The headline event of the year for the world of haute de gamme watchmaking, Watches & Wonders, amalgamates the former trade shows that took place in Geneva and Basel respectively, SIHH and Baselworld, into one single show.
This year taking place online, with the promise of a return to the live arena in Geneva for 2022, it incorporates powerhouses such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, along with a range of high-end specialist brands and independents, with hundreds of new watches unveiled over the course of the week. Here are WIRED’s top picks.
Panerai Submersible eLAB-ID
Panerai, a major luxury player built out of the embers of a small Florentine company that long ago supplied dive watches to the Italian Navy, is setting out its stall for its third act: to be a leading innovator of new materials and technologies that can push luxury watchmaking in a much more sustainable direction. Easy words to write, but Panerai is attempting to make good on this ambition with the eLAB-ID, a watch in which 98.6 per cent of its content “comes from materials integrating a high weight of recycled elements”.
This, you will note, does not mean the watch is made from 98.6 per cent recycled material, though. However, these materials include a recycled titanium alloy for the case, dial and movement bridges, recycled SuperLuminova for the luminous numerals, and recycled silicon for the escapement. Moreover, having worked with a number of suppliers in the industrial sector to develop the materials and processes necessary, the brand is putting aside Swiss watchmaking’s normal code of secrecy and making these public knowledge, in the hope of encouraging other brands to follow its lead.
Price: £54,000 | Panerai
Rolex Explorer II
That Rolex would be coming to the party with a new version of its rugged adventuring watch, the Explorer II, was common knowledge: the watch is 50 years old this year, and hadn’t received an update in aeons. Sure enough, a new Explorer II has dropped… and it’s practically the same as the old one, on the outside at least. Still 42mm, with a brushed steel case and bezel and that unmistakeable orange GMT hand for a second time zone, on both black and white dial version.
On the inside, however, the new movement Calibre 3285 reflects the best of Rolex engineering, with 70 hours of power reserve, silicon hairspring, the proprietary Paraflex anti-shock system, better efficiency, more accuracy. In other words, it’s exactly the same watch – just that little bit better. Good luck trying to get hold of one.
Price: £6,800 | Rolex
Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-014
There was no little consternation earlier this year when Patek Philippe announced the cancellation of what is unquestionably the most desired watch in the world, the steel-cased Nautilus 5711. Based on designer Gerald Genta’s ageless 1974 design, the steel Nautilus has become an investment asset in its own right, changing hands for every increasing prices on the secondary market.
It now turns out that, while the classic blue-dial variant is indeed cancelled, there’s a replacement, with a dial in olive green – an unusually vogueish move for Patek Philippe, which keeps the rest of the watch as it was. Whether this is as hot – or hotter – a property as the blue-dial original remains to be seen, but one must expect so, and it will no doubt be changing hands for vastly more than the £26,870 asking price before long.
Price: £26,870 | Patek
Oris AquisPro Date Calibre 400
Oris has quietly laid down something of a gauntlet to the Swiss watch industry with its recently introduced automatic movement. It out-specs most of the mainstream competitors out there, in particular its five-day power reserve, heightened anti-magentism, and warranty (and recommended service interval) of ten years. Given that most mechanical watches require servicing (often taking weeks for a cost of several hundred pounds) within four to five years, the latter development is particularly welcome.
This week, Oris introduced the movement into its most capable and robust dive watch, the AquisPro Date. At 49mm it’s a hulk on the wrist, but light enough with a hardened titanium case. While its Rotation Safety System is a mechanism designed to keep the rotating bezel locked securely in place against the harshest shocks.
Price: £3,600 | Oris
IWC Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL
WIRED was once told that the most dangerous sport for any mechanical watch to endure is poker – when you lose a hand and thrust your fist down on the table in frustration, it’s an impact that’ll break your watch movement. So here’s the bizarre new watch for poker players (or anyone else likely to be meeting sudden impacts): a watch demonstrating a brand new shock absorption system.
The Shock Absorber XPL places the entire movement and dial within a cantilever spring system inside the case, made from Bulk Metallic Glass (BMG), holding the movement in place and cushioning it from shocks. IWC conducted impact tests at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge to put the system through its paces, and found it capable of protecting accelerations in excess of 30,000 g. IWC will make just 30 of these watches, with only ten produced each year.
Price: £POA | IWC
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
Since 2014, Bulgari has set no fewer than seven world records for ultra-thin watchmaking under the banner of its Octo Finissimo range, including slimmest minute repeater, slimmest tourbillon and slimmest automatic watch. Finally it adds the perpetual calendar to its list, though like the others, it does so with a watch that remains as much a tour-de-force of design as it does of technical watchmaking.
Eschewing the classical moonphase-dominated layout of traditional perpetual calendar watches, the Octo Finissimo version features a large retrograde date, plus day, month and leap year registers, all of them flush to the dial. The watch is just 5.8mm thick, while the movement inside, comprising 408 separate components, measures just 2.75mm from top to bottom. Case and dial are in sandblasted titanium.
Price: CHF 57,000 | Bulgari
Cartier Must de Cartier Tank Solarbeat
Now better known as the name of a perfume, Must de Cartier was originally a range of watches, based on the famous Tank design of 1917, introduced by Cartier in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Powered by quartz movements and made relatively cheaply in large volumes, the Tank Must watches were chic, accessible and hugely popular, and contributed to the revival of a then-ailing old jewellery house.
The Must is now back, though it comes with some significant technical developments. Cartier now has the benefit of an in-house quartz movement that guarantees eight years of running time between battery changes, with which most of the range is equipped. However it’s also developed a new solar-powered movement it’s calling Solarbeat, which absorbs light through photovoltaic panels hidden, rather ingeniously, under tiny performations in the famous Roman numerals on the dial itself.
Price: £TBC | Cartier
The H08 is a sprightly new range from Hermès, offering a deft Parisian take on the versatile sports-casual watches that have now supplanted the formal dress watch as the defining genre of luxury wristwear. There’s a heavy graphic interest with a jaunty new typeface for the numerals and a softly sculpted square case.
But there’s also technological interest in a version that’s cased in an all-black graphene-based composite. Hermès isn’t letting on too many details of the composite at this point, but the case middle is made of resin mixed with a hardener, graphene powder (carbon extract) to form a strong and ultra-light composite.
Price: from £4,440 | Hermès
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 Ref 844 Limited Edition
The standout from seven other new references, TAG’s limited edition Aquaracer Professional 300 Ref 844 is based on the new 43mm design complete with titanium case and 38-hour power reserve, but crucially this model has been crafted to reference the aesthetic of Heuer’s classic 844 diver from 1978.
Along with that pressure-proof case in grade 5 titanium, the dial elements echoing the original include faux tanned lume, a red 24-hour scale, and black rubber strap with octagonal perforations matching the case but now with an adjustment system on the clasp. This version is limited to just 844 pieces.
Price: £3,600 | TAG Heuer
Tudor Black Bay Chrono
This play from Tudor brings all of what came before into a decidedly modern package – and it does it superbly well. The Heritage Black Bay first appeared in chronograph form in 2017. This new variant, however, brings contrasting sub-dials to the party and as such undoubtedly takes inspiration from sister brand Rolex’s classic Daytonas. This is 200m water resistant, though. The Rolexes were not.
There are two versions from which to choose: a black dial with white sub-dials, or a white dial with black sub-dials. However, this is a relaunch, not merely new dial colours. The case has been remade, and is now slimmer, yet it still houses Tudor’s MT5813 movement designed in collaboration with Breitling – as such, that reduction in size is all the more impressive. A choice of either two straps (aged leather or jacquard fabric) or a steel bracelet round out a decidedly desirable piece.
Price: from £3,660 | Tudor
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