The pieces unveiled by Switzerland’s luxury watchmakers at the Geneva watch fair harked back to bygone eras with classic shapes, roman numerals and a good dash of gold to lend a sheen to troubled economic and political times.
“The high-end watch industry has a duty to make the world smile,” Richard Mille, the founder and CEO of Richard Mille watches, told Reuters.
With 1920s / 30s fashion on the catwalks ahead of the cinema release of “The Great Gatsby”, king of jewellers Cartier presented its first pocket watch in years, a limited edition 18-carat white gold piece with a matching chain and stand.
Less of a trinket to be carried around and more an object of desire to be displayed proudly on a desk, the Cartier pocket watch is limited to 10 pieces.
Cartier declined to comment on how much the piece would retail for, saying it was priced on demand only. Watch blogs speculated it could be anywhere upwards of EUR500,000 (US$640,800).
Many brands delved through their back catalogues from the 1940s and 50s for inspiration while Parmigiani, a newcomer among high-end watch brands, said a desire for old-style glamour meant its quietly elegant designs were proving more popular than ever.
“We lost out previously because we weren’t so ‘bling bling’ but now consumers are returning to what is more simple and more discreet,” the brand’s CEO told Reuters.
Moving on from all that talk of simplicity and classic lines, there is still plenty for those who like their luxury to be a little more overt.
At Cartier, the dazzle from precious stones adorning its range of 31 jewellery items with hidden watches was almost blinding.
And despite soaring prices for both diamonds and gold, there was no shortage of either in Geneva, with brands saying Asian customers were keen on such pieces.
“We’ve made a lot of products with diamonds, because the demand is there,” Jean-Marc Pontroue of Roger Dubuis, whose watches start from about CHF13,000 (US$13,800), told Reuters.
Piaget unveiled a one-off version of its Emperador Coussin XL model at the show, the watch’s face and strap sparkling with 876 baguette-cut diamonds and 983 brilliant-cut diamonds, and said the piece was more likely to go to an Asian customer, rather than someone in Europe.
Luxury growth was driven predominantly by Asia in 2011, but experts see growth in China slowing this year, and brands were quick to point out they were not just sending everything to Asia.
Although the brands were keen to emphasise they create pieces for a global audience, there was no denying the influence of Asia on many watches at the fair.
Designs in enamel, a technique that has long been popular in China, were on show at Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels, while Cartier also unveiled a watch with an enamelled dragon motif in the traditional Chinese colours of red and black.
Finally, for those wanting to get away from it all on their yacht, or for those seeking an unusual work of art for dry land, Montblanc has the answer for EUR290,000.
The Regulateur Nautique set consists of a chunky free-standing navigational clock, complete with a display stand for a matching wristwatch in either red or white gold.
The navigational clock weighs 120 kilograms, is 93 centimetres tall and 56 centimetres in diameter. It stands on a heavy granite base and the clock itself tilts to keep it stable in rough seas.