Recognised for its expertise and the quality of its products, Rolex stays true to the notion of perpetual excellence instilled by its founder, Hans Wilsdorf. This led to a slew of watchmaking innovations. Such as the Perpetual 1908, a masterpiece that’s inspired by the iconic Oyster Perpetual from 1931.

With its legacy ever in the rear-view mirror, the 1908 is a testimony of historic codes with ground-breaking watchmaking innovations. “1908” is the given name of the model. It's an homage to the year Wilsdorf devised the name “Rolex” to sign his creations and registered the brand in Switzerland. It is also a promise of unparalleled performance. Imagine the Oyster Perpetual timepiece but in a slimmer, sleeker design that’s replete with the brand’s signature style.

Crafted in 18k yellow or white gold, the slim case aggrandises a transparent back; a window into its beating heart—the movement finishings within. The innovative calibre 7140 is what powers the watch. A brand-new self-winding movement that is meticulously developed and manufactured by the Swiss Manufacture’s engineers. With two centre hands and a small seconds display, the calibre 7140 is a pinnacle of innovation, backed by five patent applications.

The Perpetual 1908 caseback reveals the calibre 7140 movement.

Caged within the sleek watch case is the essence of Rolex’s engineering prowess: the innovation of the oscillator, the Chronergy escapement, the Syloxi hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers, just to name a few. The 1908 offers a substantial power reserve. Approximately 66 hours of chronometric performance (–2/+2 seconds per day) to keep it ticking without worry of pause.

Distinct Arabic numerals 3, 9 and 12, along with a small seconds subdial at six o’clock beautifully reinterprets the 1931 Oyster Perpetual style. It paints the timepiece in a contemporary allure.

The 1908 is fitted on an alligator strap that comes in either matte brown or matte black. This elegant strap with a green calfskin lining and tone-on-tone stitching, is individually tailored for the new watch. It is equipped with a Dualclasp, a double folding clasp, in 18 ct yellow or white gold. Thanks to its carefully designed shape, the Dualclasp always sits centred on the wrist.

The double folding dualclasp.

The 1908 is a timepiece, yes. But it is also a milestone, a testament of a brand’s storied mastery and its perpetual quest for excellence. 

SWATCH

Following in the footsteps of many a cinematic franchise (Marvel StudiosFast and Furious, Ice Age etc.), the Blancpain x Swatch collaboration has gone galactic after covering all ground – or rather, oceans – on planet Earth.

First stop: the moon.

Introducing... the Blancpain x Swatch Scuba Fifty Fathoms 'Ocean of Storms'.

'Ocean of Storms' is Swatch's sixth take on a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms watch – a seminal Swiss-made diving watch line that emerged in the mid-fifties – and the first to release after the September launch of the initial pack based on Earth's five oceans.

It's named after our moon's largest 'sea' (that's space nerd talk for those dark, flat water-less plains on its surface) which spans more than – now, get this – 2,500 kilometres.

For the sake of your wrist, the timepiece itself is of a much more humble size: 42.33mm in diameter and 14.4mm thick.

It's almost completely pitch black, a design choice inspired by the New Moon of its release date, 11.01.24. So too is the provided NATO strap that's crafted from recycled fishing nets.

Thus, from the front, it's a rather sensible-looking accessory; the rear is where things get slightly more extraterrestrial.

SWATCH

Here, an exhibition caseback peers upon the timepiece's inner workings which are tricked out with a realistic moon graphic.

And along with the watch's moniker, the sapphire glass is adorned with a digital print of an Okenia Luna.

Hold up. A what now? An Okenia Luna: a very-alien-looking species of nudibranch (or sea snail) discoverable in the seas around Peru and Chile.

It's a decorative addition which only makes sense in the context of the entire collection, so allow us to give you some insight.

SWATCH

Each of the original five Blancpain x Swatch watches is embellished with a unique nudibranch chosen because it resides in the timepiece's eponymous ocean.

Atlantic (the blue one) is paired with the Glaucus Atlanticus; Arctic (the orange one), the Dendronotus Frondosus; Antarctic (the white-ish one), the Tritoniella Belli; Indian (the green one), the Nembrotha Kubaryana; and Pacific (the black and yellow one) the Chromodoris Kuiteri.

It's safe to assume that the Earthbound Okenia Luna was selected for this release because – as we all know – 'luna' is the lovely sounding Latin word for 'moon'.

Personally, we respect the commitment to consistency.

SWATCH

Other noteworthy details include the inscribed inspirational mottos (e.g. 'protect what you love' and 'licence to explore') that circle the caseback, the dual-branded crown and the debossed 'Fifty Fathoms' wordmark on the strap buckle.

Oh, and speaking of fifty fathoms, we can confirm that, yes, the watch is actually capable of withstanding such depths (91 metres/300ft).

Unfortunately, we doubt it'd survive a minute on the moon. Bad luck, Bezos.

Originally published on Esquire US

Gilet and hoodie, BREITLING X DEUS. Avenger B01 Chronograph 44 Night Mission, 44mm ceramic case on leather strap, BREITLING

When the Wright Brothers pioneered the first successful motor-operated aeroplane, little did they know that it would also change the face of warfare. Aeroplanes used in warfare initially were used to scout for enemy locations. But adding guns and aerial bombing capabilities, and you have a formidable presence in the air. A thunderbolt from the heavens; a fury from the skies.

Pilots manning these fearsome aircraft need all the help they can get. Tool watches were useful during the stressors of combat: readable dials; navigation; altitude signalling, and so on. Since Georges Kern’s appointment to Breitling as CEO, one of his mandates was the revitalisation of the Avenger series.

The Avenger series was a homage to Breitling’s link to aviation. In the world of timepieces, where innovation meets timeless elegance, Breitling took the reimagined Avenger series to new heights. Eschewing the adage of “the sky’s the limit,” Breitling’s Avenger watches isn’t just for daredevil fighter pilots navigating the air; it has now gripped the attention of grounded aficionados with its striking design, baton indices, reduced case sizes and unparalleled functionality.

T-shirt, BREITLING X DEUS. Avenger B01 Chronograph, 44mm stainless steel case on leather strap, BREITLING

Among the series stand the 44mm chronograph, the 44mm automatic GMT and the 42mm automatic models. Each offers the choice between a robust military leather strap or a stainless steel bracelet and a water resistance of up to 300 metres—testament to the resilience of the aviators who sport them.

The Avenger B01 Chronograph 44 holds the beating heart of the Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01, a COSC-certified chronometer boasting a remarkable 70-hour power reserve and a five-year warranty. Adorned with a diverse range of coloured dials—azure blues, lush greens, classic blacks, and desert sands—the Avenger series breaks away from its conventional colour palette. The inclusion of rotating 60-minute bezels in stainless steel, complemented by baton indices and a highlighted red-tipped chrono hand, accentuates the watch’s dynamic appeal. Not to be overlooked are the innovative square pushers designed for seamless timekeeping, aligning effortlessly with the crown and bezel.

For those inclined towards a bolder statement, the Avenger Night Mission chronograph presents itself in scratch-resistant ceramic, available in striking yellow or carbon black dials. Sharing the same Manufacture Caliber 01, the Avenger Night Mission is crafted from solid titanium, its robust structure symbolises strength, with a black dial crafted from resilient carbon fibre, paying homage to precise aircraft design.

Embraced by pilots and adventurers alike, the Avenger Automatic GMT 44 offers quick, at-a-glance readings facilitated by its distinctive red GMT hand and 24-hour rotating bezel. With a profile matching its chronograph counterpart, encased in steel and available in black or naval blue dials, this timepiece embodies both utility and sophistication. A COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 32 powers this marvel and promises an approximate 42-hour reserve and is backed by a two-year warranty.

Top, BREITLING X DEUS. Avenger Automatic 42, 42mm stainless steel case on stainless steel bracelet, BREITLING

The Avenger Automatic 42 stands as a testament to refined robustness within its 42mm frame. Fashioned from steel and available in bold hues—classic black, deep naval blue, or adventurous camo-green—this watch is both a balance of yin-yang of strength and style.

Housing the COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 17 automatic three-hand movement, the Automatic 42 is guaranteed up to 38 hours of uninterrupted power, ensuring reliability and enduring performance.

Breitling and Deus have teamed up on a line of adventure-ready clothing and accessories that fans of the brands can only get their hands on at Breitling flagships worldwide. From a range of T-shirts and carriers and caps, the collection is only available at Breitling Flagship Boutique Raffles City.

Overshirt and T-shirt, BREITLING X DEUS. Avenger B01 Chronograph, 44mm stainless steel case on leather strap, BREITLING

What used to be a tool watch, the Breitling’s Avenger collection transcends its station as a mere timekeeping companion. Now, it is the embodiment of the spirit of aviation—a tribute to the thrill of flight, the legacy of precision and dogged innovation.

Photography: Shawn Paul Tan
Styling: Asri Jasman
Photography Assistant: Xie Feng Mao
Grooming: Zoel T using KEUNE and CHANEL BEAUTY
Model: Spencer L at MANNEQUIN

BULGARI

Video games and luxury watches are not necessarily two categories you’d put together. But the two have teamed up more often than you might think.

Tag Heuer has produced two limited edition watches with Super Mario Bros. Panerai has partnered with Razer, the hardware company known for its PCs and peripherals. And Hamilton worked with the developers of Far Cry 6, the first-person shooter game, to create a commemorative field watch, the likeness of which your character could also wear in the game, a model ‘ready for virtual and real-world adventures’.

Now Bulgari, the luxury watchmaker known for its complex movements and ultra-thin engineering, has announced a watch in partnership with the enduring racing simulation franchise Gran Turismo—and designed a concept car to drive in the game, too.

Gran Turismo 7: © 2023 Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. Developed by Polyphony Digital Inc.

While many of the world’s greatest car brands have developed virtual ‘Vision GT’ custom cars to drive in Gran Turismo—the Jaguar Vision Gran Turismo Coupé; the McLaren Ultimate Vision Gran Turismo; the Ferrari Vision Gran Turismo, and so on—Bulgari is the first non-automotive brand to do so. (Nike did produce an electric ‘sci-fi buggy’, the Nike One 2022, that could be powered by a human body via a ‘spark suit’ that converted body movements into electricity, for 2024’s Gran Turismo 4, but it was not available for purchase in the game and could only be used in practise mode.)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the game’s Vision GT programme.

Bulgari’s Italian-born design boss—or product creation executive director—Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, went straight from design school to work for Fiat and Alpha Romeo before joining the watch brand in 2001, and cars remain a passion.

BULGARI

The company’s Bulgari Aluminium watch, first released in the late 1990s, was both a product of its times and something of a pioneer in sports watches, the first luxury wristwatch of its kind built using an aluminium case and a rubber strap and bezel—an unusual choice of materials said to be directly inspired by car design.

Relaunched in 2020, by the admission of the brand’s own CEO in order to target millennials, it won a Red Dot Design Award earlier this year, the jury praising its ‘perfect proportions and premium-quality materials’, a miniature ‘synthesis of the arts’. It is this model that’s provided the springboard for the new watch.

The Bulgari Aluminium x Gran Turismo Special Edition 2023

The chronograph comes in two versions, one with a yellow dial and black counters, produced in a limited edition of 500, and one with an anthracite dial with yellow indices, produced in a run of 1,200.

Both are sized at 41mm and come in an aluminium case with a titanium caseback with a DLC coating and a rubber bezel and strap. The watches are engraved with a ‘10th Anniversary Vision’ GT’ logo.

Fabrizio Buonamassa. BULGARI

“It was inspired by the dashboard of one of the most important cars in rally history, a legendary Italian gran turismo car from the 1990s,” Stigliani tells Esquire, ahead of the project’s reveal at the Grand Turismo World Series Finals, the climax of the professional esports tournament, in Barcelona this afternoon.

The project began after Stigliani reached out to Fabio Filippini, the noted Italian car designer, former design director at the coachbuilder Pininfarina and executive director of the automotive design agency Acceaffe, having discovered his retrospective book Curve and contacted him on Instagram.

Filippini, in turn, knew of Stigliani and his automotive background—and also knew the people at PlayStation.

Over DMs he proposed they work together

“I said ‘Fabio! You know I am a great fan of Gran Turismo?’’ Stigliani says. “I played for decades, when I was young—during the night!’

“It was just Gran Turismo on my PlayStation, no other games. But now I have kids, they start to play FIFA, other games… But Gran Turismo for me, is a legend.”

The pair hatched a plan to design a Vision car, the Bulgari Aluminium Vision GT. It was to take its design cues from the industrial aesthetics of the Bulgari Aluminium watch—“Big wheel arch, big screw that reminds you immediately of the screw on the side of the watch,” according to Stigliani. “Geometry of the windshield and the lower part of the body of the car that is totally black.”

BULGARI

PlayStation’s Gran Turismo team then designed the project in-house—the first time they’d done this.

“We said immediately, ‘We don’t have the skills, we don’t have the software to make this kind of thing’,” Stigliani says. “‘So please, you can make the 3D for us?’ And Kazunori Yamuachi, one of the masters of Gran Turismo 3D [department] became the link between Bulgari and Gran Turismo.”

(At this point Stigliani shows Esquire a folder of work-in-progress sketches for the project. It is enormous. “This is a selection!”)

While a brief to design your own virtual race car for PlayStation might conjure up ideas of letting your imagination run at record-breaking lap speeds, Stigliani points out that there are rules. Fairly strict ones.

“This car [should be able to] be built and driven [in the real world],” he says. “Gran Turismo say from the very beginning ‘We do not want to have a ‘watch with a wheel’. We want to have a real car!’ You have to imagine that Gran Turismo, it is so precise for the simulation, that you have some very important [car brands] in the automotive industry that ask Gran Turismo to make a simulation. ‘I have this car, with this [build], with this kind of engine, with this kind of suspension, and I want to [test it out with a view to] participate in 24 hours of Le Mans. Tell me the performance of the car.'”

In other words, car companies use the Gran Turismo Vision GT programme as a proof of concept.

“It is super, super precise,” says Stigliani.

Still, designing such a project was, he says, something of a boy’s dream come true.

“The idea was to make a very cool, Italian-style car, inspired by the [models produced at] the end of the 1960s, inspired by the lightweight Alpha Romeos, with the very pure shape. The amazing exotic cars of the Porsche builder, or Pininfarina. Or other cars from [designer Flaminio] Bertoni, [Marcello] Gandini, [Gruppo] Bertone, the Lancia Stratos, all these kind of cars. Very lightweight. Like the Lotus, the Maserati… This was the idea. Because the Aluminium is a lightweight watch… it’s an amazing design in terms of shape, in terms of high-tech design.”

Gran Turismo 7: © 2023 Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. Developed by Polyphony Digital Inc.

To get the drive the car in Gran Turismo, you need to first buy the watch—which comes with a QR code.

It is also possible to purchase it in-game, but for that you need one million credits. (Since your correspondent has never played Gran Turismo, Stigliani assures me this is a lot. “And when you achieve this kind of result, you don’t want to spend one million credits on just one car, because you can buy a lot of different cars. And you can make a lot of fine-tuning [to your existing cars].”)

As for how the car handles in the game, Stigliani had some ideas for that, too. “The idea for this car was pushed a lot by me, because I would love to drive a very easy and fun car. Lightweight without a huge engine without thousands of horsepower, because for me that doesn’t make sense. I just [wanted] to enjoy the pleasure of driving the car. In a very pure way. So it’s a bit like a go-kart. With a certain finish.”

As for Stigliani’s own Gran Turismo performance—he admits he’s not quite the demon he once was. “You need a lot of training,” he sighs. “Because, you know, the cars are super-reactive. And the tracks are very precise. When you get older your reaction is less quick.”

“My son Julio started playing Gran Turismo when he was eight, and he’s still playing now he’s 10. When you get older your reactions are less quick.

“At that point, for kids, it’s easier.”

Originally published on Esquire UK

ROLEX / OMEGA

What makes a watch ‘important’?

There are the big leaguers—chronometers that changed the game for maritime travel; field watches that synchronised soldiers across two World Wars; space age watches that got astronauts safely back to Earth. Then, there are the record breakers—watches that have gone deeper, higher or were more ‘complicated’ than ever before. There are watches that democratised design—step forward the USD3.75 Ingersoll ‘Mickey Mouse’ from 1933; take a bow the first 12 Swatches released exactly five decades later. And there were watches that did the exact opposite—head-spinningly bonkers and eye-wateringly expensive creations like MB&F’s HM4 Thunderbolt and Richard Mille’s RM 011 Felipe Massa.

There are many more categories and many, many, many more watches. Whittling the Most Important down to just 50 sometimes seemed a task akin to studying the history of time itself. Happily, we had the next-best thing to Stephen Hawking to help us. A crack team of industry experts, drawn from all corners of the watch world, from museums to retail, publishing to brand bosses, journalism to actual professors, as our voting panel.

Accept no substitutes. This is the definitive list of the 50 Most Important Watches Ever. (Did we miss any?)

Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 96 (1932)

PATEK PHILIPPE

The Watch That Built Patek Philippe

Hyperbole? Perhaps—certainly very few mega-brands owe their success to just one single watch—but there is a strong case to be made. As the 1930s began, Patek, Philippe & Cie was in financial trouble. In 1932, it was acquired by the Stern family, which remains in control today. Seeing the need for a simple, easily marketable watch to put the business on a stable footing (in contrast to the complicated watches that were its stock-in-trade), they introduced the first Calatrava, the reference 96 in the same year, a 31mm design that espoused Bauhaus principles.

Details of its genesis are scant, its designer unknown; the name comes from a symbol used by 12th-century Castilian knights, registered by Patek Philippe 45 years earlier but never used. No one knows why. It’s not even clear why it started with number 96. (Don’t believe stories online that the Calatrava was designed by British antique watch dealer and enthusiast David Penney; he was commissioned in the 1980s to illustrate an authoritative hardback book on the brand’s history, and journalists mistook his signature against drawings of the ref. 96 for the name of the original designer. Penney was born well after 1932 and is alive and well today.)

What is more certain is that ref. 96 was a hit; powered by a respected LeCoultre calibre it provided a blank canvas for all manner of dial designs and iterations, and remained in production for 40 years. It might not leap immediately to mind when you mention the brand name—with the Nautilus on its books, and a formidable history of perpetual calendars, split-second chronographs, worldtimers and minute repeaters, you can hardly blame fans for sometimes overlooking the humble Calatrava—but it is the bedrock upon which so much great watchmaking stands.

Ingersoll ‘Mickey Mouse’ (1933)

INGERSOLL

Cartoon Watches For Adults? It'll Never Catch On

In 1933, two companies faced bankruptcy. One was Ingersoll-Waterbury, a watch firm that grew out of a New York Mail business. The other was Disney. A marketeer and former mink-hat salesman named Herman “Kay” Kamen rescued both—despite apparently falling asleep in the pitch meeting. His solution? A watch featuring Mickey Mouse, his yellow-gloved hands rotating to tell the time. Response to the $3.75 timepiece was immediate.

Macy’s sold 11,000 the first day it went on sale, and within two years Ingersoll had added 2,800 staff to cope with demand, and an original Ingersoll Mickey was placed into a time capsule at the 1939 World’s Fair. Today, “character watches” are big news; case in point: Oris’ runaway 2023 hit, a £3,700 watch featuring Kermit the Frog. Meanwhile Mickey (and Minnie) Mouse now grace the Apple Watch and will speak the time when you press the dial. That’s progress for you.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953)

BLANCPAIN

The Dive Watch Blueprint

Where the diving watch as we know it began, exactly 70 years ago. The turning bezel for dive-timing, the bare-essentials high-vis dial, the streamlined-but-watertight case: all came about when Blancpain’s scuba-fan boss Jean-Jacques Fiechter teamed up with French war heroes Robert Maloubier and Claude Riffaud, who needed a watch for their new commando unit, to invent the ultimate all-action underwater wristwatch. Rolex had similar ideas—its Submariner followed soon after. But Blancpain’s military-approved cult classic was foundational; rare vintage models are collector grails, and modern versions remain big sellers for the brand.

Rolex Day-Date (1956)

ROLEX

Presidential

Sure, it was the first watch to show both the date and the full day of the week, but the Day-Date’s function has always been secondary to its aura. Nicknamed the “President” for having been gifted to (and worn by) Dwight D Eisenhower, it’s the watch that defines Rolex’s association with success, prestige and achievement—something that has remained as constant as the Day-Date’s unmistakable look. It’s not quite true that the Day-Date is exclusively produced in precious metals—an “entry-level” steel version occasionally comes up at auction, although since only five were ever prototyped, not at an entry-level price.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402 (1972)

AUDEMARS PIGUET

Fusing The Industrial And The Exotic

Given both the relentless hype that attaches itself limpet-like to the Royal Oak, and the multiplicity of iterations and styles Audemars Piguet has birthed over the years, it’s easy to forget just what a formidably clever, intuitive and ground-breaking design it was back in 1972.

Tasked with matching the robustness and versatility of a steel sports watch with the crafted beauty that was Audemars Piguet’s stock-in-trade, the designer Gérald Genta came up with the Royal Oak in a single overnight session. It sealed both his and Audemars Piguet’s future legacies, and begat the “sports-luxe” genre in one fell stroke.

Genta’s blueprint was an inspired synthesis of the industrial and the exotic. It was streamlined, housing an ultra-thin automatic movement, and with a look dominated by a screw-laden octagonal bezel, on a case that merged seamlessly into a complex, tapering bracelet. The brutalist dial was subordinate to the gleaming geometries of the case, where contrasting brushed or polished finishes were assiduously hand-applied. The bracelet alone was so complicated that it needed watchmakers rather than case technicians to assemble it.

The Royal Oak did for steel watches what the era’s high-tech architects were then doing for steel buildings—elevating the material of industry and kitchen cutlery to the level of the sublime. “The noble metal of modern-day cathedrals,” was how Genta termed it, according to Bill Prince, author of Royal Oak, from Iconoclast to Icon. At the time, the Royal Oak was the most expensive steel wristwatch ever made, but it unleashed a genre whose impact would only truly be felt in the following decades—and never more so than right now.

Hublot Big Bang (2004)

HUBLOT

Designed To The Max

With its brash and bold designs, Hublot is the opposite of discreet luxury—something that tends to wind up serious watch collectors. The brand’s “the art of fusion” tagline is embodied in its flagship Big Bang, the first of which layered up ceramic, magnesium, tungsten, Kevlar, rubber and steel into an eye-popping (and prize-winning) new direction for watch design.

Since every Big Bang is technically limited, it also pre-empted today’s drop culture, with future watches incorporating silk, denim, diamonds and sheep’s wool. “People want exclusivity,” its creator Jean-Claude Biver told The Economist. “So you must always keep the customer hungry and frustrated.”

FP Journe Tourbillon Souverain ‘Souscription’ (1999)

FP JOURNE

The Arrival Of A New Master

François-Paul Journe produced his first wristwatch in 1991, to a collective shrug from a world not yet ready to embrace artisanal, anachronistic masterpieces from unknown names. Jump ahead eight years and the mood had changed; Journe set up his own brand and took commissions to make 20 tourbillons—selling the watches by “subscription”, ie: half up-front, an idea borrowed from Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Journe’s output throughout the past two decades has been prodigiously inventive, but it took the pandemic to send things into the stratosphere; auction values of the Tourbillon Souverain tripled between 2019 and 2020.

Rolex Explorer (1953)

ROLEX

The Perfect Watch?

Beloved of die-hard Rolex enthusiasts and casual “one-watch guys” alike, the modern Explorer retains the spirit of the watches that accompanied Tenzing and Hillary (almost) to the top of Everest in 1953 (both climbers in fact wore models by British brand Smiths to the summit itself).

After the ascent, Hillary’s Rolex was returned to the watch company for tests to be conducted on how it had weathered its high-altitude journey, and it is now on display at Zurich’s Beyer Museum. Despite recent flirtations with precious metals, the Explorer remains a paradigm of honest, simple watchmaking that for many really is all the watch you need.

Vianney Halter X Jeff Barnes Antiqua Perpetual Calendar (1998)

VIANNEY HALTER

Making The Impossible Possible

Remember steampunk? In the late-1990s, “Victorian sci-fi” had a cultural moment. It gave us one of the worst films of the decade, Wild Wild West, emo-lads in top hats and, on the plus side, this spectacular timepiece. Inspired by Jules Verne and HG Wells, American creative Jeff Barnes envisioned an impossible watch with multiple porthole dials, rivets and an invisible rotor. Iconoclast watchmaker Vianney Halter made the impossible possible.

Halter and Barnes propelled watch-making into a strange alternative universe. A wormhole opened that subsequent visionaries—MB&F, Urwerk, De Bethune etc—would burst through, reimagining what high-watchmaking could really be.

Seiko 5 Sportsmatic (1963)

SEIKO

New To Collecting? Start Here

Through countless iterations down the decades, the “5” shield logo on the Seiko 5 has symbolised the ultimate sturdy, go-anywhere, do-anything all-rounder wristwatch. Affordable, capable and just damn cool, the Seiko 5 has even accrued its own entire subculture around collecting and modding. No collection is complete without one, and for a lot of watch nuts, it’s the place where it all begins

Omega Speedmaster Professional (1957)

OMEGA

Loved On Earth And Beyond

In the age of orbiting space stations, communications satellites and Mars rovers, there is something quaintly old-school about a mechanical watch being used in space. Computers may crash but, the thinking goes, a mechanical watch will continue to work in all conditions: high temperatures, below zero, low gravity and when all tech has shut down, in darkness.

Omega’s Speedmaster line was made with racing-car drivers, not astronauts in mind. It was the first chronograph with a tachymeter scale on the bezel, to measure speed over distance. But the design caught the eye of Nasa astronauts Walter Schirra and Leroy Cooper.

The story goes that the pair then lobbied Nasa operations director Deke Slayton to make the Speedmaster the official watch for use during training, and, ultimately, flying. In 1964 Slayton issued an internal memo stating the need for a “highly durable and accurate chronograph to be used by Gemini and Apollo flight crews”.

Proposals were sent to 10 brands: Benrus, Elgin, Gruen Hamilton, Longines Wittnauer, Lucien Piccard, Mido, Omega and Rolex. Only four answered the call: Rolex, Longines Wittnauer, Hamilton and Omega—with Hamilton disqualifying itself by submitting a pocket watch. The remainder underwent extreme trials: 48 hours at 71°C, four hours at –18°C, 250 hours at 95 per cent humidity, temperature cycling in a vacuum, and so on.

Nasa declared Speedmaster “Flight Qualified for All Manned Space Missions” in March 1965. It went on to become the first watch worn on the Moon—by Buzz Aldrin, in 1969—and to play a crucial role in the Apollo 13’s re-entry to Earth in 1970, when it was used to time a crucial 14-second burn of fuel. (As seen in Tom Hanks’s 1995 film, Apollo 13.)

It would be remiss of any company not to dine out on marketing gold like this, and Omega has certainly done so, issuing endless Moonwatch variants ever since. Happily, its product backs up the hype. “Speedmasters have it all: great chronograph movements, an amazing case design, fantastic dial and hand aesthetics and an unbelievable history,” says vintage-watch expert Eric Wind.

Omega X Swatch MoonSwatch (2022)

SWATCH

A Genius Marketing Play

The watch that no one saw coming, that no one could get hold of, and yet absolutely nobody could avoid back in the heady days of… er, 2022. Can it really only be last year that streets around the world were shut down as mobs of thousands rushed to procure a plastic (sorry, “bioceramic”), battery-powered Speedmaster made by Swatch? 

MoonSwatch fever may have died down now, but few modern watches have nailed the moment quite so perfectly. Amid a post-pandemic climate of high/low mashups, vibe shifts, blurred cultural lines and hype—so much hype—it nailed the zeitgeist dead-on, becoming the most consequential Swiss watch release since the original Swatch in 1983.

Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar (1941)

PATEK PHILIPPE

A Wristwatch That Created A Genre

The perpetual calendar—complex, elegant, poetic—is the emblematic watch of haute horlogerie. And, like so much of haute horlogerie, Patek Philippe defined the form. Patek introduced its first perpetual for the wrist in 1925. But in 1941 it did the near unthinkable and put the complication into serial production—twice over.

Reference 1526 was a perpetual calendar with moon phases, but Reference 1518 really blew the doors off, with a chronograph thrown in and a layout of high-complication magnificence. It wasn’t until 1955 that another brand, Audemars Piguet, was able to compete with its own perpetual calendar, while the perpetual calendar chronograph has remained a signature combination for Patek Philippe and its collectors.

Braun AW10 (1989)

BRAUN

Good Design Is Making Something Intangible And Memorable

Braun’s concept of German modern industrial design, a mix of functionality and technology, is lauded everywhere from MoMA catalogues to Jony Ive interviews. Its design principles have been applied to calculators, coffee grinders and cigarette lighters. But you could argue the wristwatch is its purest distillation, the work of one of the Braun’s designers, Dietrich Lubs, and Dieter Rams.

Taking a lead from 1975’s AB 20 travel clock, its aim was to display time in “the most functional way possible”. That meant white type on a black dial, a yellow second hand that “pops”, and Akzidenz-Grotesk—the font known as “jobbing sans-serif”. As in, it is used for jobs—including New York City’s transportation network. The designer’s designer watch.

Rolex GMT-Master (1955)/ GMT-Master II (1982)

ROLEX

The Watch That Announced The Jet Age

Well-heeled travellers of the early 1950s encountered a new phenomenon. They didn’t have a name for it yet—consensus suggests that the phrase “jet lag” wasn’t used until the mid 1960s—but the discombobulating effects of flying across time zones were clear. Passengers could bear the inconvenience, but Pan Am, concerned for its pilots, wanted to find a solution. It was naively thought that a device capable of displaying the body’s “home” time at a glance could help overcome the effects—so legend has it, anyway.

Rolex produced the GMT-Master reference 6542 in 1954, and the rest is history. The rotating bezel had already seen the light of day in the previous year’s Turn-o-graph (proof that not all Rolexes were lasting hits), but the addition of a 24-hour scale and day-night colour scheme nailed the formula. It’s easy to overlook how bold the two-tone design must have been in the postwar years, and the GMT-Master has maintained that outgoing character.

The variation of colours that followed, and the tendency of the early materials to patinate and degrade in interesting ways, have spawned a rich lexicon of nicknames and cemented the reference’s enduring appeal. In modern times, at least prior to 2023’s bonanza of emojis and bubbles, the GMT-Master II was where Rolex went to experiment, developing single-piece ceramic bezels, introducing meteorite dials, gem-set bezels and even subverting its own codes by adding the dressy Jubilee bracelet in 2018.

The introduction of a left-handed model in 2022 only added to the hype. Today it is one of the hardest Rolexes to acquire. Mechanically and aesthetically, Rolex hit upon a template that performed a simple task with clarity, character and composure, and left its imitators behind.

Cartier Santos-Dumont (1904)

CARTIER

A REAL HIGH-FLYER

The Cartier Santos-Dumont, launched in 1904, claims not one but two places on the watch history books: the first pilot’s watch and the first wristwatch designed specifically for men. Created to get around the impracticality of flying with a pocket watch, it was born after Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont raised the issue with Louis Cartier.

Given Cartier’s red-carpet-reputation today the watch boasts a decidedly non-showy design. Characterised by eight screws, its case seems to have been influenced by a contemporaneous square pocket watch, with curved lugs and a leather strap designed to make it comfortable to wear on the wrist. Meanwhile, the instantly readable dial design foreshadowed the Art Deco movement of the 20s and 30s and remains a look that defines Cartier watch designs to this day.

With headlines declaring “Mr Santos-Dumont’s First Success with a Flying Machine” still fresh in people’s minds, by 1911 Cartier was marketing “the Santos-Dumont watch” in platinum and gold, its daring-do aviation connection piquing the interest of a new demographic: men. The model would be relaunched by Cartier twice after. In 1998, to celebrate the Santos-Dumont’s 90th anniversary, and in 2005 as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris.

In 2018 Cartier made it available in steel, the first time the watch had appeared in a non-precious metal, putting it within reach of a new consumer. Its timing was prescient—with interest in men’s watches exploding, there was a newly design-literate customer on the market. Cartier may not use the fanciest movements or the trendiest materials. Instead, it outpaces the competition with 100 years of rock-solid designs, and watches that look unique.

Richard Mille RM 011 Felipe Massa (2007)

RICHARD MILLE

Mille Doesn't Sell Many Watches. At His Prices, He Doesn't Need To

Every year, Morgan Stanley produces a financial report on the Swiss watch industry. Nine of the top 10 brands by revenue date back 100 years or more; the same nine all produce at least 50,000 watches a year.

The outlier is Richard Mille: barely 21 years old and making a shade over 5,000 watches a year, it outranks giants like Longines, Breitling and Vacheron Constantin. The secret sauce is complex, but it owes a lot to the technically innovative watches worn by Mille’s sporting ambassadors—and that all began with Massa, way back in 2007.

Seiko Astron 35SQ (1969)

SEIKO

The First Quartz Watch

On Christmas Day 1969, Seiko gave the world its most important gift: the first quartz-powered wristwatch. A decade in development (during which time the Japanese had shrunk the technology from the size of a filing cabinet to something you could wear), it was the harbinger of seismic, lasting change.

The mass production of cheap quartz watches that followed in the 1970s wrought catastrophic damage on Swiss watchmaking, although the scale of the job losses and closures was down to currency devaluation and the stagnant, uncompetitive structure of the industry as much as the threat of marauding outsiders. Perhaps unfairly, the Astron is forever associated with these effects, rather than as a genuine innovation that made watches more accurate and more affordable.

Casio F-91W (1989)

CASIO

One Of The Cheapest Watches Is Also One Of The Best

Almost 35 years after its launch, the F-91W remains not just the world’s most popular digital watch, but the most-purchased watch on the planet. Created by Ryusuke “G-Shock” Moriai as his first design for Casio, it is technically and materially inferior to every other watch the brand produces. That’s not the point. The F-91’s charming resin design, iconic shape, accuracy, perfectly judged number of functions and—last but not least—£15 price make it a must-own. The backlight is absolutely terrible, though.

Breitling Navitimer (1954)

BREITLING

A Watch For High-Flyers

Technically, you could land a plane using just this watch’s info-packed bezel, but it would be a brave man who’d try. Still, the development of the Navitimer (“navigation” + “timer”) offered something no other watch manufacturer had ever proposed: a chronograph combined with a slide rule, enabling pilots to perform vital calculations like average rate of speed, fuel consumption and converting miles to kilometres. Originally only available to accredited aircraft owners and pilots, the Navitimer was also the watch world’s first automatic chronograph.

Junghans Max Bill (1962)

JUNGHANS MAX BILL

The Bauhaus In Watch Form

“God is in the details” was the dictum of Bauhaus pioneer Mies van der Rohe; the watch designed in 1961 by the Bauhaus-trained architect and artist Max Bill, for the German brand Junghans, doesn’t half bear this out. In its cornerless numerals, its crisp lines and perfect proportions, its minimalism is exquisite and unimprovable; no wonder Junghans has kept this modernist classic unchanged ever since.

Tudor Black Bay (2012)

TUDOR

Back To The Future

One of the most popular modern sports watches, Rolex’s sibling company offers exemplary levels of craftsmanship, quality and value in one impossible-to-resist package. Deftly cherry-picking elements from forgotten 1950s and 1960s Tudors, it kick-started today’s obsession with vintage watches—and sent dozens of rivals scurrying to their archives. Without it, the watch business would look very different.

Omega Seamaster (1948)

OMEGA

The Ultimate In Versatility

So sprawling is Omega’s back (and current) catalogue of Seamaster watches, it can be hard to know just what the name stands for. Dive watches? Yes. Sports watches? For sure. But also dress watches? Gosh yes, some true bobby-dazzlers… The answer comes from a 1956 Omega ad: “The Seamaster was designed to share with you the zest of high adventure and the stresses and strains that go with it… There is more ruggedness built into the Seamaster than you are ever likely to call for. It feels good, though, to know you can count on the extra stamina and extra precision which set the Seamaster apart from other watches.”

In other words, however it was styled, the Seamaster represented Omega’s cutting edge: the most water-resistant, robust, precise and easily serviceable watches you could get on the mass market; a next-level product for demanding customers—the ad cited sportsmen, airline pilots, golfers and military personnel as typical wearers.

Launched in 1948, the Seamaster came about as Omega transferred tech it developed in its wartime watchmaking for the British armed forces to the civilian market: screw-back cases sealed with newfangled rubber O-ring gaskets, and high-spec automatic movements that were a benchmark for durability and accuracy. They’re often still in fine working condition today; one reason why early Seamasters have tended to be a gateway watch for nascent vintage-watch collectors—you can still find them for a bit over £1,000, but prices are rising.

When it launched a hardcore dive watch in 1957, naturally Omega made it a Seamaster (the Seamaster 300). In fact, the Speedmaster chronograph was also originally categorized in Omega catalogues as a Seamaster; and so was the ultra-dressy De Ville line. A Seamaster was a watch that could take on anything; and it still is.

Harwood x Fortis Harwood Automatic (1928)

The Original Self-Winder

In 1955 Rolex took a full-page ad out in the Daily Express (back then, that meant something) to proclaim the wonder of its invention in the 1930s of the self-winding wristwatch. A few months later it inserted an apology into the paper and, in a new ad, corrected what it had previously left out. The convenience of a watch that doesn’t need winding was arguably the fundamental breakthrough in the evolution of the wristwatch; but in the story of its genesis there is, as Master Yoda might say, another.

John Harwood was a watchmaker who, during army service in World War I, became convinced of both the usefulness and shortcomings of wristwatches. He saw the winding/setting crown as a watch’s weakest point, letting in dust and moisture. His solution was radical: a watch with no crown, that could be set via a turning bezel and with a mechanism that wound itself via the motion of its wearer’s wrist.

Harwood took his idea to Switzerland, where he obtained a patent in 1923. He forged a partnership with Fortis to make Harwood automatic watches, recognisable by their knurled bezels and a red dot above the six that told you the movement was running. The winding action was down to a “hammer” mechanism that swung from side to side, tensioning the mainspring.

Launched in 1926, Harwood’s was the first mass-produced self-winding wristwatch, and sold well in Europe, the UK and North America. But the Wall Street Crash of 1929 dealt a hammer blow to Harwood’s business; by September 1931, it was all over.

That year, Rolex patented its own method, the “Perpetual” rotor that swung around freely on top of the movement. It’s the format that proved the basis for the self-winding watches that would become all-dominant; but it wasn’t the first.

Patek Philippe Louis Cottier (1937)

PATEK PHILIPPE

All Around The World

The need to tell the time accurately in all 24 time zones is a relatively recent invention in the history of timekeeping. In 1885, the Swiss watchmaker Emmanuel Cottier came up with a world-time system he presented to the Société des Arts. His son Louis-Vincent followed him into the trade, attending Geneva’s horological school and winning several prizes, including a handful from Patek Philippe. By 1931, Louis had perfected his own world-time mechanism.

It was developed for a pocket watch, but Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe soon took an interest and he delivered dozens of versions for the latter using his HU calibre, or “heures universelles”. World time-watches made nowadays still follow the Cottier principle. City names circle the periphery of the dial above an inner 24-hour ring that turns counter-clockwise. The ring’s movement simultaneously coordinates the times in all time zones, while the hand indicates the “local” time at the city displayed at 12 o’clock.

Today, Cottier has a square in Geneva named in his honour, and world-time watches provide a time capsule for the eras in which they were made; each dial reflecting the political climate. For example: under German occupation, France switched to central European time—Patek continuing to put London and Paris on the same time zone until the 1970s, making these watches highly collectable.

Zenith El Primero (1969)

ZENITH

The Connoisseur's Automatic Chronograph

It’s all about the story with watches, and the El Primero’s is straight from central scriptwriting. It raced to be the first automatic chronograph ever made (it was announced first but was beaten to customers’ wrists by both Heuer and Seiko); the investment nearly broke the business, which went under with orders to destroy the El Primero’s parts and tooling. Defied by one watchmaker, it was resurrected, used to power the Rolex Daytona for a generation, and has finally established itself as a beautiful, technically accomplished watch for people who care about the details.

Rolex Oyster (1926)

ROLEX

Liberating The Wristwatch From the Nightstand

Water resistance has been fundamental to our conception of reliable wristwatches for decades, but in 1926 it was revolutionary. Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex’s founder, didn’t come up with it himself. But when a patent was filed for a new system to hermetically seal the case via a screw-down winding crown (the most likely area for water ingress), he moved fast, acquiring it and registering the “Oyster” trademark—to symbolise the impregnable seal of the shell—within days.

Next, in 1927, he got swimmer Mercedes Gleitze to carry one as she became the first British woman to swim the Channel and took a full-page ad in the Daily Mail to proclaim its perfect performance during her feat. Thus he announced his breakthrough to the world.

The Rolex Oyster—"the wonder watch that defies the elements" as its advert put it—would change the whole game. It laid the technical foundation for practically every Rolex model since, nearly all of which still carry the name “Oyster”, and drove the wristwatch forward as a sensible, reliable, wearable accoutrement for modern people in a fast-changing, fast-moving world.

Moreover, it inculcated the association of Rolex with robustness, quality and innovation, and confirmed Wilsdorf’s absolute genius for cutting through with inspiring, opportunistic marketing. After that, there was no looking back.

Piaget Altiplano (1957)

PIAGET

Less Is More

Six decades before the Octo Finissimo or Richard Mille Ferrari UP-01, Piaget created the calibre 9P and calibre 12P, hand-wound and automatic movements of astonishing thinness, produced with none of the high-tech fabrication machinery or design software available today. These established the brand’s reputation for ultra-thin prowess and created an iconic dress watch.

The “Dirty Dozen” (1940s)

LONGINES

Twelve Versions Of The Archetypal Field Watch

Commissioned by the Ministry of Defence for use by the British Army, this set of 12 watches by the likes of Longines, Omega and IWC, plus long-forgotten names such as Grana, Cyma and Eterna, combined black dials, antimagnetic steel cases and luminous hands to establish an entire genre that lives on today.

Truth be told, most of the 150,000-odd watches that were made only arrived late in 1945; for the preceding six years, British servicemen used something called the ATP (Army Trade Pattern) watch, but it is the Dirty Dozen that has passed into watch-collecting lore. Tracking down a full set remains one of the ultimate grails for collectors the world over.

Patek Philippe Nautilus (1976)

PATEK PHILIPPE

Exclusive And Elusive

In 1976, designer Gérald Genta adapted the Royal Oak blueprint to create a Patek Philippe equivalent: shapelier, more sumptuous, more peculiar—not least in its flanking “porthole hinges” that screw shut for watertightness. Made in infuriatingly small numbers, the Nautilus has come to define an entirely modern watchmaking trend: scarcity. It never won’t be a major, major flex; but it’s the sheer exoticism of its form that makes it arguably the most glamorous watch design of all.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona (1963)

ROLEX

The Most Sought-After Rolex Of All Sought-After Rolexes

Initially known as Le Mans and received so unenthusiastically that Rolex considered discontinuing it, the motorsport-themed chronograph has gone on to achieve the status of World’s Most Desirable Watch. Paul Newman wearing a version (ref: 6239) no doubt helped; his watch later took all of 12 minutes to sell at auction for $17.5m.

A decent return on its original price of USD210. Rolex’s Daytona is one of the greatest chronographs of all time—precious metals, blinged-out dials and Rolex’s strategic limiting of supply have made it an icon. The hard-to-get wristwatch is also a great investment. A stainless steel and ceramic Daytona bought for £12k in 2019 would now sell for twice that.

Longines 13.33Z (1913)

LONGINES

THE FIRST CHRONOGRAPH WRISTWATCH MOVEMENT

Often overlooked by vintage devotees in favour of the later 13ZN models with their larger cases and frequent military connections, the 13.33Z, first introduced in 1913, was the very first purpose-built chronograph wristwatch movement. Hand-wound and usually found with enamel dials painted with tachymetric scales, they are beautiful inside and out.

IWC Mark 11 (1948)

IWC

Military Aviation's Benchmark Watch

Commissioned by the RAF in 1948, whose airmen would use it for the next 40 years. the Mark 11 put wartime advances in precision, reliability and anti-magnetism inside a design (by the MOD, not IWC) that’s both utilitarian and iconic, becoming the quintessential military aviation watch. Its blueprint has proven endlessly adaptable, yet never better than in its original format.

Panerai Luminor (1949)

PANERAI

Italian Charisma

The Luminor has been called “the essence of Panerai” with a history that is at once serious (until 1993, it was only available to Italy’s military) and silly (its deep-sea luminosity originally came from the use of an unsafe radioactive compound). Its signature crown-protection guard speaks to old-school diving equipment, as well as signalling its “if-you-know-you-know” appeal.

Omega Seamaster 300M (1993)

OMEGA

The Submariner's Great Rival

The Seamaster range may include world timers, yachting chronographs and the cult favourite Ploprof. But at its heart is the Seamaster Diver 300M. First produced in 1957, it has never quite achieved the mythos of the Speedmaster—its history more sprawling, its style more frequently updated—but it is still one of the great dive watches.

Comparisons to the Rolex Submariner are inevitable, and the fact that since 1997’s Goldeneye, James Bond has worn a Seamaster brings extra spice to the calculation. In recent years Omega has striven to outflank Rolex on a technical front too, adding antimagnetic and supremely accurate “master chronometer” movements, ceramic bezels, something called a “naiad lock” and sleek black ceramic cases.

MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt (2010)

MB&F

A DREAM MACHINE

For 20 years, MB&F’s Max Büsser has been the wizard at the heart of a movement driving horology in fantastical new directions—think Urwerk’s cyberpunk devices, Greubel Forsey’s tourbillon extravaganzas and, more than anything, MB&F’s phantasmagorical Horological Machines. Inspired by World War II fighter planes, HM4 was Büsser’s biggest risk but arguably his greatest success: a kitsch, postmodern thrill-ride that’s as innovative as it’s outlandish, proving that—in his world at least—anything really is possible.

Swatch Swatch (1983)

SWATCH

Plastic, Fantastic

The question was never, “Can you make a Swiss quartz watch to compete with Citizen and Seiko?” Swatch’s creative director Carlo Giordanetti told this magazine in 2017. But rather, “Is it possible to make a cheap, mass-manufactured product that inspires the personal attachment and ‘soul’ associated with handcrafted equivalents?”

Yes, the first modestly sized range of 12 watches that launched in 1983 were cheap and plastic. But the success of Swatch—or “second watch”—routinely credited with saving Swiss watchmaking from the digital Asian apocalypse, was down to something else: “a new, fascinating way to say who you are and how you feel”.

It took physician and watchmaker Ernst Thomke and his two-man team 12 months to develop the prototype, working backwards by first developing the case, then reducing the number of quartz components and attaching them to it. Plastic wasn’t the only contender, they also looked at wood.

Tag Heuer Carrera (1963)

TAG HEUER

Motorsport's Favourite Watch

Launched in the same year as the Porsche 911 that shares its name (although the first 911 to officially be described as a Carrera was the 1972 2.7 RS), Jack Heuer’s masterstroke became just as indelibly associated with motor racing. By dint of Heuer’s marketing nous, it soon ended up the preferred watch of the Formula 1 paddock during the sport’s golden era. Jack was a fan of modern design and architecture, and deemed the tracks found on chronograph dials fussy and unnecessary.

After taking a class on watch dials at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology he used the principles of his studies to come up with something cleaner. Between 1963 and 1985 it underwent multiple reinventions, but the original reference 2447 stands as one of the three heroic chronographs of the early 1960s (alongside the Daytona and Speedmaster). An exemplar of mid-century modernism and sporty practicality that is coveted by collectors around the world.

Rolex Submariner (1953)

ROLEX

You Know This One

The place: Les Ambassadeurs Club, Mayfair. The year: 1962. Seated at a casino table, two gamblers are going head-to-head. One is a beautiful woman in a red dress; the other, a dashing man in a sharp suit. He asks her name. “Sylvia Trench”. He lights a cigarette and stares at his opponent across the table. “Bond,” he replies. “James Bond”.

Dr. No gave us one of the most famous introductions in cinema and guided us into a new universe of covetable clothes, accessories and gadgets. Though 007 would later defect to Omega, for his debut another brand was tucked beneath his crisp white shirt cuff. He wore a Rolex “Big Crown” Submariner (ref: 6538)—from a new line of diving watches introduced nine years earlier that, as Rolex put it, “unlocked the deep”. (The watch was Sean Connery’s own.)

Ask a child to draw a man’s watch and chances are they’ll come up with something that looks like a Submariner. It is the most recognised, counterfeited and copied watch in the world. Today, thousands of brands produce what may politely be called “Submariner-adjacent” models.

While not the first dive watch, the Submariner was the first to be waterproof to 100m and feature a rotatable bezel for divers to read. The model came into its own in the golden period of sports watches, the 1960s, and as sales rose Rolex began refining and standardising the line.

Today’s Subs are waterproof to 300m, with triple-protected waterproof winding crowns, blue “chromalight” luminescent material and ceramic bezels that are unaffected by seawater, chlorine or ultraviolet rays. Meanwhile, the collecting community delights in giving its many references nicknames based on individual design features. They include, but are not limited to, “Hulk”, “Bluesy”, “Smurf”, “Starbucks”, “Bart Simpson”, and, of course, “James Bond”.

Ulysse Nardin Freak (2001)

ULYSSE NARDIN

Mainstream Watchmaking Embraces The Avant Garde

The Freak is a significant watch for two reasons. The first is its sheer ambition: doing away with a traditional dial and hands. Mounting the entire gear train and escapement on a bridge that would rotate under its own energy, acting as a colossal minute hand as it did so, was truly maverick. The second is that the idea came from Ulysse Nardin, a 150-year old brand steeped in conservative tradition. The Freak showed the Swiss establishment that it didn’t have to let the young indie hotshots corner the action.

Apple Watch (1st Generation, 2015)

APPLE

They Laughed When It Launched. They're Not Laughing Now

“My feeling is it’s going to be a failure,” the CEO of a well-known Swiss watch brand told this magazine in 2016, with all the foresight of Pete Best. “Apple doesn’t realise that the reasons for buying a watch are very different from buying a phone or Mac. You don’t buy one for the functionality, you buy it for what it says about you, for its design and uniqueness.”

Today, Apple outsells the entire Swiss-watch industry by a wide margin—you only need to look at people’s wrists on the next bus, train or plane you take to realise that. Initially promoted as a fashion accessory, Apple soon pivoted to fitness-oriented marketing—harvesting our health data as it did so. Either way, Apple’s Watch is an incredible piece of industrial design, each edition incrementally better than the last—with 2022’s OTT Apple Watch Ultra finding a surprisingly wide fanbase outside of athletes and sports enthusiasts.

The 1st Generation was available in 38mm or 42mm and four versions: aluminium, stainless steel, Hermès stainless steel and 18ct gold. It allowed you to get notifications on your wrist, hail and taxi and make phone calls, just as science fiction predicted — but only with your phone connected. It still did more than any other smartwatch on the market in 2015. The arguments over whether Apple’s Watch counts as a “real” watch and fears it would obliterate “traditional” watchmaking proved silly.

The two coexist. Interest in watches is now at an all-time high, and Apple must take some share of the credit. Still, it didn’t get everything right. “People are carrying their phones and looking at the screen so much,” said software developer Kevin Lynch, positing his invention as a cure. Hmmm.

Franck Muller Giga Tourbillon (2011)

FRANCK MULLER

The Heart Of The Matter

Tourbillons are the status symbol of high-end watchmaking—where a watch’s “heartbeat” workings are put on display in a delicate, ever-rotating carriage mechanism. Franck Muller’s obsession with dazzling mechanics meant that by 2011 he’d already produced the winner of the “most complicated watch in the world” title, twice. With the Giga Tourbillon—at 20mm, more than half the size of the entire watch and larger than some women’s watches—he set new standards in accuracy, showboating and status symbols.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso (1931)

JAEGER-LECOULTRE

An Artwork For Your Wrist

As a watch that flips over on itself, sitting securely with its dial folded away and the reverse side worn outwards, the Reverso was already in a category of one. But J-LC—“the watchmaker’s watchmaker”—was only getting started. Subsequent Reverso models (and there have been many) have included one with four faces, one with shutters that wind open to reveal a nude woman and last year’s Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures, a trio of models with tiny reproductions of “lost” artworks by Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and Gustave Courbet hand-painted onto them. Not far off a century after its debut, the Reverso’s innovation continues to run wild.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore (1993)

AUDEMARS PIGUET

The Original Big Watch

Gérald Genta called it a “sea monster”, lamenting the engorgement of his masterwork. It was so complicated to make that six months after its launch, only five cases had passed the water-resistance test, and in its first three years, only 716 were sold. Now celebrating 30 years in the sun, the Offshore is a phenomenon: pre-dating Panerai’s revival, the IWC Big Pilot or the rise of Hublot, it can legitimately claim to have established the “big watch” trend. After the Offshore, CEO François-Henry Bennahmias won endorsements from the likes of Jay-Z and inserted Audemars Piguet into the zeitgeist via hip-hop, movies, motorsport and, er, golf.

IWC B-Uhr/Flieger (1940)

IWC B-UHR

The Other Aviation Watch Icon

It’s easy to celebrate the legacy of watches supplied to World War II’s Allied forces. For others, like the B-Uhr or Panerai Radiomir, it is necessary to acknowledge that they were used by Axis forces. Four German brands—A. Lange & Söhne, Laco, Stowa and Wempe, plus IWC in Switzerland, answered the Luftwaffe’s call for a navigator’s aviation watch, and the B-Uhr—also known as a “Flieger” (“pilot”) watch—was the result. Huge even by today’s standards, it is notable for the sword-shaped hands, oversized crown and simple, legible dial print. The design DNA lives on in many modern pilot’s watches, most notably IWC’s Big Pilot series.

Blancpain 1735 Grande Complication (1991)

BLANCPAIN

The Rebirth of Complicated Horolog

In the 1980s quartz crisis, when cheap Japanese watches threatened to destroy the Swiss industry, makers began rediscovering the arts of complicated horology. First, time-honoured “complications” reappeared in mechanical watches; then came blends of these. Having already produced superlative watches showing key complications individually (perpetual calendar, moon phase, minute repeater, split-seconds chronograph and tourbillon), in 1991 Blancpain united these in a multi-functional masterpiece. The 1735 was the most complex automatic watch ever made. Thirty were made, and Blancpain still has a watchmaker just for servicing these.

Tag Heuer Monaco (1969)

TAG HEUER

It's Hip To Be Square

The Monaco wasn’t the first square* watch, but it was the first-ever square chronograph, as well as the first water-resistant square-cased watch. Those are the facts. But its appeal rests on less tangible assets—its cool factor. Heuer was the first non-automotive brand to sponsor motorsport. And after Steve McQueen paired his Monaco with a Porsche 917, the endorsement proved so valuable that he’s still listed on the watchmaker’s website as a brand ambassador, despite having died in 1980. Defunct for over a decade, the Monaco’s cult appeal grew alongside enthusiasm for the 1970s’ sprucely modern design language, and it has remained popular ever since.

*technically square-ish

IWC Portugieser (1939)

IWC

AGEING GRACEFULLY

Something of an oddball when first launched in 1939, using a pocket-watch movement to create an oversized wristwatch with improved accuracy and legibility. Come the brand’s 125th anniversary in 1993, a graceful mid-century design was just the ticket and in the last 30 years, the Portugieser has become a modern classic, particularly in chronograph form.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo (2014)

BULGARI

Slim Pickings

All-new mainstream watch designs are vanishingly rare; great ones even more so. The original Octo carried a faint essence of the work of Royal Oak and Nautilus designer Gérald Genta, but in its ultra-thin “finissimo” form the multi-faceted case took on a distinct personality. Its slinky presence is seductive in its own right, but watch fans have been won over by the engineering: the Octo Finissimo has held seven records for ultra-thin watchmaking.

Cartier Tank (1917)

CARTIER

As Worn By Rudolph Valentino And Paul Mescal

Few designs—of watches, or anything else—have proven so malleable and so constant as that of the Tank, conceived by Louis Cartier in 1917 and named after its resemblance (in overhead profile) to the machines then rumbling across battlefields in Flanders. There have been long Tanks, curved Tanks, asymmetric Tanks and more—each, with its elongated flanks and Belle Epoque dial, unmistakably a Tank and unmistakably Cartier. On the wrist of Rudolph Valentino in the 1920s, Jackie Kennedy in the 60s, Warhol in the 70s or Paul Mescal today, the Tank in its small, slim original format has never been anything other than effortlessly, exquisitely on point. And it never will be.

The Panel: As Voted By

George Bamford, founder, Bamford Watch Department; Tim Barber, writer, Mr Porter; Alex Barter, author The Watch: A Twentieth-Century Style History; Alex Bilmes, editor-in-chief, Esquire; Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, re-founder and owner, Frears Watch Company; Maximillian Büsser, founder MB&F; Davide Cerrato, CEO Bremont; Ross Crane, cofounder, Subdial; Johnny Davis, editor, The Big Watch Book; James Gurney, editor and consultant; Chris Hall, senior watch editor, Mr Porter; Adrian Hailwood, watch business consultant; Robert-Jan Broer, founder and editor-in-chief, Fratello; Ming Lui, writer, The Financial Times; Tracey Llewellyn, editor Telegraph Time; James Marks, international head, Phillips Perpetual; Kathleen McGivney, CEO, RedBar Group; Caragh McKay, creative content director; William Messena, founder Messena Lab; Benoit Mintiens, founder, Ressence Watches; Oliver R. Müller, watch-industry entrepreneur; Tim Mosso, media director and watch specialist, WatchBox; Bill Prince, editor and author of Royal Oak: From Iconoclast to Icon; Philipp Stahl, founder Rolex Passion Report; Rebecca Struthers, watchmaker and historian; Rikki, Scottish Watches; Charlie Teasdale, contributing editor, Esquire; Silas Walton, founder and CEO, A Collected Man; Asher Rapkin, founder, Collective Horology; Dr James Nye, deputy master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers; Eric Wind, owner, Wind Vintage; Charlie Pragnell, chairman and CEO, Pragnell; Robin Swithinbank, writer, The New York Times

Originally published on Esquire UK

They say that "the sky's the limit" but Breitling never took that to heart. Especially when it comes to its redesigned Avenger series. From flight's fickle fancies to conquering even the toughest of cockpits, the Avenger timepiece is built for fighter pilots... but for the rest firmly grounded on terra firma, the Avenger's design and cutting-edge functionality has appeal as well.

The update is a mix of sleek aviation detailing, wear-resistant materials and Breitling's Manufacture Caliber 01 powering the chronograph models. While Breitling's aviation legacy can be traced back to the 1930s, it brings a modern update to the Avengers model. All thanks to a variety to the colourway, use of baton indexes and decreased cases.

From the Avenger series: the 44mm chronograph, the 44mm automatic GMT and the 42mm automatic. Each model proffers a choice between a military leather strap (with a folding pin buckle) or a three-row stainless steel bracelet with a micro-adjustable folding clasp. With a water resistance of up to 300 metres, these timepieces are as resilient as the aviators who wear them.

Avenger B01 Chronograph 44 and Night Mission

As mentioned, the ticking heart of the Avenger chronograph is the Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01. The COSC-certified chronometer has a approximately 70 hours of power and has a five-year warranty. An open sapphire-crystal caseback reveals the movements precise mechanics. Your core models have an array of coloured dials. From azure blues and lush greens to classic blacks and desert sands, it's a departure from its usual staid hues. Paired with a rotating 60-minute bezels in stainless steel, baton indexes adorn the dial that highlights the red-tipped chrono hand. Along the crown and bezel, are the innovative square pushers designed for seamless timekeeping.

If up for a bolder statement, the Avenger Night Mission chronograph might be up your alley. The Night Mission is encased in scratch-resistant ceramic and comes in striking yellow or carbon black dials. Crafted from solid titanium, its caseback, crown, pushers and buckle boast unparalleled strength-to-weight ratios. Fashioned from resilient carbon fibre, the black dial is more legible and pays homage to the aircraft design's precision.

Avenger Automatic GMT 44

Embraced by pilots and globe-trotters alike, the Avenger Automatic GMT 44 allows at-a-glance readings, courtesy of its distinctive red GMT hand and 24-hour rotating bezel. With a diameter mirroring its chronograph counterpart, this timepiece exudes a compact profile. Encased in steel, it offers an option between black or naval blue dials. A COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 32 powers this marvel and promises an approximate 42-hour reserve and is backed by a two-year warranty.

Avenger Automatic 42 

In the realm of timepieces, Breitling's Avenger Automatic 42 is a testament to elegant robustness, meticulously balancing power and precision within its 42mm frame. Crafted from steel, this watch embodies strength and style. It offers enthusiasts a choice of dials in bold hues—classic black, deep naval blue or adventurous camo-green.

Beneath its refined exterior lies the heart of the Avenger Automatic 42—the COSC-certified Breitling Caliber 17 automatic three-hand movement. This ensures up to 38 hours of uninterrupted power. You get a promised reliability and performance that withstands the test of time.

Breitling's Avenger collection is not just a timekeeping companion; it's a testament to the spirit of aviation. One that encapsulates the thrill of the skies, the legacy of precision and a boundless innovation.

If Zenith is known for one thing, it is their legendary El Primero movement: the world’s fastest oscillating automatic chronograph movement at the time of its unveiling in 1969. Although having struggled (like many other watchmakers) during the Quartz Crisis of the ’70s to ’80s, Zenith’s popularity of late has been largely fuelled by the re-releases of its trio of 1969 El Primero-powered offerings. Comprising of the A384, A385 and A386, the lattermost timepiece is arguably the most iconic of the trio, with its tri-coloured silver, grey and blue sub-dials going on to become a hallmark of the Le Locle manufacture.

Today, the A386’s spiritual heir is the Chronomaster Original, unveiled in 2021—a watch deliberately designed to visually resemble its storied predecessor as closely as possible. Initially, the Chronomaster Original was offered in two variations: a creamy-white dial, and a two-tone, black-and-white reverse panda dial. Both (especially the "reverse panda" variant) were extremely well-received, leading Zenith to combine the best of both in the 2023 release. Culminating in an elegant union of the black dial from the reverse panda with the famed tri-coloured sub-dials of the cream-white dial variant, the timepiece marks the first time the combination has been seen on the Chronomaster Original’s brush-polished and chamfered-edge visage.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Apart from the dial, everything else from the 2021 Chronomaster Original is carried over to the 2023 iteration. It measures in at 38mmx13mm and retains the 4:30 date window and chronograph pump pushers—staying true to the visual cues of the 1969 A386. The only concessions to modernity are the domed sapphire crystal, and an update of the iconic, vintage “ladder” bracelet to a modern, three-link steel bracelet. The Chronomaster Original’s case is also manufactured from digital scans of the original A386’s, further strengthening the lineage between the two timepieces.

The El Primero Calibre 3600 movement at the heart of the Chronomaster Original is a contemporary take on the manufacture’s iconic El Primero base calibre.

Although visually identical, the high-beat, El Primero Calibre 3600 movement inside the historically accurate case brings the signature El Primero base calibre into the 21st century. The integration of a 1/10th of a second chronograph means the central red chronograph hand completes a rotation around the dial every 10 seconds—a configuration not present on the original A386. 

The 2023 Chronomaster Original is may largely be similar to its 2021 siblings, but its release still warrants celebration. The marriage of the watch’s heritage-inspired design cues with contemporary sophistication marks a noteworthy evolution of the A386’s lineage.

Photo by Vacheron Constantin

A two-for-one deal is one of the little treats that can make a mundane day feel a little less so—whatever tax bracket you sit within. For most, that will likely be an extra Dairy Milk bar from your local Tesco. But for those taking home six figures, it's a bit more luxe. Think: a hand-made automative that comes with a unique watch as part of one astronomically large fee. Two mechanical masterpieces for the price of one, what a steal!

It was what caught the attention of petrolheads at this year’s Monterey Car Week, as Rolls-Royce unveiled the La Rose Noire Droptail. It's a coachbuild car—a bespoke service so exclusive the manufacturer's website describes it as “the automotive equivalent of haute couture”—that’s been fitted with pièce unique Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph on its dashboard. It's estimated to be worth around $30 million.

As to be expected, this timepiece is as gobsmacking as the car’s price. Press a button on the left-hand side of the dashboard, and the 43mm titanium case will rise for the wearer to slip onto their wrist. AP artisans have hand-sculptured a solution to the bare holder, by way of a watch head fitted with a white-gold coin to put in place of the dashboard clock when it's out and about.

Inside the watch is an open-worked and self-winding calibre 4407, while custom red counters and a red inner bezel matches the car’s La Rose Noire colourway. Just like the original Concept that was launched earlier this year, the model comes with interchangeable straps that can be stored in its own leather pouch for when it’s not in use.

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The type of customer who has opted for such an extravagant car modification will be pleased to know that dashboard watches of such intricate detail are generally a rare addition. That was until last week, when Vacheron Constantin announced that they too had designed a ‘one-of-a-kind’ dashboard watch for another custom Rolls-Royce Droptail—this time, in Amethyst.

Of course, just because it’s being made for the same-but-different-colour car doesn’t mean it’s the same-but-different-colour dashboard watch. The Swiss marque has equipped the single-edition Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon with the calibre 1990, a hand-wound in-house complication movement incorporating certain technical features deriving from Reference 57260—the most complicated timepiece in the world, presented by the maison in 2015.

A bi-axil tourbillon nods to the work of 18th century French watchmaker Antide Janvier, who invented a moving sphere with a planetary gear known as an armillary. Visually, it mimics the interlocking circles and armillas (graduated metal discs) of the famous scientific instrument modelling the celestial sphere.

Marking Vacheron Constantin’s first dashboard watch since 1928, their engineers worked hard to build a holder that would fit into the fascia of the car. Unlike the AP, this has been designed to look more like a pocket watch when taken out of its wooden house. Still, its speedometer-esque minutes display reminds you that it belongs within your car instead of your suit trousers.

As two very expensive, very intricately made dashboard watches are released in close succession of each other, it's clearly a good time to be a collector of watches and cars. And if you're not, it's a good time to start—expect more watch and Roller pairings in the future, as this trend is only just beginning. They're a bit like busses for people who don’t have to take busses; you wait ages for one, then two come along at once.

Originally published on Esquire UK

Metamorphosis is an often risky process—successful examples within the horological context are finely balanced along the double-edged sword of mass opinion. With the release of the Bell & Ross' latest BR 03 collection, however, the brand demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of this balance by preserving the elements that made the collection a cornerstone of the manufacture’s offerings, while paying heed to modern design sensibilities.

The most visible change within the BR 03 is the watch's reduced dimensions. The cosmetic changes are subtle. The case diameter is reduced from 42mm to 41mm, while the lugs have been downsized from 4.5mm to 4mm, contributing to a marked change in the timepiece's wear and presence on the wrist. In an era where smaller watches are once again gaining traction, these changes reflect the brand’s recognition of contemporary watchmaking trends and preferences.


(From left: 2006 BR 03 42mm; 2014 BR 03 42mm; 2023 BR 03 41mm)
The BR 03’s cosmetic changes see its case diameter and lug length reduced.

More significantly, the BR 03 has a new movement under its hood: the BR-CAL.302. Based on the Swiss Sellita SW 300-1, the movement itself is a reflection of the manufacture's delicate balancing act between trends and heritage. While it is (for the most part) still the same reliable, workhorse movement widely used across other Bell & Ross timepieces, it also crucially introduces an extended power reserve of 54 hours—a significant upgrade on the previous 38 hours of power reserve.

The BR 03 may have undergone a subtle metamorphosis in the dimension and movement department, but Bell & Ross has elected to retain the elements that made the BR 03 a success. The 'circle within a square' case shape embellished with screws and highly-legible, flight instrument-inspired font, for example, ensures that the timepiece still possesses much of the tool watch charm that made it a unique design proposition when it first landed in 2006.

BR 03 Black Matte
BR 03 Black Steel
BR 03 Phantom

Offered in two case materials—black ceramic and brushed steel—Bell & Ross offers a choice between a muted, utilitarian look more synonymous with a tool watch, and a more sophisticated, dressier appearance.

Amongst the ceramic offerings, a new union of the matte black ceramic case with a khaki dial and matching rubber strap functions as the manufacture’s homage to its military-inspired design language. As for the polished steel option, the newest kid on the block takes the form of a retro-styled, brushed, copper/salmon dial offering. Engraved, jet black Arabic numerals and indices are paired with eye-catching blued steel hands, with the contrast between the satin-brushed finishing and smooth chamfered edges of the case a refined touch on a handsome timepiece.

Overall, the new edition of the BR 03 is a great horological example of the tricky act of balancing oft-fickle and transient trends, while staying true to brand philosophy.

Jose Carrasco | Unsplash

Although the luxe watch industry has been going through a mini-crisis of late, with prices on major brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe seeing a 25-35 percent drop on the secondary market, there’s still no shortage of people looking to get something stellar on their wrist. Just, perhaps, a shortage of cash. Which means prime time for fake watch scammers to make their move.

While the adage "if it feels too good to be true it probably is" should always be followed when considering a significant watch purchase, Esquire Middle East has mined its collective watch knowledge to provide you with some advice. What you need to know is as follows.

Do your research

If you know the brand you’re after, research the heck out of it online. Get acquainted with the model you like and look at images and videos from all angles. Check official retail prices, and even go to an official dealer and handle the watch for reference.

Choose a good seller

The best way to avoid being ripped off is to go official (you can find authorised dealers on a brand’s website). Failing that, a trusted dealer or reseller with a good reputation should reduce risk. If someone is trying to sell way below the usual price—for whatever reason—then proceed with extreme caution.

Inspect before purchase

Hold it up to your ear and listen for ticking. All of those tiny moving parts are designed to be continuous and smooth, unlike the once-per-second ticks that accompany a quartz. Observe also if the second hand sweeps around the numerals or if it pauses abruptly with each tick. Don’t be afraid to bring out a magnifying glass to get a closer look and compare it to photos of the real deal—if the letters look off, the logo is not aligned, there are any misspellings, or there are unnecessary pusher buttons on a watch that is not a chronograph, walk away. 

Get it appraised 

If possible it’s ideal to have the watch examined by an appraiser before making any purchase. Better still if it comes with the necessary paperwork and documentation, such as a certificate of authenticity, the original box with a matching serial number, and so on. Trust your gut, but as said at the start, if a deal sounds way too good to be true, it probably is.   

Originally published on Esquire ME

This year’s Only Watch event might well be almost five months away, but Hublot has given us a preview of what to expect by showcasing the remarkable MP-15 Takashi Murakami Only Watch Sapphire watch that Takashi Murakami and Hublot collaborated on.

While Hublot and the iconic designer Murakami have form that goes way back—they recently presented 13 new NFTs and 13 unique timepieces featuring the iconic smiling flower central to the Japanese artist’s work—this new watch not only pulls from Murakami’s legendary motif, but also presents a first-ever central flying tourbillon movement.

Murakami flower rainbow tourbillon

Murakami’s flowers have long since been classed as something of a pop culture force, finding their way onto artwork and fashion for the likes of Kanye West, Drake and Kid Cudi. But while the smiley flowers have been bought and sold for high prices since 1995, the artist explained, in a 2005 interview with The New York Times, that they were, in fact, a manifestation of the repressed emotions and collective trauma experienced by Japanese residents after the 1945 Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings.

For the Hublot Only Watch timepiece, the motif has been brought to life on the MP-15 by making it the actual case of the watch. Coming in at 42mm wide and 13.4mm thick, the case is made up of 12 petals set with a total of 444 coloured gemstones in a symmetrical and rainbow-like gradient. At the centre of the piece, the iconic smiley face is laser-engraved onto the domed sapphire crystal, which envelops the central flying tourbillon giving it the appearance of being stuck in mid-air. It’s a truly spectacular piece that is hoped will fetch big money at auction.

Onlywatch convention

Only Watch was created in 2005 by Luc Pettavino with one intent: raise funds for research on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It has allowed the charity organisation behind Only Watch, the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies, to raise almost SGD$146M. 

The Only Watch auction will take place in Geneva on November 5. Find more information here.

Originally published on Esquire ME

Rolex Perpetual 1908

It’s a common trope: the seasoned watch collector who already has it all, wondering what else out there could possibly excite him. He owns more than just the usual suspects, and counts among his collection the grail watches others can only dream of. What more could such a person want?

Perhaps it’s finally time for him to look into vintage timepieces. Perhaps the esoteric independents could spark some interest. Or perhaps he is just not looking hard enough. Watches and Wonders this year showcased novelties that prove there is still much to see (and covet). From completely new lines to long overdue releases, the major manufactures clearly still have cards up their sleeves.

A Renewed Focus

What is arguably the most coveted timepiece for any seasoned collector this year is the new Perpetual 1908 from Rolex, which has introduced an entirely new line of dress watches for the brand. Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room: Rolex’s dress watches have simply not enjoyed the popularity of their sportier siblings. 

Instead, the Cellini line of classically styled dress watches—which included the criminally underrated Cellini Prince—was largely overshadowed by Rolex’s Professional range of timepieces in the past decade. It thus came as no surprise when Rolex quietly retired most of the Cellini collection last year. The sole remaining model, the Cellini Moonphase ref. 50535, was discontinued earlier this year as well, thus marking the end of an era for the brand.

Replacing the Cellini is the new Perpetual collection, which now serves as Rolex’s main pillar for dress watches. The collection was unveiled at Watches and Wonders with just a single model, the Perpetual 1908. And oh, what a watch it is!

The Rolex Perpetual 1908 is clearly just the first model in a collection that Rolex will soon expand, whether with complications or time-only watches in other sizes. There is, however, always an irresistible allure when it comes to firsts

The Perpetual 1908’s name pays homage to the year founder Hans Wilsdorf trademarked the “Rolex” name. Sized at 39 millimetres across and measuring just 9.5 millimetres high, it will suit most wrists and slip effortlessly under a cuff. To complement its modest proportions, Rolex has given it a clean, minimalist aesthetic that comes complete with several classic appointments. Note, for instance, how the fluted bezel is visually paralleled by the railway track chapter ring. In much the same way, the Breguet-esque hour hand and sword-shaped minute hand references dress watches of yore, albeit with a modern twist.

Mechanically, there is much to talk about as well. The Perpetual 1908 is powered by Rolex’s new calibre 7140, which sports the Genevan manufacture’s latest advancements in movement technology. The Chronergy escapement within it, for example, has greater energy efficiency and reliability than traditional Swiss lever escapements. In the same vein, calibre 7140’s Syloxi hairspring offers all the benefits of a silicon balance spring, while also sporting a unique geometry that ensures concentric breathing. A long 66-hour power reserve completes the package by providing greater convenience.

The Perpetual 1908 is clearly just the first model in a collection that Rolex will soon expand, whether with complications or time-only watches in other sizes. There is, however, always an irresistible allure when it comes to firsts. For any connoisseur of Rolex timepieces, the new Perpetual 1908 will be a must-have.

There is, of course, the welcome conundrum of deciding which of the four available references one should get. The 1908 is cased in both yellow gold and white gold. Each variant is offered with either a white or black satin finished dial.

Long Awaited Chronographs

For aficionados of watchmaking complications, a trio of chronographs await. Three iconic brands (Swiss, German and Japanese, no less) have each unveiled a long overdue chronograph model to bolster their respective collections.

Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time line, which was introduced in 2015, has finally received its first chronograph model: the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph Ref. 5924. Consider this the brand’s answer to collectors’ call for chronographs in the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time range. The complication has, after all, been integral to aviation and pilot watches. 

Consider the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph Ref. 5924 Patek Philippe's answer to collectors’ call for chronographs in the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time range

Presented in white gold with either a khaki green dial and matching calfskin strap, or a sunburst blue-grey dial with navy blue calfskin strap, Ref. 5924 offers a flyback chronograph with a 60-minute totaliser at six o’clock. The watch retains the line’s signature Travel Time complication, thus allowing it to maintain the same visual codes that have informed its sibling designs.

A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph

A. Lange & Söhne’s entry here is the Odysseus Chronograph. This is the Odysseus line’s first chronograph, while also being the brand's first-ever self-winding chronograph. To preserve the Odysseus’s distinct feature of outsized day and date displays, A. Lange & Söhne has opted for the unconventional layout of central chronograph second and minute totalisers. Interestingly, the red-coloured chronograph seconds hand will make as many revolutions as necessary to “return” to zero when it is reset—and do so in the direction that requires fewer revolutions. Superficially, it’s a fun little feature on the watch, but this belies the mechanical complexity required for its execution. The minutes totaliser, which is tipped with a lozenge, will jump back to zero as per normal, but do so in the same direction as the chronograph second hand. 

Grand Seiko rounds up the trio with the Tentagraph, its first mechanical chronograph. The name of the watch is a quirky portmanteau of its movement’s features: TEN beats per second, Three-day power reserve, and Automatic chronoGRAPH. As part of the Evolution 9 collection, it speaks an updated design language based on 1967’s 44GS watch, which has anchored the aesthetics for all Grand Seiko timepieces since. From the increased lug width and wider bracelets that now provide a more comfortable and secure fit, to tweaked dial elements for greater legibility, Evolution 9 marks a new chapter for the brand. In much the same way, the Tentagraph is a milestone that collectors will be well-served to take a closer look at.

The Grand Seiko Tentagraph's name is a quirky portmanteau of its movement's features: TEN beats per second, Three-day power reserve, and Automatic chronoGRAPH

Alluring Rarities

Collectors who seek exclusivity will find it in the highest echelons of watchmaking, where technical complexity and artisanal crafts meet. Such rarified works demand both the time and touch of the most skilled watchmakers and artisans, which necessitate limited (or just one-off) production runs. This translates into rarity, of course, but the challenge of access is often a joy in and of itself.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Artistica Calibre 179

Jaeger-LeCoultre showcased this in the Reverso Hybris Artistica Calibre 179, which offers a new iteration of the gyrotourbillon movement. Here, the multiaxial gyrotourbillon consists of two elements: a brisk inner cage that rotates once every 16 seconds, and an outer carriage that doubles as the small seconds indicator by rotating once every minute. Gyrotourbillon aside, Calibre 179 displays two separate time zones across its faces, with Home Time supplemented by a 24-hour indicator. As for métiers d'art, Jaeger-LeCoultre has opted for lacquering as the anchoring technique. On the main face, a technique similar to champlevé enamelling is used, with depressions cut into the movement’s main plate, then filled in with lacquer while leaving thin gold ribs behind as a decorative feature. Meanwhile, the dial on the reverse face sees lacquer being applied more traditionally, and supplemented with other finishes like microblasting and hand-chamfering. Given the work involved, the Reverso Hybris Artistica Calibre 179 is understandably limited to just 10 pieces worldwide.

Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton pocket watch

Likewise, Cartier’s Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton pocket watch melds mechanical ingenuity and artisanal mastery to illustrate a no-holds-barred approach to watchmaking. Its 9506 MC movement is among Cartier’s most complex, and combines a minute repeater, flying tourbillon, and perpetual calendar—with skeletonisation to boot. To match this level of aplomb, the movement is housed within a white gold case measuring 56 millimetres across, which in turn is presented on a display frame constructed in rock crystal, obsidian and white gold. The timepiece is available in two references: one with a fluted white gold bezel, and the other with a diamond-set bezel. Five pieces of each reference will be available.

Vacheron Constantin offers a different take on exclusivity with its Les Cabinotiers Dual Moon Grand Complication. The double-sided watch counts a total of 11 complications including the minute repeater, perpetual calendar, celestial chart, sidereal hour display, and moon phase. 

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Dual Moon Grand Complication

The technical expertise required to pull off such a feat is matched by the same attention to design and aesthetics. This can be seen throughout the timepiece, from the exceptional movement decoration to the micron-level precision that the moon discs are finished to. The timepiece is, unsurprisingly, a pièce unique. It does, however, showcase Les Cabinotiers’ enviable position in the industry—to be able to create anything its clients can dream of, given sufficient time and resources.

A Return To Form

Finally, there are two brands that deserve special mention for rejuvenating their icons this year. TAG Heuer and IWC have reworked the Carrera and Ingenieur respectively, with the new iterations promising exciting releases for subsequent models in the years ahead.

For TAG Heuer, the new Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox” is the highlight. The timepiece has been released as part of the Carrera’s 60th anniversary celebrations, and marks a tweaked visual identity for the line.

The “Glassbox” moniker comes from its domed crystal, which effectively “caps” the watch to reposition the tachymeter scale from the bezel to a sloped inner flange. This doesn’t just echo domed crystals that were prevalent in the 1970s, but also presents a fresh take on the idea that, undoubtedly, represents a new chapter for the Carrera. Of course, the crystal of this modern iteration has been rendered in sapphire, instead of Hesalite (i.e. acrylic), which was the material of choice back then.

The spiritual successor to what is arguably the IWC Ingenieur reference that has made the collection what it is today is no mere remake though. For instance, the new textured dial helps to create visual interest in what is otherwise a purely technical timepiece

Powering the new Carrera Chronograph "Glassbox" is the Calibre TH20-00 self-winding chronograph movement. This is an updated version of the Heuer 02 movement that TAG Heuer launched in 2016, and comes upgraded with bi-directional winding as well as a visual upgrade to its oscillating weight, which has been sculpted to parallel the brand's logo. As testament to its improved reliability, TAG Heuer is also extending the watch's warranty from two years to five years.

The Ingenieur, on the other hand, sees the return of Gerald Genta’s legendary Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832 in a new guise: the Ingenieur Automatic 40. The spiritual successor to what is arguably the archetypal Ingenieur reference that has made the collection what it is today is no mere remake though. Instead, IWC has given it various updates. The new textured dial, for instance, helps to create visual interest in what is otherwise a purely technical timepiece, while the modified bezel now features functional screws in lieu of decorative recesses.

Elsewhere, much attention has also been paid to the other aspects of the watch’s design and mechanics. The original nose-shaped horns on Ref. 1832, for instance, have been replaced by conventional lugs that start with a middle link. This preserves the aesthetics of the Ingenieur’s integrated bracelet—an important part of its visual identity—but creates a closer, more comfortable fit on the wrist for greater wearability.

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph “Glassbox”

In much the same way, the right case flank now has subtly protruding crown protection, which lends a more sporty character to the watch while also serving a functional purpose.

Clearly, there are still novelties aplenty that can excite, even for the seasoned collector. One only needs to know where to look.


 

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