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Geneva Watch Days

Imagination, innovation and the shape of things to come

If it’s the end of August and watches are your passion or profession, then chances are you will be in Geneva. As the nighttime starts to encroach on the day, and the sun’s rays lose a little of their early morning heat, the Swiss city hosts Watch Days as a back-to-school field trip for most.

What started off four years ago as a small gathering of approximately ten independent brands in the hotels around Lake Genève has grown into a full status industry fair, taking over most of the town. In contrast to Watches & Wonders, that inhabits the confined conference centre of Palexpo, Geneva Watch Days (GWD) has the refinement of the city’s turn of the century hotels and boutiques to offer, centred around a pavilion on the lakeshore directly opposite Jet d’Eau.

Almost half the brands at GWD were exhibiting in suites at the Beau Rivage Hotel overlooking Lake Genève

At the 2024 edition, we saw even more brands – large and small – coming to show off their novelties. What was apparent across the range of new watches offered is the array of imagination and developments in horology presented by most of the participants. The independent firms proved their commitment and inventive spirit by producing timepieces that enthralled collectors and industry veterans alike. New designs, new manufacturing techniques, and new materials are all allied to traditional watchmaking to produce truly innovative watches.

The selection below, from the approximately 40 brands that took part, serve as an illustration of my point. This same independent spirit has also led to their involvement in Only Watch, the biannual charity auction to fund the cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Unfortunately, the Only Watch pieces were on tour, so we were deprived of seeing them in the flesh (except for Urwerk’s half metre tall clock) but for what we saw in photos, these creations are testimony to the imagination and savoir-faire of these maverick manufacturers.

One of the founders of GWD and arguably also of the modern approach to watchmaking, Max Busser & Friends (MB&F), arrived with their latest release, the HM9 “Flow” SV, which stands for Sapphire Vision. Max himself described the HM9 as one of the most beautiful watches they have ever produced, so naturally, surrounding it with a sapphire case seemed an appropriate progression. The SV case was, however, extremely difficult to make as the shape contains a number of curved surfaces.

The MB&F HM9 SV in white gold where all elements of the movement are visible through the sapphire crystal case.

Sapphire crystal manufacture requires that the shape is milled and finished in something akin to a mud bath, which makes complex forms more prone to failure. The finished sapphire then needed to be fitted to the movement, requiring both new patented ways of fixing it to an exo-skeleton frame with specialised adhesive and rendering the case water resistant with a gasket. Because of these difficulties, there will be only five of them made in total. The result is an ethereal watch, that provides a complete view of the movement in all its complexity and finesse.

The H. Moser & Cie. x MB&F Streamliner Pandamonium Only Watch, the only minute repeater complication in the world led by a miniature DJing panda.

In collaboration with H. Moser & Cie., MB&F have developed a minute repeater for Only Watch that incorporates both design and mechanical elements from both brands. The watch is a minute repeater, where the MB&F flying balance wheel and the Moser dial are evident; but what sets the watch off as unusual and unique is the dial side tongs and hammers for the repeater, complete with a DJ mixing miniature panda.

Possibly the ultimate black dialled dress watch, the new rose gold H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Centre Seconds with a Vantablack sandwich dial.

For GWD, H. Moser & Cie. released two versions of their Endeavour design with Vantablack© dials. Vantablack is the ultimate dark material as it absorbs 97 percent of all light, but it is hugely fastidious to work with because it cannot have anything touching it or the surface will be spoilt. Of the two releases, the Endeavour Centre Seconds with its automatic movement is arguably the ultimate black dialled dress watch. The design is simple and clean, with the time read from markers produced with a sandwich dial, where the wafer thin Vantablack treated top, with cut outs, is pressed to the rose gold disk beneath to form a perfect black dial. It is beautiful example of the latest technology combined with traditional horology.

May the force be with you! Urwerk continues to successfully seek inspiration from the science fiction world, in this case Star Wars, with the light sabre influenced Space Time Blade.

Urwerk continues to profitably draw inspiration from science fiction for both their Only Watch contribution – the Space Time Blade – and the new UR-100V Stardust [for a discussion of science fiction influence on watch design, read The Shape of Time to Come. The Space Time Blade is an imaginative vertical Nixie tube clock that, as most Star Wars fans will attest to, bares a close resemblance to a light sabre. The clock not only tells the time to a one hundredth of a second, but also the distance travelled by the earth’s rotation at any time of day, and equally around the sun in a single day and within the year. The Only Watch clock is the prototype, with a limited series to be produced in the year to come.

The DeBethune DB28 XP “Kind of Blue” with its signature bluing on the titanium parts.

Other firms produced their known watches in a new form or with new material. DeBethune arrived at Geneva Watch Days with a new DB28 XP titled “Kind of Blue”. DeBethune has developed a reputation for not only innovative design along with proprietary mechanics in their movements, but also for the heat treatment of metal. The deep vivid blue colour rendered on the DB28 XP is from heating titanium to a specific temperature in oil. Thanks to the flexible lugs, the watch stays snug on the wrist.

Trilobe used for the first time a guilloche technique known as “Barley Grain” in its new Nuit Fantastique Brume. This ancient motif works really well with the eccentric dial characteristic of the Paris-based watchmaking maison, highlighting the time display. The hour ring is coloured on a hue that looks grey or brown depending on the light, which explains why the watch was baptised “Brume”. The automatic movement, the calibre X-Centric has been designed and developed exclusively by Trilobe an proudly bears the words “Paris – France” as a tribute to the recently inaugurated watchmaking workshop in the French capital.

The relief on the dial of the Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Brume features two guilloche techniques: the rectilinear Clous de Paris and the spheric Barley Grain.

Bulgari, one of the larger brands at GWD and also one of the founders, released two versions of their award-winning Octo Finissimo in carbon rose gold. The two watches, one a time-only automatic and the other a retrograde perpetual calendar, are finished throughout in carbon fibre, with the hands and markers or numerals in rose gold. The effect  could be disorientating in terms of lightness on the wrist, but is visually striking.

The new Bulgari Octo Finissimo retrograde perpetual calendar (left) and automatic (right) in carbon rose gold.

Oris arrived to Geneva with a new extreme depth dive watch and a new brand ambassador: UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini. It is an imaginative signing by Oris as Yusra was a refugee of the Syrian civil war, who, when the engine of the inflatable zodiac in which she was crossing the Aegean sea failed, with her sister Sara and two others, jumped into the water, and pushed and pulled the boat for three hours to safety on the shores of Lesbos. They were granted asylum in Germany. Only a year later, she competed at the Rio Olympics as a member of the very first Refugee Olympic Team in the 100-metre swimming events. This year, she was listed in Time 100, an annual list of the most influential people in the world.

Oris new brand ambassador, Yusra Mardini, wearing one of their dive watches.

Under the new leadership of Boon Chong Song, Corum presented a concept watch that symbolises the change of direction the brand is taking. With a movement based on a similar flying tourbillon that was developed two decades ago, the watch is completed with sapphire bridges and a key symbol tourbillon cage. The case is made of responsibly sourced titanium and the strap from reclaimed nylon. More importantly, the watch will set out Corum’s new approach and mission statement for the foreseeable future. Only three are in existence, and I believe all of them are assigned.

The Corum concept watch, made from sustainable and reclaimed materials, with a skeleton flying tourbillon movement with sapphire crystal bridges, and adventurine baseplate.

HYT, with their new General Manager, Vahe Vartzbed, released a conical tourbillon entitled Infinity Spheres. Developed with Eric Coudray, the watch is a unique combination of an inclined flying tourbillon that regulates the minutes, operates the moving spheres around the centre, and propels the coloured fluid that marks the hours. It is a complex and alluring watch in a limited edition of just eight pieces.

The HYT Infinity Spheres conical tourbillon showing the complexity of the flying tourbillon with the rotating globes around the mechanism.

Next year will probably see an even larger event with an increased number of attendees and brands. Bulgari and Breitling have both confirmed they are dropping from Watches & Wonders, making Geneva Watch Days the major industry fair as far as they are concerned. The drive for growth and innovation in the independent sector of the watch industry seems to be pulling the big players too. Interesting times ahead indeed.  











Words: Dr Andrew Hildreth

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