Horological heaven in Chelsea

 
Timothy Barber
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The fine watch extravaganza that is SalonQP opens tonight at the Saatchi Gallery. Timothy Barber picks his highlights

About a year ago, I was making my way through the Saatchi Gallery when a man walked past carrying in his hand a tiny metal gadget that resembled a beetle crossed with a miniature car engine. But this was the SalonQP watch exhibition, and this was indeed an avant-garde wristwatch – one so rare and bizarre, that had been seen by so few, that it had already taken on a mystique; in fact, even the CEOs of the two brands that collaborated on its creation, experimentalists MB&F and Urwerk, didn’t have models to hand. They were only making 12 anyway, each requiring hundreds of man-hours, and had appointed this lone fellow as their agent, liaising privately with buyers away from the normal retail channels. It was cutting-edge, behind-the-curtain stuff. Yet here it was, all £90,000 of it. “Take it, have a look,” the chap said, as a few others thronged around. “Try it on.”

That’s the sort of thing that can happen at SalonQP, an annual exhibition that showcases some of the most unusual, ingenious, finely-crafted and exhilaratingly high-end watches on the planet – and it opens tonight, running until Saturday. Hosted by the watch magazine QP, the show has grown in five years from a small, upstart concern for in-the-know enthusiasts to one of the pre-eminent events in Europe for that fast-growing tribe who consider watches their chosen object of geek-love. Last year, that amounted to over 6,000 people. There aren’t many situations in which you can get up close with such horological wonders, unless you happen to actually be a specialist collector with very deep pockets. To be in the vicinity of hundreds of the blighters is an opportunity too good to miss for anyone with even a passing interest in watches. Here are our picks from the show.

BRITISH INVASION
Look out for a handful of plucky independent players from Blighty

Pinion (pictured)
SalonQP has become the launch-pad for new Brit watch firms, and this is the latest, with a promising sleek military aesthetic.

Schofield
Inspired by lighthouses and the sea, Schofield’s Signalman is a ruggedly cool watch that suits the spirit of the times. New model launching at SalonQP.

Peter Roberts
An inspiration and guiding force to reams of watchmakers and brands over the years, Roberts will be unveiling his remarkable Grand Complication 5 Concentrique.

AVANT GARDE INVENTIONS
Ressence
Type 3 (pictured)
Designed by Belgian industrial design genius Benoit Mintiens, Ressence has completely rethought the watch dial with this futuristic masterpiece.

TAG Heuer
MikropendulumS
A concept watch that contains two tourbillons, one of them the fastest-rotating version ever made, replacing the traditional spring oscillator with a revolutionary magnetic system. Has to be seen in action to be believed.

MB&F
Legacy Machine 2
Retro-futurism has never looked so good, or been so groundbreaking, than in this bubble of a watch with dual flying balance-wheels.

FAMOUS NAMES, FABULOUS WATCHES
Jaeger-LeCoultre
Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon (pictured)
As JLC celebrates its 180th birthday, it presents one of its most complicated watches ever – only one person alive is able to make the ovoid hairspring in the gyroscopic tourbillon.

Piaget
Emperador Coussin Minute Repeater
Or is this the thinnest? Well, it’s the thinnest self-winding, an amazing achievement in its own right. Measuring rulers at the ready.

Vacheron Constantin
Patrimony Contemporaine Minute Repeater
The Geneva power house has just announced its creation of the world’s thinnest minute repeater. This will be its first public outing.

TALKS TO ATTEND
Talking Hands Live, with The Prodigal Live
The founders of luxury lifestyle and watches website TheProdigalGuide.com will be taking their popular YouTube watch review format, Talking Hands, to a live audience for the first time. Friday 8th November, 7pm

Independents Day
Four world-renowned independent players, Romain Gauthier, Stepan Sarpaneva, Richard Habring and Benoit Mintiens (Ressence) discuss going it alone in an industry of mega-brands.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Watch Collecting
Dealers and auctioneers give the lowdown on how to collect and what to be buying now.