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Faces To Watch
The world's most-awaited watch fair - Salon International De La Haute Horlogerie (SIHH)- will roll out the red carpet for buyers and the media on Jan 16 in its hallowed halls in Geneva.
But word is already out on what to expect, thanks to the well-oiled publicity machinery of the exhibiting brands - some 17 of them. Months before the doors of SIHH open, many had already presented samples of their new collections.
As always, men's watches will dominate the show, but there is a noticeable surge in the number of women's models. It suggests a bigger push for ladies' timepieces to be in the spotlight as Swiss watch brands expand aggressively into this promising segment of a declining market.
A milestone was reached in November when IWC Schaffhausen formally shed its all-male macho image and reintroduced women's models into its collections. The brand that once only made watches "engineered for men" said it will unveil new models under its Da Vinci line at SIHH 2017 - and the women's timepieces, updated versions of the much sought-after Da Vinci Lady Chronograph launched in 1988, will be the main attraction.
With IWC's about-turn, it left Officine Panerai as the only brand in Richemont Group's stable to still produce watches exclusively for men. Panerai underscored this with its pre-SIHH teaser - a new and totally masculine Radiomir 3 Days Acciasio, inspired by a rare Radiomir model of the 1930s. Like the earlier model, the new one - in two editions - has a 12-sided bezel with the words "Officine Panerai Brevettato". The inscription refers to the patented luminous substance used on the dial.
Richemont brands - and all 11 of them will be at SIHH 2017 - aren't the only ones expected to play up the women's range. Independents Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet are tipped to do likewise. They have already presented an all-women collection for preview.
Richard Mille, which produces highly expensive watches and engages big movie and sports stars to market them, unveiled the RM 07-01 and RM 037. These watches are made of NTPT carbon, the signature feature of the Richard Mille men's line. This hard material, which lends "a unique and powerful appearance while simultaneously ensuring an optimal protection of the calibre", is now set in gems in these two feminine timepieces.
Audemars Piguet, better known for its octagonal-cased Royal Oak models, pre-launched the New Royal Oak Frosted Gold in Florence collection to mark the 40th anniversary of the women's Royal Oak line. The new watches' defining feature is their "shimmering sparkle, which comes from a surface treatment process rooted in an ancient gold hammering technique, also called the Florentine technique".
Jaeger-LeCoultre, another Richemont brand, has continued to focus on women's watches after a year of celebrating the 85th anniversary of its iconic Reverso range - a range more popular with women than men. Jaeger introduced an all-women's selection under its Rendez-Vous tag. Launched in 2012, the new Rendez-Vous models bear all the hallmarks of the brand's "rare crafts, impeccable timekeeping accuracy and the breathtaking artistry of its jewellery designs and settings".
Among its latest additions are a moon phase and a new chiming reminder watch.
Other brands which feature new women's timepieces in their pre-SIHH presentations are Cartier, Baume & Mercier, Girard-Perregaux and Roger Dubuis. Cartier's inclusion is a high-jewellery evening watch, the Trait D'Eclat. The watch is set with 15 rubies weighing 24.93 carats.
Baume & Mercier, the self-proclaimed purveyor of accessible luxury, combines the complication of fine watchmaking with aesthetics to offer a diamond-studded moon phase timepiece, the Promesse Moon Phase.
Girard-Perregaux's offering for the ladies is also a watch decorated with diamonds. This was presented as part of the brand's recently revived Laureato collection. First rolled out in 1975, Laureato timepieces are characterised by an octagonal bezel.
Roger Dubuis' Excalibur 36 women's timepiece has a 36mm case rimmed with blue sapphires.The brand dedicated its 2016 collection exclusively to women, rolling out only new timepieces under its ladies' Velvet line. This year, Roger Dubuis is bringing the men's models back - with a design element borrowed from women timepieces.
It rolled out two pre-SIHH masculine watches: the Excalibur Quatuor Cobalt MicroMelt and the Excalibur - yes, Roger Dubuis' Excalibur line is the focus for 2017 - Spider Skeleton. The first is made of the high-performance cobalt chrome alloy, produced using "the very exclusive MicroMelt technology that represents just 0.1 per cent of worldwide metallurgy".
The second is a display of skilful craftsmanship in skeletonising. Both come in eye-catching colour contrasts of blue, red, black and white.
The colour theme doesn't seem to have caught on with the other brands. But it looks like the moon phase is set to become the in-feature of fine watches this year - and it will not be confined to women's models. Apart from Jaeger-LeCoultre's Rendez-Vous Moon Medium and Baume & Mercier's Promesse Moon Phase in the ladies' segment, A Lange & Sohne also released the men's Lange 1 Moon Phase for advance viewing.
A key selling point of a luxury watch is its watch-making heritage. So it's not surprising to see quite a few of the pre-SIHH timepieces which are modern reincarnations of their brands' historic timepieces. Such as Panerai's above-mentioned new Radiomir 3 Days Acciasio, which is derived from a model Panerai launched some 85 years ago.
Montblanc's 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter, highlighted by a retro-looking bronze case, recalls the famous Minerva - a name now owned by Montblanc - military chronographs from the 1930s. Similarly, Girard Perregaux's new chronograph and world-time combo, the WW.TC (short for World Wide Time Control), is a reinterpretation of an earlier timepiece in its 1966 collection.
Then there are Piaget's two original models which celebrate the 60th anniversary of the brand's signature Altiplano line of ultra-thin watches. The two timepieces are "inspired by the aesthetic codes of the first ultra-thin watches" produced in the 1950s.
Not many complicated watches are likely to be launched in this still austere year for the watch industry. Among the pre-SIHH releases, only Vacheron Constantin's Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon falls into this extravagant category. This minute repeater-tourbillon complication is powered by a new expensive in-house movement to boot.
You can say the same for Ulysses Nardin's Classico Manufacture and the Hourstriker Pin-Up. While they are not high-price technical complications, the two timepieces are pricey creative works that showcase Ulysses Nardin's expertise in the fine art of enamelling, miniature painting and use of Jaquemarts.