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IT may have started out as the Asian offshoot of its much bigger Swiss sister, but Watches and Wonders (WW) is finding its own feet as the must-visit luxury watch show in Hong Kong. In its first two years, WW was essentially the Asian mirror of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), showcasing timepieces that had already been launched in Geneva.
Now in its third year, both buyers and sellers who flocked to the three-day fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre a fortnight ago got to see a range of new models not seen at SIHH or anywhere else. The 12 brands showing their wares - all from the Richemont group except for one - had already made the rounds at SIHH in January, but had enough new pieces to unveil in Hong Kong as well. Women were not excluded, with a fair number of models to suit them, as well as a range of pocket watches and clocks. But there were a fair number of models for the fairer sex as well as pocket watches and clocks. However, all eyes were on several key launches - chief of which was Vacheron Constantin's Reference 57260.
It's the most complicated creation in horology. The number of complications on this pocket watch is indicated in the first two digits of its reference number - "57" - while "260" is Vacheron's 260th birthday, which falls this year.
The brand produced a similar super complication to mark its 250th anniversary 10 years ago, but that watch boasts only 16 complications. And the last timepiece with the most complications - 33 - was Patek Philippe's Calibre 89, made in 1989.
Ref 57260 was commissioned by a customer, but Vacheron would not say who it was or how much he or she paid for the watch.
The pocket watch took three master watchmakers eight years to build. While it features classic complications such as the tourbillon and minute repeater, it also has new complications which include a Hebraic perpetual calendar and the dual retrograde rattrapante chronograph.
At the heart of Ref 57260 is a hand-wound movement with 60 hours' power reserve, housed in a 98 mm white gold case - over twice the size of a normal watch.
The next show-stealer was Jaeger-LeCoultre's Geophysic True Second, an impressive vintage-style watch. But don't be fooled by its simple and uncluttered look.
Nestled inside the 39.6mm case - in steel (S$13,300) and in pink gold (S$25,900) - is a highly sophisticated movement, constructed to reduce air friction and increase precision.
The watch, part of the new Geophysic line that Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced at WW, was inspired by a 1958 anti-magnetic chronometer which the brand created for scientists on explorations. Instead of running continuously as in most watches, its seconds hand moves in "jumps" like a quartz movement at one jump per second - no ordinary feat for an automatic mechanical movement. True Second is also a travelling watch.
What makes a mechanical watch tick is the movement. Because suppliers are tightening the squeeze, many watch brands are now rushing to produce this critical mechanism themselves.
To boast movements of your own has become not just an expression of independence, but also credibility for watch brands. It's something to shout about these days.
Officine Panerai picked WW to do just that with the Radiomir 1940 3 Days Oro Rosso (S$25,900), which is fitted with a movement fresh out of its new Swiss state-of-the-art factory.
The new movement, P.1000, is housed in - by Panerai's standards - a relatively small 42mm red gold case. There's also a steel version (S$10,900). Panerai timepieces with such small cases were previously equipped with the P.999 calibre, a movement with a single barrel 60-hour power reserve. P.1000 has a double-barrel three-day power reserve.
IWC is another luxury watch brand seeking greater independence. It marked the 75th anniversary of its Portuguese collection in January by launching a new automatic movement in four new models, including IWC's first annual calendar timepiece. This was at SIHH.
Though the brand has two more new movements in the pipeline, there was no hint of either at at WW. Instead, it released two new models in the Portofino line: the Hand-Wound Monopusher chronograph and the Hand-Wound Day & Date. It also added a few more Portofino models in a 37mm case, first introduced last year, for the ladies.
The new Portofino watches for men come in a 45mm case. The Hand-Wound Monopusher is IWC's first timepiece with a single push-button and its second in-house chronograph in the Portofino line, which incidentally is notable for its alligator watch strap made by renowned Italian shoemaker Santoni.
The Hand-Wound Monopusher, available in a white (S$38,900) or red (S$36,900) gold case, is powered by a hand-wound movement with eight days' power reserve.
A Lange & Sohne, which celebrated the 200th birthday of its founder F A Lange at SIHH earlier in the year, continued to be in a celebratory mood at WW. It issued yet another 1815 model.
While the A Lange & Sohne 1815 200th Anniversary F A Lange which appeared in SIHH in January was in a platinum case, the latest is in Lange's proprietary honey gold. This is paler but harder than normal gold.
The 40mm hand-wound timepiece (S$43,800), in a limited edition of 200 pieces, is only the third Lange release in honey gold.
Baume & Mercier celebrated its 185th birthday also at WW, amping up the occasion by presenting the Clifton 1830 Five-Minute Repeater Pocket Watch (S$75,000), the brand's first. Only 30 pieces are produced. Nestled in the minute repeater's 50mm red gold case is a skeleton hand-wound movement designed by Baume & Mercier.
Roger Dubuis rolled out a more sophisticated pocket watch with a fancier name and higher price tag - the Excalibur Spider Pocket Time Instrument, at S$680,000.
The movement which powers the watch, in a limited edition of 28 pieces, is a radical calibre that appeared in a wrist watch two years ago - the gravity-defying Excalibur Quatuor. This has been a huge success, according to the brand.
The hand-wound movement has four sprung balances, more than a usual timepiece.
The new pocket watch, which has a 48mm titanium case, also has a patented double moon-crescent power reserve display and a double flying tourbillon, two of Roger Dubuis' signature complications.
Montblanc also capitalised on the success of its first perpetual calendar watch introduced last year - the Meisterstuck Heritage Perpetual Calendar. Giving a new twist to the earlier model, the brand offers the Heritage Spirit Perpetual Calendar Sapphire (S$31,500).
The latest version has a smoky sapphire crystal that reveals the complex perpetual calendar mechanism. Beating at the heart of the watch is an automatic movement, housed in a 39mm red gold case.
Cartier lost no time in expanding its Cle De Cartier collection launched earlier in the year at SIHH. At WW, it has added two Cartier classics - the Flying Tourbillon and Mysterious Hours - to the line, which is distinguished by a cushion-shaped case with an oblong crown that resembles the key used to wind clocks.
The Cle De Cartier Mysterious Hours features two hands that appear to float on their own, with a semi-skeletonised dial in the background.
Apart from a 41mm pink gold (US$64,500) casing, the watch also comes in a rare palladium (US $68,500) case.
With all the shiny luxury timepieces on display, many decked in precious stones, WW was certainly not short of glitter. Piaget added a touch of glamour to it by having Hong Kong actress Carina Lau to help roll out its first complication timepiece for women, the Limelight Stella.
With this watch, Piaget, which is as strong in watches as it is in jewellery, has developed an automatic movement with the power to capture the moon cycle. The timepiece is available in a 36mm pink or white gold case (S$30,500), with a diamond-bezel option (S$42,700).
Another high-jewellery watch brand present at WW, Van Cleef & Arpels, returned to its feminine roots this year. The brand, which first made its name in jewellery, wowed the watch world last year with a heavenly creation for men - the Midnight Planetarium Poetic Complication - which can track the movement of six planets around the sun.
At WW this year, Van Cleef revisited a collection it first launched in 1935 - the iconic Cadenas line. Among the new models (S$44,800-129,000) unveiled was the Cadenas Sertive Pavee, a quartz-driven beauty paved with diamonds on white gold.
Finally there was Richard Mille, the only non-Richemont brand at WW. It offered two highlights: the 69 Erotic Tourbillon and Tourbillon RM 26-02 Evil Eye.
Despite the cheeky "69" nomenclature, the 69 Erotic Tourbillon is more playful than sexy. Unlike the erotic timepieces produced in times past, this one - in a limited edition of 30 pieces - has no explicit images to show. Love and erotism proclaimed themselves only in words in this titanium watch, which is fitted with a hand-wound movement that Audemars Piguet's famed Renaud & Papi watch-making division has a hand in designing.
"Playfully interpreted, this fine watch-making creation will delight and amuse its owners, teasingly displaying phrases that evoke desired pleasure," so says Richard Mille.
At what cost? A cool S$1.3 million apiece. If that's too high a price to pay for mere amusement, you can always fall back on the tourbillon.