On an island carved into the shape of a seahorse, four letters — LVMH — the height of a house gazed out to sea. Passing ships were not to know, but this was where an international cohort of journalists had gathered to witness the launch of the inaugural LVMH Watch Week.
The man-made Jumeira Bay is one of the most prestigious postcodes in Dubai. Bulgari Hotels & Resorts claimed a prime parcel of it to spin a fantasy of opulent design and attentive service, surrounded by sand and crystalline water. When the LVMH Group decided to stage an independent show featuring its key watchmakers — Bulgari, Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith — it had the luxury of selecting a venue from a handful of ritzy Bulgari hotels and resorts in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
In fact, as Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin joked at the press conference officiating the event, the maison has enough existing and upcoming hotels and resorts in its portfolio to host LVMH Watch Week at a different venue every year for a decade. Dubai — and therefore Bulgari Resort Dubai — was ultimately chosen as the midpoint between East and West. That was the implied motive, but we suspect the year-round warm weather held just as much appeal as its strategic location, with almost every Swiss brand representative commenting that it was a nice change from wintry January in Geneva.
After all, that is when and where watch season typically kicks off with the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch show — or so it did, until this year. For the first time in over a decade, the watchmaking cognoscenti did not descend on Switzerland shortly into a new year to examine the novelties by brands within and complementary to the Richemont Group, as well as to attend fringe events capitalising on the occasion.
Instead, SIHH has been rescheduled to late April to immediately precede Baselworld, which had previously been held in March. The latter, the industry’s oldest and biggest watch fair, has come under fire in recent years for its perceived arrogance, growing irrelevance and inflated costs.
“We felt the postponing of the two fairs was potentially extremely damaging commercially and for our partners and suppliers,” said Babin, echoing market sentiments that the second quarter was too late for novelties to begin making an appearance. Buoyed by the success of the first edition, the blueprint for LVMH Watch Week 2021 is already being firmed.
After all, who could find cause for complaint with the intimate brand presentations in villas, al fresco lunches overlooking a sparkling sea and cool evenings in the desert or by the sea warmed by live music and fire dancers? Upper management and brand spokespeople were relaxed and up for candid conversation, trading in the businesslike vibe of the Swiss encounters for a genial holiday mood.
Although TAG Heuer will only be showcasing its novelties in Switzerland — its presence in Dubai seemed to be a show of unity with its LVMH peers — Bulgari, Hublot and Zenith set the tone for the year to come in watchmaking with novelties that celebrate the best tenets of haute horlogerie.
It would be a disservice to dismiss Bulgari, best known for draping iconic designs around the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, as a jeweller dabbling in watchmaking. Gems are liberally strewn across timepieces but beneath the dazzle beats a serious understanding of horology. Unveiled at LVMH Watch Week 2020 were extensions to existing collections that effortlessly flexed the maison’s know-how in both realms.
Take the Serpenti collection. The sensual coils of its serpentine inspiration have been wound around wrists since the 1940s, yet the design remains a staple and a favourite for its straddling of haute joaillerie and haute horlogerie. Headlining this year’s releases, for instance, is the Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon in white gold with full diamonds.
Declared the smallest tourbillon in the market at 22mm by 18mm and just 3.65mm thick, it took Bulgari all the savoir faire it could muster to not only design a complication that minute but also work it into the snakehead silhouette of the case. Unlike most watchmakers, Bulgari adapts technical considerations to suit the aesthetics, and this refusal to compromise on style ensures its timepieces are as visually stunning as they are mechanically compelling: The manual-winding Caliber BVL150 at the heart boasts a 40-hour power reserve while the case, dial and bracelet are paved with round brilliant-cut diamonds — 558 in total. Should this diamond-studded dream prove too icy for preferences, options in rose or white gold with diamond pavé and leather straps or a bracelet in alternating rose or white gold and steel might please.
Speaking of dreams, women would also appreciate the Divas’ Dream Minute Repeater Malachite. It combines the trademark Diva fan-shape with the world’s thinnest minute repeater, the BVL362 with 42 hours of autonomy, beneath a dial of exquisite green malachite to cement the brand’s standing as the Jeweller of Time.
Men have not been forgotten, with extensions to the immensely popular Octo Finissimo collection. The slim eight-sided case bearing the influence of designer Gérald Genta is not just a pretty face — it has won over 40 awards for its design and ultra-thin mechanical minute repeater movement. The Calibre BVL362 finds a new home in this sandblasted rose-gold model, complete with incised hour markers and a small seconds counter at 6 o’clock. Alternatives are available in sandblast-polished ceramic or satin-polished steel or rose gold.
The universe born of the Big Bang 15 years ago is an ever-expanding one, with several novelties revealed in Dubai. Jostling for the headlines is the Big Bang Integral, the first model in this series with an integrated bracelet whose first links on either end are fused to the case for seamless wear. A new bracelet demands a restyled case, resulting in a timepiece of unique architecture expressed in proprietary King Gold or titanium, as well as a 500-piece limited-edition All Black version in black ceramic.
Also reworked is the famous skeletonised Meca-10 factory calibre with 10-day power reserve. In the Spirit of Big Bang Meca-10, the manual-winding HUB1233 movement is worked into the Spirit of Big Bang series, renowned for its 45mm stature and striking display of the parallel twin barrel and 10-day power reserve. The high-performance display is not just a technical and layout masterpiece but also entertaining to watch. Three versions have been created — in titanium, ceramic and King Gold alloy — and each is paired with a rubber strap accentuated with a gleam of gold.
Those who are unafraid to sport flashy colours on their wrist will take delight in two series extensions. The Big Bang MP-11 Red Magic flaunts a 45mm case in arresting red ceramic, developed and produced entirely by Hublot. What it presents in flair it matches in specs, with the in-house manufactured HUB9011 supplying 14 days of autonomy via seven barrels visible on the dial. The fastidious attention required for this watch restricts availability to just 100 pieces. If a single hue does not do it for you, capture a spectrum with the Spirit of Big Bang Rainbow. Like a modern alchemist, Hublot gives permanence to the fleeting phenomenon with a kaleidoscope of gemstones. In the 42mm version, the chronograph skeleton movement is fully on display and encircled by gems, while the dial of the 39mm iteration is paved entirely with sapphires, rubies, topazes, tsavorites and amethysts. The parade does not end there — the multi-hued glaze spreads out across the alligator strap for that additional dash of flamboyance.
Finally, the Classic Fusion Gold Crystal stars the rarest form of gold on earth — gold crystals, whose formation requires the coming together of such tricky conditions that they scarcely occur in nature. The Swiss manufacture has mastered this phenomenon in its laboratory and selects only the best 20% of these 24-carat crystals to frame like a work of art in over 20 layers of fine transparent lacquer. This, in turn, is mounted on a black case — 38mm and 45mm — linked by matching alligator straps. How’s that for a conversation piece?
The 155-year-old Swiss manufacture shows no signs of slowing down as it unveiled a veritable spread of novelties at the LVMH Watch Week. Chief among them was its first purely feminine watch, the Defy Midnight, inspired by the starry night sky. Wrapped in a 36mm stainless steel silhouette adorned with brilliant-cut diamonds is a celestial dial in deep blue, grey or mother-of-pearl, where the vastness of space surrenders to a faint glimmer of starlight. Diamond hour markers are interrupted only by a date window at 3 o’clock and the automatic Elite 670 SK movement ensures precision timekeeping for 50 hours. It is matched with an assortment of bracelets and satin or leather straps, easily interchangeable via the quick strap-change mechanism.
The Pilot Type 20 collection, based on the earliest Zenith dashboard instruments in cockpits, sees new iterations melding the utility of the modern timekeeper with the analogue charm of the past. The Pilot Type 20 Rescue and Pilot Type 20 Rescue Chronograph feature stainless steel cases with a slate-grey sunray dial, oversized Arabic numerals formed entirely from Super-LumiNova and yellow accents familiar in aviation. The rugged, retro appeal of the aged black calfskin strap is emphasised with rivets and a titanium pin buckle.
Rounding off the best of its 2020 releases are two outstanding Zenith partnerships. The Defy 21 Land Rover Edition salutes British carmaker Land Rover. Limited to just 250 pieces, it embodies the resilience and ruggedness of the next-generation all-terrain Defender with a chronograph measuring 1/100th of a second and a linear power reserve window enclosed in durable microblasted titanium.
Zenith’s second noteworthy collaboration is with first-time friend of the brand, Carl Cox. The DJ and producer is a living legend in electronic music, with fans following his techno tunes from underground rave parties in the 1980s to his own stage at the Burning Man festival. The record label owner celebrates this new relationship with the Defy 21 Carl Cox, a 200-piece model that turns up the tempo of the futuristic 1/100th of a second chronograph with a carbon fibre bezel and red straps with glow-in-the-dark stitching. The star of the open dial is a rotating disk shaped like a vinyl record at 9 o’clock, which serves as a running seconds indicator. The praise this contemporary piece received would have been music to Cox’s ears.
This article first appeared on Feb 3, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.