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 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.
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’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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.