The Watches You’ll Be Wearing Next
Having seen a dizzying array at the Geneva and Basel shows this year, these are the 16 timepieces that make us tick
Just as the movie industry debuts big-budget releases and interesting avant-garde work at annual fairs, so too does the watch world. Much rides on the output of January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and Baselworld, which took place at the end of March. But which watches are worthy of the plaudits and critical acclaim in 2017?
Where previously the focus has been on technical innovation, this year – more than in any in recent memory – it fell on design and aesthetics. Brands have sunk millions into developing higher performing movements over the past decade – now it seems the brakes are on. For consumers, that’s no bad thing. This year, the industry has created a raft of good looking, wrist-flattering watches. Now, it just has to hope we buy them.
Here is our tick list of the 16 watches that deserve closer inspection.
01. Ressence Type 1² “Squared”
It took a Belgian industrial designer to disrupt the way a mechanical watch not only works but also tells the time. Mr Benoît Mintiens’ Ressence watches do away with hands and instead convey information via a series of rotating discs that form a dial and then move independently of one another, yet in sequence, to show the seconds, minutes, hours and days of the week (they have to be seen in action before they fully make sense). This is the first of his creations to have a cushion-shaped case, a softer, more esoteric form that’s in vogue this year. Note there’s no crown – winding and setting the watch are done via a retractable lever secreted on the case back. Truly mesmerizing, it’s a reinvention of clockwork.
02. Cartier Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat
Cartier launched its Drive de Cartier last year, adding masculinity to the brand’s line-up. This year, the brand has slimmed down its cushion-shaped creation to make an Extra-Flat model, and the result is spectacular. Now measuring less than 7mm front to back, it slips onto the wrist and under a cuff very comfortably, making it an excellent dress watch. It’s available as a limited edition in white gold, but the pink gold version has a louche sophistication about it that will have sartorialists queuing around Place Vendôme. An in-house automatic movement completes the picture.
03. Bremont Supermarine S301
And so here we are again with a smaller diver’s watch. Bremont’s inventory is almost exclusively given over to pilot’s watches, with the Supermarine the standout exception. Previously, the only models available were pretty chunky, but this year, the Henley-based company has scaled it back and created this hugely successful 40mm S301 model. Being Bremont, the name comes from a Spitfire prototype, but this is very much a diver’s watch, with 300m of water resistance and a grippy unidirectional rotating bezel for safely timing dives. A new and welcome addition to the British brand’s line-up.
04. Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary Limited Edition
Is there a watch more storied than the Speedmaster? In the 1960s, Omega’s icon was certified by Nasa and went to the Moon – more than once – but on release in 1957 it was just a humble sports chronograph, made for a racing-mad public. For this 60th anniversary, Omega has released a limited-edition version based on that first model. The original drawings have been lost to time, so Omega created a 3D scan of a museum piece and replicated it, modernising it along the way. Astonishingly, 1957 was also the debut year of Omega’s Seamaster and Railmaster models. They too have been reproduced and the three are available as one of a limited-edition set of 500 dubbed “The Trilogy”, or each on their own as one of 3,557 pieces.
05. IWC Schaffhausen Ingénieur Automatic
Even people who follow the watch industry closely might have missed the fact that this spring, IWC Schaffhausen overhauled its Ingénieur collection. Born round in the 1950s and then reimagined in the 1970s as an angular, broad-shouldered watch that sat alongside the most iconic steel sports watches of the time (Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus also among them – all designed by Mr Gérald Genta), the Ingénieur has always been the tool watch in the IWC family. The rethink is round once again, like the original models, and begins with this 40mm steel Automatic model. On a leather strap, it has a formality to it; but on a stainless-steel bracelet, it feels more sports watch than tool watch – which is bang on trend for our times
06. Piaget Altiplano 60th Anniversary
There must have been something in the Swiss waters in 1957. The year that gave us Omega’s iconic trilogy also provided Longines’ Flagship collection and this, Piaget’s totemic ultra-thin watch, the Altiplano. Through the years, Piaget’s unstinting, obsessive quest for thinness in watchmaking has won it numerous records and set it apart as the skinny watchmaker nonpareil. The white-gold watch marking the 60th anniversary isn’t a record-breaker, but it is a slip of a thing, measuring 43mm across, but only 5.64mm front to back, despite the fact it houses an automatic movement with a swinging rotor. Even after all these years, astonishing.
07. Bell & Ross BR V1-92 Black Steel
The company that made its name making heavy-set watches for men who count themselves astronauts and bomb-disposal experts has also always made great-looking, vintage-inspired pilot’s watches. The core models in Bell & Ross’s Vintage line have been given a reboot this year for the first time in a decade, so that the watches are now smaller and flatter, in keeping with the whims of today’s watch buyers. This classic, steel-cased, black-dialled pilot’s watch is a modest 38.5mm across, and offers no more than time and date functions. A reasonably priced, no-nonsense timepiece to fit today’s mores.
08. Hublot Classic Fusion Italia Independent
Hublot’s fusion formula popularised the mix of metals – gold and rubber, for example – in fine watchmaking more than a decade ago. The project continues this year with a collection of pieces made in cahoots with Mr Lapo Elkann’s flamboyant Italia Independent operation and the House of Rubinacci, the elite Italian tailor. The results are predictably outlandish, bringing rich, colourful fabrics to both the dials and straps of Hublot’s thrusting Classic Fusion line of chronographs. The challenge for owners will be to pair – rather than match – these bold sartorial creations with their attire.
09. Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio – 42mm
One of the defining features of diver’s watches this year is that they have become noticeably smaller. For the first time in generations, we’ve seen high-performing underwater watches with 38mm and even 37mm cases, most of them replicas of historic pieces. It’s almost impossible to imagine a Panerai so small (partly because its own in-house calibres wouldn’t fit inside), but nonetheless, the Italianate brand is shrinking its diver’s watches, too. Enter the 42mm version of the steel Submersible, a watch that some collectors have already declared will take on the all-conquering Rolex Submariner – and win.
10. Montblanc 1858 Automatic
For a company that only started to make watches in 1997, Montblanc has come a long way. The collection today includes some astonishingly complicated pieces, some of which cost six figures and up. But some of the strongest stuff in the collection is at the lower end, which is where this bi-colour 1858 Automatic sits. Uncommonly for a bi-colour watch, the auburn-toned material isn’t gold, or even gold-plated – it’s bronze. Bronze ages naturally and, depending on how acidic your skin is, quite quickly, developing a patina over time that will be unique to its owner (which is easily reversed if you so wish with the aid of carefully applied lemon juice). The look bronze gives the watch is warm and confident, topped up by the cognac-coloured calfskin strap.
11. Zenith Elite Classic
It’s not a stretch to say that Zenith is to watchmaking what Savile Row is to menswear. It makes beautiful, classic watches in-house and appeals to elegant men and women who wear them as quiet statements of their good taste. The new 39mm Elite Classic is as good an example as any of this trait, doing little more than showing the time via three hands and a simple dial marked only by hour batons and a simple minute track. There are silver, grey and blue dial versions – under each is Zenith’s evergreen Elite ultra-thin automatic calibre. The steel case is pebble-shaped, or rounded, a small detail that makes it sit very naturally on the wrist.
11. Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Chronograph Perpetual Calendar
Very little of the noise in Geneva in January was made by Vacheron Constantin’s new grand complication, probably because it was overshadowed by the company’s own Celestia, a one-off watch with an almost unthinkable 23 complications. But on reflection, the Traditionelle deserves closer inspection and due commendation: it is one of the most beautiful watches ever made. The combination of a perpetual calendar (which will keep track of the date without need for adjustment, even in a leap year) and a chronograph is a watch collector favourite – Vacheron’s pink gold execution of it is about as close to perfection as it gets.
13. Oris Aquis Date
On the Oris stand at Baselworld this year, the company’s long-serving chairman Mr Ulrich Herzog was asked why he doesn’t charge more for his extremely well-priced watches. He could, but as he said in reply: “That wouldn’t be Oris.” The Aquis Date is what prompted the question. It’s a beautifully engineered, high-performance diver’s watch with 300m of water resistance; a uni-directional rotating bezel with a black, scratch-resistant, polished ceramic insert; and a Swiss-made automatic mechanical movement. That’s a lot of watch for the money. The temptation would be to think other watches make Oris look cheap. That would be wrong. Oris makes other watches look expensive.
14. Tudor Heritage Black Bay S&G
Tudor’s Heritage Black Bay has energised the company’s line-up in a way it might never have imagined. Versions with red, blue and black bezels have trickled into the collection over the past three years, and that, it seemed, would be that. But this year, Tudor found a new and surprisingly effective execution, mixing steel and yellow gold to create the “S&G” version. Aside from gold, its credentials are the same as last year’s models – a 41mm steel case water-resistant to 200m, inside which is an in-house automatic movement with a 70-hour power reserve. It looks excellent on the olive-gold Nato strap that comes as an option to both the bracelet and leather strap variants.
15. NOMOS Glashütte Club Datum Atlantik
If there’s been one criticism of NOMOS as the company’s star has risen (it’s a product of post-German reunification), it’s that its watches are often feel too small for some men and can look a little effeminate on the wrist. One of the few watches that bucked that trend was the Club sports watch, which served as the entry-level into the brand’s collection. This year, NOMOS has injected the Club with one of its higher-grade in-house calibres, the automatic DUW 5101, and upped its water-resistance to 200m as part of its new “Aqua” line, making it a more serious proposition. At 41.5mm in diameter and on an “Atlantik” blue fabric strap, it’s relaxed, informal and very wearable, given a playful, zesty twist by the light green and neon orange touches.
16. TAG Heuer Autavia Calibre Heuer 02
Hard now to think of a time when vintage-inspired motor sport watches weren’t part of the watch design vernacular, but the number of pieces penned through petrol-tinted glasses and launched this year does seem higher than in living memory. Arguably the most important of the new breed is TAG Heuer’s revived Autavia, a pimped up version of a piece first seen in the 1960s that’s forever associated with Mr Jochen Rindt, who died in 1970 and became Formula 1’s only posthumous world champion. The new watch has a three-counter “reverse panda” dial, vintage lume and an unusual bezel carrying the numbers one through 12. Inside it is the Heuer 02, TAG’s latest in-house automatic chronograph calibre, which comes with an impressive 75-hour power reserve – plenty in the tank.