Geneva’s Watches & Wonders fair, essentially the CES of the watch world, brings together almost 40 of the industry’s biggest brands, including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, and IWC, alongside a sprinkling of smaller, independent marques, to all reveal at once their major launches for the year. It’s big business. Despite inevitable Covid-related downturns—particularly in an industry still resistant to ecommerce—in 2021, Swiss watch exports totaled a value of more than $24 billion.
There are notable exceptions, of course. Much like the conspicuous Apple-shaped hole left in Las Vegas each January, the Swatch Group, whose brands include Omega, Longines, and Tissot, decided back in 2018 that it would no longer be present at watch fairs, opting instead to run its own event. This year it went as far as to potentially skewer Watches & Wonders before the show even began by breaking the internet with the poorly handled launch of its Omega/Swatch collaboration, the MoonSwatch, last week.
Still, this W&W is the first major watch fair to take place physically in three years, and sees industry players returning to a forcibly changed world—one in which the watch market has altered during the course of the Covid pandemic, and the hidebound traditions of old have been replaced with a hunger for color, strong design, hype, and inventiveness. Below are the 2022 offerings that we think are particularly WIRED.
A World-Record Watch Thinner Than a Nickel
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
Over recent years, Bulgari has used its Octo Finissimo range to set a succession of records in slimline watchmaking, making itself the world-leader in one of horology’s most demanding technical disciplines. Having made the world’s thinnest chronograph, the thinnest tourbillon, and the thinnest perpetual calendar, it’s now made simply the world’s thinnest mechanical watch.
The $440,000 (£332,695) Octo Finissimo Ultra is just 1.8-mm thick—that’s all the cogs and mechanics crammed into a space with less breadth than a nickel—and has the feel of little more than a piece of paper wrapped around the wrist. Along with its eight patents, it packs in some 2022 zeitgeist content in the form of a QR code laser-cut into the circular barrel containing the mainspring (which is wound up to power the watch). There are just 10 watches being made, each with a different QR code that will connect to a Metaverse site for the owner to explore, including an NFT-attached video artwork that’s unique to each watch.
The Blackest Watch Ever, Worthy of Vader Ballers
H Moser Streamliner “Blacker than Black”
From the people that brought you the anti–Apple Watch comes a timepiece so dark that Robert Pattinson’s brooding emo Batman or even Sith Lord Darth Vader might think twice about making a purchase. Only they wouldn’t be allowed to. This concept piece is not for sale.
Independent watchmaker H Moser & Cie has the unique license in watchmaking to use Vantablack, the super-black coating that, with 99.965 percent light absorption, is the darkest human-made material on the planet. So far it has produced a number of watches with bewitching Vantablack dials, but at this year’s Watches & Wonders it has revealed an entire watch covered in the substance.
Viewed against a Vantablack background, it’s almost invisible, save for its white and red hands. Sadly, it isn’t commercially available: H Moser reports that the substance is, for now, too fragile for wearing but that ways are being researched to strengthen the structure and make it more shock-resistant. Watch this space (not that you can see much of anything if you do).
The First Watch Made With Lab-Grown Diamonds
TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma
Most natural diamonds are between 1 billion and 3.5 billion years old and were formed at depths of 93 to 155 miles in the earth’s mantle, although a few come from as deep as 500 miles down. With it’s latest piece, the Plasma, TAG Heuer seemingly has neither the patience nor the energy to harvest such gemstones, opting instead to be the very first to adorn its sporty Carrera chronograph with lab-grown diamonds, which are incorporated directly into the body and dial of the watch itself.
Lab-grown, or synthetic, diamonds are made via a chemical vapor deposition process and are considered more ecologically sound, as mining natural diamonds is destructive, with an estimated 250 tonnes of earth excavated for every single carat of diamond. Here, the watchmaker called on a network of specialist partners to develop 48 such diamonds, totaling 4.8 carats, in shapes and implementations that would otherwise be impossible. That includes the polycrystalline diamond dial itself, as well as diamond indexes, sections of the case, and a spectacular winding crown made from a single piece of lab diamond.