Readers who follow this column will notice that Celine the managing editor is taking a break. Just a short one, she’ll be back in September. This being the earlier part of the year, the glitter from the watch expos, particularly Baselworld, has yet to settle, and we bring you highlights from the fair. There are plenty, and it’s always a challenge putting them into meaningful categories that are as important as the information about the watches themselves. A far cry from the 29 Swiss brands that exhibited at the first Basel fair in 1917 – it was called “Schweizer Mustermesse Basel” then (German for “Swiss Industries Fair”, says Google) – today’s Baselworld is an assembly of 1,500 brands from all over the globe. With the Geneva fair in January and Basel fair in March, every timepiece publication including ours, whether digital, print or both, has that feeling of a python after way too much stuffing. But digest, we must. And we hope our particular take can be informative and insightful.
China is not the elephant in the room, because no one can stop talking about it. Rather, it is the 800-pound gorilla caught in that virtual eternity of a mid-step stumble, during which optimists and pessimists of all degrees debate over whether it would catch itself and power on like the 18-wheeler it has shown itself to be, or proceed to make an ugly splash. Which will it be? Who can say for sure? And besides, whatever the outcome, it’s going to be different for different producers, consumers, and countries. But perhaps it’s a good time to put aside such witty barbs as “The Chinese will buy anything!” Very good times indeed when they did; but matters falling back to more realistic levels isn’t all a bad thing. We are seeing a trend towards more watches cased in steel, collections pegged towards value (cheap? Never, there’s no value, and no dignity in that!). But creativity abounds. The Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon is one such essay of madness – we mean that in the positive way that our jaws dropped when we saw the use of pulleys and a boom to tell time, on a dial of deck wood. A watchmaker’s brain is too precious to spoil for want of creative exercise, so we are sincere in our praise.
Even as Basel takes centre stage, we also extend the limelight to Panerai, a brand which exhibits at SIHH in Geneva rather than Basel. It’s a cult brand for good reason. Vaguely speaking, Italians have a special touch when it comes to design and engineering. Petrolheads the world over lust after Ferrari and Lamborghini; but I am certain there are many who also take quiet pleasure in a Fiat. The Uno is fondly remembered though its 45bhp took patience (never croaked in the years I had it); and I’ve always admired the contours on a Punto and Bravo. As for engineering creativity, look no further than the moka pot – also “macchinetta” for those who love the way the sounds roll of one’s tongue. Just a humble stovetop coffee maker, but beauty in form, principle, and operation elevates the moka pot from the mundaneness of its purpose.
Panerai first enthralled with its history and design; but in the years following, it has scaled technical hurdles like few other, producing in-house movements by the dozens, combining an Italian soul with very refined Swiss watchmaking for the total cult watch package. In this issue, we profile Panerai’s long power reserve watches, of 10 and eight days.
While we’re on the topic of movements, we have put together a list of 10 watch movements that one must know. We debated among ourselves before deciding to skip the usual ETA workhorses. Instead, our choices are meant to afford a broad survey of the watch scene, and covering what’s available out there necessitated moving beyond what most watch companies are already using. The regard owed to ETA will have to be paid another day.
And finally, our watch scene would be much poorer were it not for individuals like Kurt Klaus, Walter Lange, Roger Dubuis, and Michel Parmigiani. In our special report, we got these veterans to tell us what watchmaking has been like, from the time in the 1970s when it nearly died. Compelling reading, to say the least.
Enjoy the issue.