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The Valhalla of Luxury Watches

A dispatch from Geneva's Watches and Wonders — a fantasia for lovers of luxury timepieces.

LIKE A KID before their first day at a new school, I had jitters on my way to Geneva for the Watches and Wonders fair. The annual show brings together around 50 of the planet’s most revered timepiece makers to exhibit never-seen-before styles. It’s like fashion week for fancy watches, with a fanbase as fervent as Deadheads. Stepping into the exclusive world of luxury Swiss timepieces, I was unsure of what to expect.

My fears quickly dissipated: Watch folks are solidly (surprisingly?) friendly. This also isn’t the trade show you might imagine: Gourmet food is served, espresso and Champagne (good Champagne) are flowing, and “booths” include Rolex’s temporary three-floor showroom dotted with orchids and complete with a central staircase.

Most importantly, there were moments of profound magic. Vacheron Constantin’s 18-karat pink gold Overseas with a sunburst blue dial was so elegant and energizing it put stars in my eyes. Rolex had marvels galore, including an Oyster Perpetual festooned in playful bubbles. Patek Philippe was awe-inspiring, showing a white gold Ref. 5531G Minute Repeater World Time with a cloisonné Grand Feu enamel motif of a steamship. Seeing Jaeger-LeCoultre’s signature Reversos made me dream of owning one. And Van Cleef & Arpels displayed an automaton — a handmade clock in the shape of a flower — with a particularly enchanting feature: When activated, a bejeweled butterfly emerges from the petals and flaps its wings. Truly.


However good this all looked, it was trumped by peeking behind the dial, which I did by taking an hour’s drive to the town of Neuchâtel. This is where Panerai — whose Florentine heritage gives their seafaring classics an Italian élan — craft their handmade pieces and where I took a watchmaking class, experiencing just how intricate it is to create these stunners with all their itsy-bitsy details.

A tip: Whether you’re in Geneva for watches or sightseeing, stop by The Woodward’s Guerlain Spa for a little R & R. Right when it felt like my limbs were falling off, they put me back together with a massage. Now I’m ready to do it all over again next year.

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Our Contributors

Alex Frank Writer

Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at Vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.

Hisham Akira Bharoocha Illustrator

Hisham Akira Bharoocha is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, NY, working across various mediums including large-scale murals, paintings, drawings, collages, audio/visual installations, and performances. Bharoocha has had solo exhibitions at Snow Contemporary and Ginza Mitsukoshi in Tokyo, D’Amelio Terras in New York, and De Vleeshal in The Netherlands, and has exhibited his work in numerous group shows in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. His work has been published in Artforum, NOWNESS, i-D, V, and Flaunt Magazine to name a few.


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