dial options for the steel version – silver with golden hands, silver with blue hands, blue with silver hands. $7,250 (~₹5,50,000). A gold version has been announced as well.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

Calendar chronographs, especially those with calendar apertures at 12 and sub-dials at the 3, 6 and 9 o’ clock positions drive a special kind of personal interest. I would attribute this to two factors. One, of course, is the similarity of layout to what one could consider the most treasured sub-category of wristwatches of all time – Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronographs. Two, if you’ve looked around the vintage watch scene enough, you’ll know that vintage calendar chronographs tend to have the most irresistibly charming dials.

So to see Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) enter the arena with a modern offering that teases you with some flavour of yesteryear was quite exciting. The Master Control Chronograph Calendar does exactly what it claims – it displays the day, date and month, has a 30 minute chronograph and shows the phase of the moon too. Master Control signifies that the cased-up watch underwent 1,000 hours of testing by JLC before being passed. Now, JLC wouldn’t be JLC if they didn’t create a new movement from the ground-up for a new complication; and this watch features an in-house caliber developed specifically for it.

But beyond the watch itself, it’s also about the intent that JLC is signalling. With a new combination of complications coming in a regular production model and a more easygoing appearance thanks to the tan leather strap, the usually-reserved JLC looks ready to play.

40mm case width. 12.05mm thickness. Steel case. In-house automatic movement. Novonappa calf leather strap. $14,500 (~₹11,00,000). A model in rose gold has been announced as well.

Cartier Pasha de Cartier

Cartier first introduced the Pasha in the 1980s and it remained part of the catalogue until fairly recently. I’m quite glad to see it being reintroduced, honestly. I say this because they’re arguably the only brand that can pull off these in-between designs with such panache. By in-between I mean any watch that plays outside the well-established norms of circles and quadrilaterals. In a way, this is both, yet neither, because the visual weight of the Pasha rests on how the bracelet is integrated as well as how the crown cover is attached to a chain. 

This kind of challenge to traditional watch design is what keeps things exciting in the industry. And when the outcome looks like this – with such carefully measured extravagance – excitement turns into fascination.

41mm version with date on the left. 35mm version without date on the right.

While the 1985 original had a slightly sportier design with a rotating bezel, this simpler interpretation is likely to have wider appeal. Well, as wide as it can be with a polarising design of this nature (I’m a fan, though). The new release is available in 35 and 41mm variants – each in steel or gold. As with all things Cartier, don’t underestimate how good a smaller watch can look on a man’s wrist. It’s the zone where Cartier plays to win.

41mm/35mm case width. 9.55mm/9.37mm thickness. Steel or gold case. In-house automatic movement. Quick-change system for bracelet and straps. $5,700 (~₹4,30,000) onwards.

This year, it may take longer for 2020 releases to reach our shores, but those mentioned in this story are indeed the ones I’m most looking forward to going hands-on with. Except those singing birds, sadly. They won’t be flying this far.

(India pricing and availability for these pieces to be announced)

Fascinating watches. Authentic stories.


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