MANY of the luxury timepieces in the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2013 in Geneva live up to the tag they are given at such events: "Novelties".
Unlike last year when many were a rehash of old standards, most of the new wares which the 16 watch brands strutted at one of the two biggest watch shows on earth were new, original, unusual and even innovative.
Take Roger Dubuis' Excalibur Quatuor, which the brand will fly well-heeled customers First Class to Switzerland to check out.
The Quatuor, produced in a limited edition of three pieces and retails at CHF 1,000,000 (S$1,350,000) each, is touted as the world's first watch with a case in silicon - a material that has been used only for parts to increase the precision of watch movements.
More impressive is what's inside the watch - an unusual four sprung balances that maintain the watch's accuracy against the disturbances of gravity.
So far, only the revered tourbillon complication can do that. Now the Quatuor can also do it - and do it more efficiently, Roger Dubuis claims. The Quatuor may prove to be a tourbillon killer.
But Roger Dubuis' Excalibur Quatuor is not the only standout novelty at the watch fair, which is dominated by brands of the Swiss luxury group Richemont.
Cartier, the biggest contributor to Richemont's business, also did not disappoint with its offerings.
The fair was already abuzz with talk of Cartier's mysterious new creations. These turned out to be two watches harking back to Cartier's famed mystery clock, whose hands appear to float in rock crystal.
One of the watches, the Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hours, looks like a downsized version of the mystery clock. Its hands appear to rest on thin air without any visible operating mechanism.
The other is the Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon, which has a tourbillon escapement that seems to be suspended weightlessly on the dial.
It has taken Cartier 100 years to get from the mystery clock to the mystery watch.
Yet critics are more impressed with another new timepiece by Cartier - the Calibre de Cartier Chronograph.
The case made its debut three years ago, but the latest incarnation is fitted with a new in-house automatic chronograph movement - the fruit of multi-million investment in watchmaking. "This is the first time we have a watch really dedicated to men," says Helene Poulit-Duquesne, Cartier's director of international marketing. "We don't have any feminine versions."
Richemont brands did not hoard the limelight totally at the SIHH 2013.
Independent watchmakers Greubel Forsey, which have made their names building extraordinary tourbillons, surprised with an "art" timepiece - with a twist.
Rather than producing another watch featuring a beautifully painted or decorated dial, the Anglo-French duo has paired with British artist Willard Wigan to create a micro-sculpture no larger than the eye of a needle in the watch.
And this is seen through a miniature microscope set in the case band.
IWC Schaffhausen's new collection also reflects a tie-up of sorts. It's a revamp of IWC's Ingenieur line to enshrine the watchmaker's three-year partnership with the Mercedes AMG Petrona Formula One Team.
Materials favoured by F1 engineers, such as carbon fibre, ceramic and titanium, are worked into the new range of watches to conjure up the spirit of the racetrack.
The watches include tourbillons, perpetual calendars and, of course, chronographs.
Not to be outdone, avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille has created two novelties relating to the motoring world in its offerings, both dedicated to one-time Ferrari boss Jean Todt. One is the Tourbillon G-Sensor Jean Todt that boasts a feature which "records the highest G-forces reached during your drive until you reset it".
Piaget continues to display its mastery in slenderness by unveiling the new Piaget Emperador Coussin Ultra-Thin Minute Repeater, the world's thinnest automatic minute repeater.
Audemars Piguet continues to build on its iconic Royal Oak Offshore line with the Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication, its first grand complication that packs a rattrapante chronograph, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar and moon phases.
"With the introduction of this movement in the Royal Oak Offshore, not only do we master the artistry of complicated movements but have also broken the rules by placing it in our most extreme sports design," says AP's new chief executive Francois-Henry Bennahmias.
Vacheron Constantin takes a different tack this year by presenting an all-women collection.
Christian Selmoni, Vacheron's artistic director, says women historically have been loyal to the brand. But Vacheron has been so busy developing new movements in recent years that it has overlooked them. This collection is to make up for the neglect.
Among the lady timepieces are the Metiers d' Art Florilege, a trio of timepieces with dials decorated by enamelist Anita Porchet, whose work has been found on the enamel dials of many prestigious watch brands.
A LANGE & SOHNE
The Grand Complication, powered by an in-house hand-wound movement in a 50 mm pink gold case, is probably the German watchmaker's biggest timepiece. It certainly is its most complicated - a horological combo of chiming mechanism with grand and small strike; minute repeater; split-seconds chronograph with minute counter and jumping seconds; perpetual calendar; and moon phase. Only six will be produced.
Price: 1.9 million euros (S$2.56 million) each.
The iconic Lange 1 has intrigued the watch world with its outsized date display, but the mechanism responsible for it has been hidden all this while. The secret is now revealed with the limited 200-piece Grand Lange 1 "Lumen" in a 40.9 mm platinum case. Parts of the new watch's dial are semi-transparent sapphire crystal, through which the disc mechanism of the outsized date is seen glowing in the dark.
You're looking at the first grand complication in the popular Royal Oak Offshore case.
The automatic Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication boasts a minute repeater, split-second chronograph and perpetual calendar - the basis of a grand complication. It comes in two versions: a 44 mm pink gold case and a 44 mm titanium case. Only three of each will be produced.
The Tradition Tourbillon Minute Repeater Chronograph showcases the very best in watch-making. The complications are housed in a 47 mm case inspired by a 1920s cushion-shaped pocket-watch in Audemars Piguet's private museum. The timepiece, driven by a hand-wound movement, is produced in two 10-piece limited editions: pink and white gold and titanium and white gold.
The Art Piece 1, still a work in progress, is an artistic teamwork between independent watchmakers Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey and British artist Willard Wigan. And the product of their cooperation, a micro-sculpture in a dedicated space in this sublime 30 degree inclined tourbillon, is no larger than the eye of a needle which can be appreciated by looking through a miniature microscope set in the case band.
Greubel Forsey has produced their first black model. The Double Tourbillon Technique Black is also their first timepiece to feature a titanium case and a rubber strap. These give the 3-D complication a more casual look than those in the classic gold and platinum models. "The Double Tourbillon Technique Black features a unique open-work movement architecture in an entirely original and innovative interpretation of Greubel Forsey's first fundamental invention, the Double Tourbillon 30 degree," the watchmakers say.
BAUME & MERCIER
The Clifton collection conveys luxury that's beautiful and accessible. It takes its cue from a museum timepiece dating back to the 1950s. The piece that speaks best for the collection is the Clifton 1830, a reference to the Baume & Mercier's founding year
"This watch in 18K red gold, measuring 42 mm in diameter, and traditionally worn upon an alligator strap, houses a calibre of the La Joux-Perret manufacture which is manually-wound and is said to be the most accurate interpretation of the historical model from the Baume & Mercier Musuem," the brand says.
The 43 mm Clifton Complete Calendar Moonphase, Blue dial in stainless steel stands out because of its blue, sun satin-finished face. The complication is equipped with an automatic movement.
To ensure that energy keeps flowing at the same rate in its hand-wound movement, keeping up the performance of the watch, the IWC Ingenieur Constant-Force Tourbillon, is fitted with a patented constant force mechanism. The newly developed 94800 calibre basic movement, housed in a 46 mm platinum and ceramic case, has two barrels that provide the energy for the higher torque that's required to drive the constant-force tourbillon.
The new Ingenieur Automatic AMG Black Series Ceramic is a nod to its namesake. One version is totally black, with the exception of its white hands and indices. But racing cars in the AMG Mercedes Black Series are not all black. So IWC has also produced an AMG timepiece with a brown dial, beige hands and appliques, as well as a rubber strap with brown calf-skin inlay.
Inspired by the high-performance ceramic disc brakes found in Premium AMG cars, the 46 mm case, bezel, crown and its solid protective shoulders are all made of black zirconium oxide. The bezel has conspicuous screws that are an unmistakable reference to the technical design cues of the legendary Ingenieur SL by designer Gerald Genta. The watch is powered by an in-house automatic movement.
Richemont's star contributor leaves no doubt about its watch-making prowess with these two new creations - the Rotone de Cartier Double Mystery Tourbillon and the Calibre de Cartier Chronograph.
The first has its beginnings 100 years ago when Cartier wowed the world with the first mystery clock whose hands seemed to float in rock crystal, totally unrelated to the movement. In the Double Mystery Tourbillon, which has a 45 mm platinum case, the tourbillon escapement is displayed in utter transparency - as though suspended weightless on the face.
The Chronograph's 42 mm case is familiar, having made its debut three years ago. It's now equipped with a new in-house self-winding chronograph movement - Cartier's first, which, perhaps, finally marks its arrival in the world of watches for men. The watch comes in pink gold and steel
These two tourbillons, from Parmigiani's Tonda collection and whose dials evoke the world of musical art, pay homage to the two most influential countries in the history of rock and roll - America and Great Britain. Tonda Woodstock, dedicated to Uncle Sam, has the Stars and Stripes as the backdrop on its dial; the Tonda Woodrock with the Union Jack background is naturally a nod for the Brits.
The dials are an artwork of marquetry, a process that consists of cutting out and assembling veneers - wood, in this case - on a flat surface to create a highly meticulous decoration. Because it is made of wood, the guitar is an instrument with natural links to wood marquetry. On the two complications - and only one piece of each is produced - the Tonda's tourbillon becomes the sound box of the guitar and the instrument comes to life through the regular oscillations of the complication.
The Nicolas Rieussec Rising Hours is another step forward in the use of rotating discs in watch-making started with the Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph five years ago.
With the Nicolas Rieussec Rising Hours, in a 43 mm red gold case, Montblanc now makes use of two rotating discs, one atop the other, to show not only the 12 hours but also to tell the daytime and night-time hours. This makes it easier to properly set the date display so that the date changes correctly at midnight rather than mistakenly at midday.
The TimeWalker World-Time Hemispheres adds a new feature to those typically found in world-time watches - the northern and southern hemisphere.
The Northern Hemisphere model shows a map of the Earth as seen from the north with the North Pole at its centre; the Southern Hemisphere variant puts the South Pole at the midpoint. But to assure that you can keep an eye on the entire planet, from east to west and from north to south, the Northern Hemisphere watch bears the south's place names on its case back and vice versa.
They pay tribute to Jaeger-LeCoulture's 180 years of watchmaking tradition and founder Antoine LeCoulture: the Master Grande Tradition Tourbillon Cylindrique a Quantieme Perpetuel Jubilee and the Master Ultra Thin Jubilee.
The hallmark of the two "extra-white" platinum pieces (there's a third piece, Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee) is the founding date (1833) of the brand, which is placed beneath the logo on the dial.
The grand complication has a flying tourbillon and a perpetual calendar housed in a 42-mm case and powered by a new self-winding movement. The Ultra Thin, at 4.05 mm in thickness, is the world's slimmest manually wound mechanical timepiece. Attractively priced under $25,000, the 39-mm watch is limited to 880 pieces.
This came earlier than expected - and there's already a long queue for it. And fans had been looking forward to a GMT watch; they got a power reserve indicator instead with the Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Power Reserve Automatic Bronzo.
It was only two years ago that Panerai presented the first Bronzo, a timepiece in a 47 mm bronze case. Bronze is not usually used for a watch case, but it has its appeal for those who want something different or are going for the vintage look. You don't have to wait years; a bronze case acquires the seasoned appearance in weeks.
The first Bronzo, which was fitted with a Panerai in-house automatic movement, retailed for around $14,000. Thanks partly to Sylvester Stallone, who wore it in The Expendables II, it has already more than doubled its retail price in the grey market. Other than the power reserve indicator, the new Bronzo is identical to its predecessor. It retails for about $18,000.
Blue often stands out when it's used to add colour and distinction to a Panerai timepiece. The prominence given to orange in the Luminor 1950 Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback Titanio - in two of the hands, a push-button and part of the flange - is a welcome change and makes the watch more attractive. The Regatta, featuring a 47 mm titanium case, is created for yacht racing starts. It's powered by Panerai's first automatic chronograph movement that's fitted with a Regatta countdown function.
The master of slenderness has produced its first minute repeater. And true to form, Piaget's Emperador Coussin Automatic Minute Repeater in a 48 mm pink gold case boasts not one but two world records for ultra-thinness - 4.8 mm for its calibre and 9.4 mm for its case.
With the Piaget Altiplano Date, Piaget scores yet another record for slenderness - the world's thinnest automatic watch with date, featuring a 6.36 mm thick case and a 3.00 mm thick movement. The watch comes in a 40 mm white or pink gold case.
Yohan Blake was wearing a prototype of the tourbillon when he sprinted his way to win multiple medals at last year's London Olympics. The Jamaican runner has helped to develop the RM 59-01 Yohan Blake, a special caliber designed for sprinters the world over. The hand-wound tourbillon, limited to 50 pieces at over $500,000 apiece, is a striking sight to behold - thanks to its extremely dynamic bridges that span the movement and evoke the claws of "The Beast", Blake's nickname.
This hand-wound tourbillon is built for extreme travellers such as one-time Ferrari boss Jean Todt. The RM 58-01 World Timer Jean Todt's hallmark is its "unique simplicity and ease" in keeping track of travel through time zones. Profits from the sale of the RM 58-01, which is a limited edition of 35 pieces, will go to causes close to Jean Todt's heart: the Global Campaign for Road Safety and the ICM Brain and Spine Institute.
VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
Six years after launching the Poetic Complication Feerie timepiece, Van Cleef & Arpels revisits the grace of the female form in 2013 with the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantee creation. "Half-dancer, half-butterfly, she perpetuates the tradition of ballerinas and fairies to which the Maison is so attached," Van Cleef & Arpels says.
For this latest piece, in a 38 mm white gold case set with diamonds on the bezel, Van Cleef & Arpels has drawn inspiration from a quote by Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova which echoes the imagery of the Maison: "I've been dreaming that I was a ballerina and that I was spending my whole life dancing as lightly as a butterfly . . ."
Like the previous models, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantee also has a double retrograde movement with time on demand.
The Lady Arpels Cerf-Volant Carmin, also in a 38 mm white gold case with diamonds on the bezel, is a new interpretation of the butterfly in the shape of the kite motif. It comes in three other different colours and variations.
The centrepiece in Roger Dubuis' new collection, the Excalibur Quatuor boasts two innovations that makes it a more precise timepiece than others: it's the world's first silicon timepiece; and it has four sprung balances.
Silicon, which is lighter and harder than steel and titanium, has been used to produce only watch parts. Roger Dubuis has now extended the silicon to the case.
Because of the four sprung balances, the Quatuor can do what a tourbillon watch does - which is to defy the effects of gravity on the the accuracy of time-keeping. And it does this more efficiently. The Quatuor compensates for the rate of variations instantly, while the tourbillon does it over the course of a minute. Only three pieces of the watch in silicon case will be available, at CHF 1,000,000 (S$1,350,000) each. The version in rose gold case comes in 88 pieces at CHF 350,000 apiece.
The Hommage, in 45 mm pink gold, bows to the minute repeater and is limited to eight pieces. It embodies all the values that characterises Roger Dubuis: personality, excellence and technical expertise. The open-work dial not only displays the purity of its movement but also the beauty of its flying tourbillon at 5.30.
The Metiers d' Art collection expresses the intense relationship forged between Vacheron Constantin and artistic crafts. Paying homage to the delicacy of English botanical illustration in the 19th century, the Metiers d Art Florilege is created exclusively for women for the first time. The plants, stemming from Robert John Thornton's The Temple of Flora, published in 1799, dress the watch dials which are in turn the result of a combined craftsmanship of enamelling, guillochage and gem-setting.
The trio of Metiers d Art Florilege models is fitted with Vacheron's mechanical hand-wound calibre 4400 - and it's a limited series of 20 pieces. The timepieces all bear the Hallmark of Geneva.
Vacheron was one of the first watch makers who broke from the traditional round case for watches to produce the tonneau case in 1912. In the past 100 years, the tonneau case played host to some of the most impressive watch-making complications, notably Vacheron's Malte collection.
The quartz-driven Malte Lady comes in three models in pink or white gold. And they can be worn all day and night. The bezel is decked with diamonds, surrounding a white silver dial with a pair of slender hands.