A fine Swiss timepiece is the ultimate in luxury. We take a look at the iconic creations and the latest releases from Switzerland’s most prestigious brands, and speak to the experts about what to look for when buying the perfect luxury watch
Today the word luxury is widely used, yet the world of haute horlogerie, with its intricate products and its finesse, is truly worthy of the term. In this supremely specialist industry of handcrafted mechanical timepieces (those that are operated by a mechanism, rather than electronically) the legacy and expertise of Swiss houses are the envy of watchmakers throughout the world.
Swiss watch houses by their very nature offer a level of mastery that is held in high esteem, but it is for the wearer to decide which elements of a timepiece, be it the function or aesthetic, will be best suited to them
While a mechanism made in Switzerland has a special cachet, the specific appeal of a single timepiece is often a personal thing. Anthony Walker has been collecting watches for 20 years and has a keen interest in what attracts someone to a watch. ‘For me,’ he says ‘the most important thing is that the movement, the case, the face and hands have been designed to be as one; that there is continuity and harmony to them so nothing looks incongruous. A bought-in or multi-purpose mechanism does detract from the sense of heritage and design but can be overcome.’
Patek Philippe, established in 1839, is Geneva’s oldest independent and family-owned watch house. It both develops and manufactures its mechanisms in house and is famed for introducing the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch back in 1925. The house is distinguished for its early use of precious metals and stainless steel in cases and bracelets. In 2014 its Supercomplication pocket watch sold for $24m, making it the most expensive watch on record today.
For 2017 the brand celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Aquanaut, a sporty timepiece that was originally made in stainless steel with a black dial. This year’s commemorative edition, the 5168G, has a blue dial and a white gold case. Ultimately, however, Patek Philipe is a house renowned for its occasion watches. The 5970R is Walker’s dream model. A timepiece with a double complication (a complication is any function over and above timekeeping), it is regarded by many as one of the best watches the house has ever made.
In 1868 Boston watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones founded IWC in Schaffhausen, bringing together new technology, Swiss watchmaking and hydropower from the nearby river Rhine. Fast-forward 150 years and IWC is distinguished as much for its watches as for its pared-down aesthetic and celebrity following. The house is built around a concept of watch ‘families’; Pilot’s, Portugieser, Ingenier, Aquatimer, Da Vinci and Portofino have become classic styles in their own right, while the Grande Complication and the IWC Vintage collection cater for a specific and very discerning niche customer.
For 2017 IWC has reworked the Da Vinci collection, which was first introduced during the 1980s, and it is currently looking to widen the appeal of the watch family to women. ‘We are consciously trying to anchor the brand in the minds of women, who account for a significant proportion of watch lovers,’ explains Franziska Gsell, IWC’s chief marketing officer.
IWC is not the only watch house that is keen to draw the female watch buyer closer into the fold. Omega has been producing watches since the 1890s and for 2017 the house has unveiled the Seamaster Aqua Terra Master Chronometer ladies’ collection and the Ladymatic fine jewellery range ‒ a jewellery collection inspired by Omega’s classic Ladymatic timepiece.
In addition, 2017 also marks the 60th anniversary of the Omega Speedmaster chronograph. It is the watch that was worn by Buzz Aldrin when he set foot on the Moon in 1969 and its design is recognised and admired the world over. For the anniversary, Omega has released a commemorative edition of the Speedmaster, with proportions that match those of the original 1957 model. While there are many obvious technical improvements (the chronograph caliber 1861 rather than the original 321, and the radium lume is replaced with SuperLuminova that replicates the colour), ultimately the edition is a celebration of the very first style and a nod to the growing appeal of the design of vintage timepieces.
While trends change and evolve, the selection of a watch is ultimately about what appeals to the individual. For Walker it is about complications. A tourbillon (a mechanism that spins on itself) is, he says ‘enchanting to simply stare at and watch. A perpetual calendar, he adds, ‘is a wonder of calculation and engineering’. Swiss watch houses by their very nature offer a level of mastery that is held in high esteem, but it is for the wearer to decide which elements of a timepiece, be it the function or aesthetic, will be best suited to them.