New Times, New Styles: Welcome To Watches And Wonders 2021

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New Times, New Styles: Welcome To Watches And Wonders 2021

Words by Mr Chris Hall

7 April 2021

Mechanical watches have existed in some form since around 1490, according to the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). They first moved from our pockets to our wrists around the turn of the 20th century, and cemented their position there by the 1940s. And while watchmaking has always been associated with sophistication and the upper echelons of craftsmanship, the watch business has been first and foremost a luxury business for more than 40 years, as the industry reasserted itself in the face of digital technology between 1970 and 1990.

I mention all this because, as we pull back the curtain on another festival of watchmaking, in the form of Watches and Wonders 2021, it can sometimes help to have some context for these wonderful creations. That there is reliably and without fail something new and interesting to discover every year, when the watch as an item has been around for so very long, is a source of reassurance and, yes, even of wonder. We are as always delighted to be the first place for you to see – and shop – the latest watches from a selection of the world’s most highly-regarded watch brands.

Taking the helicopter view of the watch world, it’s obvious that in fact there’s far more than one or two new things. Within watches, there is a dazzling variety of styles, of approaches and of ambitions, and consequently we rarely talk of a single, monolithic trend sweeping the industry.

There are at any one time probably half a dozen dominant ideas guiding what we wear on our wrists, and the nature of making fine watches means these tend to play out over several years before mutating into the next. I’m going to attempt a whistle-stop tour of the ones I find most significant – across the entirety of Watches and Wonders 2021 – but just as every rule has its exceptions, so every trend can be countered by an example if you look hard enough.

That’s testament to the rich array of horological invention out there in the world, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

A return? Perhaps an odd place to start, as watches always have been, and always will be, elegant items. But this year, it’s possible to detect a renewed interest in dress watches, and increased attention being paid to case shapes, svelte and smooth forms, slinky bracelets and slender, detailed designs.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso marks its 90th anniversary, and celebrates with a handsome green-dialled Tribute reference, as well as a number of stunning complications and metiers d’art pieces. One thing that can be counted on is the significance of milestone years, and that’s evident in Vacheron Constantin’s decision to put the Historiques American 1921 front and centre in its centenary year. Watches don’t come more elegant than this.

Likewise, it looks set to be a bumper year for Cartier, which has updated the Ballon Bleu with a system of interchangeable straps, but also re-launches the Tank Must de Cartier with a series of vividly hued dials. Some are talking about a “New Roaring Twenties” – certainly here are three brands with Art Deco pedigree on fine form. Time will tell whether others will follow suit and revive long-lost designs from the era.

We’ve already namechecked several brands offering bold new dial colours. The proliferation of colour across the industry is part of a bigger movement that offers choice in every dimension. Case sizes, case materials, dial finishes and strap choices – wherever you look, choice abounds.

Green is still in the ascendant, as seen on IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN’s new Pilot’s Chronograph, as well the aforementioned Reverso, but keep an eye out for yellow ceramic at Hublot and a whole medley of colour in Zenith’s suitably-named Defy Spectrum range.

Montblanc brings a warm brown shade to its totemic 1858 Geosphere, while Panerai unveils one of the most exciting releases of the fair, a new Bronzo reference, only the fourth such edition ever produced, and for the first time housed in a 42mm case.

Elsewhere, honourable mention should go to Ressence’s Type 2N, the “N” stands for “night blue”, and A. Lange & Söhne’s commitment to sensational salmon-pink dials.

As well as a notable move to offer something for every watch buyer, be it blue, bronze or brown, there are also signs of a real boost in confidence for the more adventurous end of the watch design spectrum. The daring and the bold. Our in-app livestream on 14 April will take a look at watches guaranteed to make a statement, and there is no shortage of options to choose from.

It could apply to several watches we’ve already mentioned – especially those from Panerai or Montblanc – but the standout candidates are H. Moser & Cie’s Endeavour Tourbillon, newly equipped with hardstone dials for a fully flamboyant look, the newly-announced Hermès Timepieces H08 and the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Skeleton. The latter, of course, is par for the course from Roger Dubuis, but the fact we can even say that about such a radically skeletonised watch shows how far things have come in the last few years.

Fans of skeletonised openworked designs will find a lot to like at Ulysse Nardin and Zenith as well, and even some brands not known for their outspoken approach – A. Lange & Söhne springs to mind once more – are embracing louder, bolder colour combinations than ever.

When I say steel, I don’t just mean the metal wherever we find it, which is, of course, on watches from every brand under the sun. There is zero chance, for example, that Rolex and Tudor will fail to announce some seriously desirable stainless-steel watches, although at the time of writing nothing is known for certain. No, what I mean to say is that the luxury, stainless-steel bracelet watch as an idea initially defined by the Royal Oak, Nautilus, et al, and cascaded down via the Santos de Cartier, Vacheron Constantin Overseas, Piaget Polo, Chopard Alpine Eagle and countless others, continues to be the hottest, most bankable look in watchmaking.

Baume & Mercier has announced details of an entirely new collection, the Riviera, that sees it join the ranks of brands with something to offer in this space, and it’s a smart, well-thought-out entry. The 12-sided bezel flows neatly into the lines of the case and bracelet, and the semi-transparent sapphire dial is a contemporary touch. Piaget, meanwhile, builds on the success of the recent Polo Skeleton with a sporty, summery panda-dialled Polo Chronograph.