The Conversation: Fit for Purpose

Luxury
Photo: Watches and Wonders

Switzerland is a weird place to see watches. To be clear, this is not a value judgment about buying watches in the historical home of watchmaking, nor the appeal of fine watches to Swiss people for whom watchmaking is an inextricable part of everyday life. Instead, the disquietude is about why Swiss watchmaking is famous in the first place, which is really an accident of history. Just think back on the kerfuffle about “Swiss Made” just a few years ago; it all feels much more important to outsiders than to the Swiss. Much like the banking and pharmaceutical sectors in a city like Singapore, you cannot expect the Swiss to be emotionally vested in watchmaking because it is very much already part of the landscape which visitors rave about. One does not, for example, drone on about one’s own home; when it comes to watchmaking, the Swiss leave it to watch bores to do that. The editors of World of Watches (WOW) Singapore and Thailand certainly qualify for this, although it should be noted that WOW Malaysia is the edition that goes out of its way to run publicity on travel and tourist attractions in Switzerland.

Watches and Wonders Geneva found the editor of WOW Singapore ruminating on how lucky the Swiss are to have a veritable legion of tourism officers in the form of watch enthusiasts. Now in its second year of being a physical watch fair, the eminent Swiss watch fair did not disappoint in drawing crowds and brands alike, underscoring the limitations of digital events and uncoordinated physical novelty presentations. While Rolex and Patek Philippe are blessed with a surfeit of popularity such that their stands at the big Geneva show were quite literally mobbed in the opening hours of the first day, other brands were depending on these stars to draw in the masses.

There were 48 brands of all different sizes at Watches and Wonders Geneva with many more independent showcases of 2023 novelties scattered around the global mecca of watchmaking. All this activity — including business spending in Geneva — is possible thanks to the major watchmaking players at Watches and Wonders who do really serve as ambassadors for the trade. It seems only a matter of time before even more brands that used to show at BaselWorld come in from the cold at the PalExpo in Geneva. The new show has proven that it brings untold value to the entire watchmaking sector, minus the suppliers and jewellers who used to show at BaselWorld.

While the editors of WOW Singapore and Thailand are in general agreement on the above, they found plenty worth discussing in this second edition of the Geneva Dossier.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer in yellow gold
TAG Heuer Aquaracer in yellow gold. Photo: World of Watches

The Conversation Proper

AS: Well, that was a hell of a show, eh? And I’m just talking about getting past the scrum of a security clearance in the morning! I wish I could have booked appointments from 10am onwards instead of 9, but there would just be no way to see everything if I did.

RC: Standing 30 to 40 minutes in the security line was certainly not a productive endeavour. Still, it was much better to have a lively and populated fair than a deserted one. The organiser has published their official figures. There were 43,000 visitors in total (up from 22,000 in last year), and 1,400 among these were journalists (a rise of over 50% from the previous show). The increase in the number of non-watch titles like fashion and lifestyle media are also notable.

AS: That many? Well, I saw the numbers in the Swiss dailies actually, which comforted me when I thought how packed the show was compared with last year. A good although inevitable sign since the Japanese, Korean and Chinese contingents were all back. The competition for presentation slots gave me a hint of things to come, although I will once more say that the whole metal detector thing is a bit much; maybe they could save that just for people bringing bags in (hello, Federation of The Swiss Watch Industry representatives reading this for publicity reporting purposes)!

RC: Well, they asked me if I carried liquids on the first day of the show. For a moment there I thought I was at the airport, but I was not.

AS: I heard about the liquids thing… that really happened? That is both ridiculous and hilarious, in that special global watch fair way!

RC: It happened to me but only on the first day. When I responded that I did carry some liquids, the scanner asked to see so I showed him the contents of my toiletry bag and he was satisfied with my choice of toothpaste and perfume. I’m glad to hear you heard the story from other sources as well, so I was not alone.

Talking about journalists coming from all over the world, I wonder if Singaporean media talk about watch trends at all? It is a popular subject in my country. I refused to pitch the “trend” angle as a headline when I first started in this job, but I learned over the years to please my local audience when I can, despite my personal belief that everyone should buy a watch that he likes, not one that corresponds with a trend.

AS: As always, I find looking for trends at the big shows to be an exercise in social media scrambling, as silly and futile as it sounds. Watch fairs are not like fashion shows and new trends might actually only be apparent after the fair ends, more towards the end of the year. But now that the fair is behind us, maybe you have had some time to find some insights? For me, I was very happy to see precious metals take the spotlight, especially yellow gold. We can pat ourselves on the back for having made that prediction last year!

RC: Yes, we don’t make big predictions. But when we get the small ones right, we can be happy about ourselves, right?

The Return of Gold

AS: Having said that, every year always seems to herald the return of yellow gold. This time though, the brands cooperated on the precious metals front with significant releases from Rolex and Cartier but also others from surprising sources! I will not sell Rolex short here, because the Perpetual 1908 is amazing and that collection can only have been issued in precious metals.

RC: Cartier has never been a stranger to yellow gold so it was not surprising to see offerings in that metal from them. TAG Heuer surprised me though. I didn’t think there was a need for the Aquaracer in full gold, but the brand is convinced otherwise. They did deliver sharp ones in great colour combinations (i.e. yellow gold with blue dial and rose gold with black dial). This probably goes to show that the term “tool watch” is relative. I would have picked the Aquaracer in titanium with the Solargraph movement as my beater. The next person might have already settled for a Casio G-Shock. But who is to say that one cannot wear a full gold Aquaracer for the same purpose, if money is not the matter.

Bell & Ross BR 05 Green Gold.
Bell & Ross BR 05 Green Gold. Photo: World of Watches

AS: The Bell & Ross BR 05 Green Gold challenged me with its odd name since it is actually 5N and thus rose gold, but the colour seems much more like yellow gold. Perhaps that is an effect of that very fetching green dial. Overall, a good combination but quite a pricey and hefty proposition from the brand; I would have thought that perhaps the brand would have done a full gold BR X5 where the Kenissi manufacture movement would come into play.

RC: Give them time with the BR X5. It is still pretty new and there is no need to rush in terms of variation. The market is just getting to know the design at the moment.

AS: It is indeed quite new, and overall the BR 05 is the more logical collection to go for gold. I suppose this is peak BR 05 then! Well, for now… I am still digesting the Bell & Ross releases, including the brand’s decision to show everything but slap embargoes on three quarters of the new releases.

Playful Watchmaking

RC: Indeed, the BR 05 has reached that adolescent stage where they can be more confident, playful and experimental. Speaking of playful, was there a more playful watch this year than the Oris ProPilot X Kermit Edition? When I first saw the watch dial colour without the Kermit visuals, I thought I was just looking at a new dial variation. It turned out to be a full-blown Disney collaboration complete with Mr. Kermit himself instead of the number “1” on the date wheel. I didn’t see that coming, and the piece seems to have been well received by both the press and consumers so far.

Oris ProPilot X, Kermit Edition. Photo: World of Watches
Oris ProPilot X, Kermit Edition. Photo: World of Watches

AS: Ahem, well can you say Bubble and Puzzle? To take nothing away from Oris, that was possibly the best use of a green dial that I have ever seen; the most tongue-in-cheek commentary on a certain model with the Kermit nickname. The Kermit Edition is many people’s favourite “fun watch” at Watches and Wonders Geneva, no doubt. It looks better in the metal than in pictures, to give credit where credit is due, and the ProPilot X always wears like a dream.

Oris ProPilot X, Kermit Edition.
Photo: World of Watches

RC: Well, those merit a full article of their own. Everyone was so focused on them that there was not enough social media voice for pieces I found more crucial to the Rolex line-up like the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master 42 in RLX Titanium or the new Oyster Perpetual Explorer 40.

AS: Yes, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer 40 got lost in what felt like a massive slate of new releases from Rolex. A true dark horse from the biggest name in watchmaking, even though a number of press and collectors was expecting a new Explorer.

RC: I found myself as the only journalist from my country who talks about it with personal enthusiasm. Maybe it is because I always have a particular impression about the Oyster Perpetual Explorer and people who wear it. But that is a topic for another day indeed. Back on the topic of playful and colourful watches, what else do we have in that regard? Cartier again? A single watch brand cannot be fulfilling all the niches, yet it seems like they are!

AS: Cartier always wins with fetching shapes and playful designs — this even shows in haute horlogerie pieces such as the Santos-Dumont Squelette Micro-Rotor. I found it immensely amusing that some observers were calling the rotor itself a biplane, which of course means the optical illusion worked!

The Cartier Santos-Dumont Squelette Micro-Rotor.
The Santos-Dumont Squelette Micro-Rotor. Photo: Cartier

RC: But it is actually a half-circle rotor with a biplane figurine on top of it, correct?

AS: You are spot on as usual! No fooling you, of course, but I feel bad for observers who bought into the illusion. The effect is actually mesmerising, playing tricks on anyone who looks at it. All in all, a great shape for a watch that promises a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional experience — this one has to be worn, not kept in a safe.

The Year of the Chronograph

RC: Cartier deserves an extra applause then for being so adept at what they do: designing classical yet refreshing timepieces. But as versatile as they are, this year the Maison did not offer a chronograph watch like many others did.

AS: I think we can even declare this the year of the chronograph. When you add the earlier releases from Omega and Longines into the mix, we now have significant new pieces from Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Grand Seiko, Montblanc and TAG Heuer with the world’s most popular chronograph, the Daytona. Without getting into any of the changes for the special fair editions, the chronograph is surely one of the most popular complications in watchmaking, so seeing a bunch of new ones at the fair should not surprise. Yet, it really strikes you when you see one after another that I even forgot to mention the Hermes H08 Chronograph right there!

RC: Oh, where do we even begin! To be politically correct, we should not try to determine which is the most significant chronograph launch. Maybe I can talk about my favourite chronograph novelty then. My heart is all set for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph in either stainless steel or pink gold. It has been so long since there was a chronograph in a classical Reverso case — I am deliberately excluding the Reverso Squadra here. This time, they did not only manage to have a very clean recto dial and a technical-looking verso dial but also one that tells the time as well in addition to having chronograph functionality.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph in Pink Gold. Photo: World of Watches
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph in Pink Gold. Photo: World of Watches

AS: I agree with you on the Jaeger-LeCoultre piece even at the eye-watering asking price — one could consider this new Reverso Tribute Chronograph as two watches for the price of one, if they are so inclined. You are also right to exclude the Squadra, because that did not include a form movement; calibre 860 is very much a shaped movement and a delight to behold in all its glory behind the motion works on that verso side of the Reverso.

RC: What about you, as a non-chronograph person? Which of these novelties managed to get you excited?

AS: Well, I have the luxury of looking at the new chronographs with a degree of objectivity since I will not be considering any of them for myself! No biases here. Aside from the Reverso, I would have to give props to Grand Seiko with the Tentagraph (SLGC001), the brand’s first-ever chronograph with a mechanical movement. This new automatic calibre 9SC5 even includes the new Grand Seiko dual impulse escapement, which is the icing on the cake for what looks like a very delicious watch. The blue “Mt. Iwate” dial is also amazing, featuring all the little touches that Grand Seiko is known for. The watch costs a pretty penny, but is well worth it given how significant it is.

Grand Seiko with the Tentagraph (SLGC001)
Grand Seiko Tentagraph (SLGC001). Photo: Grand Seiko

RC: The Tentagraph is a very well thought-out product in terms of technicality and aesthetics. The nomenclature explained during the presentation is also an effort in itself — “Tentagraph” comes from certain letters in the phrase “Ten beats per second Three days Automatic chronograph”. That is essentially everything one needs to know about the watch, highly wearable despite its 43.2mm diameter.

AS: I did have some concerns about the size, but it does wear quite nicely, no doubt because the case and bracelet are in titanium. The Zaratsu finishing on the exterior is excellent too, as is the pressure on the pushers when using the chronograph. We shall have to revisit that last point when we see the actual production pieces.

RC: I can’t recall pusher pressure at this moment, but the pushers are surely much, much more elegant than those on its Spring Drive counterparts which I always found to be too bulky.

AS: I started taking note of the pressure issue after my presentation at Zenith, where the watchmaker made a special note about how the pushers feel. I am talking about the new Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback.

Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback. Photo: World of Watches

RC: I remember both the watchmaker and his special note on the pusher pressures. I failed to write down the grams because someone put a Zenith cocktail in my hand! It was called the Starry Night or something along that line.

The cocktail, I mean! It looked purplish and was on the sweet side of things.

AS: Unhappily, I have forgotten the names of the cocktails, but I do have the pressure figures.

That is 500g and 700g for the start/stop and the reset/flyback buttons respectively! We shall see how my notes hold up since that bit of information was excluded from the press materials. Let us see how carefully the Zenith publicity officers are scrutinising us. We are definitely paying attention at the presentations and not getting sloshed…

The Zenith presentation with test movements was one of my favourites, because you really got the chance to come to grips with the new watches. To me, this is what watch fairs are about. The demonstration of how the date changes, both with the actual watch and just the calibre, was very impressive.

RC: You are so right. Some things need to be seen in person and tried hands-on. Their big date mechanism is something of an achievement alright. It is instantaneous and can withstand rapid actuations via the crown, so you can set the date very quickly.

I also meant to ask you this: do you prefer the new Pilot Big Date Flyback without a rotating bezel as it is or with? I kind of miss the Rainbow Flyback of the late 1990s. It was one of the two watches that led me to Zenith in the first place. This 2023 novelty in stainless steel has some rainbow colour accents, but it is not quite the Rainbow Flyback I knew. Am I asking too much, or do you think the new style without a rotating bezel will please today’s buyers more?

AS: Let me say this — I think in the case of the Pilot Big Date Flyback, a rotating bezel would be too much given how much tactile stuff is already going on. But this is a very personal matter as some people will expect a rotating bezel or some sort of functional element with the chronograph. How much of that is down to tradition or user experience, I am not sure, but this one really depends on the beholder.

RC: You are probably right. For the Pilot Automatic model without chronograph, I would love it as it is — just the way a pure and simplistic pilot watch should be.

AS: For the standard time and date Pilot, I actually did feel like a rotating bezel would have been good.

RC: Ah! Because you want to give it extra functionality, right?

AS: I might be biased by two things: one is the recent launch of the Longines Majetek, and the other is the traditional slide rule in pilot’s watches. It just feels right to have some sort of rotating element with this kind of watch — it makes the model stand out against the sports watch which it otherwise starts resembling.

RC: I see what you mean. I was coming from the IWC Mark series kind of imprint so I was differently influenced. Anyway, I am happy to report that at least for me, both the Pilot Automatic and the Pilot Big Date Flyback are highly legible; I like the feel and substance of their cases on my wrist.

AS: The watches certainly wear well, which was a theme at the fair this year, if you can call it that. Wearability is once more front and centre as it should be. I would say that brands need to provide lug-to- lug measurements and weight (of both the total watch and just the watch head) in the future, especially if they want to sell watches online.

RC: I agree. That will become more important at some point in time. Like, right now, I wish I could know the likely wearability for the Odysseus Chronograph. I missed the A. Lange & Söhne presentation due to the long security line in the morning. The only time I got to handle the watch was during the photo shoot, and for that the bracelet was undone at the clasp for maximum visibility of the movement. I could not try the watch on properly but I am assuming that its on-wrist feel is more or less the same as the Odysseus without chronograph. There was sadly no wrist shot as well due to this bracelet situation.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph
A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph. Photo: A. Lange & Söhne

AS: I too missed the A. Lange & Söhne presentation for the same reason! Luckily, I had an interview with Production Director Tino Bobe and he brought the watch with him.

RC: Lucky you! I would have loved to see the central chronograph minute hand in action. There are not too many of those in the market, as you would agree. And I have always aspired to own one example of it ever since the days of Lemania 5100.

AS: I struggle to recall the last time I saw a central chronograph minute hand in action! It was indeed a pleasure to see the watch in person and have Bobe explain it. It was very exclusive!

RC: This one is limited, but not limited, right? Maybe you can explain to me how they plan to market the Odysseus Chronograph going forward.

AS: Like the entire Odysseus family, it will be exclusive to A. Lange & Söhne boutiques, though practices may vary. For example, there is some debate about pricing which are apparently now only revealed on application, but this is not true of all markets (but it is certainly true of the website).

RC: But there will be next versions of the chronograph, just in different dial colours and/ or materials, right?

AS: You can say that, but the brand is being coy and thus not saying too much about this, which is normal when it comes to future releases.

RC: Imagine the cost and effort that went into developing this new calibre. It is also the first self-winding chronograph from their manufactory also… There has to be more!

AS: It is a significant chronograph, and Bobe had a lot to say about it. Enjoy translating that interview, by the way! The fact that the standard Odysseus comes with pushers makes the chronograph intriguing, because the crown effectively acts as a function selector. It thus totally makes sense for someone who already has an Odysseus, and it is further unlikely that one can buy this watch without first having the standard Odysseus — I cannot imagine collectors in good standing with A. Lange & Söhne not having any version of the Odysseus.

RC: The button/ crown functionality is all very clever indeed. Still, the Odysseus is extremely exclusive compared with say, the TAG Heuer Carrera in the new glassbox design which a much greater number of watch enthusiasts can get their hands on.

AS: I wish TAG Heuer did not use “glassbox” in the press release, because it really is not! You do have to see it in person to really understand it.

Visitors during the Watches and Wonders GENEVA, in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The Master Event of the Watches and Wonders ecosystem brings together the leading names of the Watchmaking and luxury industry from March 27 to April 2, 2023 at Geneva Palexpo. (KEYSTONE/Cyril Zingaro)
Photo: KEYSTONE/ Cyril Zingaro

RC: I don’t follow. It is not glassbox? The term refers to the raised design of the sapphire crystal, no?

AS: In vintage pieces and their subsequent reissues, glassbox is typically the style of glass or acrylic that looks like a box on top of the dial. In the new Carrera, the crystal extends over the entire bezel, making this a bezel-less watch. Kind of like the Cartier Ballon Bleu in feel, and very much like a Ressence. It is a very contemporary touch as this kind of construction would have been impossible in the past. But TAG Heuer decided to lean in on “glassbox” as a nickname here, and I see that the Internet has obliged!

RC: I see what you mean now. So, the new sapphire crystal is kind of “boxed”, but the overall design is not as faithful to the original because now it encompasses the bezel. You have to give them extra credit still for being able to design a raised flange in such a way that you can have the minute scale on the inside and the tachymeter scale on the outside like that.

AS: Oh yes, the dial is a multi-level affair and it looks great. Carrera purists may not entirely agree, especially given the new 39mm size and the position of the date window at 12 o’clock but also 6 o’clock in some versions. Helpfully, I was wrong when I declared that the last limited edition of the standard Carrera would be the last one of its kind. The design of the Carrera from 2020 remains in the collection alongside this new 39mm one. TAG Heuer has pulled this trick before with the Aquaracer with both designs for the Aquaracer remain in the collection, if I recall correctly.

RC: And then there is the Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon in 42mm size!

AS: I join the Internet there with a bit (or a lot) of disappointment with the pricing!

RC: What am I missing again? What about its pricing?

AS: Well, the watch remains the most affordable chronograph-tourbillon combination from any Swiss brand, but the price has moved north considerably.

RC: It could have been farther north, all things considered. And this is a new generation movement with longer power reserve and now bidirectional winding?

AS: True, and to be fair to TAG Heuer, I reiterate that it remains the best value multi-complication wristwatch from the major brands. I also think this execution must be one of the last (prove me wrong, TAG Heuer) because Carole Kasapi is famous for her tourbillon predispositions. She will surely want to update this in a future collection.

On the movement upgrade, TAG Heuer does say the standard chronograph is an upgrade — an evolution as they put it — with the improvements you noted. That means it joins no less than the Rolex Daytona in introducing a movement upgrade in a new version of an old favourite. We will have to come back to this separately to make sense of it all.

RC: That leaves us with the last chronograph we cannot exclude from this article: that elusive Minerva which was not included in the official presentation!

AS: Ah yes, there was such a crowd at the booth looking at the Minerva pieces that I could not see much. Again, I had an interview with Laurent Lecamp who brought the watch with him so I did get to try it out. There are two chronographs here, but the one you are thinking of is the 1858 Unveiled Timekeeper.

Montblanc 1858 The Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva. Photo: Montblanc
Montblanc 1858 The Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva. Photo: Montblanc

RC: Please elaborate for both myself and our readers why we should at least get to know this watch. What makes it different from other chronographs out there?

AS: Simply put, the Unveiled Timekeeper is the first chronograph to be bezel-controlled. This means that one clockwise click starts the chronograph, a second stops it and a third resets it. I have never seen another chronograph like this and I am certain this is the first time I have tried using such a watch. In practice, the action takes some getting used to, but this is no different from the Ulysse Nardin Freak and Rolex SkyDweller.

RC: I assume that operating the chronograph should feel natural enough if every actuation is clockwise. But is this a limited edition watch or is it just limited in terms of production capacity and/ or availability?

AS: It is limited in every way! Just 128 pieces in various metals; Montblanc likes to do it the traditional way for fine watchmaking — one watch to one watchmaker. The watch is water-resistant despite that stellar bezel-activation, so there are patents-pending there.

RC: That sounds about right. I may not get to own one watch from them in this lifetime because of limited funds, but I love what they do with the Minerva heritage and name. You have been to both of their sites so you should know much more about them than I do.

AS: I will definitely be returning to this watch in another segment, in another issue. Our Autumn technical special might be about chronographs, and Montblanc has quite a bit of history here. In any case, it has been awhile since the last chronograph special that we published.

Of Watches You Never Knew You Needed

RC: I will be happy to translate those specials once they are done. And you know what, talking about this bezel-activation thing got me thinking. There are some unusual ways of doing things or never before seen complications in the mix this year. I am thinking of the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante. The watch has an extra minute hand for countdown that is perfectly hidden underneath the regular minute hand when not in use. The chronograph-like buttons on the left side of the case advance this countdown hand by five minutes or one, depending on which button is pushed. Once done with the countdown, you push the button that is integrated into the crown to hide this countdown hand once again. It is not a particularly necessary complication to have but one has to appreciate the ingenuity behind the idea of it all.

Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante. Photo: World of Watches

AS: This was the first watch I saw at Watches and Wonders Geneva, and I almost missed it because of that security issue. I am with you all the way on this one — it is the sort of watch you never knew you needed, until someone invented it. At my presentation, Parmigiani Fleurier pitched it as the perfect tool to time making pasta with, because that is a matter of minutes and not seconds. Maybe this is the kind of “chronograph” that I could appreciate.

RC: It could be used to time short bursts of writing as well. Like when you get super crazy and creative and you want to just fire away on the keyboard for a block of time without stopping for anything else. So, what is another function or display you didn’t know you needed?

AS: Parmigiani Fleurier did it first with the Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante last year! It makes me think that they must have plans for something like this with the second hand…

RC: And then they came up with this double minute hands configuration which is just as clever.

AS: For something else, I have to think maybe of the Franck Muller Crazy Hours, or the Hermes Time Suspended watch. Who knew such watches were needed! Most of the time, the kind of new functions that appear are those that are missing, like the automatic chronograph (most famously) and the annual calendar which finally bridged the divide between standard calendars and perpetual ones.

RC: But then again, annual calendar watches are not generally new to the market though they may be new to some brands or some specific collections like the Radiomir Annual Calendar PAM01363 we saw at Watches and Wonders this year. I kind of like this watch for the placement of the three calendar components: the day, the date and the month.

AS: I was astonished by this watch! Maybe it is a way to marry the insouciance of something like the Crazy Hours with the sheer practicality of the annual calendar?

RC: It is very practical indeed, and also very clean without subdials to disturb the purity of a Radiomir. I find this PAM01363 to be more sensible commercially than the higher-end pieces they introduced over the years.

AS: Definitely true, and true to the Panerai character as well. It was a stretch to say the same of some of the complications that rolled out of the Neuchatel manufacture, as you say.

RC: I give this watch extra points for having a calendar that can be read very quickly, albeit in Italian only.

AS: Panerai says the calendar indications are in Italian as a nod to its own heritage, but imagine what would happen if Seiko decided to do the same thing… It is wonderfully quirky and I like it, don’t get me wrong.

RC: Oh, Italian days and months I can probably memorise, but not Japanese ones. That will be too much of a challenge despite how much I love their people and culture. With my ageing eyesight, it is better to give me a watch that requires less physical and mental effort to understand every reading.

AS: If we are on the subject of quirky pieces then we must discuss the Patek Philippe Ref. 5224!

Patek Philippe Ref. 5224
Patek Philippe Ref. 5224. Photo: World of Watches

RC: Yes, I am loving that Calatrava 24-Hour Display Travel Time! It is a subtly brilliant piece. I have seen my fair share of 24-hour watches throughout the course of my watch collecting years, but this is probably the only one that is not pilot or sportive by design. I also like their orientation of the hours with 12 o’clock at the top of the dial as it makes more sense to me than with the number 24, like many timepieces of this genre do.

AS: Indeed, I do not recall the last time you actually needed to look at the numerals to tell the time! The relative position of the hands will not work (to know time at a glance) at all in this specific watch. I understand that most of the technical work in this watch has to do with the motion works, and it has been done deliberately to make telling the time a deliberate act. Quite cerebral, in a casual way.

RC: Add the extra hour hand and the extra cerebral exercise gets even more meaningful. Now you have a two-time zone watch without the need for a day/ night indicator, right?

AS: That is the point, as it was explained in the official materials and the presentation. This kind of singular distinctiveness feels somewhat out of character for a 24-hour watch as you noted, and also for Patek Philippe in general. It is certainly not a reissue of anything, even though it is brimming with vintage cues.

RC: I am quite pleased to see that the watch is 42mm and not 40mm in diameter. The reading would have been more jumbled if the watch was smaller. I am also thankful for the absence of pushers. Things are very clean and elegant as they are at the moment.

AS: Oh yes, this was also a deliberate move, with Patek Philippe wanting to keep things simple for the user with controls entirely via the crown. This was something the manufacture previewed with Ref. 5326 last year.

RC: I love that. We set the time only once when crossing the time zone. To be able to manipulate the local time hand by the crown is sufficiently convenient. I would say that this is my favourite Patek Philippe for 2023, and one of the favourite watches of note for myself at Geneva this year. So, looking back at all the novelties, are you pleased with what you saw at the fair so far?

AS: Funny that you say that about Ref. 5224, because I think many people were taken in by the appearance of something like five new chiming watches from the brand only to discover that all were new versions of old favourites. Take the two versions of the Grandmaster Chime, for example. I did not make much of this, except to console some technical fanatics that Patek Philippe would likely debut more watches later in the year, as has been the case in recent years. As the fair progressed though, I noticed the paucity of high complications everywhere. Literally no brand had a new grand complication, and that is very odd in a watch fair.

RC: A bit odd, yes, but maybe just a coincidence. Or, as you say, that this is only the first rollout of the year. I can also see how and why people expect super crazy complications at watch fairs. For me, mid-level complications that offer everyday convenience should be appreciated as well. The same goes for the element of wearability as you mentioned. It does make a difference.

AS: It is certainly true that grand complications are not exactly wearable! I think collectors and folks like us just like the pure technical demonstration of watchmaking bravura. In fact, while I will not get into favourites here (too early in the year for me) I do like that brands from Cartier to Patek Philippe and Rolex are paying so much attention to making watches that people will actually wear. For me, fit and feel has informed my opinions in the magazine more and more over the last two years. In these times that so many watches are destined to remain undisturbed in vaults, brands do need to remind everyone that wristwatches are called that for a reason.

RC: That’s very sharp and astute of you. Would you then share your hopes or wishes of what you like to see in the watch industry in the remaining months of the year?

AS: I will if you will! For us in the trade, we already know that a number of brands are planning launches later in the year — we have the invites to prove it. Thus, I’m not worried about the lack of grand complications or grand gestures towards improved chronometry. I would hope that brands sort out their supply issues because frustrating customers is not a great idea. Attendant to this is how brands advertise their wares, which might be unavailable from even before news about them breaks on social media. There is no reason to bang on about watches that no one can get, and brands can easily advertise other things. There is still a lot that people do not know about, like what the brands stand for or what they have done in the past.

RC: That bit about supply frustration is exactly what I have in mind. I would like to see more clarity where retail allocation is concerned. While we as journalists do not represent any brand, we are those figures who interact with both actual customers and watch makers. Angry customers think that you can help because you are an insider when, in fact, you also cannot get a watch for yourself. Managing comments on a watch magazine Facebook page gives you more daily training in diplomacy than you will ever need in your life.

AS: In 2023, this is not exactly a new problem. I see that Rolex has responded with production increases along with Swiss watchmaking hiring like there is every possibility of a brighter future ahead. Finally! Brand executives everywhere say they understand the dangers of frustrating customers and recognise that new customers may know nothing about how the retail scene really works. That was the gist of what I heard at Watches and Wonders Geneva. Now, I hope to see more brands focusing on education because it is sorely needed.

RC: We will probably have to be the voices of reason for all parties concerned.

AS: I am not sure I have much reason to spare!

RC: Well, we try, because we have common goals with both sellers and buyers: of getting more watches on wrists, of making the hobby enjoyable and of making the business thrive. For Watches and Wonders, it was a good show this year and it was great seeing you and your videographer there. When we have the chance, let’s think of how we can make a joint video report from Geneva next year.

AS: We have failed on that last point twice in a row now! And we know that our readers are actually asking to make this happen. Sorry about that folks!

RC: There were just more brands than we could cover in the time that we have. But we will make a plan in advance for next year. It will work this time round. Thank you for this quarterly exchange of opinions. I hope both your readers and mine will benefit from our public reflection of how things go in this very niche and intricate industry.

AS: From what I gather, this segment is everyone’s favourite — it is also one of my favourites to write.

RC: Same here. Please take care until our next writing session then. Thanks again and see you soon!

AS: Happily, it will be soon!

This conversation was first published on World of Watches #69, the Summer Special.

For more reads on watches, click here.

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