Year In Review 2016: Our Top Stories Of The Year

A year-end round of up the 18 most read articles.

The past year was a big one for us, with the revamped website coming online in March 2016. That quickly showed up in our visitor numbers, which have doubled. Consequently, whereas in past years the annual roundup of the year’s best comprised 10 top stories, this year we cover 18 of our best posts; in several Chinese dialects “8” sounds like prosperity and fortune so it’s a good start to 2017.

Here are the 18, and thank you for reading.

18. Editorial: an excursion into the concept of value in watches

Value editorial header picture

SJX takes us through what constitutes true value for money in watches, from complications to finishing to vintage.

Read the editorial here.

17. Five must-know G-Shock facts from its inventor

G-Shock inventor Kikuo Ibe

We sat down with Kikuo Ibe, the inventor of the Casio G-Shock, who explained one of the bestselling wristwatches of all time, with some 70m of them having been sold since 1983.

Read the story here.

16. Hands-on with the Omega Speedmaster CK2998

Omega Speedmaster CK2998

A remake of the second Speedmaster model of 1959, the CK2998 is now an exceptionally valuable watch. Omega took the design of the CK2998 and injected contemporary colours and materials to create an attractive and attractively priced modern wristwatches.

Read the review here.

15. A 14-year old on why he bought a 70-year old Bovet chronograph

Bovet Mono-Rattrapante Chronograph 4

Contributor and vintage watch aficionado Jason Susantyo explains why he sought out a 1940s Bovet Mono-Rattrapante, a split-seconds chronograph with just two buttons.

Read his story here.

14. Editorial: trends and highlights of Baselworld 2016

A roundup of the year’s biggest watch fair by SJX, who explains what was hot and where it is heading.

Read the full story here.

13. Hands-on with the Rolex Datejust 41 Rolesor

Rolex Datejust 41 Rolesor two-tone 11

Rolex‘s top seller was subtly but significantly revamped with a new in-house movement boasting an extended power reserve, as well as a larger and better proportioned case.

Read the review here.

12. Hands-on with the Panerai Radiomir 1940 Special Edition PAM690

Panerai Radiomir 1940 Blue Dial PAM690

One of a quarter of blue dial limited editions announced midway through the year, the Radiomir 1940 PAM690 is a fresh looking departure from the typical Panerai look, which has become a bit too familiar. Expect more watches like this, or even the extra-thin Luminor Due, from Panerai in 2017.

Read the review here.

11. How good is the entry-level IWC Mark XVIII?

IWC Mark XVIII white

IWC revamped its bestselling pilot’s watch line in 2016, prudently sticking to the same design that made it a success while also lowering the prices. The base model is the Mark XVIII, which is a pretty solid watch for the money.

Read the story here.

10. Editorial: are there too many high-end watches?

And the answer to that question is yes.

Find out why right here.

9. A detailed look at the Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Spring Drive “Avant-Garde”

Seiko‘s funky new “Avant-Garde” range of Grand Seikos is a striking departure from its typical, conservative style – the cases are titanium with a ceramic cladding – but the watches still have all the hallmarks of Grand Seiko.

Read the review of the line-up here.

8. Swatch Group first half profit plunges

Swatch Group fared no worse than its main rival, Richemont, but the numbers for the first half of 2016 were still bad. And now Swatch is plowing ahead with plans to make batteries for electric vehicles, despite significant investor doubt.

Read the bad news here.

7. Photo report: Vintage Rolex Asylum 3rd Anniversary

Rolex VRA GTG Bali 2016-30

The Indonesia-based vintage Rolex enthusiast group marked its third year with a bash on the resort island of Bali – with almost 100 attendees and more than twice as many watches – and we were there to record the proceedings.

See what went down here.

6. Prudent meditations on the Rolex Daytona ceramic ref. 116500LN

Rolex Daytona Ceramic 116500LN - 2

Probably the most hyped watch of the year, despite being a solid, but simple, timepiece, the new Rolex Daytona with a ceramic bezel should be considered carefully for its merits and not the buzz. To quote from the story: “Despite the stellar qualities of the Daytona – and the fact that it is indeed hard to get, for now – don’t get caught up in the fanfare. Prudence is advisable.”

Continue reading here.

5. Hands-on with the Seiko PADI “Turtle” diver ref. SRPA21

Seiko PADI Diver SRPA21-K1 2

Every year Seiko introduces a handful of watches that are just sublime value for money and the PADI “Turtle” is one of them. A special edition for the eponymous international dive training organisation – another four PADI watches were recently announced – the PADI “Turtle” combines a retro design with striking colours, and a surprisingly well made dial.

Full story here.

4. Hands-on with the unusual Rolex Air-King

Rolex Air-King 116900 and Explorer

Rolex watches are rarely quirky but the Air-King is. Priced as the most affordable sports Rolex, despite having the exact same features and specs as the pricier Milgauss, the Air-King has a speedometer-style dial that is unusual but appealing. And the yellow and green logo – a first for Rolex – makes it that much more peculiar.

Read the review here.

3. Explaining the new and improved Tudor Heritage Black Bay

Tudor Black Bay Black 79230N 1

Tudor gave its bestseller a major upgrade in 2016, while keeping the affordable price almost the same. Hard to argue with that.

Find out why it’s better here.

2. Hands-on with the Seiko Presage 60th Anniversary Chronographs

Seiko Presage 60th Anniversary Chronograph SRQ021 - 1

SJX named the Seiko Presage 60th Anniversary one of the most notable watches of the year, because they are just awesome value for money, offering an in-house chronograph movement and either a fired enamel or hand-made Japanese lacquer dial for well under US$3000.

Read the review here.

1. Li Ka-Shing and his $500 Citizen Eco-Drive wristwatch 

Li Ka-Shing Citizen watch

Worth an estimated US$29 billion, Li Ka-Shing is the richest man in Hong Kong. The property and telecoms tycoon, however, tells time in a modest manner, with an all-black Citizen Eco-Drive wristwatch that cost him US$500.

Read the story here.

Thank you for reading and see you in 2017.

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Why are Stainless Steel Watches so Collectible and Expensive?

Delving into why the most expensive watch ever sold is made of the least expensive of metals; plus how steel makes sense with slowing demand for modern luxury watches.

On a chilly day typical of Geneva’s winter in November 2016, Phillips set the world record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction when the hammer came down on the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel (pictured above). Including fees the incredibly rare timepiece from 1944 sold for SFr11.0m, or just over US$10.7m.

Though the ref. 1518 is a complicated wristwatch that is quintessentially Patek Philippe, being the first chronograph with perpetual calendar ever produced in series, as well as being extraordinarily rare the specimen sold at auction was cased in the least expensive of metals – stainless steel.

More recently, a Rolex ref. 8171 “Padellone” triple calendar became most expensive wristwatch ever sold at an auction in Asia when it sold for just over US$1m – and the crisply preserved case was, naturally, stainless steel.

Rolex ref. 8171 in steel

Platinum watch cases are the priciest due to the complexity of machining and cost of material, while gold is the most popular precious metal for its recognisable colour. Mere stainless steel is usually the metal of choice for sports or affordable watches.

Ordinary steel tends to rust or stain with exposure to air and moisture, while the addition of chromium gives stainless steel its, well, stainless properties. The metal is also strong, biologically inert and relatively inexpensive, making it popular for applications as diverse as construction, surgical tools and kitchen sinks.

For the same practical reasons stainless steel is a popular material for watchcases. Being less flashy than gold also makes stainless steel a common choice. That is obvious in the numbers: over 50 per cent of the watches exported from Switzerland in 2015 were stainless steel.

“Stainless steel watches prove to be something of a paradox in the world of luxury watch collecting,” says Sam Hines, the International Head of Watches at Phillips. Last year the New York-based auction house sold eight vintage Patek Philippe watches for over US$500,000 – all of which were stainless steel. Of those, three went for over US$1m, all being stainless steel chronographs.

The price premium for stainless steel cases is common in the world of high-end vintage watches, particularly those with complicated movements. Being expensive and rare watches when new, such watches often had correspondingly expensive cases made of gold or platinum, making steel cases exceedingly rare, especially for top of the line watchmakers like Patek Philippe.

“During the 1940s through to the 1970s, first class watch manufactures would not dream of using an inferior metal such as stainless steel,” explains Hines, “On very rare occasions a patron might request a stainless steel case as a special order… [and] during the Second World War certain brands had to use stainless steel for their watch cases due to the scarcity of precious metal.”

“Many collectors aspire to vintage stainless steel due to the rarity of their production,” says Hines, leading to price premiums for stainless steel specimens that are staggering.

“The Patek Philippe reference 1518 [chronograph with perpetual calendar] was introduced in 1941 and can be found cased mainly in yellow or pink gold… 281 examples were made and [just] four known examples in stainless steel were rumoured to have been made for the King of Iraq in the mid-1940s.”

“Today, a very good quality yellow gold example is worth US$500,000, while a prime pink gold example is worth US$1m,” points out Hines.

A pink gold Patek Philippe 1518 that sold for SFr1.47m, at the same auction as the SFr11m steel version.

That being said, only exceptional vintage stainless steel watches are outrageously expensive. The vast majority of such watches are eminently affordable, even those from prominent makers. In that sphere, Hines recommends a 1940s stainless steel Omega, which can be had for anywhere from several hundred dollars to the low thousands.

The collectability of high-end, vintage steel watches has not gone unnoticed by today’s watchmakers. In fact, the reverse is true in contemporary watchmaking.

“While some brands have traditionally not dabbled or executed a core range in steel,” says Matthew Green, the worldwide merchandising chief for luxury watches and jewellery at duty free retailer DFS Group, “We see more and more of the [new launches] going in this direction.”

And it’s not just establishment watchmakers that are doing this. “Independent watchmakers have successfully expanded the idea of value in a different direction by producing one-off or rare pieces in steel while still maintaining their positioning, [including] H. Moser [and] Laurent Ferrier,” says Green, adding, “These pieces carry the value encompassed by the brands at a new, [more affordable] price point for today’s consumer.”

The Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller Boreale in stainless steel

Stainless steel is intrinsically an inexpensive material, which means steel watches are typically less expensive, all things being equal. This suits the straitened times, particularly with the luxury watch industry facing drooping demand.

“Over the past two years we have noticed the preference of our consumers gravitating towards stainless steel”, says Green, who oversees the DFS luxury watch division in 14 countries around the world, giving him a keen understanding of global trends. “Many [watchmakers] are actively responding to the increase in price-conscious consumers looking for a clear value proposition.”

“Many complications such as an annual or perpetual calendar traditionally offered in precious metals are launching in stainless steel,” notes Green, making them more affordable than before.

Another prominent example from the world of independent watchmaking is F.P. Journe, which took a nuanced approach. The watchmaker introduced a five-piece set of complicated watches, distinguished by their 38mm cases in stainless steel. Though individually cheaper than their precious metal equivalents, they are only sold as a set, raising the cost of entry.

Stainless steel is in vogue not just for rare, complicated timepieces, but also for entry-level watches as watchmakers endeavour to make their wares more accessible. Vacheron Constantin, for instance, recently debuted the Quai de l’Île in steel. Previously available only in gold, palladium or titanium, the Quai de l’Île now can be had for half of what it cost before.

Green does offer a note of caution, “There is a fine line in expanding product offering to meet consumer demand [while] retaining brand value – it all comes down to the execution of the new products.”

This is an edited version of an article first published in The Business Times Watch Supplement 2016.

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