I think it’s safe to say that Watches & Wonders was a resounding success. At the forefront of the show were Vacheron Constantin, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, each of whom brought to the table a variety of well thought out, beautifully executed timepieces. Despite the lacking physicality of having a traditional trade show, Watches & Wonders made the best of a situation that was, and still is, complex, unprecedented and with the likelihood that it will change the retail landscape of watchmaking as we know it. For that reactive ability alone I’d like to congratulate and commend Watches & Wonders and its participating partners for putting together a seamless, entirely digital and, frankly, incredible e-trade show.
I’ve decided to delve a bit deeper into my 5 favourite pieces from Watches & Wonders, discuss why I hold them in such high regard especially considering the plethora of quality that was exhibited as well as give a more comprehensive analysis of the watches themselves.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton
Perhaps not entirely as surprising as was the initial response, Vacheron Constantin's Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton is the highlight of the show, for me at least. I've always felt that the Overseas deserved more attention, but in reality I didn't really care. I liked the watch, I liked what it was about and what it represented, so my sentiments towards how everyone else felt about it was, in effect, void.
But the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton has just propelled the Overseas collection stratospherically. This is the first time that Vacheron Constantin has opted to skeletonise the dial of the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin. And it's done so to dramatic effect.
The pink gold case measures 41.50mm across and a measly 8.10mm in thickness. These are minute proportions and really emphasise the thoughtful approach Vacheron took in executing this piece. The skeletonisation of the dial alone is exquisite, highlighting every nook and cranny that has been finely tended to. A qualm of mine is the jammed up look of calendrier registers, especially the month indicator. It looks quite busy and crammed, and looks confusing against the equally as busy nature of the intricate openworked dial.
Issues aside, the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Skeleton is such a special, such a beautiful timepiece. I presume that Vacheron Constantin will begin offering its other precious and non-precious metal Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin models in an openworked variation, which I know will be met by a market with arms wide open. This is just supreme watchmaking, and while Vacheron excelled at the show with far more complicated watches, this took the cake for me.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Calendar
Jaeger-LeCoultre's approach to Watches & Wonders 2020 was a nostalgic one. Its participation was highlighted by three exceptional pieces, the Master Control Date, the Master Control Calendar and the Master Control Chronograph Calendar. While each piece sat well with me, I found the qualities of the Master Control Calendar to be the most appealing.
The Master Control Calendar exhibited a purity that I hadn't seen for quite some time. It was restrained, mature in design, simple, to the point and did away with the unnecessary. The unencumbered Master Control Calendar was encased in 40mm of stainless steel and sat at a height of only 10.95mm. These are perfect proportions for daily wear. The silvered grey dial was treated to sunray brushing which continued the cool look from the gleaming steel case.
Offsetting this cool theme are some red dial highlights, particularly at the end of the date indicator hand, finished with Jaeger-LeCoultre's 'JL' emblem. The moon phase indicator also adds a touch of colour which, interestingly enough, will not be covered during date transitions by the date indicator hand with thanks to the mechanism's clever jumping system, enabling the hand to 'jump' from the 15th to the 16th day of the month. Apertures display the day and month, as well.
The Master Control Calendar is a staggeringly beautiful piece that blends a fairly conservative aesthetic with relevance, class and sophistication. This is a far cry from what modern watchmaking calls a 'hit', and with the Master Control Calendar what you see is really what you get. Simplistic, direct, purposeful and infatuating.
Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton in Platinum
Cartier's involvement with Watches & Wonders primarily revolved arounds its square-shaped pieces, in particular the Santos. But the highlight for me was the Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton, in particular the platinum model. It captured the quintessence of tradition with modernism, combining one of the most classical of all time case shapes (albeit skewed) with the contemporary demands of high-end skeletonisation.
Crafted in platinum, yellow gold and platinum with diamonds the piece that ticked my boxes was the platinum model without diamonds. The piece measures 47.15mm by 26.20mm by 7.82mm and features a stunning openworked dial whose hour indicators follow suit the same angular skewing as the case, thus the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock markers are in the top right and bottom left hand corners, respectively.
This play on convention is delightful, but there isn't smoke without fire, as they say. The skeletonisation of the dial along with the orientation of the case and its inners is both intriguing and exceptionally well done. I love the almost bland look of the cold metals in the dial and blue lacquer filled hour markers and hands. These contrast beautifully with Cartier's iconic gem-set crown and blue alligator leather strap.
Cartier's Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton is an example of just how far you can push contemporary watchmaking while keeping the ideals of tradition and heritage well and truly alive.
IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon
IWC's efforts at this year's Watches & Wonders were fruitful, to say the least. It featured a brand new 42mm Portugieser Perpetual Calendar, a stunning tourbillon retrograde chronograph and a handful of other Portugieser additions that worked really well. But, the highlight for me was, of course, the inexplicably amazing Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon.
Made available in two metals, platinum or Armor Gold, the IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon added a bit of heft to an otherwise very large watch. Now measuring 45mm across and 15.20mm in depth with thanks to the addition of that tourbillon at 12 o'clock, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon was never going to win any dimensionally-inclined prizes.
But what the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon has got going for it easily overcomes its sizing pitfalls. The combination of a perpetual calendar with a tourbillon is not a novel one, but for a manufacturer like IWC that is so steeped in tradition, the creation of a watch like this was equal parts unexpected and inviting. I love the marriage of two of horology's most complex mechanisms, and while the claim for 'too much' is perhaps not entirely unwarranted, I find the addition of an extra complication to be entirely welcomed.
The Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon's actual tourbillon isn't the most beautifully executed, nor does it carry with it the aesthetic hallmarks of, say, a Maltese-decorted Vacheron Constantin produced aesthetic. But what it does have is a vibe of being wholesome, perfectly fitting into a watch whose balance and symmetry has only been complimented by its inclusion.
Panerai Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM1663
Panerai's showing at Watches & Wonders was filled with an abundance of timepieces encased in exotic, research-focused, novel materials. The stand-out piece for me was the Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM1663. This particular model features a basalt-fibre composite tech, along with a stunning graduated blue dial.
The case material, aptly named Fibratech, is an industry first. Panerai is a pioneering force in novel material use in its watchmaking, particularly with its cases. The Fibratech composite alloy is 60% lighter than steel, highly resistant to corrosion and is extraordinarily resilient to scratches. It's made by mixing the basalt fibres in a liquid polymer which is then baked in a high-pressure oven, eventually forming the Fibratech alloy that can be machined.
The Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM1663 uses the Fibratech material in its case, and crown-lock bridge, while the bezel, crown and crown-lock lever are made out of Carbotech, another material produced by the same team behind the Fibratech alloy, Panerai's forward-thinking R&D department, Panerai Laboratorio di Idee.
The bi-alloy look of the exterior of the case is contrasted wonderfully by the smokey blue graduated dial which is, as is standard with Panerai, in its 'sandwich' manner. This is a supremely well thought out, well put together watch that highlights the exceptional technicalities of minor aesthetic alterations. Panerai's approach to the Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM1663 is innovative, with the end result being something that is both contemporary and exceptional.