WatchTime – America’s no. 1 watch magazine – host an annual event showcasing popular luxury watch brands. The three-day event invites visitors to experience haute horlogerie in the metal, attend panels with industry experts, and connect with likeminded enthusiasts from all around the world. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending WatchTime New York 2023 at Gotham Hall. To kick things off, I’d like to share three highlights from Blancpain, Piaget, and Parmigiani Fleurier.
Blancpain’s Collection of Vintage Fifty Fathoms
This is a big year for Blancpain. It’s the 70th anniversary of the Fifty Fathoms: the brand’s most popular watch. To celebrate, they released three “acts” of the Fifty Fathoms: the 42mm stainless steel Act 1, the tool-focused 47mm ‘Tech Gombessa’ Act 2, and the Bronze-Gold Mil-Spec Act 3. Of course, these watches were on display at Watchtime New York, but my eyes were elsewhere. Next to the modern 70th anniversary watches, Blancpain had a wall of vintage Fifty Fathoms, spanning from 1953 (arguably the model’s birth year) through about the mid-1960s.
First, they had a Fifty Fathoms Rotomatic Incabloc from the mid-50s. This particular example has arabic numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12: a personal favorite dial variation of mine. As you can imagine, it’s a well-loved watch with plenty of dings, scratches, and patina. This model is the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms: the industry-defining icon that shaped the landscape of dive watches for decades to come.
Moving to the right, Blancpain exhibited an Aqua-Lung-signed Fifty Fathoms, also from the mid-50s. Aqua Lung, Jacques Cousteau’s diving equipment company, signed and retailed Fifty Fathoms watches around this time. Blancpain also exhibited a LIP-signed example, another retailer signature from the 1950s.
Next, Blancpain displayed a Mil-Spec I (late 50s-early 60s) with absolutely stunning dial patina. This watch, designed for military use, has a moisture indicator above six o’clock. As moisture gets into the case, the top half of the circle turns from white to yellow-orange. Once the top half is darker than the bottom half of the circle, “they’d just grab a new watch”, as explained to me by a Blancpain rep. It’s fascinating to think of these beloved timepieces as the interchangeable tools they once were.
Finally, Blancpain had a US Navy Mil-Spec from the early-mid 60s. This is an extremely rare watch. In fact, the US Navy Mil-Spec at Watchtime is one of the only examples I can find pictures of online (you can identify it by its damaged moisture indicator).
It was a pleasure to see these watches next to each other, not to mention next to their modern interpretations. I felt like I was at a Blancpain museum getting the full rundown of the brand’s history. Blancpain wasn’t the only brand at the show with vintage examples on display, but they certainly had the most comprehensive exhibit. I love to see brands celebrate their history not just with reissues, but by collecting vintage examples to carry on the legacy and context of these amazing watches.
Although one Piaget watch – the Altiplano Ultimate Concept – stood out to me in particular, I’d like to include their general presence as a highlight. From the moment I walked up, it was clear that Piaget had a different energy than the rest of the brands in the room. Like their watches, the people working at Piaget were fun, lighthearted, and didn’t take themselves too seriously. Of course, they were professional and wildly-knowledgeable, but they weren’t afraid to crack jokes and have a good time while sharing the watches.
I was able to try on the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch: a 2mm-thin openworked Altiplano with green accents. A few years ago, this was the thinnest mechanical watch in the world. Since then, it's been outdone by Bvlgari and Richard Mille. Still, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is thinner than most movements. As the Piaget rep accurately stated, the watch “feels like second skin”. In addition to this freakishly-thin mechanical marvel, I saw a few malachite dials that were absolutely stunning (see first picture). Piaget has a rich history of stone dials and I love to see them continue this legacy.
Parmigiani Tonda PF Skeleton in Rose Gold
Parmigiani Fleurier is a young brand with fascinating origins. In the 1970’s, during the quartz crisis, Michael Parmigiani opened a vintage and antique watch repair shop: a business (obviously) dependent on mechanical timepieces. Despite the climate of the watch industry at the time, Parmigiani’s shop was wildly successful, eventually becoming the go-to destination for the likes of Patek Philippe to have their antique pieces serviced for museums, private collections, etc. In 1996, Michael Parmigiani started his own watch brand – Parmigiani Fleurier. Since then, the brand has been pushing the envelope with unique designs and remarkable mechanics.
The Tonda PF, recently developed under CEO Guido Terreni, is somewhat of a revamp for Parmigiani. When Terreni joined in 2021, the brand promptly released the Tonda PF and positioned it as their flagship property. Its seemingly-integrated (but actually not integrated) design aligns with modern tastes while honoring the brand’s roots with its exquisite mechanics, dial design, and ‘PF’ logo at 12 o’clock. In 2022, Parmigiani released a skeletonized version of the Tonda PF. From the moment I saw this watch behind the glass at Watches and Wonders Geneva, I absolutely fell in love. Finally, at WatchTime New York, I was able to spend some hands-on time with the Tonda PF and try it on. The drape over the wrist, superlative finishing (case, movement, dial), and warm luster of the rose gold (so warm that it almost looks yellow) were enough to cement the Tonda PF Skeleton as a grail watch of mine – perhaps the grail watch.