2021 marked a milestone year for the Swiss watch industry, as its total export value hit a record-breaking CHF 22.3 billion. Not too shabby for an industry that’s allegedly reeling from the effects of the pandemic. It’s no wonder then that the expectations for this year’s Watches & Wonders exhibition were sky high, and boy, did the watchmakers deliver.
Here, we highlight the complicated watches that caught our eye for their sublime amalgamation of mechanical ingenuity and artistic excellence.
Cartier Masse Mystérieuse
Eight years, five designs, and two prototypes. Cartier has left no stone unturned when it comes to its latest masterpiece, the Masse Mystérieuse, which it says is the most complex timepiece it has ever produced. The Masse Mystérieuse derives its essence from Cartier’s mystery clocks, which first appeared exactly 100 years ago, under the tutelage of Louis Cartier.
The Robert-Houdini-inspired clock took an entire year to complete, and was shrouded in mystery. Over the years, the mystery movement has appeared in many iterations, but none have messed with our heads as much as this latest version.
The reason being that Masse Mystérieuse features the entire movement fitted within the oscillating skeleton weight. We won’t get into the technical details here, but to say that this is an impressive feat of mechanical engineering would be an understatement.
The watch is fairly large, measuring 43.5mm, but elegant details abound, befitting of Cartier’s eye for design. Only 30 pieces of this platinum version have been produced.
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire
This year, Chopard celebrates the 25th anniversary of its award-winning L.U.C collection, which continues to deliver timepieces that boast horological prowess and artistic mastery. One of the highlights is the Chopard Full Strike Sapphire, which was built upon the tenets of the Full Strike launched in 2017. The timepiece received the industry’s highest accolade, clinching the Aiguille D’Or award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Not one to rest on its laurels, the Genevan watchmaker has risen to the challenge of bettering the sound quality of the minute repeater by seeking the counsel of two virtuoso musicians, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, along with professor Romain Boulandet, head of the Applied Acoustics Laboratory at Geneva’s HEPIA engineering school.
Interestingly, to match the sapphire gongs, the case, bezel, crown, case back, rear glass and dial have been constructed entirely in sapphire as well. The result is a theatrical spectacle, where the entire movement can be seen in its full glory. The Chopard Full Strike Sapphire is limited to five pieces.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945
Calibre 945 has long been representative of the highest echelons of haute horlogerie. Developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre 12 years ago, it is a celestial complication that combines a sky chart, a zodiac calendar, a minute repeater and a Cosmotourbillon, which rotates on its own axis every 60 seconds, and around the dial once a day. The movement’s most prominent feature is undoubtedly the display of the sidereal time, which is based on the position of the stars.
This year, the brand has upped the ante once again with the introduction of two new interpretations, the Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Galaxia in pink gold, and Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Atonium in white gold. The astronomical complication is artistically displayed on the multi-layered dial, where the Northern Hemisphere night sky, seen from the 46th parallel (the brand’s location in Vallée de Joux), has been rendered using grisaille enamel. It marks the first time that the brand has used this technique, which features a monochromatic palette of greys to depict the scene. Each version comes in a limited edition of five pieces, with a power reserve of 40 hours.
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Minute repeater tourbillon split-seconds monopusher chronograph
At first glance, the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Minute repeater tourbillon split-seconds monopusher chronograph looks deceptively simple, albeit with an unusual dial layout. Its complexity reveals itself progressively. It combines three complications, namely a split-seconds monopusher chronograph (which in itself presents a challenge for even the most capable of watchmakers), a minute repeater and a tourbillon, which is only visible from the exhibition case back. The watch is equipped with calibre 2757, which comprises 698 components, each one meticulously finished and polished to perfection.
The timepiece represents the culmination of Vacheron Constantin’s 267 years of horological expertise, featuring technical solutions that the brand has mastered. The split seconds chronograph hands, for instance, are constructed from lightweight aluminium, while its signature centripetal system ensures that the chimes of the minute repeater are loud, clear and free from any distortion from the operating system. This 45mm pink gold timepiece is one-of-a-kind.
Van Cleef & Arpels Fontaine aux Oiseaux Automaton
It’s not a watch per se, but the Van Cleef & Arpels Fontaine aux Oiseaux Automaton is a worthy addition to our list. The automaton features two birds, wrought in gold and studded with sapphires, garnets and diamonds, delicately perched on the bank of an ebony basin. The scene is astonishingly lifelike, especially when the automaton function comes to life. The birds flutter their wings, tilt their heads, blink their eyes, and move towards each other, all while singing a melodious tune.
Inside the basin, the water – ingeniously crafted in chalcedony and rock crystal – seems to be undulating, causing ripples that set in motion the movement of the lily pads, the lily and dragonfly. The dragonfly flits upwards, while the water lily unfurls its petals to reveal a heart of precious stones. Van Cleef & Arpels has indicated time and again that the mechanism is always at the service of design, and this ethos is most apparent in this objet d’art. A bejewelled feather indicates the time on the retrograde display on the base of the basin.