Despite the pandemic, there were some impressive watches launched in 2020. But we got the distinct feeling that most of the major players were holding back. And boy were we right. We’ve been treated to a flurry of watch launches all year long.
Yes, many of the biggest drops were during Watches & Wonders, but they didn’t stop there. It’s been a challenge and a joy to whittle down all the contenders – and bring you our selection of this year’s best timepieces.
Without further ado, the winner's of the Square Mile Watch Awards 2021 are…
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin 39mm
The Royal Oak needs little introduction. Penned by the legendary designer Gerald Genta the night before the Basel watch expo of 1971, and first seen in the metal a year later, the octagonal-bezelled nautical-inspired timepiece sparked the dawn of the luxury sports watch. More than half a century later, it is the dictionary definition of an icon. The eminent nerdiness of the watch world is such that small details, such as the rather lovely sunburst-green dial present on this new Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin, can quickly become big points of contention between hardcore collectors.Why such a big deal? Well, this is a Royal Oak without one of its key distinguishers: the checked-pattern tapisserie dial we’re most accustomed to seeing grace this design. But our judges loved the “pure simplicity and balance of this Royal Oak Jumbo”. “Nothing really comes close,” they said.
Technical Innovation of the year
Patek Philippe Ref. 5236P-001 In-Line Perpetual Calendar
Having created the first commercial QP wristwatch back in 1925, Patek Philippe is the undisputed master of making perpetual calendars. Yet even after almost a century of production, the brand somehow keeps finding new ways to refresh and reinterpret the complication. This year, it launched the Ref. 5236P-001 In-line Perpetual Calendar, which shows the day, date and month in a single panoramic aperture. It’s a satisfyingly clean solution that even converted one of judges, themselves not a big fan of the “crazily complicated dial layouts” of traditional perpetual calendars, thanks to the “absolute purity that belies the uber-complex engineering within the case. It might just be my watch of the year.” Speaking of uber-complex engineering, Patek had to file three different patents in order to bring this watch to life – and its ingenuity has certainly paid off.
Best Heritage watch
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Vacheron Constantin is part of the so-called ‘Holy Trinity’ of watchmaking, alongside Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. It’s also the oldest watchmaker in continuous production and, as such, is a dab hand when it comes to heritage pieces. The Historiques American 1921 is one of its most loved creations and is inextricably linked with the world of motoring. The watch dial, turned 45 degrees on the diagonal within the cushion case, was designed so a driver can read the time while keeping their hands on the wheel. It might be a touch outdated in application, but in aesthetics it’s still a winner. On the occasion of the model’s 100th anniversary, Vacheron has celebrated with a new collection that frames the Roaring 1920s within a contemporary guise. In the words of our judges: “The 1921 was a sublime design in 1921, and it remains an untouchably elegant blueprint a century later.”
Spirit of independence
Maximilian Büsser & Friends, or MB&F, is a brand that specialises in collaboration. Steered by the brilliant mind of Maximilian Büsser, the brand brings together the finest thinkers in horology to create the weird, the whimsical, and the avant garde. Oftentimes, its penchant for creating watches that resemble the likes of, say, a jellyfish, a bulldog, or a fighter jet mean that the mechanical artistry at their heart can play second fiddle to their novelty, but there’s a reason why MB&F calls its products ‘machines’ – they are masterpieces of highly technical micro-engineering. This year, it celebrated a decade of its sensational Legacy Machines collection, a project that sees the watchmaker reimagine the traditional horological practices of yesteryear for a modern audience. It’s this “collaborative spirit and defence of traditional practices” that has landed it this year’s Spirit of Independence award.
Best Dress Watch
Patek Philippe Calatrava “Clous de Paris” Ref. 6119
The Nautilus might steal the limelight more often than not, but it’s worth sparing a thought for Patek Philippe’s understated Calatrava collection. Dating back to 1932, it’s not just a standard bearer for dress watches, but is also one of the longest-running collections in continual production. First launched in 1985, the Ref. 3919 is perhaps the most recognisable Calatrava. This iteration featured a distinctive hobnail guilloché bezel, known as a “Clous de Paris” pattern, that framed the otherwise demure dial with an elegant flourish. The brand-new Calatrava “Clous De Paris” 6119 breathes fresh life into this iconic model, with a few concessions to contemporary tastes and a new hand-wound movement under the hood to boot. “Less is more when it comes to dress watches and the Calatrava is a pure Patek Philippe; a whisper not a shout,” our judges said.
Best Gateway Watch
Tissot PRX Powermatic 80
The Tissot PRX is more than deserving of its seat at the table of 1970s sports watches. Originally released as a quartz watch in 1978, its distinctive flat lugs, integrated bracelet and sporty but dressy dial is an aesthetic that has endured through the era of Pac-Man and New Coke right up to the present day. No, it doesn’t quite have the heritage of a Royal Oak or Nautilus, but it bears more than a passing resemblance to Vacheron Constantin’s iconic reference 222, released the year before, and as such is a design well worth a second glance. This year the Tissot has delivered the PRX Powermatic 80 – a modern, mechanical version that keeps the same 40mm case, but slides in the brand’s superb value Powermatic 80 calibre. In the words of our judges, “Tissot’s PRX offers a smart take on the most in-demand look in watchmaking at a tenth or even a hundredth of the price. You can’t argue with that.”
Panerai Submersible eLab-ID
This award goes to the timepiece that best encapsulates future-orientated thinking towards tackling the climate crisis. Case in point is this year’s winner: Panerai and its Submersible eLAB-ID. This piece contains the highest percentage of recycled-based material ever used in the construction of a watch. Indeed, 98.6% of its weight comes from recycled materials. For example, the case, sandwich dial and bridges are composed of EcoTitanium, a recycled titanium alloy obtained through a dedicated, small-scale recycling process that reuses raw material waste. Our judges were impressed: “With the caveat that Panerai absolutely must move this from proof-of-concept to series production, this is the most ambitious ‘eco watch’ this year… If Panerai can scale its sustainability programme, it has a genuine shot at driving meaningful change in the way watches are made.”
Best Adventure Watch
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Everest Limited Edition
Cory Richards – an American Leica photographer and adventurer – climbed Everest in 2019 wearing a prototype Vacheron Overseas. It took the watch world by storm. With a grained blue dial, orange accents, dual time zone – a sexy AM/PM indicator and titanium case – it covered all the bases. It sold at Phillips in December 2019 for more than $100,000 (including fees) and we all hoped we might see it again – this time in the catalogue. Well, our dreams became a reality – well, kind of, as we saw a limited edition drop in late September of 150 GMTs and 150 Chrono variations. Naturally, they were all hoovered up by long-standing Vacheron clients, but that didn’t stop our judges from going wild for them: “A damn shame they’re making so few of these, but an epic expansion on the Overseas blueprint that really distinguishes it from its rivals in the sports-luxe top tier.”
Readers’ Choice Award
Rolex Explorer 36mm
Rolex might not have invented the tool watch, but the watchmaker certainly paved the way for much of the popularity it enjoys in the modern era. You might think of the Daytona or the Submariner when you think of these highly specialised timepieces, but it was the Explorer that kicked off Rolex’s professional-grade watch lineup. Hot on the heels of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit of Mount Everest in 1953 (wearing Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches on the ascent), the watchmaker released the Rolex Explorer in the very same year to commemorate the success. The Explorer has been a mainstay in the City ever since. So it’s with no great shock that the latest rendition – resized to a more historically accurate 36mm case size and now boasting the impressive automatic 3230 calibre movement – dominated our readers’ choice award this year.
Nick and Giles English, Bremont
When Nick and Giles English launched Bremont in 2002, they had a dream of returning British watchmaking – once equal to the worldwide fame of the Swiss industry – to its rightful place at the forefront of horology. Other than a few artisan makers, there hadn’t been an industry to speak of since Smith Industries closed up shop in the 1970s, so it was quite ambitious for two former corporate finance chaps who didn’t know the first thing about watches other than the fact they didn’t like what was on offer at the time. But it’s a goal they have ultimately realised, with the opening of The Wing, a £20m facility in Henley-on-Thames earlier this year, and the launch of its first truly British-made in-house movement, the ENG300 series. Twenty years the English brothers have dedicated themselves to British watchmaking and finally the fruits of their labour are beginning to pay off. The Brits are back.
Watch of the Year & Editor’s choice
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
Tudor has been on a skyward trajectory for quite some time now. When it launched the Black Bay in 2012, Tudor set off a depth charge whose reverberations are still being felt through the watch world today. There had never been such watchmaking prowess available for such an accessible price. It launched the Black Bay Bronze in 2016, teamed up with Breitling to create an accessibly priced movement for its Black Bay Chrono in 2017, and left vintage watch fans in raptures thanks to the Black Bay Fifty-Eight of 2018. And, now, it has launched a Black Bay Fifty-Eight with a satin-finish 925 silver case. A silver case on a dive watch? Madness? Nope – not when alloyed with aluminium. The result is in fact genius. When a watch excites one of our seasoned judges enough to write, “Love it, want it, give it to me now (the watch, that is),” you know you’re onto a winner. Bravo, Tudor. You’ve done it again.