Business News: Switzerland’s Most Important Watch Fair Cancelled for 2021

Watches & Wonders will be online, again.

Originally scheduled for the first week of April next year, Watches & Wonders 2021 was to have taken place at Palexpo, the convention hall near Geneva’s airport that’s long been host to Geneva’s major trade fairs. And it would have been a massive event, with up to 50 brands taking part.

With the demise of Baselworld earlier this year, Watches & Wonders (W&W) was on track to become the most important watch fair in Switzerland. Formerly known as SIHH, Watches & Wonders would have counted most of the industry’s leading brands as exhibitors. Its participants would have included all of the brands owned by Swiss luxury group Richemont, including Cartier, A. Lange & Söhne, and IWC, industry giants Rolex and Patek Philippe, as well as privately-held brands like Chanel and Chopard.

A scene from SIHH 2019, seeming like a lifetime ago

But due to the ongoing pandemic, the physical fair will not take place, and the participating brands will (mostly) launch their new wares online. A significant number of new watches will be unveiled during the planned dates of the fair – April 7 to 13, 2021 – but most of the brands will no doubt be unveiling additional watches throughout the year, as they have done in 2020.

The organisers of W&W are optimistic about the year after, promising the “2022 edition will be the biggest watch event ever held in Geneva”, with even more brands coming on board.

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Business News: Singapore Retailer Cortina Watch Acquires Rival Sincere

Consolidation in Southeast Asia.

Singapore-based Cortina Holdings has just announced it is buying fellow retailer Sincere Watch for S$84.5 million in cash, confirming rumours that first surfaced in July.

A retailer of both Patek Philippe and Rolex – the most important brands for any watch retailer of scale – Cortina is listed on the Singapore stock exchange and one of the largest players in the region, with stores in six countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan. With the acquisition of privately-held Sincere, Cortina will double its retail network, while clinching Sincere’s crown jewel, the rights to distribute Franck Muller in 12 Asian countries, which accounts for over half of Sincere’s sales.

Besides Franck Muller – whose Master Banker Asia Edition is pictured above – Sincere is also a retailer of high-end watchmakers like A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, and Greubel Forsey, all of which Cortina does not have in its stable of brands. That said, it is not uncommon for watch brands to end distribution or retail agreements upon a change in ownership.

The expansive Patek Philippe boutique operated by Cortina in Singapore’s ION Orchard mall

The deal excludes Sincere’s Hong Kong arm, which will remain with its current owner, Hong Kong businesswoman Pollyanna Chu, whose fortune comes from financial services and gaming. It will be the fourth time Sincere has changed hands since 2007 when it was sold for a record S$530 million to Hong Kong-based Peace Mark.

A conglomerate involved in watch retail and manufacturing – it once owned watch brand Milus and movement maker Soprod – Peace Mark went bust shortly after taking over Sincere. Its liquidators then sold Sincere for S$112.7 million to a consortium led by LVMH venture-capital arm L Capital, which in turn sold it to Ms Chu in 2012 for an undisclosed sum, believed to be in the region of S$230 million.


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H. Moser & Cie. Introduces the Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Funky Blue

Now in graduated, metallic blue.

Unveiled just earlier this year, the H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Flyback Chronograph is compelling inside and out – an uncommon, cushion-shaped “bullhead” case with an integrated bracelet, containing the ingenious, well-regarded Agenhor AgenGraphe movement.

A limited run of just 100 watches, the launch-edition Streamliner only recently clinched the Chronograph Watch Prize at this year’s Grand Prix de Horlogerie de Geneve, making it the perfect time to launch of the regular-production variant, the Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Funky Blue.

Initial thoughts

Original and appealing in its design, the Streamliner was well-received commercially and critically, making the regular-production version inevitable. Almost identical to the original version, the new version differs only in its dial, which is a metallic blue with a fashionable smoked finish. Notably, the blue dial has a radial, brushed finish, instead of the vertical, linear brushing of the launch edition.

While the blue dial is quintessential Moser in colour and style, it isn’t as unique as the pale grey dial on the launch edition – which is a good thing, as it helps differentiate the limited-edition original. That said, the blue dial is attractive – and more striking – with the graduated, fume finish giving it more depth than the typical integrated-bracelet sports watch.

The Streamliner chronograph has a price tag of US$43,900 – a sizeable number that’s justifiable because the watch stands out from the many integrated-bracelet sports watches in both style and mechanics. Its design isn’t derivative, as many of its competitors are, while the movement is innovative and ingenious.

It is about 10% more expensive than the original edition – probably because the launch edition sold out – so this new version is still a value proposition, but not quite as good as before.

The AgenGraphe

While its case and bracelet are original, the Streamliner Chronograph is also distinctive because of its dial that is minimalist in Moser’s typical style. Credit for that goes to the Agenhor movement within, which is constructed to have all of its chronograph indicators on the same central axis, eliminating the conventional counters across the dial.

But the unconventional thinking in the movement goes beyond the dial. Its entire construction, from the clutch down to regulator, is truly inventive.

Its clutch, for instance, is a patented design known as the AgenClutch – a horizontal clutch that prevents “stutter” of the seconds hand by doing away with the teeth of the chronograph wheel. Instead the wheels have smooth edges, with rotational movement is transferred via contact friction. To prevent slipping of the wheels when subject to shock, additional “security gears” that have teeth are installed underneath and co-axial with the smooth wheels. In short, the AgenClutch manages to combine the best features of the horizontal and vertical clutches, namely an open layout and precise engagement.

Key specs and price

H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Chronograph Funky Blue
Ref. 6902-1201

Diameter: 42.3 mm
Height: 14.2 mm
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 120 m

Movement: HMC 902 (developed by Agenhor)
Functions: Hours, minutes, and flyback chronograph
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 54 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet

Limited edition: Regular production 
 At H. Moser & Cie. retailers from December 2020 onwards
Price: US$43,900

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Insight: High-Tech LIGA Within the Rolex Daytona Cal. 4130

Incremental improvements for exceptional longevity.

In-house movements are common in modern watchmaking, and practically the norm at the biggest brands. But new movements are usually developed to replace existing calibres, making 21st century movements with lifespans of decades fairly uncommon. Such mechanical longevity, on the other hand, is only possible with consistently implementing incremental but significant technical upgrades.

Perhaps more than others, Rolex has perfected the art of carefully engineered movements that remain in production for many, many years thanks to incremental upgrades. The sheer scale of Rolex as a manufacture doubtlessly plays a big role in making that possible.

Producing close to a million watches a year, according to estimates by banks Vontobel and Morgan Stanley – and owning almost all of its distribution and after-sales service network – Rolex certainly possesses tremendous data on the performance of its movements over prolonged, real-world use. Such information would be invaluable boosting the performance of its movements as well as extending the longevity of the calibre designs.

The Cosmograph calibre

One such long-lived movement is the cal. 4130 that debuted inside the Cosmograph Daytona in 2000. Over its two decade production run, the chronograph calibre – featuring both a column wheel and vertical clutch – has undergone four key technical updates according to Rolex, all of which are found in the cal. 4130s produced today.

[And any Daytona with earlier versions of the cal. 4130 returned for servicing may have the upgrades swapped in, if the part in question “doesn’t meet Rolex requirements” says Rolex.]

The cal. 4130

One of the more recent upgrades to the movement is an unusual wheel that drives the chronograph seconds. Hidden under the automatic-winding bridge, the wheel is not visible to anyone except for the watchmaker, but it is intriguing. Featuring finely-skeletonised teeth, the wheel has a curious, almost organic appearance.

While such skeletonised wheels are not unique to Rolex – the technology used to fabricate it is available to most of the watch industry – the wheel in the cal. 4130 is especially intricate, with each tooth made of three parts. On a broader level, it is also worth delving into why such wheels are increasingly found in watches, despite traditional gear teeth having been eminently functional for centuries.

The curious wheel (right)

High tech, micro sized 

The chronograph seconds wheel in the cal. 4130 has individual teeth made up of cantilevered springs, which flex inwards when the wheel meshes. Each of the sprung teeth fill any possible gaps between the meshing teeth of the wheels, ensuring full surface contact with no play or backlash during the chronograph’s operation.

Its incredible shape is the product of a modern fabrication technique known as micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). Unavailable until fairly recently in terms of watchmaking history, MEMS developed alongside the evolution of semiconductor technology starting in the 1960s.

As the name suggests, MEMS is the study of microscopic mechanical and electronic components, with the micro-mechanical aspect being most relevant in watchmaking. The MEMS process known as LIGA, the German acronym for Lithographie, Galvanoformung, Abformung (“lithography, electroplating, moulding”) is responsible for the intricate wheel in the cal. 4130.

An additive fabrication process, LIGA grows metallic parts galvanically on a disc within tiny resin moulds. Starting with a precise mould, equally precise metallic parts with complex planar geometries can be formed, several dozen at a time, making the process perfect for manufacturing gears, which are flat, planar, and required in sizeable numbers.

The process starts with the production of a precise mask of the required parts (each mask will result in several dozen identical parts). Laid on top of a thin layer of resin on a disc, the mask is then exposed to either X-rays or ultraviolet light. UV exposure is more practical and common when producing watch parts, which is why the process is commonly known as UV-LIGA in horology.

Creating the individual resin moulds with UV light. Image – Mimotec

The mask acts as a stencil for the UV light, which penetrates the portions not covered by the mask, hardening the exposed resin via polymerisation. The remaining, soft resin is then dissolved with a solvent, leaving only the hardened resin as a miniature mould of the desired part.

Then the mould is immersed in a galvanic bath – a chemical mixture used for electroplating – and metal, often a nickel alloy, is deposited into the cavities of the mould. Layer of metal are plating into the cavities, building up the parts. Once complete, the disc is lapped, or polished, to reduce its height to the desired thickness. Finally, the resin mould is dissolved, leaving the finished metal components with perfect geometries and tolerances, meaning no hand finishing or adjustment is needed.

[A video of the process courtesy of UV-LIGA specialist Mimotec is instructive and can be found here.]

A surprisingly complex process for tiny components, UV-LIGA’s ability to create impressively intricate micro structures is well illustrated by the seconds wheel of the cal. 4130. Components with this level of intricacy are impossible to fabricate with traditional manufacturing processes like stamping or wire erosion.

Consequently, wheels with built-in springs have only been realised in recent years in watchmaking, thanks to UV-LIGA and MEMS. While such specialised wheels are found in movements beyond the cal. 4130, it is particularly useful in the cal. 4130, which is a chronograph movement with an inventive construction.

Vertical clutches

The UV-LIGA wheel in the cal. 4130 is the chronograph seconds wheel – making one revolution a minute when the chronograph is engaged.

With the chronograph seconds hand mounted on the wheel, the wheel has to function in a precise manner, such that the chronograph seconds hand starts, travels, and halts smoothly, in order to facilitate spot-on reading of the elapsed seconds. There cannot be any any “play” or backlash in the motion of the wheel, which would result in stutter or misalignment of the seconds hand against the markers on the dial.

The UV-LIGA seconds wheel (bottom left), and the vertical clutch just above it

Alignment and motion of the seconds hand is routinely cited as a key reason for having vertical clutch in a chronograph. Essentially a mechanism that engages in order to transmit power from the base movement to the chronograph mechanism, the vertical clutch eliminates seconds hand “stutter”, a crucial advantage over its predecessor, the horizontal clutch.

As the name indicates, the horizontal clutch meshes two gears laterally on the same plane, which may cause the teeth of one or both gears to slip when meshing, causing the chronograph seconds hand to jerk forward, or “stutter”, when the chronograph is started.

The vertical clutch, on the other hand, functions much like the clutch of manual transmission in a car. It consists of two stacked wheels that can rotate independently from one another. One wheel is continuously driven by the movement, while the other powers the chronograph seconds hand and is stationary when not in use.

The operation of the vertical clutch is straightforward: pressing the chronograph start button causes pincers to release the spring-loaded clutch, resulting in the spring pressing the clutch downwards. The clutch then contacts the face of the continuously-driven wheel, and friction of the mating faces causes both to rotate together. Because the chronograph seconds wheel is part of the clutch, the seconds hand starts turning as well – the chronograph is in operation.

A vital step in that process is the engagement of the two faces. Since no teeth mesh when it starts or stops – the two are seamlessly coupled and then driven by friction – there is no “stutter” during the engagement process.

The vertical clutch of the cal. 4130 with the gilded chronograph seconds wheel on top, and the continuously-driven wheel below. Photo – Rolex/Joël von Allmen

Vertical-clutch configurations

Why then, does the cal. 4130 require the stutter-eliminating UV-LIGA wheel if a vertical clutch chronograph doesn’t suffer from the problem in the first place?

The answer lies in the novel construction of the cal. 4130. Despite being a chronograph, the timekeeping going train of the cal. 4130 is arranged as it would be in a conventional movement. Its subsidiary seconds is at six o’clock and directly driven by the going train. This is achieved by having the fourth wheel – which is connected to the constant seconds hand and rotates once every 60 seconds – located exactly under the the sub-seconds register.

In contrast, most vertical-clutch chronographs have the fourth wheel right in the centre of the movement, which is the de facto standard since the fourth wheel makes one revolution a minute, allowing it to directly drive the seconds hand. In such constructions, the fourth wheel is integrated into the vertical clutch assembly.

Though common, this configuration comes with a caveat: if a subsidiary seconds is needed, as is convention with chronographs, then additional gearing is needed to relocate the seconds from the centre to a sub-dial. In short, the simpler chronograph mechanism is accompanied by the extra complexity of the indirect seconds.

The designers of the cal. 4130 took the decision to position the fourth wheel at six o’clock in order to have a directly-driven subsidiary seconds. But at the same time, the chronograph seconds is indirectly driven, since the fourth wheel is far from the centre of the movement.

One possible reason behind the unconventional layout was efficient use of space. Placing the fourth wheel at six o’clock leaves the central portion of the movement free for the chronograph minutes and automatic winding mechanism, resulting in a calibre that’s as slim and compact as possible.

The construction of the cal. 4130 has its vertical clutch driven indirectly via a secondary gear train sitting just above the fourth wheel. The vertical clutch, in turn, drives the chronograph seconds wheel when it is engaged.

These additional wheels can result in play between the teeth when they mesh, which may result in “stutter” of the chronograph seconds hand – which is where the UV-LIGA wheel steps in to save the day. The wheel makes it possible to have a secondary going train and an indirect seconds with zero “stutter”, which would have been unimaginable without UV-LIGA parts.

Another upside of the UV-LIGA wheel is doing away with the tensioner spring for the chronograph seconds wheel. Traditionally installed to keep a modest amount of force on the wheel, the tensioner spring prevents “flutter” or jerking, caused by backlash when the wheel rotates. While the tensioner spring allows for crisp motion of the wheels and hands, it generates friction, creating wear and energy loss.

Since UV-LIGA wheels eliminate backlash, the tensioner spring is unnecessary, which then reduces the frictional load on the movement and unnecessary wear under the wheels. That said, UV-LIGA wheels do operate with marginally greater friction due to the tighter meshing of the sprung, skeletonised teeth. But the increase in friction is minuscule, and does not impact the power reserve of the movement.

Progressive innovation

Invisible, incremental upgrades like the UV-LIGA wheel are testament to Rolex’s commitment to the longevity of its movements that need only the occasional nip and tuck as new technology emerges to make them better. Rolex excels at this, in part due to the large pool of watches sold and serviced, as well as the company’s institutional culture of planning for the very, very long term.

As many of its peers roll out new movements on a regular basis, it is almost a certainty that Rolex has rolled out similar upgrades across all its longstanding movements, albeit in the discreet manner that is a hallmark of the company. As to why incremental upgrades instead of an entirely new calibre, the age-old adage comes to mind: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?


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Longines Introduces the Legend Diver Watch in Bronze

Bronze case and no date.

For watch enthusiasts, Longines’ forte is its Heritage collection, a series of well-priced vintage remakes that began with the Legend Diver of 2007. Based on the ref. 7042 of 1960s, which had a distinctive, twin-crown  “Super Compressor” case, the Legend Diver is a bestseller thanks to its convincingly retro style. And now Longines has just unveiled the Legend Diver Watch in bronze, which has a new case material for the model, but does away with the date function long panned by aficionados.

Initial thoughts

Bronze is a popular case material for dive watches that was once exotic but is now a bit too faddish, being found on watches priced as low as a few hundred dollars. Its desirability comes from its unusual, evolving appearance from the patina that develops on its surface as its oxidises.

A Legend Diver in bronze is a natural move – and the watch looks good, while retaining the appealing affordability typical of Longines.

While the material is the highlight, the dial has been tweaked to match the bronze case. Most notable is the elimination of the date display found on the standard, steel Legend Diver but not on the original, which brings the design of the bronze model closer to the vintage model. At the same time, the dial has a smoked, green finish that matches the colour of bronze well.

With a price tag of US$3,000, the bronze Legend Diver is about 30% more expensive than its steel counterpart. It’s a modest and fair premium, considering both the case material and dial redesign. Even though the material and colour are clearly mark this out as a modern watch, the design is still attractively retro.

Bronze case

Unlike most remakes that are upsized for modern tastes, the Legend Diver is identical to the original in size, with a case that’s a relatively large 42 mm in diameter. Previously available only in steel, it’s been offered in bronze for the first time, although Longines has made other Heritage models in bronze recently, namely the Avigation Type A-7.

An alloy of copper and tin, bronze is popular because of its varying appearance that goes from bright and rosy when new to a muted, aged look as a patina develops on its surface. Formed as the alloy reacts with air and moisture, the patina is an oxide later that protects the metal from further oxidisation.

But because bronze can cause irritation with prolonged contact on skin, all bronze watches have case backs in hypoallergenic metals, explaining why the case back of the new Legend Diver is titanium.

Under the back is the L888.5, which is an ETA A31.L11. It’s essentially an ETA 2892 that’s been upgraded with a silicon hairspring and other technical improvements, upping the power reserve to 64 hours, instead of the 42 hours or so for the stock 2892.

Key facts and price

Longines Legend Diver Watch in Bronze
Ref. L3.774.1.50.2

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Bronze with titanium case back
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 300 m

Movement: L888.5
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Frequency: 25,200 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 64 hours

Strap: Leather; and addition nylon strap

Availability: From December at Longines’ online store, boutiques, and authorised retailers

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