If you’re a watch lover who dreams of meeting the most important makers in the high-end watch industry—from chief executives of leading brands to the brightest stars of the independent scene—do your best to emulate Gary Getz.
The Northern California-based collector spent a week in Geneva at the end of last month attending lunches, brunches, coffee dates, dinners, manufacture tours, keynote addresses, and countless watch presentations with fellow members of the NorCal Gang, all timed to the 2023 edition of Watches and Wonders.
From a kickoff dinner with Kari Voutilainen on his first Saturday in town to a visit to the Audemars Piguet Museum in Le Brassus on his final full day in Switzerland, Getz and friends left no watchmaking stone unturned (they even squeezed in a visit with legend Philippe Dufour).
We couldn’t resist asking Getz for his Geneva 2023 greatest hits so we could compare notes with the four other watch industry insiders with whom we spoke. There seemed to be some consensus among our group of five about the week’s best watch introductions. The list included Urwerk’s new UR-102 Reloaded, Parmigiani’s minimalist Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante, the pricey split-second chronograph from Petermann-Bédat and, of course, Rolex, whose colorful new Oyster Perpetual 41 with the “Celebration dial,” not to mention its off-catalog sibling, the Puzzle dial, made an impression on just about everyone.
“It was kind of like grandpa getting on the dance floor and we were all cheering for him,” William Massena, founder of the independent brand Massena LAB, said of the Rolex novelties. “It really shows you they’re trying to break out of the mold, letting their hair down. The end result is maybe a promise of more cool things to come. That was, for me the big takeaway: Rolex is doing something different.”
Below, we share unfiltered feedback from all the watch events in Geneva by way of the industry’s most astute observers.
“I was very impressed by the M.A.D. House [MB&F’s new atelier]. We had an afternoon and dinner with [MB&F founder] Max Büsser. He continues to be my favorite watchmaker and brand. He’s real—about a real as they get. They built an amazing atelier and they have an archive of their creations. Now there’s the chance to display them. Max has a trophy case where all his GPHG trophies are and it shows. The Perpetual in steel is unbelievable.
“I thought Parmigiani’s collection was focused, narrow and impressive. They have moved away from so many different references. I think Ulysse Nardin has done a great job of building around the Freak. DLC and carbon were everywhere. Even Rolex having a titanium Yacht-Master—that’s awesome.
“I was impressed by the fact that a lot of brands did not flood the market with new introductions. There was a lot of revisiting the past. A lot of redesigns, like the IWC Ingenieur. It used to be a clunky watch, but now it looks like a little Royal Oak.”
“The watch that stood out to me was the UR-102 Reloaded. I’m an unabashed fanboy of Urwerk. I have an Urwerk pen—I’m that level of nerd. This one is special. Not only does it go back to the origins of the brand, but it is also the most accessible of their watches, with 250 pieces—that’s a lot for Urwerk. I’m madly in love with the black DLC version of that watch.
“On the other side of the spectrum, I was in love with some of the Chopard references this year. The L.U.C 1860—this particular execution was a stunner and accompanied by a salmon dial. It’s elegance personified.
“Aside from that, two other pieces stood out: Zenith’s new Pilot flyback chronograph is just badass, and the steel version incorporates a hint of the rainbow El Primero, a cult classic. Seeing that—wink wink—come into the revised Pilot line was phenomenal. And the new Defy Skyline on black ceramic bracelet comes in under $15,000. It’s an incredible watch at a ludicrous price.
“One thing I saw which I found a little confounding: Some brands’ pricing is just getting absurd. I worry about this. Not only does it take an already expensive art form and make it more exclusive, but when you start asking six figures for watches and that wasn’t your brand’s bread and butter a few years ago, it’s very difficult for a client not to feel cynical about it. Like when you start seeing things doubling in price for a different form factor. Pricing in general is a head scratcher and a bit of a nerve in the community.
“I continue to be impressed by Hublot’s material innovation. A lot of brands are trying to double down on what makes them great. There’s not a lot of risk-taking but brands are trying to double down on who they are. Oris absolutely, between the ProPilot with Kermit, which demonstrates they don’t take themselves so seriously, while at the same time releasing a stupendous watch in the ProPilot Altimeter.
“You could say the exact same thing about 98% of the Rolex releases. Rolex is at its best when you look at the titanium Yacht-Master and the yellow gold GMT-Master on Jubilee bracelet with a smoked bezel—it’s just beautiful. I love that Rolex is starting to take more risk in the last five years.
“The Celebration dial I’d buy personally and while the Puzzle watch isn’t for me, I can’t think of any other time Rolex has done a concept-driven watch. That’s really cool. If you walk into a giant multi-brand boutique and it’s a yawn fest, you cannot get mad at Rolex for trying to change that.”
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William Massena, Founder of Massena LAB
“At Palexpo, I liked the Chopard stainless steel re-edition of the Alpine Eagle with the salmon dial. I thought IWC was too little, too late and very expensive. I ordered the Chopard for myself, but there was nothing else I wanted to buy. I thought Vacheron was very bland. And Lange was underwhelming at best and very expensive. Otherwise, I’m drawing a blank.
“Outside of the fair, I saw Petermann-Bédat. Those kids, they’re young—like in their 30s—and they created a watch four years ago called the Ref. 1967 and it’s a great watch. Now they came up with a new one, a split chronograph, for a quarter million dollars. I thought it was the watch of the show, honestly, and I know I’m not alone.
“Another brand I really liked was the exact opposite of Petermann-Bédat: Argon Watches. They were showing at the Beau Rivage. It’s made by two kids in their 20s. One is Guillaume Laidet, who restarted Nivada Grenchen. He partnered with Theo Auffret. They came together and made a joint venture called Argon Watches. It’s kind of like De Bethune meets Urwerk meets a little bit MB&F, and the watch is $1,800.
“They showed the prototype. They want to see if they get some orders. It’s going to launch on Kickstarter, maybe sometime in May. It’s kind of a spaceship design with a cool way of presenting time, fresh and new.”
“I like Urwerk. They kind of went back to the first watch they made 26 years ago and relaunched it. Not a re-edition, more like an improved watch. It’s called the 102. It’s kind of a return to the source. Something a new generation of collectors may not be familiar with, and it’s cheap for an Urwerk: 25 grand. I ordered it. That’s basically what I saw that I liked.”
Paul Altieri, Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches
“I think Rolex did a heck of a job. The titanium Yacht-Master was a showstopper. There’s going to be a 20-year waiting list to get one of those. I’m joking, but who knows how long it will take to get your hands on those at retail? We usually see them trickle in in late summer, but that one might take a little longer.
“Always a focus for us is what gets discontinued as opposed to what they launch. Rolex discontinued the Milgauss. It’s been around since the 1950s. That puts a little frenzy in the marketplace because you can’t get them anywhere. Secondhand prices typically jump 10 to 20 percent. And also the Daytona. They didn’t change it much—it’s hard to mess with perfection—but they retired the 116500 and there’s a lot of talk about that.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the Celebration dial, the Puzzle dial. Why would Rolex come out with these fancy-colored dials? The gold GMT—I don’t want to say it’s a bore, but the others are too interesting. Even the Perpetual 1908 is a handsome watch. The skeleton back on the Daytona, a lot of people are talking about that.”
Gary Getz, Northern California-based collector
“The sleeper watch that I liked was the Parmigiani Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante. It’s a usable complication and it’s easy to operate. I thought it was super, super clever. That was for me a real hit. And a watch I would potentially buy with my own money.
“I did also very much like the Lange Odysseus chronograph, a more mainstream choice. Like the original Odysseus, it’s obviously a Lange, and also, it’s an Odysseus. They could have taken the movement and slapped it into a sport case, but they kept the day date on the left and right of the dial and added a different kind of chronograph on top of it. It’s a bigger watch so it’s thicker but they also made it a bit wider so the proportions are still very good and it looks good on the wrist. The black dial is very much to my taste.
“The Petermann-Bédat rattrapante chronograph is just fantastic, and they’re really good guys. They started together at Lange before they went off on their own. And the watch is much better than the renderings. I have their first watch. I’m a fan.
“Sylvain Pinaud’s watch, the Origine, is much more beautiful in person. He won the innovation prize at the GPHG last fall. I almost bought it on the spot.
“In terms of surprises, I was somewhat surprised at the general spirit of optimism at the show. The world’s going to hell, there are wars and the stock market is down, but I talked to a number of dealers, brands and makers, and business seems to be pretty good. Outside the show, the emergence of all these young makers doing spectacular work. This will absolutely be seen as a golden age of watchmaking and we saw that.”