For watch lovers, 2016 doesn't officially start until next week, when the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) kicks off in Geneva on Monday, Jan. 18. There are 25 brands showing at this year's show (instead of the usual 16), and these will set the tone for what will show up on wrists the rest of the year. Details are still scant, but that doesn't mean we don't have a few good guesses as to what's coming out next week.
Here are three things we can expect to see in Geneva:
Part of what makes SIHH so exciting is that every year there are a few true show stoppers. You know they're coming, but it's impossible to predict what they'll actually be. German experts A. Lange & Söhne always bring some heat (2015 saw both an updated Datograph Perpetual and Decimal Minute Repeater), and last year Vacheron Constantin showed a line of in-house chronographs, including a wild automatic split-seconds edition.
And this year I expect SIHH to up the ante. The show is hosted by luxury conglomerate Richemont and usually includes the group's 11 watch brands, a few brands in which Richemont has minority stakes, and big independents such as Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. For the first time, though, nine small independent watchmakers have been invited to participate. These include MB&F, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier, and H. Moser, watchmakers that are at the forefront of new complications, painstakingly hand-finished movements, and funky designs. It's a chance for them to steal the spotlight from the big boys and to impress on a big stage. I can't imagine they'll waste it.
The time when the Swiss could ignore smartwatches and wearable technology is over. It has been for a few months now, if we're being generous, longer if we're not. In November, TAG Heuer released its full-on Android Wear smartwatch, and by all accounts sales are so good the company is actually ramping up production. Breitling soon followed with its own take on a connected watch, with the Exospace B55, more of a middle ground between a traditional watch and a gadget.
I don't think we'll be seeing an Audemars Piguet smartwatch or a Jaeger-LeCoultre fitness tracker, but I have a funny feeling we'll see at least one thing that requires a battery and a Bluetooth connection at SIHH 2016. Whether we finally get more information about the upcoming IWC Connect, a small strap-worn device, or another iteration of the Montblanc e-Strap, or a new device from the likes of Baume & Mercier or Cartier that appeals to a different sort of customer than the more traditional products on offer.
It's no secret that this has been a rough year for the Swiss watch industry. It started with currency problems last January, continued into the midyear Apple Watch hype zone, and then soft Asian markets prevented a second-half comeback. But watchmakers are adjusting to new market conditions after a few pretty cushy years, and lowering prices is one way to get people shopping again.
Montblanc has made a splash the past few years with affordable takes on usually expensive complications. We already know Montblanc will be continuing that push in 2016, but other brands are getting onboard, too. IWC is revamping its flagship line of pilot's watches, including introducing a new entry-level pilot that will sell for $3,950, the first watch in IWC's current stable that's less than $4,000. I expect we'll see similar additions at the bottom end from such brands as Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre, too, as they try to woo new customers with something a little more approachable.
SIHH will take place in Geneva, Switzerland from January 18 to 22 and we will have live daily coverage right here.
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