Watches and Wonders 2023: Playful Timepieces

A refined approach to the expression of joy

In Geneva, Switzerland, the prestigious Watches and Wonders trade show has assembled nearly 50 brands and tens of thousands of attendees to gaze at, try on and asses the unique merits of luxury wristwatches and other time-telling devices. Though there are gemstones and precious metals aplenty, this is not a celebration of commerce (even though it may seem so from the outside) but an inspiring, impassioned immersion into heritage, craft, innovation and vision. Enthusiasm is as tangible as the timepieces, and guests within the city’s Palexpo convention center are eager to discuss the influx of stimulation.

It’s been a milestone week in the watch world at large; from the announcement of LVMH’s revival of iconic Swiss watch designer Gérald Genta‘s standalone, namesake brand (which had been folded into Bulgari) to the debut of Biver (and its astonishing Carillon Tourbillon chiming minute repeater) by the legendary horological executive Jean-Claude Biver and his son Pierre. But here at Watches and Wonders, cultural currents run through booths and unite brands—the most enjoyable of which is an indulgence in refined yet playful timepieces. Below, we highlight a diverse array of the imaginative pieces that we got to see.

Courtesy of Rolex/JVA Studios

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Celebration

Undeniably the talk of the town, Rolex exceeded expectation with a roster of convention defying and covetable releases. A nod to the five hues Rolex introduced for the Oyster Perpetual in 2020, this year’s already idolized Oyster Perpetual Celebration is adorned with an array of differently sized bubbles in cotton candy pink, turquoise, marigold, coral red and hunter green. More than speckles of color, these 51 bubbles represent a time-consuming lacquer layering process. A stainless steel timepiece, released in three sizes (31, 36 and 41mm), it’s nothing short of a celebration of joy.

Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo Secret Watch

It is thanks to enchanting vision and meticulous craftsmanship of Van Cleef & Arpels that the word “wonders” stands alongside “watches” in the trade show’s title—from their mesmerizing, magical automaton (one of which is featured as the hero image for this article) to the transportive decoration of their on site booth, which was dressed in thousands of Murano glass leaves. Some of their releases, like the Ludo Secret Watch, manage to be both. Two rose gold circles, adorned with pink sapphires, are the key to revealing the watch face on this fine jewelry masterpiece. When pushed toward one another, two panels on the bracelet lift above the guilloché white mother-of-pearl dial.

Courtesy of Joel von Allmen

Hermès Celestial Arceau Petite Lune

A sparkling cosmic scene composed of aventurine, diamonds, mother-of-pearl, aragonite and opal graces the face of the new Celestial Arceau Petite Lune by Hermès. The shimmering dial is as much an artisan achievement as it is a stirring artwork. Inside the white gold case (in the Arceau shape originally designed Henri d’Origny in 1978), there’s the Manufacture Hermès H1837 self-winding movement and the Petite Lune module—a demonstration of the distinguished brand’s commitment to fine watchmaking.

Courtesy of Chopard

Chopard Happy Sport 33

A swirl of gradient purple perfection atop iridescent mother-of-pearl, peppered with five free floating “dancing diamonds,” Chopard imbues their new Happy Sport 33 automatic with elegant exuberance. Crafted with Chopard’s exclusive Lucent Steel (composed of 80% recycled metal) and ethical rose gold, the 33mm case encloses the brand’s own automatic 09.01-C movement.

Courtesy of Roger Dubuis

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Blacklight Spin-Stone Monobalancier

As if the surprising, spindly design and luscious gradient components were not enough, the groundbreaking watch manufacture Roger Dubuis thoroughly coated the Excalibur Blacklight Spin-Stone Monobalancier with enough SuperLumiNova to yield transformative luminescence. Under normal conditions, the lab-grown sapphires reflect and reflect radiance; in darkness, they emanate it. The skeletonized 18K “EON” gold alloy timepiece beats thanks to the pioneering brand’s in-house RDDBEX0950 automatic movement (which adheres to the highest stands of the Poinçon de Genève).

Courtesy of Hautlence

Hautlence Vagabonde X Black Badger

Also different by day and night, the Vagabonde X Black Badger finds Swiss watch innovator Hautlence partnering with inventive industrial designer Black Badger (aka James Thompson). The latter utilized proprietary future-forward luminescent materials to accent the ’80s video game architecture of the watch and yield a striking three-dimensional glow. Inside the steel case (which is in a 16×9 rectangle format and features three different finishing styles), is the brand’s B30 in-house automatic movement.

Courtesy of Oris

Oris ProPilot X Kermit Edition

Oris not only features Kermit the Frog onto the dial of their new ProPilot X Kermit Edition (by way of a small picture window at six o’clock), but also looked to the much-loved Muppet’s vibrant green color for its dynamic dial (that, depending on light, oscillates between a bright yellow-green to a rich forest green). It’s a downright joyful collaboration—the first between the brand and Disney—and it adheres to Oris’ mission to bring a smile to wearers. Inside the 39mm titanium watch, Oris included their in-house developed calibre 400 automatic movement.

Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Precious Colours

An Art Deco masterpiece from Jaeger-LeCoultre‘s in-house Métiers Rares atelier, the Reverso One Precious Colours pairs miniature-painted grand feu enamel with diamond-set accents. It’s a playfully elegant expression of the brand’s artistry and technical capabilities, enveloped by the iconic Reverso case shape crafted from white gold. Within the wristwatch beats the hand-wound Calibre 846 (developed and produced entirely by Jaeger-LeCoultre).

Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor

Set within the exquisite new 9629 MC automatic skeleton movement of Cartier‘s updated Santos-Dumont wristwatch is an oscillating micro-rotor that features an enchanting miniature replica of the Demoiselle, the airplane designed by pilot and inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont for whom the beloved timepiece line is named. As it spins (and lends power to the wristwatch), it appears to fly over the globe. It’s a beautifully designed technical feature (which took two years to develop at the Cartier Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds) that contributes to narrative of an icon in the Cartier catalog.

Courtesy of Piaget

Piaget Limelight High Jewelry Watch

Though the playful swimming-pool blue color of the turquoise dial might be the first attribute to catch the eye, it’s the texture of the 18K rose gold bracelet on Piaget’s stunning new Limelight High Jewelry watch that is the most sensorial. To the touch, the gold cuff feels very much like fabric thanks to an ornate goldsmith engraving technique (where each line is done by hand) that masks the links and lends an organic, velvety flow.

Hero image of the Planétarium Automaton courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels