I rarely write “listicles” but the holidays are always a good excuse for one: a run through of the year’s wants. It’s a wish list of watches I desire, and in a handful of instance bought, and not about the most significant or notable watches (which will be published just before the year’s end).
Surprisingly the list is a pretty short one, and heavier on affordable watches than top of the line ones. That’s perhaps reflective of both the state of the industry – often saturated and occasionally unimaginative – and the fact that I’ve seen quite a lot. That being said, sometimes it’s the simple and affordable that surprises, like the Tudor P01, or something from an expected corner, like the Chanel Monsieur Edition Noire.
Even for a price-is-no-object list there are barely any must-haves. The list of candidates was long, but most were crossed out for one reason or another. That also in part reflects the fact that the more expensive a watch is, the higher the standards it should be held to.
The Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar, for instance, is exceptionally interesting and smartly conceived, in fact, it’s one of the year’s best watch in terms of mechanics, but the design is a bit of a let down.
Even in a more affordable tier of complicated watches, the wants come with caveats. The Hermes L’Heure de la Lune is unconventional and poetic, typically Hermes in style. Though its face is elegant, the case profile is less so; it is a bit thick, which is inevitable given the planetary moon phase, but thick nonetheless.
Priced quite similarly to the Hermes is the Moritz Grossmann Hamatic – unquestionably the most impressive and interesting self-winding movement of recent years. Not only is the movement construction novel, the finishing is also top class. But it is hindered by the brand’s uncertain future; though Moritz Grossmann has been amply funded by government grants, the brand’s confused strategy in positioning and products leaves its long term viability questionable.
The one that does make the list isn’t a complicated but is priced like one: the Rolex Day-Date “Rainbow”. The most appealing version is the least “bling”, sans diamonds on the bezel and bracelet, meaning it just has diamonds on the dial and coloured sapphire hour markers. It’s as subtle as a rainbow gem-set watch for men gets.
The easy buys
At the affordable end of the spectrum, the choices weren’t tough. Tudor takes top place with two watches, the Black Bay P01 and Black Bay Chrono Dark, which are both tremendous value for money. In years past Seiko would inevitably feature here, but with its increasing prices and proliferating limited editions, its watches are less compelling than before.
The P01 is a bit over the top, too chunky and long to be worn easily, but it is something interesting and unusual, even peculiar, in a good way. Importantly, it is backed up by historical legitimacy, as the watch is based on a prototype that never entered production).
On the other hand, the Black Bay Chrono Dark is easy to wear, and conventional in both design and colour. Powered by a high-spec chronograph movement supplied by Breitling, it just offers simple, solid value – the retail is a bit over US$5000 – that is unmatched by any other maker in the same price segment.
Even more affordable is the G-Shock “Full Titanium”. It’s essentially a remake of the original 1983 G-Shock, but with the case and bracelet in black-coated titanium (another version features an engraved, camouflage pattern). The idea in itself is compelling, and the watch is even more compelling in the metal.
But it is let down by a slightly high price – retail is US$1,550 – and the fact that Casio has been relentlessly milking the high-end, “Full Metal” G-Shock, with almost a dozen variants launched since the first, gold-plated model last year, including a whopper in 18k yellow gold that is both preposterous and absolutely cool.
And it’s for that reason that the Panerai Radiomir 8 Days PAM 992 doesn’t make the list. Although it’s relatively well priced, and has the quintessential, old school Panerai look, the brand has done so many limited editions in sum that it substantially erodes the appeal of any single model.
The last of the affordable watches is the MIH Gaïa Watch. Created to raise funds for the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH), a timepiece museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Gaïa Watch is in some ways the successor to the better-known MIH Watch of 2005 that was created for the same purpose.
While the first MIH timepiece was brilliantly conceived – centred on a simple but functional annual calendar devised by Ludwig Oechslin – it was too stark in its minimalism. The new Gaïa Watch is a little bit more finished – in particular, the frame-like lugs have polished, bevelled edges – although it lacks anything in terms of complication, being powered by a straightforward Sellita movement.
In the case of the Gaia it was both wishing for the watch, and also wishing the crowdfunded project would get off the ground. Just last week the MIH announced it had received enough deposits to get going, so the watch will be produced as planned.
Off the beaten path
The year also threw up two unexpected watches from establishment brands; one might even be mislabelled a fashion brand. The first is the Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar ref. 5212A, a watch that is quirky in a manner not often seen at the Geneva brand. It features a calendar arranged concentrically around the dial, with the calendar indications being reproductions of a designer’s handwriting.
At the same time, the movement boasts some notable technical improvements, including patented teeth profiles for the calendar wheels, making it a compelling package, albeit one that’s slightly expensive for a steel calendar watch. But going by what insiders are whispering, the Weekly Calendar is merely the opening salvo in a gradual revamp of the entire Calatrava line, which is probably going to get a lot more interesting.
And the other is the Chanel Monsieur Édition Noire, a sleek, monochromatic iteration on the wristwatch Romain Gauthier helped conceive. Dressed in matte black ceramic, it’s a stylish, pared back Romain Gauthier of sorts.
Though larger than the gold version of the same, the Edition Noire is slim and discreet on the wrist, being almost all black. It’s almost all black because the case middle is black ceramic, but the bezel and case back are steel; the screws in the back run through the case middle and screw into the bezel. Consequently, the bezel is not quite seamless, it is made up of a black ceramic insert framed by a steel border.
And although the offerings at Only Watch are all one-offs made for charity, they’re worth a mention. There were a couple of standouts at Only Watch, although only a few within reasonable means, at least in terms of the presale estimate.
One was the Akrivia Chronometre Contemporain with a hammered, enamelled dial, because it is more elaborate, richer version of a watch that is normally handsome but a bit plain. But it sold far, far over the estimate, making it a non-contender.
The other was the Konstantin Chaykin Joker Selfie, a clever, thoughtful evolution of a whimsical watch. Though it retains the silly face that characterises the Joker, this version incorporates many tweaks and features – including a “secret” function and a movement derived from an observatory chronometer calibre – that illustrate how far Konstantin went in building something unique for a good cause. It sold for 70,000 francs, which is still within the grasp of reason.
The last was one that went under the radar, and sold only a bit above its retail price: the Singer Reimagined Track 1. It’s equipped with a movement that is little understood and under-appreciated, the innovative AgenGraphe chronograph movement developed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his team at Agenhor. And the Only Watch version has a black-coated, Damascus-patterned steel case, giving it an unusual nuance and texture.
I’m on the fence about the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus. Quality and finishing is excellent, as one expects from Lange, but the styling and execution of the bracelet falls short; the bracelet is too wide where it meets the case, and the ratcheting clasp is too bulky.
But in the realm of sport-luxury watches, the Odysseus is arguably the best value when measured by quality to price. So I’m not sure if I want one, but really wouldn’t turn one down.
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