A watch dial is sometimes a canvas for spectacular displays, as the Van Cleef & Arpels Extraordinary Dial Papillion watch above shows. At other times though, the dial conceals great craftsmanship with the most unassuming of facades. When there are no fussy and haughty complications in the picture, what is left is a certain kind of purity and this is what we wanted to explore with this selection of watches, all hailing from the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) 2013. These time-only beauties remind us to take time to enjoy time by removing even the seconds hand – well with one important exception.
We have covered our share of complicated watches and important watches over the years but sometimes it is fun to zoom in on simpler affairs, as we do in this story. In fact, you might consider these five watches as standard bearers of a particularly interesting trend in watchmaking – achieving complexity through simplicity.
As always, this is nothing new really but it is often easier to fling innovations and watchmaking complications in the faces of journalists and collectors than it is to impress with lavish attention to detail, for example. Complicated watches are, after all, the undisputed stars of watchmaking and will remain so.
Make mistake though, the following five watches are no wallflowers, although one of them does go heavy on the floral motifs! Each in its own way is as exciting as any grand complication out there and indeed most be just as difficult to lay your hands on thanks to their relative rarity.
One thing worth noting with these watches, and others by Cartier and Piaget not on this list, is that métiers d’art artisanal touches are increasingly impacting high watchmaking. It is certain that we will see such watches from Breguet, Blancpain and Jaquet Droz at BaselWorld 2013 since these brands have always had such watches. Chopard and Hermès will also likely exhibit similar creations so keep an eye (or two) out.
As is our usual practice, we list our selections in alphabetical order.
- Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hours - A two-hand time-only watch, this novelty is a study in how to dress complexity in apparently simple dress. Just think on the aesthetics of the 42mm watch and you will realize that the moving parts of the manual mechanical movement (9981 MC) have to be confined to a crescent-shaped area crown-side. Like most mystery displays in watches, the hands here are connected to the movement via transparent sapphire discs.
- Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hours - The discs are turned via pivots, as if the discs were gears in the wheel train. The weight of the discs has been kept to the minimum, saving more energy for the balance by machining them via the same technique contemporary watchmakers are using to create silicium parts, DRIE (deep reactive ion etching).
- Piaget Altiplano with Date - So this watch breaks with our two-hand code but it functions on the same principal of dressing complexity in simple clothes. This watch is the new double record holder as the thinnest automatic watch with date in the world, with the thinnest automatic mechanical movement with date. Scoring more than that, the watchmaker also reduced its oversized case from 43mm to a neat 40mm. With an ever timeless and understated mien now enhanced by a date display at 9 o’clock across from an off-centre small-seconds indicator, this Altiplano is a keeper.
- Piaget Altiplano with Date - Splendidly, the new 221-part movement (calibre 1205P) which is developed, produced, decorated and assembled entirely in-house by Piaget, is on full display through the watch’s sapphire-crystal case back. You may recall that this movement is an evolution of calibre 1200P and it boasts all the same excellent finishing touches, which are nonetheless very restrained indeed.
- Roger Dubuis Excalibur Table Ronde - The legend of King Arthur comes alive in the hands of Roger Dubuis. With this new Excalibur, the Swiss watchmaker may have created a modern-day legend to call its own. Art-meets-craftsmanship-meets-fantasy at this Table Ronde, where the 12 Knights Of The Round Table, celebrated for their courage and generosity, are rendered as miniature gold figurines, each hand-carved with finesse to mark the hours on an exquisite grand feu enamel dial.
- Roger Dubuis Excalibur Table Ronde - The figurines seen here in close-up are just 7mm tall. They are arranged around the dial of the oversized 45mm case with a fluted bezel, robust crown guard and the triple-horn strap attachments; the watch’s overall design remains steadfastly loyal to the Excalibur collection, while its chivalric heart beats to the Geneva-Seal-stamped automatic-winding mechanical movement, RD821. The 45mm pink gold watch is limited to 88 pieces.
- Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Florilege Collection - In a strange coincidence, Vacheron Constantin has created a métiers d’art collection that perfectly complements Van Cleef & Arpels in 2013. Based on an 18th century botanical reference work called The Temple of Flora, the Métiers d’Art Florilege Collection showcases three flowers: the strelitzia (seen here), the lily and the China limodoron or orchid. Famed artisan Anita Porchet worked on the collection, marking a continuing relationship with Vacheron Constantin. The strelitzia plant from South Africa is depicted by means of various guilloche patterns and vivid enamel colors.
- Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Florilege Collection - A gem-set bezel acts to frame this lovely picture, seen in the example of the Métiers d’Art Florilege Lily. All three watches are powered by the in-house Vacheron Constantin manual mechanical calibre 4400. Note that calibre 4400 along with all three Métiers d’Art watches have achieved the superlative Poincon de Geneve or Hallmark of Geneva certification. Given the rigorous testing both the finished watch and movement undergo, this certificate speaks volumes to the sturdy construction of what is quite a dainty and pretty timepiece.
- Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Extraordinaire - Butterflies have long been a source of inspiration for the house of Van Cleef & Arpels. Since 1920, the beautiful ethereal creatures have seen numerous transformations in the skilled hands of the Maison from stunning pieces of jewelry to even more spectacular poetic timepieces. There are four watches in the Papillon collection this year.
- Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Bleu Nuit - Individually, each watch in the collection depicts a season from spring through winter; this is why there are four. As a collection, it symbolizes the passage of time and the cycles of nature in that poetic way only Van Cleef & Arpels can. Two-hand watches all, each uses the same manual mechanical movement and features a combination of gem-setting, enameling arts (from plique-a-jour to paillonne) and sculpted mother-of-pearl.