How do you like a 37mm dive watch inspired by a model from six decades ago? Or what about an updated version of a 1970s Gérald Genta design? Yeah, what about those? How about a totally new idea instead? A completely fresh design, something truly original, a watch that doesn’t look back, a timepiece that isn’t hindered by the constraints of its predecessor? Retro still has a tight grip on a lot of watch brands, and after a couple of days at Watches and Wonders 2023, I desperately wanted to see watches that were not constricted by retro guidelines. What I wanted to see, and what I did manage to find, were free-range, creative expressions of horology. Have a look at some Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines that I saw, plus one exclusive outsider.

There was a time when watch fans loved nothing more than to be dazzled by complications. Double tourbillons, gyroscopic tourbillons, revolving night skies on as many as three (!) watch faces… Even the watch equivalent of the one-armed bandit — the gaming machine that takes all your money — received a lot of love, admiration, and attention. But how times have changed. Everything is about the good ol’ days now. Several years ago, it went from, “Wow, did you see that triple tourbillon?” to “I’m really digging the beige lume on that 34mm re-edition field watch,” and we’re still on that page. In times of great unrest and uncertainty, people get nostalgic. The future is no longer perceived as an exciting adventure that people can’t wait to plunge into with their hearts and minds wide open.

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Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines: a legendary get-together facilitated by Roger Dubuis

Futuristic, divergent, and provocative watch creations are still around, but the presence of play-it-safe, vintage-inspired timepieces is overwhelming. The right vintage watch keeps its value (nine out of ten watch conversations seem to center around this topic), and a vintage-inspired watch keeps you mentally balanced. The comforting sight for sore eyes is a composition with key elements such as a small, slim case, touches of beige luminous material, and a smoky dial with an aged look. That’s the opposite of the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Huracan Sterrato MB (€75,500) above or the way more extreme Excalibur Knights of the Round Table (€625,000) below.

Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines

Neither of these watches has a smoky dial. Instead, the latter 45mm tourbillon has a dial/table made of sapphire crystal with Murano glass blocks surrounded by miniature knights. Using a magnifying glass is mandatory to get to know the 12 knights of King Arthur’s fellowship and appreciate how they were sculpted. Ten years ago, the first version of this mythological watch debuted, but it still is a bewildering creation and will be for years to come. By the way, who’s your favorite knight? I like Mordred. Not because he’s Arthur’s illegitimate, violent son, but because of the band Mordred.

Watches and Wonders

The contemporary baroque Chronoswiss Delphis Oracle

Earlier this year, Chronoswiss founder Gerd-Rüdiger Lang (1943–2023) passed away. Lang sold his watch brand to Oliver and Eva Ebstein in 2012, and the relaunch of the Delphis during Watches and Wonders 2023 is a coincidence. But it’s also a fitting and beautiful one. You could call it karma, I guess. Anyway, the classic Delphis is back.

Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines

The new 42mm pink gold Delphis Oracle (CHF 38,000) displays the jumping hours digitally, while a retrograde hand indicates the minutes. This happens both within and above an enameled, curved, solid gold guilloché dial. The hands look sharp and distinctly modern, while the blue guilloché dial looks very traditional. The result is a contemporary baroque watch in a characteristic Chronoswiss case design.

Watches and Wonders

The shiny tech look of the Hublot Big Bang Integrated Tourbillon Carbon

Texalium — do you know what that is? I didn’t, so I looked it up. Luckily, the carbon experts from Carbon Fiber Gear in Maryland, USA know exactly what it is. They say that Texalium is “a fiberglass-based fabric that has a proprietary finish and a thin coating of aluminum on the surface.” As you can see, Hublot used Texalium to create a look that mixes a metallic hue with the distinct weave of carbon. The Texalium is layered on top of the case and bracelet, which are made of black forged carbon. The Big Bang Integrated Tourbillon Carbon (€132,000) is a limited edition of 50 pieces.

Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines

Louis Moinet, fly me to the Moon

What can I tell you? Well, that the Louis Moinet Jules Verne “To the Moon” is yet another exuberantly poetic creation from Jean-Marie Schaller and his team. There’s a tourbillon at 6 o’clock that acts as a solid and serious Haute Horlogerie foundation. As you would expect, the colors and decorations on the dial are outgoing yet elegant and act as celebratory ornaments. Louis Moinet doesn’t have wallflowers in its collection, and this Jules Verne “To the Moon” (price on request) is no exception — it’s actually nowhere to be found on the brand’s website.

Strong colors, intricate decorations, and original approaches to horology are Louis Moinet’s strong points. There’s also an astronomical fascination. This small central dial of the 40mm watch is made from real Moon rock. Even better, interested buyers can choose their favorite piece of stone from eight differently patterned lunar fragments. Well, if the watch doesn’t go to the Moon, let the Moon come to the watch. In the end, it is a proper Moon watch.

Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines

The Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE is an homage to the first really weird watch

Twenty-two years ago, the Ulysse Nardin Freak appeared on the horological scene. In retrospect, the watch’s appearance could very well have marked the start of the Nouvelle Horlogerie movement that gave us brands like MB&F, Urwerk, and so on. Anyway, thanks to the adventurous spirit of then-owner Rolf Schnyder and the unconventional, innovative, and original mind of genius master watchmaker Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, the Freak came to life. It was a watch with no dial, no hands, and no crown.

Watches and Wonders

The new 44mm Freak ONE doesn’t have those traditional elements either. But what it does have inside its black DLC-coated titanium case with a rose gold bezel is the caliber UN-240. That’s an automatic movement with a 72-hour power reserve, and believe me, the fun doesn’t stop there. The freakishly stunning flying carousel movement rotates on its axis, showing off an oversized silicon balance wheel and hairspring. Furthermore, the escapement is treated with DIAMonSIL, which eliminates the need for lubrication and increases durability. The Freak ONE (€69,600) is Ulysse Nardin’s flagship watch and leads the brand on its newfound independent course.

outrageous time machines

The ultimate father-and-son watch is the Carillon Tourbillon Biver

JCB is not a rap crew out of Atlanta, Georgia. Instead, it’s a new watch brand out of Givrins in the Swiss canton of Vaud. JCB stands for Jean-Claude Biver, and he’s the ultimate watch insider who was, actually, a Watches and Wonders outsider. The Sunday before the big show kicked off, Nacho and I visited the launch of the watch brand powered by both father Jean-Claude (73) and son Pierre (22). The elder Biver told the crowd that after his retirement, he started missing the watch world so much and his passion got so dangerously bottled up that he had no choice but to start a watch brand. Well, that brand sees the name Biver on the dial full-frontal. It made me try to recall a watch brand that has the name of a marketer on the dial instead of a watchmaker. I couldn’t think of one. Can you?

A supercharged bracelet

Anyway, the Carillon Tourbillon Biver is a 42mm automatic watch with a minute repeater that strikes the time on three gongs. It’s also a tourbillon, and it has a starting price of €520,000 / US$550,000. Silver obsidian or blue sodalite stones grace the curved dials, and there’s also the choice of an open-worked version. On top of that, it comes in your choice of pink gold, titanium, or a two-tone (titanium with pink gold) version. The most striking and polarizing feature is the five-row bracelet, which looks edgy and modern. It also looks like a supercharged 2000s Blancpain Villeret bracelet for some reason. The watch is a mix of traditional horology (complications and quality of finishing) and modern design touches, and it has a price that’s aimed at the future.

The half-a-million-dollar Biver father-and-son watch has a head start on becoming the kind of ultra-rare, multi-million-dollar timepiece that collectors fight over. Will it? What do you think? Let me know in the comments. And also tell me what you think of Watches and Wonders’ most outrageous time machines.

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