Watches from the class of 2017 are much like those of 2016 – they’re simple, less expensive and less complicated – and a million miles from the 2012 vintage. Or are they? As watch customers tighten their belts, it would seem at first sight that everything has been ratcheted down a notch. But if you look at the very top drawer, the number of high-complication watches introduced this year makes it look more like a very special year indeed. In quantity, variety and intensity, 2017 is an exceptional vintage for watches with more than the average number of hands.
Major brands like Breguet, Cartier and Lange are singing from their habitual songsheets, but the same applies to more modest brands like Hysek and Bovet. Specialists of the superlative, like Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille, are humming along to the same tune as Montblanc. Highly optimised and versatile multi-complication movements are competing with extraordinarily refined but more specialised mechanisms.
A well-heeled and well-informed collector could find himself hesitating between two very different styles and formats. On one side, you might have an astronomical watch with a tourbillon, a ten-day power reserve and other delights, like the Récital 20 Astérium by Bovet, with its pure classical styling. On the other, there could be Hysek’s Colossal, with a list of complications and spec sheet (time of manufacture, number of parts, dimensions) to make your head spin.
Récital 20 Astérium © Bovet 1822
The movement is the hand-wound Caliber L043.1, which has 415 parts and steps 33.6 millimeters in diameter. (To see our evaluation of the original Lange Zeitwerk, click here.) This watch is much more than a conventional perpetual calendar. Turn it on and you’ll see among the most complex and unconventional moon-phase displays ever made. Surrounding the earth is a disk decorated with 2,116 celebrities. (Their positions don’t correspond to those of actual stars; Lange calls for the arrangement a “fantasy skies.”) A third disk, for showing the stage of the moon, lies under an aperture at the star disk.The earth disk rotates counterclockwise after every 24 hours; you may see the time anywhere in the world by referring to the 24 hour markers onto the ring surrounding the display. The watch’s equilibrium, visible through the caseback, represents the sun: when the moon is between the ground and the equilibrium, the moon disk is all blue, representing the new moon. When it is on the other side of the earth, it is all gold, representing the entire moon. The moon display is so accurate that it’ll be 1,058 years before it has to be fixed by one day.
Colossal © Hysek
This same collector may have to choose between a monster of complexity and a monster of complications. For the complications, the Tourbograph Pour le Mérite by German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne offers a package including a tourbillon, fusée and chain, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph, with a thickness and weight to match. For complexity, there’s the Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1, which plays the high-tech card in terms of materials, lightness and rigidity, with a tourbillon, split-seconds chronograph, function indicators and the whole bag of tricks, made of a carbon fibre/graphene composite material inside and out.
Tourbograph © David Chokron/WorldTempus
RM 50-03 McLaren F1 © David Chokron/WorldTempus
For a more modest outlay (relatively speaking) he might also look at a watch that could be considered the quintessence of Cartier’s haute horlogerie expertise. The Rotonde Répétition Minutes Double Tourbillon Mystérieux manages to be spectacular, intriguing and iconoclastic all at once. Conversely, the ExoTourbillon Rattrapante by Montblanc comes straight out of its Villeret workshops, where everything is done the old-fashioned way, by hand, in-house, with an obsessive attention to detail and a reverence for the very best of traditional craftsmanship.
Rotonde Répétition Minutes Double Tourbillon Mystérieux © Cartier
Exo Tourbillon Rattrapante © David Chokron/WorldTempus
The grand complication remains an haute horlogerie staple, particularly when it comes to introducing a new family or generation of watches. Breguet is no exception: to launch the latest variant on its Marine, the company opted to give it a tourbillon, retrograde perpetual calendar, equation of time and power reserve. The forest of simpler models may help to conceal the great trees that continue to fly the flag for watchmaking excellence. But you just have to look carefully: the sequoias are always visible above the horizon.
Marine Equation Marchante 5887 © Breguet