SJX W&W Highlights – Value Propositions and The Not-Quite

A few good buys.

Maybe unsurprising given the state of the industry – watchmakers enjoyed record sales in 2022 – value buys were few at Watches & Wonders (W&W) this year.

Amongst the independent watchmakers, just two stood out for being value buys, the Kudoke 3 and Urwerk UR-102 “Reloaded” – both of which I covered in my highlights amongst the indies.

Not quite an independent watchmaker but niche nonetheless, Louis Erard stands out for the Excellence Marqueterie. Probably the best value amongst its many limited editions, the Excellence Marqueterie brings the art of wood marquetry to a previously unheard of price segment. Although it costs only about US$4,000, the Excellence Marqueterie features a dial decorated with tiny pieces of exotic wood that have been sawn and applied by hand to form an M.C. Escher-like pattern.

The Excellence Marqueterie. Image – Louis Erard

Like most other niche brands, Louis Erard exhibited outside the halls of W&W, where all of the establishment brands were located. Amongst the big names, only Tudor offered substantial value with its new models, although that is not news in itself since value is a fundamental characteristic of the brand. (Though it is arguable that Rolex offers strong value in all its models regardless of price, but certainly not as much as Tudor.)

Two watches stood out amongst Tudor’s 2023 line-up. One is the Black Bay 54, a watch clearly conceived by aficionados with an eye for detail. Just 37 mm in diameter, it resembles a vintage Submariner but with the tangible quality of a modern Tudor.

Vintage inspired, the Black Bay 54

And the other is the Black Bay GMT with an “opaline silver” that feels like an inside joke referencing the Rolex GMT-Master “Pan Am”. While the authenticity of the vintage “Pan Am” is often disputed, the Black Bay GMT in silver is an unquestionably well executed and smartly priced. But having the same dimensions as its sibling with a black dial, the new GMT is still too thick.

“Pan Am” revived

And not so value

Although Tudor’s latest are essentially variations of past models, their value is undeniable, particularly when set against ambitiously priced watches, like the Lange Odysseus Chronograph for instance.

Priced at about US$145,000 – though the price is not confirmed until delivery in 2024 or later, at which point it will cost about 10% more I estimate – the Odysseus Chronograph is pricey for a steel chronograph even considering the high-quality, in-house movement. For comparison, the Datograph Up/Down in platinum is costs just over US$121,000.

The Odysseus Chronograph in steel

Developed from the ground up for the Odysseus, the L156.1 is unlike any other Lange movement in terms of construction and is instead more similar to recent chronograph movements from the likes of Audemars Piguet. The decoration, however, is as expected for Lange, which is to say excellent. The L156.1 does have boast a “dynamic reset-to-zero function”, but that is more a novelty stemming from the central chronograph layout rather than a complication that justifies the price.

The only way the Odysseus Chronograph can be anything close to reasonable value is it is a one-time limited edition of 100 pieces, meaning that the movement will never again be used in another watch. A production number as small as that would easily justify the price. But there will inevitably be variants of the model, especially once Lange fixes its supply chain issues with the case and bracelet components.

The L156.1

Less ambitiously priced but still more expensive than it should be is the IWC Ingenieur 40. This is a well-executed throwback to the original Ingenieur SL of 1976 that was designed by Gerald Genta. The proportions are just right, and the finishing of the case and bracelet is good. But within the soft-iron cage that shields the movement from magnetism is the cal. 32111, an economical movement developed by IWC parent Richemont as a workhorse movement for entry-level models.

Moreover, it feels like IWC is late to the game with this, since integrated-bracelet sports watches have been fashionable for over two years now. With that in mind, all the more this should have been priced better, but the retail price is US$11,700 in steel and US$14,700 in titanium. The steel Ingenieur is 40% more expensive than the Mark XX, the identically magnetism-resistant Pilot’s Watch in steel with the same movement.

The Ingenieur 40 in steel

The patterned dial of the Ingenieur 40

And the final watch to mention is the Grand Seiko Tentagraph, which isn’t overpriced but expensive for a Grand Seiko, even taking into account the high-end base movement within. The first ever all-mechanical Grand Seiko chronograph, the Tentagraph is high spec in terms of the external components like the dial and case, and also in terms of the base movement, which is the 9SA5, the top-of-the-line Grand Seiko automatic movement that incorporates its proprietary Dual Impulse Escapement.

The Tentagraph

The cal. 9SC5

But the 9SC5 movement inside the Tentagraph is modular – partly explaining the 15.3 mm case thickness – so the high-end base movement is combined with a chronograph module on top. The module is a sophisticated design that features a vertical clutch, one-piece reset hammer, and column wheel.

While unique to Grand Seiko, the chronograph module in 9SC5 shares the basic construction of the module found in the Seiko 8R28 (or NE88), a movement found in less expensive Seiko watches. Being a Grand Seiko movement, the 9SC5 is no doubt executed to a far higher standard than run-of-the-mill Seiko movements, so the similarities will be architectural rather than functional or decorative. That said, the Tentagraph does cost US$13,700, a price tag that should bring with it a movement that is integrated and proprietary.


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SJX W&W Highlights – The Unexpected and the Well-Executed

Pleasant surprises.

Because it was the world’s biggest watch brands showing off their latest products at Watches & Wonders (W&W), surprises seemed unlikely. Yet there were a few surprises at the fair, with several coming from the most conservative brand of all, Rolex, which debuted the now infamous “Bubbles” and “Puzzle”.

But the unexpected aside, the fair also saw a number of well-executed new models that were just right, most notably from Cartier, which stuck to what it does well.

The Tank Normale in yellow gold with a matching bracelet


A surprise launch, but certainly not unexpected as a highlight, is the Patek Philippe Calatrava 24-Hour Display Travel Time ref. 5224R. Although it appears to be a typical Calatrava at a distance, the ref. 5224R is elegantly different. For one, it is surprisingly large for a Calatrava at 42 mm but typically thin at under 9 mm.

The ref. 5224R

More unusual is the 24-hour display that is a convenient and smart method of showing two time zones without the need for a day and night indicator. But as is often the case with Patek Philippe, the novelty of the watch was not invented. Its key features, namely the time display and case size, are rooted in history – the watch is modelled on the oversized Chronometro Gondolo pocket watches of the early 20th century.

But at over US$57,000, the ref. 5224R is unusually expensive for a two-time zone watch, though that is explained in part by the high-end movement inside that’s shared with the top-of-the-line ref. 5236P perpetual calendar.

The 24-hour dial of the ref. 5224R

Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) did the unexpected with the Reverso Tribute Chronograph, essentially a reissue of a model from 1996. While not technically novel – the movement is largely the same as the 1996 model – the new Reverso chronograph is a fairly priced watch with a well-engineered movement inside an iconic case design.

It is certainly an appealing proposition, but the fact that a remake of a 27-year old watch with an unchanged movement is the highlight also reveals reveals the dormant creativity at JLC.

The clean front of the Reverso chronograph

The reverse displays the chronograph

But of course the biggest surprise of the fair came from Rolex, which debuted a pair of watches that are completely out of character for the brand – or so it seems. Ordinarily conservative and seemingly humourless, Rolex revealed a pair of cheerful watches, the Oyster Perpetual “Bubbles” and Day-Date 36 “Puzzle”.

“Bubbles” in two sizes

Available in three sizes, “Bubbles” is fun and affordable, albeit unattainable at least in the short term, but it is the Day-Date that is noteworthy. It sports a dial finished in champleve enamel, a first for Rolex. More interesting is the fact that the dial is done in-house by a single artisan who naturally paints them by hand. Might this signal a more decorative or artisanal turn for the Geneva giant?


Another surprising indication of Rolex’s direction is the Perpetual 1908, now the only “dress” watch offered by Rolex, replacing the little-loved Cellini. After many, many years of unsuccessful attempts at a formal watch, the 1908 appears to have gotten it (mostly) right. Though it is still traditional and perhaps a bit plain, simply being what it is makes the 1908 an important watch for the biggest luxury watchmaker in the world.

Most of all, maybe the new launches are more than just watches, and instead a subtle message to the world that the brand is evolving, particularly since it appointed a new chairman in summer 2022.

The Perpetual 1908 in yellow gold with a white lacquer dial

The cal. 7140 inside the Perpetual 1908

Well executed

Sometimes a watch just needs to be executed well and priced right. Cartier did well on this count (no pun intended), particularly with the Privé Tank Normale and Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor. Neither is extraordinary or exceptional, but both have an easy intrinsic appeal, and importantly, they are priced reasonably enough as such things go.

Although both are different in terms of concept – the Tank Normale is a vintage reissue while the Santos-Dumont is obviously a modern creation – they share the quality of getting the details right.

The Tank Normale for instance, has the compact dimensions of the original and a faithful design, right down to the facetted sapphire crystal. Similarly, the Santos-Dumont features a pleasing open working that is balanced and complements the design, along with the whimsical bonus of a plane-shaped rotor.

The Santos-Dumont in blue lacquer

But inching ahead of Cartier in terms of execution – while basically changing nothing in terms of aesthetics – is Rolex with the new Cosmograph Daytona ref. 126500. At first glance the new Daytona looks exactly like the old, but it is the accumulation of enough tweaks, improvements, and refinements to make it an entirely new watch.

The new Daytona in platinum with its familiar “ice blue” dial

The cal. 4131

The ceramic bezel found on the outgoing model, for instance, has been replaced with a metal bezel sporting a ceramic insert, no doubt to improve robustness since ceramic is more liable to chip and crack than metal. Similarly, the cal. 4131 is based on the 20-year-old cal. 4130, but boasts enough changes to be a new calibre that still remains the best in its price segment (which is about US$15,000 for the entry-level steel model).


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SJX W&W Highlights – Independent Watchmaking

Just a handful of the good and great.

As is often the case when the wider industry is doing well, independent watchmaking is on fire. This was illustrated by the numerous and diverse exhibitors, many of them brand-new entrants, showing their wares alongside Watches & Wonders in Geneva. But as is often the case when independent watchmaking is on fire, quantity far exceeded quality, and the good and great were rare.

Not wanting to go up against brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe for eyeballs (and also because most independent marques now enjoy long, long waitlists), many watchmakers didn’t launch anything new. Some talented watchmakers are merely making slow but steady progress, like Yosuke Sekiguchi, the Japanese watchmaker based in Switzerland who presented the final version of his Primevère along with new dial variants for the same.

One of the best new launches is not really a new model, but it’s good enough it deserves a top spot on the list. The F.P. Journe FFC is the regular production version of the unique FFC Blue made for charity auction Only Watch in 2021. Indicating the time with a five-fingered hand, the time display is simple but driven by a clever and complex movement, illustrating the brilliance of its creator.

Granted it costs CHF820,000 before taxes, which is probably too much even considering the complication. But according to Mr Journe, the movement is complex enough that it can only be assembled and adjusted by a watchmaker who is otherwise working on the Astronomic grand complication. Be that as it may, F.P. Journe has arguably ascended to a dimension where the usual rules no longer apply, and in that universe, the FFC is worth it.

Another notable complication sits at the other end of the haute horlogerie spectrum – and is probably a surprise entry on this list. On its face, the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Revolution seems like yet another variant of the New York jeweller’s bestselling and bulbous timepiece that features a four-armed carousel making its way slowly around the dial. Except that it is not.

While past versions of the Astronomia required between ten to 20 minutes or more for the carousel to complete one rotation, the Revolution does it in one minute. In other words, the carousel functions as a seconds hand. To move a component that large at such a speed is unprecedented, making this an achievement unrivalled by better known like Urwerk.

It is an impressively dynamic display that requires substantial engineering, including twin mainsprings and a 1/6-of-a-second remontoir – you read that right, not six seconds but one-sixth – in order to prevent the mainsprings’ energy from overwhelming the escapement. I imagine the magnitude of forces within the movement to keep everything moving would imply (very) short service intervals, but it is an achievement nonetheless.

Value propositions

Similarly sci-fi inspired but from a brand that is practically establishment when it comes to independent watchmaking, the UR-102 “Reloaded” revisits Urwerk’s first-ever wristwatch. Though based on the 1997, the new UR-102 is an entirely new watch with a larger, restyled case and modern calibre. Currently available only as a two-piece set, it will soon be sold individually for about CHF28,000, making it the most affordable Urwerk and a value buy as such things go.

Even more of a value proposition is the Kudoke 3. Starting at about US$10,000, the Kudoke 3 is eminently affordable for artisanal watchmaking. Although the dial is cleanly styled, the movement features a hand-engraved balance cock.

Quirkier than the brand’s prior offerings, it features a simple yet interesting time display that relies on a three-armed hour hand. The watch is typical Kudoke in terms of execution and quality, but different enough it will appeal to both to new buyers and current clients.

It’s all in the execution

Finely finished but falling short of a value proposition is the Petermann-Bedat Reference 2941. Having established their proven their ability to decorate components to a very, very high level with their first watch, the duo once again did the same with the Reference 2941, a mono-pusher split-seconds chronograph.

The movement is beautifully constructed, boasting all of the finely finished, gracefully shaped levers one would expect in a high-end chronograph – the view is wonderful through the display back.

But the split-seconds mechanism sits under the dial, an approach that is arguably simpler in technical terms than the traditional method of building it on the back because, amongst other things, the under-dial set-up requires a shorter pinion for the split-seconds hand. Considering its retail price of about US$250,000 – making it 50% more expensive than the Lange Triple Split – this is hard to digest.

And then there is a watch that is similar to the Petermann-Bedat split-seconds chronograph in having top-class finishing, but one that doesn’t take any technical shortcuts, although it falls short in terms of design.

Widely – and unfairly – criticised, the Biver Minute Repeater is executed well in all tangible aspects – the construction, finishing, and materials are top quality and high spec. I was impressed by the decoration of the movement, the finishing of the case – which is water resistant to 50 m, achievement for a repeater this loud – and the fineness of the bracelet.

While the quality is unmistakeable, the aesthetics are lacking. The design is a mix of elements that should be condensed and clarified. As a result, the repeater is something of a paradox in the metal: the quality is obvious with the watch in hand, but the design doesn’t quite live up to the quality.

But design is arguably the less crucial, at least for the commercial success of the brand. With quality and a compelling backstory, Biver already has key ingredients that many brands lack. Aesthetics are subjective, so there will be clients who like the design, while the tangible features are easy to comprehend.


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