The Mecca of the luxury watch industry is now clearly located in Geneva. The excitement was palpable among the 22,000 plus attendees in the recently concluded Watches and Wonders exhibition(earlier known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, SIHH). This was because the two exhibitions that were traditionally held in Basel and Geneva stand as one now—and this was the first physical exhibition after a gap of two years because of the Covid pandemic.
This was also my twentieth trip (without a break) to the Geneva exhibition and I am just back, soaked with the combined energy of new launches of the 38 Maisons (including 15 independent brands) that participated in the exhibition this year. Also, the luxury watch industry is at an all-time high, with most marquee brands complaining of supply is an issue in the face of an ever-growing demand.
While I always keep an eye on what will be the next bestseller, my heart beats for exceptional timepieces that tell the story differently. Innovation and craftsmanship are two pillars that make these brands (including the smaller independents) push the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. And when we speak of tradition in timekeeping, the quintessential look of a dial comprises three central hands that indicate hours, minutes, and seconds. You may add a chronograph, a GMT function or a second-time zone, which is also considered traditional today. Brands pushing for innovative dials, accompanied by movements that drive a differentiated way of indicating time are on the rise—but they can still be counted on your fingers. A shining example is Ulysse Nardin’s Freak, first introduced in 2001, a watch without a crown and no traditional hands. Freak is still going strong, with the brand launching the Vertical Odyssey, one of the three avant-garde timepieces launched by the brand, that include the Freak S adding to the legacy of the Freak franchise.
Talking about five that stole my heart at the Watches and Wonders 2022 with their differentiated way to telling time, here is the list.
1. Trilobe Nuit Fantastique, Grained Green
A new kid on the block, Trilobe is just a four-year-old brand based in Paris. Their differentiated models stand out for an unusual display of hours, minutes and seconds. In 2022, they added a new imperial green to Nuit Fantastique (fantastic night), a perfect tribute to Trilobe's watchmaking audacity. Combining French creativity and Swiss watchmaking excellence, this creation symbolises a new interpretation of the passage of time by Trilobe. Available in steel or 18-carat rose gold, the case has been specially designed to house the X-Centric movement. The Nuit Fantastique is now available in Silver, Black, Blue, Green, Dune, Havana and “Secret” editions. There are two sizes in steel (40.5mm or 38.5mm) and one in rose gold case (40.5mm only).
2. Ressence Type 8
What about a watch without a crown! The Ressence Type 8 visually and functionally expresses the brand’s confident and contemporary approach that is built on its fundamental principles of originality, accessibility, and innovation. The sixth distinct family of watches from Ressence, the Type 8 has been designed with the same functional relevance that defines all Ressence watches. Type 8 has a hyper-modern, sleek case crafted entirely in grade five titanium, which contributes to an extremely light overall weight: just 42 grams, including the weight of with the strap. Graphically simplified to the essence, the watch indicates only the hours and minutes, with no text or numbers, the domed cobalt blue dial has been reduced to the viable minimum. Simple white baton markers present the time with perfect clarity from any angle; the dial itself comprises rotating discs set into the same plane. The hands, and the hour and minute scales, are picked out in blue SuperLuminova for low-light legibility.
3. Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier
Now we have a dial that tells hours by the flowers that bloom! Inspired by the floral clock concept imagined by Carl Von Linné in 1751, the Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier offers a poetic rendition of the passage of time, thanks to a special module opening and closing the 12 corollas on the dial. Telling the time becomes a spectacle, as the flowers blossom and close, renewing the scenery every 60 minutes. The watch displays a spring-like tableau with ethereal blue butterflies—emblematic of the Maison-fluttering between the pink and red corollas, in a striking relief effect. The minutes can be read by a red mark indicator that moves on the side of the case.
4. Armin Strom Orbit
The Orbit reinvents the most ubiquitous horological function with the world's first on-demand date function displayed on a bezel. The date is driven by the unique column-wheel date complication, that can be activated and deactivated with the push of a button. A large central hand with a red “A” tip for Armin indicates the date on the black ceramic bezel which makes up the sporty look of the watch.
5. Ulysse Nardin Freak S
The timepiece that started the “crownless” movement in 2001 is a lot more refined and avant-garde now. Ulysse Nardin looked to the brightest star of the cosmos, the sun, for inspiration for this new interpretation of the Freak. At first glance, the pioneering new watch resembles a space vessel with twin reactors. The developers at Ulysse Nardin also designed the brand’s very first double oscillator with a differential with automatic winding, made possible by the “Grinder” system—which is twice as efficient as a traditional winding system. The Freak S watch is the obvious extension of the technical marvel, Freak Vision of 2018.