Wonderful times Early October has become the busiest time for the watch business in Hong Kong. The third edition of Watches & Wonders saw 12 brands show off their newest pieces (read: novelties) at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year's show, for once, went off without a hitch: the first exhibition was plagued by a typhoon and the second was handicapped by the Occupy protests on its doorstep.
This year, the show avoided politics and bad weather but, overall, there was a rather underwhelming feel. Perhaps this was caused by the maisons cutting back on their marketing spend in the face of slowing sales, and a waning appetite from Asian consumers as the economy struggles.
As for the pieces themselves, a lot of novelties had been presented at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, in Geneva, Switzerland, in January so the focus here was on their debuts in Asia. Seeing them first-hand does make a hell of a difference and I've changed my mind about the IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Monopusher, in particular.
IWC is a brand I find thoroughly confusing at the moment: on the one hand it's pushing its "Engineered for Men" ethos, by creating muscular manly watches; but on the other it's trying to attract female buyers with smaller case sizes and jewelled pieces which it's not at all known for. The Portofino Hand-Wound Monopusher is, however, something IWC is very good at. A big brutish watch at 45mm, the key innovation here is the single push-button chronograph movement. Inside is a robust in-house 59360 movement with an impressive eight-day power reserve. The watch also features small seconds, date display and a power-reserve indicator. To top it all, the wonderful strap is made by Italian leather masters Santoni. The white-gold version (top right) is priced at HK$210,000 and the one in red gold is HK$198,000.
Vacheron Constantin's big news this year, and arguably the biggest news from any of the elite watchmakers, is creating the most complicated timepiece ever, the Reference 57260. But we'll get on to that next week. Vacheron Constantin's other gem is the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 (right), a welcome blast from the past and a rarely seen insight into the brand's sporty heritage. Visitors to Watches & Wonders may have done a double take as this watch does look rather similar to A. Lange & Sohne's 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition, in that both have the heritage chronograph dial design and use a deep, distinctive blue for the indices and leather strap. However, the similarities are superficial. Inside Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 is the Calibre 1142 in-house hand-wound movement that has 48 hours of power reserve. The design of the watch, as the name alludes to, is based on a 1955 Vacheron Constantin chronograph so the styling is retro and clean. The case is also a throwback with its 38.5mm size but is made of platinum. Features include the chronograph with dual sub-dials (small seconds at the nine o'clock position and a 30-minute counter at three o'clock). Prices for the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955 are available upon request.
Lastly, we've got the lovely Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Squelette (right). The focus here is Jaeger-LeCoultre's savoir faire in crafting an open-worked (skeleton) dial front and back so one can see all the painstaking hand-finishing and hand-polishing of the wheels, cogs and bridges. There is also the added bonus of a blue enamel outer bezel that looks more wonderful in person than it does in print. The white-gold case is sized at a classic 38mm, another pleasing sign that sizes are coming back to reasonable diameters. Inside - and outside too, I suppose, given it is a skeleton watch - is a typically classy and beautifully finished Calibre 849ASQ in-house hand-wound movement. Although a power reserve of 33 hours might seem a little on the weak side for mechanical movements these days, this is an ultra-thin movement measuring only 1.85mm. The strap is black alligator leather. Hong Kong prices for the Master Ultra Thin Squelette are available upon request although the US dollar price is US$61,000.