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2013 in review (part 3) - A watchmaking year summed up in another turn of the dial

2013 in review (part 3) A watchmaking year summed up in another turn of the dial

Because it was definitely not easy to sum up an eventful year in the watchmaking industry, a third part of the 2013 retrospective was needed. Here it is.

Ok, I must confess: I thought I would be able to wrap up a fascinating year of 2013 in 24 paragraphs standing for 24 hours, but I wasn’t quite able to – there were simply too many interesting items left on my notepad that demanded to be used before 2014 really gets under way with the so-called Geneva Wonder Week in a few days’ time. So, after the first chapter of the review (here) and what was supposed to be the final part (and here), here is another trip around the dial with assorted titbits and food for thought in order to definitively wrap up 2013.

01:00 Power of the Narrative
Which stories will be told at the upcoming Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie? Some brands opt to highlight the new models in a simple way and put the emphasis on the art of watchmaking, but others – more specifically those under George Kern’s umbrella at Richemont (IWC, Roger Dubuis, Baume & Mercier) – usually choose to tell a story as a way of capturing the imagination of media and retailers through spectacular settings in their respective booths. Perhaps this is taken too far, as seen at the SIHH 2013: Roger Dubuis seemed a bit lost and not too happy in his new role as photo model, posing for hundreds of pictures with an eagle by his side. The IWC booth looked like a pit box. And Baume & Mercier ‘s collection was yet again shown in a Hamptons seaside setting.

02:00 The Missing Link
No-one was expecting it, but history was re-written in 2013: Jean-Marie Schaller, Louis Moinet’s CEO, stunned the world by staking a claim on the most popular of mechanical complications: the chronograph. By announcing that master watchmaker Louis Moinet (1768-1853) was indeed the inventor of the stopwatch with the advent of the compteur de tierces in 1816, the brand thus obliged everyone else (and Montblanc in particular) to re-write all those resumés crediting Nicolas Rieussec (1781-1866) with the invention of the first chronograph in 1821.

03:00 Smurf Syndrome
Was it a mere coincidence in time… or the award-winning Avatar movie really triggered an epidemic of blue dials that seemed to gain momentum when The Smurfs premiered and become stronger than ever in 2013? Even a traditional paragon of sobriety usually immune to mainstream trends such as Patek Philippe equipped its Perpetual Calendar Chronograph ref 5270G with a blue dial in 2013! From Vulcain to Graham, and not forgetting Hublot’s blue jeans timepieces, most brands invested in blueness – but the most spectacular blue dial of the year was probably De Bethune Skybridge’s, boasting stars scintillating against a beautiful pristine sky.

 

De Bethune-DB28-Skybridge

 

04:00 Extreme Diet
Slim is in – and I definitely love to wear a slim tailored suit with a skinny tie. That trend can be felt in watchmaking as well, with a couple of brands boasting new records: the year started with Jaeger-LeCoultre claiming a world record for its 4.05mm Master Ultra-Thin Jubilee and ended up with Piaget’s remarkable Altiplano 900P setting new standards at 3.65mm! One thing is certain: overall, prestigious brands are launching timepieces that are smaller, thinner and more elegant than those ostentatious ‘technorological’ (my own neologism, the combination of techno aesthetics and horology) beasts launched during the second part of the last decade.

05:00 Ultra-Complications
Though classy streamlined models have become a clear luxury trend, there were highly complicated masterpieces launched in 2013 – A. Lange & Söhne, for instance, caught everyone by surprise upping the ante and attaining stratospheric level with the introduction of the 2 million-euro Grand Complication, while Patek Phillippe adorned its complex Sky Moon Tourbillon with an extraordinary case engraving. On a more contemporary aesthetic level, Audemars Piguet launched its most complicated Royal Oak Offshore ever, the 650,000-euro Grande Complication.

06:00 Blast From the Past
After establishing Chopard as a haute horlogerie brand through the Manufacture L.U.C and paying hommage to founder Louis-Ulysse Chopard with the creation of a museum (the L.U.CEUM), German-born Karl-Friedrich Scheufele did another favour to the history of Swiss watchmaking and the Fleurier/Val de Travers region: he announced the revival of highly respected master and horologist Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) via the creation of La Chronométrie Berthoud, a new brand destined for the very high end of watchmaking.

07:00 The Power of the Pleonasm
Downsizing men’s watch to make a ladies’ version is a thing of the past. More and more feminine mechanical timepieces, appealing not only to the Chinese market, but also designed to satisfy growing interest among western women, are hitting the market – with dedicated collections boasting specific complications. After all, didn’t presenter Frédéric Beigbeder point out at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix that “combining the words ‘complication’ and ‘ladies’ within the same sentence is a pleonasm”?

08:00 Unlimited Limited
How much is too much? The limited edition craze is like a Pandora’s Box and is turning the Limited Edition tag into a commonplace one. Yes, limited editions have added value and are usually a better investment; but, along with regular worldwide limited editions and specific national limited editions, several established brands are also launching limited editions just for their own boutique chains. Fans and aficionados are getting confused and lost amid all those references.

 

TAG-Heuer-Carrera-Calibre17_Chronometer

 

09:00 Retrovocabulary
Once again, the prominent vocabulary in 2013 revolved around the same theme – the past: ‘heritage’, ‘classic’, ‘tradition’, ‘historic’, ‘tribute’, ‘patrimony’, ‘vintage’… the nostalgic inspiration has been quite successful lately in watchmaking, and some brands are making an art out of revisiting the past. Hence a new ‘revival’ category at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.

10:00 A Random Top 10
Another year, another crop of excellent masterpieces. It is almost impossible to choose a 2013 top 10 ‘watch industry hits’ launched by the watch companies – from the independent brands to the most established ones belonging to powerful luxury conglomerates. This is mainly because there  are simply too many parameters involved, ranging from innovative significance to price. But a few ones captured the attention of the specialized media for one reason or another: Romain Gauthier Logical One, Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement, Jaquet-Droz Charming Bird, Urwerk EMC, A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication, Konstantin Chaykin Cinema Watch, Romain Jérôme Spacecraft, Breva Génie 01, Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilée, Audemars Piguet Grand Complication… and the list goes on.

11:00 Fireworks
Unfortunately, it’s not about the infamous Katy Perry song: the watchmaking year ended on a sad note with a fire that destroyed an ETA workshop in Grenchen, thus causing production delays of up to two months; estimates put the overall cost of the fire at around 20 to 25 million Swiss francs. How will the Swatch Group deal with the situation? Time will tell – no pun intended.

12:00 Gulliver’s Place
To round off this retrospective, while we’re in the middle of the European winter and preparing to brave the winter cold of Geneva for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, why not reminisce about a trip to sunny paradise? Several brands promoted highly interesting cultural, sporting or purely horological events to introduce new timepieces or announce new sponsorships in 2013 – but one stood out: Richard Mille invited a selected group of journalists to the Caribbean island of St. Barth (a destination favoured by the rich and famous) during the Voiles de St. Barth. We got to sail with a professional crew and actually compete in the regatta; there was also a five-hour lunch at Nikki Beach; but most of all, the fabulous beaches and the Gulliver-like town of Gustavia left us humming Coldplay’s tune ‘Paradise’ the entire time we were there.

 

Richard-Mille St-Barth
2013 in review (part 1)
2013 in review (part 2)

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