With watch brands anxious to make up for lost time, we’ve just had a flourish of releases at the first non-virtual fair since covid struck, the so-called Geneva Watch Days.
Running from Aug 30 to Sept 3, the event welcomed on-the-ground attendees and on-line observers from around the world with a glance (or a look via Zoom) at the merchandise on offer, suggesting watchmakers are pulling out all stops in their efforts to retain your attention – whether you’re in lockdown or enjoying relative freedom.
All stops? Let’s just say lustre and luxe appear to be the new must-haves for a timepiece, not to mention something a little more colourful. Not so much in evidence was form or function, and forget the everyday time-teller.
Confirming these are extraordinary days, the flavour of the moment in Geneva was the extravagant tourbillon mechanism, that concoction of cogs originally designed by Abraham Louis Breguet 220 years ago to counter the effect of gravity on pocket watches.
Long considered a crowning spectacle for a watch, today it serves no practical function to speak of while multiplying the asking price, which is seemingly not an issue for the main fair participants, Bulgari, Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin, who each revealed fresh tourbillon versions during the five-day fest. That’s not to say the tourbillons don’t at least look ravishing.
Bulgari’s Octo Roma Papillion Tourbillon was the most unusual newcomer, thanks to its highly original time display. As Bulgari explains, “Inspired by the flight of the butterfly and unique in the world of Haute Horlogerie, its mechanism (330 parts) carries two independent retractable diamond-shaped hands positioned on a supporting disc. Each runs in turn along a 180-degree semi-circular minute track. While the jumping hour appears in the window located at 12 o'clock, the minutes are indicated successively by each of the two hands.”
Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds. It’s the cost of the gold-cased, hand-wound piece – $180,000 or so – that might prove more challenging.
Possibly the prettiest tourbillon on show at the Geneva Watch Days – or anywhere else this year, for that matter – came from Girard-Perregaux, whose Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges renders the workings as a latticed spectacle in pink gold.
If the basic format was first unveiled by the brand 154 years ago – in 1867 – the new treatment gives it brilliant modernity, with the upper and lower surfaces of the bridges coated in a think black film produced by the physical vapour deposition (PVD) method, revealing just the metal of the sides.
Completing the picture, a lyre-shaped tourbillon cage in titanium completes a revolution each minute – incredibly, its 79 parts weigh just 0.25 grams. The watch is cased in gold, spanning 44mm. Understandably, there’s a price for such a statement: around $215,000.
The “bargain” in this company is the more classically styled Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Tourbillon Grand Feu, a sub-$70,000 offering with a patented constant escapement tourbillon at 6 o’clock. With a black enamel dial with white markers, framed in a 42mm rose-gold case with a fluted bezel, it’s a limited-edition product, with just 175 pieces on offer – a promise of added exclusivity.
That said, it’s another limited-edition watch, a non-tourbillon at that, that grabbed most attention during the fair, with Bulgari turning to Disneyland for inspiration, making Mickey Mouse the face of a fresh forearm attraction carrying Gérald Genta branding.
First seen on a three-dollar watch from Waterbury/Ingersoll (a forerunner of Timex) back in 1933, Mickey made later appearances on models from Timex in the 1960s before being reprised by Genta, the famed designer of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, in the1980s.
Bulgari purchased the Genta label in 2000 and now seems intent on restoring it to its former place in the scheme of things. Along with the so-named “Gérald Genta Arena Retrograde with Smiling Disney Mickey Mouse”, the brand has announced plans for a new website “that will be the rallying point for the community of Gérald Genta fans around the world”. You’d be surprised how many there are.
As for the watch, the timeless rodent appears to be leaping onto its rhodium-plated sunray dial, its left arm indicating the minutes on a 210-degree retrograde sector, while a “jumping” hour appears in a window at 5 o'clock. The movement is self-winding, with 42-hour power reserve, housed in a 41mm stainless-steel case presented on a cheekily hued strap.
And the price of this polished amusement? A tad under $30,000. And that, folks, means “taking the Mickey” is in this case entirely a matter for you. And, of course, your budget.
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