'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' Or at least your competitors. Wise words from Michael Corleone, adapted in a détente longed for by the watch industry. Small, 'outsider' brands below the radar but worthy of your attention have been booking into Geneva hotels at the same time as the Salon de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), Richemont’s annual showcase for its own brands and associates.
For 2016, nine shared a space at SIHH called 'Carré des Horlogers', so SIHH guests didn’t have to sneak out to see them. An absolute success for exhibitors Christophe Claret, De Bethune, H Moser, Hautlence, HYT, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier, MB&F and Urwerk, and all were delighted by this act of inclusion.
One of the stars was the breath-taking Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller Globe 'Night Blue'. It displays two time zones, the dial decorated with a champlevé map of the world. None of your primary colours for the countries, though: the continents are shown in relief, surrounded by blue enamel seas. The artisans used gold leaf-adorned dots to indicate illuminated cities as seen by night.
SIHH is celebrity-rich, but for H Moser, it wasn’t to show off an ambassador: Bryan Ferry designed a watch for the brand, reflecting his eye for style. His version of the 'Endeavour Small Seconds' features a pristine white dial, displays only minutes, hours and seconds, and will be issued in a series of only 100 pieces.
De Bethune is incapable of producing 'ordinary' watches. The 'DB25 World Traveller', which shows all 24 time zones at once, is a model of clarity. Appearing conventional at first, it manages to feature the names of key cities radially from the centre, while using a small sphere to indicate day or night back home.
Urwerk’s 'T-Rex' is a perfect example of the brand’s sense of humour. The company has clad its 'UR-105' with a case crisscrossed by a raised, concentrically ribbed pattern, suggesting a reptile’s scales. This textured, bark-like coating is soft to the touch, and its colours will adapt their own patina over the years.
Carré des Horlogers’ biggest surprise, however, wasn’t a watch but a clock: MB&F unveiled 'Sherman', a less-complex little brother to last year’s 'Melchior'. This is another completely over-the-top interpretation of the tin-plate robots made in Japan in the 1950s (and now achingly desirable). Sherman only tells the time... though lateral thinkers will note that the flexible arms will hold pens or drawing tools.