Rise of the Machines: The out-there SIHH concept watches that seem more Terminator than timepiece

Alex Doak

January’s Genevoise pageant of all things haute and horological saw a refreshingly sensible switch to the entry level.

But by contrast, the elite collector scene got a big fix of high-concept fireworks at the SIHH watch fair, thanks to a handful of concepts that seem more Terminator than timepiece.

Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision

£86,300, ulyssenardin.com

It’s over 17 years ago that Ulysse Nardin first launched the Freak, and not only does it still look and feel properly freaky (the linear arranged mechanics serve as the hours hand, spinning 360º on a carousel every 12 hours) but it has since served as a petri dish for everything that has become cutting-edge in 21st century Swiss watchmaking: silicon, photolithography, even synthetic diamond components. This year’s Vision is as future-forward as ever, suspending from its skeletonised boat hull of an upper bridge a generous silicon balance wheel, stabilised by welded (another patented first) nickel weights.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

£N/A, piaget.com

Piaget didn’t need to do anything to prove itself as ‘undisputed king of ultra-thin’, but this year’s Altiplano Ultimate Automatic – at 4.3mm, the slimmest-ever self-winding mechanical watch – is just 0.6mm thicker than its record-breaking cousin, the manually wound (i.e. rotor-free) 900P. Sure enough, Piaget’s R&D skunkworks has been on a four-year diet plan stricter than a ‘get abs fast’ Men’s Health cover story, coming up with this year’s biggest and best surprise: 2mm of wafer thin mechanical genius. The trick? Using the case as an all-encompassing container, movement and baseplate framework.

Richard Mille RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough

​£732,500, richardmille.com

The Argentinian star players may be glamorous and the sport itself a byword for the jetsetting luxury lifestyle, but there’s no way around it: polo is brutal. The flailing mallets and high-speed falls were enough to inspire one of watchmaking’s most iconic pieces as far back as the 30s (Jaeger-LeCoultre’s flip-case Reverso). Thanks to Richard Mille’s connection with Pablo Mac Donough, the going gets really tough this year, with its answer to the Buenos Aires player’s CV of wince-inducing injuries: a cable-suspended movement, shielded by a double-laminate of sapphire crystal.


Elementary, my dear watches

Cossetted in tasteful eggshell tones and furnished by free-flowing complimentary champagne bars, it’s safe to say that Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie is the world’s most luxurious trade fair. So much so that, despite the rather arcane nature of its wares compared to the high-octane occupants of the same exhibition space come March, some serious A-listers still take the time to break their Dry January vows and party with the watch set. Which, thanks to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest and most canny signing yet, included Britain’s own Benedict Cumberbatch.

There’s much hot air when it comes to ‘brand ambassadors’ and ‘shared DNA’, but it’s difficult to argue with this marriage – awkward Dr Strange product placements aside, both parties share undeniable, understated class. If the Sherlock star and J-LC had stuck around at Geneva Airport’s Palexpo conference centre for this week’s motor show, they’d probably be hanging out at the Aston Martin stand. jaeger-lecoultre.com

Related articles