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Watches: why less can be more

When it comes to watches, is the key to style down to embellishment, or is the secret actually adhering to the concept of ‘less is more’? Adrian Hailwood examines the new wave of simplicity in the watch world

In a 1965 interview, Coco Chanel famously said, “Fashion passes; style remains” and while she was not the first to make this observation, it has attached itself to her above all others. She went on to add, “Fashion is made of a few amusing ideas, meant to be used up quickly, so they can be replaced by others in the next collection. A style endures even as it is renewed and evolved.”

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So, what are we in the watch world to make of this? Is a stylish watch, as opposed to a fashionable one, achieved by stripping away all superfluous detail, anything that could be considered ‘on-trend’ or this year’s ‘big thing’? If we get rid of the exotic materials, avant-garde case shapes and dial decorations, throw out the faux patina and pre-aged lume, and while we are at it, toss out all the dive watches, chronographs and any other extraneous complications that never really get used, what do we get?

Maybe Coco Chanel would have approved of the Bauhaus minimalism shown by the Junghans ‘Max Bill’ collection. The simplest 2017 model adheres to the ‘form follows function’ edict perfectly with the slimmest lugs and bezel, a clear baton dial and only a date window to break up the lines but I suspect that a designer of haute couture would possibly balk at such severity and look for a little more ‘luxe’ to go with the minimalism.

Watches are being pared back and even the word ‘value’ is being whispered by the manufacturers

For a luxury ‘three-hander’ the new Classique 7147 from Breguet is hard to beat. Taking cues from its predecessor the enamel dial version of the 5140 keeps the same idiosyncratic dial layout and the 40mm case but loses almost half of the case thickness. More intriguingly and subtly, it loses the step between the main dial and the seconds sub-dial, the enamel finish seeming to flow into the depression seamlessly. This tiny detail elevates the watch from being a copy of a pocket watch to a tactile experience for the eyes that, once seen, you can’t help returning to.

If you prefer a little more colour than Breguet’s white enamel, look no further than Moser’s new Endeavour Centre Seconds Automatic. Baton hour markers, a maker’s name and nothing else to impair the view of the most gorgeous fumé dials in either grey or blue. The contrast between the dial tones and the watch cases in either rose or white gold give a richness that seems almost at odds with the simplicity of the pieces. This idea is taken further in the limited-edition Endeavor Concept Guilloché watch shown at SIHH in January, which loses both the seconds hand and batons, relying purely on the delicate play of light on the dial engraving to show the 12-hour sectors.

This year, horological histrionics have fallen out of fashion; watches are being pared back and even the word ‘value’ is being whispered by the manufacturers. While you certainly cannot pretend that any of these simple watches are cheap, when it comes to style, less is definitely more.

Fellows’ next watch auction is on 25 September. For more information, see fellows.co.uk

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