One man’s thoughts on a fantastic fair
Salon QP, 7-9 November 2013, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
By R. Jay Nudds
Having had the honour of attending the recent Salon QP exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, it would be unforgivable not to comment on the many inspiring things, intriguing trends and wealth of optimism I witnessed there.
With all three floors packed-out with stalls showcasing the latest pieces from brands across the spectrum, sifting through the deluge of quality to settle on the big winners of the event seemed a daunting task. But the cream always rises to the top, and there were a few brands that impressed me the most – some for their mastery of traditional techniques, others for their daring forays into the avant-garde, a handful who had warmly embraced the bizarre and one or two for their vision and ostensible work ethic that should see their futures in a highly competitive industry secured.
There are many great things about Salon QP. As a whole, the spectacle is truly mind-blowing and presented in such an accessible manner as to stoke the imagination of the uninitiated as well as catering for the old master whom little can surprise.
As this was my first visit to the fair, I was duly awed by not only the setting – the remarkably well-appointed Saatchi Gallery – but also the organisation and hospitality of the event. The cocktail reception on Friday night was a wonderful way to relax in the company of great brands and individuals alike. Even after a long day of promoting their wares, each and every brand ambassador was fresh and enthusiastic about the products they had on display. A palpable energy filled the place. The bustle of interest imbued the atmosphere with a sense of excitement that was utterly infectious.
Although each and every brand was well-equipped to impress and inspire, there were a selection of standouts that deserve a special mention:
It would be impossible for me not to mention De Bethune. Despite the brand being represented by retailer William & Sons at the fair, the presence of their timepieces was enough to speak volumes of the brand in the absence of an in-house expert.
One of my all-time favourite watches was on display: the DB28 Skybridge. Prior to seeing it in person, I had not realised that the lustrous blue dial, set with whatever constellation the customer chooses, was in fact fashioned from blued titanium. For anyone familiar with the material it would be difficult not to be impressed with the quality of the finish and the uniform colour achieved through the heat-treating process. I was staggered at the perfection of the dial, which although the main focal point of the watch, is not the only point of note in its construction. A beautifully executed moonphase indicator, in the form of a rotating sphere set just above 6 o’clock, and a pair of uniquely styled hands round off what has to be one of the very best examples of design on show at Salon QP.
When I first heard of the constant escapement, pioneered by the La Chaux-de-Fonds-based brand, I rushed online to watch a video of its production and operation. Given the lack of modification to the Swiss Lever Escapement for centuries, the emergence of these evermore complex and inventive solutions on such a relatively regular basis is an immense privilege to behold.
In contrast to the easily mass-produced Co-axial designed by the late George Daniels and fitted in most of Omega’s new calibres, the Constant Escapement from Girard-Perregaux is a mind-melting fusion of fluked inspiration (reputedly inspired by the designer’s flexing of a train ticket), ultramodern materials and a manufacturing process so painstakingly precise and awkward as to strike the fear of God into the hearts of the irresolute.
In spite of many parts not making the grade and a production method that relies on creating the perfect atmospheric conditions in which to manipulate the silicon ‘bow’ that generates a constant force delivered to the pallet fork, Girard-Perregaux persisted and have been rewarded with a truly exceptional complication. It is notable not only for its high-level of functionality, but also its inherent beauty. Furthermore it seems to have expertly straddled the divide between modern material usage and the traditional ethos that places emphasis on the difficulty of creation. Many purists baulk at the employment of silicon due to it normally being used as a labour-efficient alternative to steel. In this case, however, Girard-Perregaux has stretched the limits of silicon, creating a unique component that is barely possible despite the molecular properties of this revolutionary material.
It can not be said to be a shortcut. It is majestic. If this brand continues to push boundaries in this manner, the pressure their boldness will exert on their competitors will be as constant as the escapement’s delivery.
It is only in the last five years or so that Hermès has started to capitalise on its long involvement with watchmaking. Originally a leather-goods manufacturer, the company’s first foray into watchmaking occurred in the early part of the twentieth century with the production of watch straps. There exists a charming photograph of the owner’s daughter wearing a pocket watch on her wrist, by way of a specially made strap. It is believed to be one of the first examples of a woman’s wristwatch and suggests a heritage the Parisian house has only recently backed up with a serious investment in manufactureCompany that has an exclusive on a watch movement or module, and is in a position to decide where the parts are produced, how they are refinished, and where the final product is assembled and controlled.
And how they have succeeded. Hermès now boasts some serious horological clout. The release of the irreverent and philosophically attuned Le Temps Suspendu wowed the watchmaking world with its quirkiness and as a statement of intent from a brand that will always have style on its side.
I for one am excited about the future of this esteemed company, and cannot wait to see where they go next.
If gimmicks are your thing, Konstantin Chaykin’s Cinema watch is the one for you. Drawing inspiration from early zoescopes, the Cinema watch sports a window at six o’clock, through which one can see the image of a horse and its rider. The complication is powered by a second barrel that must be fully wound before use. By pressing a simple button on the side of the case, the image begins to move.
Konstantin himself explained to me that the image has a great deal of significance in the history of cinema that can, in fact, be traced back to a wager placed by the 8th Governor of California Leland Stanford. Stanford believed that, during its gallop, all four feet of a horse left the ground simultaneously. As the human eye alone could not be trusted in such a serious matter (made more serious still by the fact Stanford placed a bet of $25,000 against his claim) that the Governor employed photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove him right. Muybridge succeeded by shooting the horse in motion using a row of twelve cameras set up to be triggered by the horse as it raced by. True enough, one of the photographs showed the horse ‘in flight’, and although Stanford’s detractors reputedly never made good on the bet, he won a moral victory that has now been immortalised in this most curious timepiece.
Muybridge has been immortalised in this watch – his name surrounds the base of the mini zoescope he helped develop. This is not just a piece for the cinema historian; it is the first wristwatch to feature an animation of this kind and would warrant a place in any watch collector’s hoard.
Ballouard were responsible for the standout piece of the show. No one watch caught my eye, engaged my mind and tickled my fancy more than the remarkable Upside Down. A truly mind-blowing watch that i elegantly restrained and mechanically dazzling. At first glance the watch appears simple, but the complexity of the custom made movement, which can be observed through a generous sapphire case back, is simply staggering. As the single hand ticks away the minutes, the hour is marked by the only digit the right way up. The second the minute hand passes twelve o’clock, the previous hours swivels upside down and the next one along flips over to signify the progress of time.
Having the chance to hold and operate this watch, to study the complication in action, was an honour. Its function, given the ludicrous level of modification needed to make it possible, is flawless. In addition, the mother of pearl dial, available alongside a plain variety, has 60 components, each set by hand with the utmost care. I came away from the fair with Ballouard’s name (and the memory of his immense physique) buzzing in my memory.
When asked what I learned over the weekend, the name of this company will be the first past my lips.
Elegance: one word is all that is needed to sum-up the latest offerings from the evermore respected German company. How Nomos manage to produce such refined in-house movements, coupled with a minimalistic style that is clearly the work of a design genius and market their wares in such a reasonable price bracket is as unbelievable as their output is beguiling.
Of the watches on display, the Zürich Weltzeit model caught my eye. Disappointed as I was to find out there was a waiting list for this elegant piece, a second of it on the wrist was enough to know why. Nomos watches just work. There is no superfluous aspect to the design, nothing to clutter the piece or the wrist. Expertly machine cases, tantalisingly humble in design, make these watches comfortable and versatile. Such a watch is equally at home on a lazy Sunday as it is on the streets of Monaco. At once robust and sleek, Nomos is a brand whose name will continue to grow this side of the channel if their production continues in this vein.
The enigma that is Stepan Sarpaneva did not fail to impress me. His languid manner and cool dress sense (a tailored jacket and trainers) set him apart from some of his more eager contemporaries. But there is no need for this revered artisan to chat or coddle his fans – his watches speak for him.
It is hard by now for followers of this Finnish brand to be disappointed with its output. If you like one of the models, you will almost certainly like them all. The recurring moon face (reputedly based on Sarpaneva’s own) may well be Marmite, but for those who adore its bold simplicity, its presence cannot fail to please.
Sarpaneva produces clean watches, extolling the virtues of Nordic minimalism. The dials are uncluttered, often geometric canvases on which Sarpaneva’s personal playfulness abounds. The heavenly design of the case is a silhouette I imagine his competitors are kicking themselves for not conceiving first. It is simple but unique. It is everything a case should be. It does not immediately distract from the watch as a whole, but compliments the dial it frames. Basically a scalloped circle, how this case design remained unrealised until Sarpaneva produced it is beyond me. Now it is in existence it is hard to imagine any attempt at emulation not appearing a cheap imitation. The case alone is probably enough to warrant Sarpaneva the accolades he receives, but when fused with his trademark dial designs the combination in near unbeatable for its divinity.
It is fitting that the final brand to be reviewed here is home grown. Although not owning the last word on watchmaking, the still nascent brand might well have the next in the direction of English involvement in an increasingly international scene. Schofield has, in just two years, emerged from nothing to a level of visibility that is quite frankly inspiring. It is a testament to the robust and masculine design ethics, and the cleverly thought-out individualities of their products that the company has garnered so much positive press.
In the absence of a Hollywood ambassador, so often employed by mid-level companies like Omega and Tag Heuer to imbue their watches with character, it helps to have such an identifiable leader in the form of Giles Ellis and his mighty beard.
Ellis embodies the spirit of Schofield. He is not a faceless businessman or a reclusive designer – he is the type of man for whom the Schofield watches are made. It is refreshing and aspirational to see so much of a personality reflected in the final product, and for that product to be daring in its honesty and goals.
In conclusion, the event was one for the ages. A brief and illuminating conversation with QP’s editor James Gurney informed me of the progress the fair has made since its launch five years ago. There is a great deal of hope that the fair will continue to grow in size and visibility, with brands battling for exhibition space as the reputation of this wonderful event snowballs. The Saatchi gallery seems to understand exactly what they are hosting – this is not a sales event, or a pure marketing drive. No, this is an exhibition of art and the highest level of craftsmanship hosted by real life artisans. Over the days of Salon QP, there might not be another such gallery that can boast so much class under one roof. I urge you to visit next year. You will not be disappointed.