In the five years of running the square mile Watch Awards, we’ve judged hundreds of exceptional timepieces from the world’s great watchmakers. There’s been world-record breaking innovation, dazzling avant garde creations, and faithfully restored icons of the past – in other words, something for everyone.
This year’s award winners are no different in that respect. But if you ask us? This might be our strongest lineup to date…
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref.16202BA
Jumbo “Smoked Gold” In the year of its 50th anniversary, it’s only right that the most iconic 1970s sports watch should have its moment in the sun. Audemars Piguet launched four new Jumbo models this year but The Icon award goes to the most ostentatious of the lot, Ref.16202BA: combining an 18k yellow gold case and bracelet with a ‘smoked gold’ graduated dial. While the precious metal might have caught the eye of our raven-like judges, digging a little deeper revealed its greatest strengths. The extra-thin proportions of the watch are “perfect”, remaining unchanged from the previous generation ref.15202 Jumbos released in 2012, while the “subtle updates and new movement are all that’s needed to continue the life of this iconic model,” say the judges. Given 50 years is known as a ‘golden anniversary’, it’s a fitting celebration of the incomparable Royal Oak Jumbo.
Tudor Black Bay Pro GMT
The Adventure watch category is dedicated to timepieces inspired by the great outdoors. These are not pretty little things that run at the first sign of danger, they’re watches that’ll go into battle with you, ready and willing to withstand whatever the elements may bring. Adaptable and resilient, these are the watch equivalents of a Swiss army knife. This year’s winner epitomises these values and then some: the Tudor Black Bay Pro GMT is “pretty close to being the perfect adventure watch,” our judges said. “It’s tough, legible, and includes a useful GMT function. It can dive, it’s fully equipped, and it’s been designed to be used and abused.” The Black Bay collection has been a pillar of Tudor’s offering since its introduction in 2012, but the Black Bay Pro is the first time it has strayed from its modern-retro design codes towards something more utilitarian. It’s an experiment that has categorically worked.
Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques 222
The Vacheron Constantin 222 might not carry quite the same cachet as the Royal Oak Jumbo, but Jorg Hysek’s design remains one of the finest sports watches ever made. Unlike its esteemed counterpart, however, the 222 slipped quietly into obscurity in 1984 after just seven short years of production. Since then, the watch has been something of an open secret among collectors and sports watch enthusiasts – and, finally, Vacheron has heeded their call and brought the model back to life as part of its Les Historiques collection. The exquisite monobloc tonneau-shaped case, here finished in 18k yellow gold, delivers a “genuinely stunning” and “faithful” rendition of the 1977 original, with an improved bracelet design that is simply a “marvel of engineering”. As one of our panellists summarised, it looks “just as fabulous today as it did in the 1970s”.
Cartier Masse Mystérieuse
The dress watch typically revolves around a simple three-hand design that puts the emphasis on understated luxury befitting of its pairing with a finely tailored suit. But if we trace the origins back to the late 19th century, when it was worn more as a jewellery item, there is perhaps a little more room for frivolity. And that’s where the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse comes in. This “playful creation” hinges on a clever complication where the movement itself also acts as the rotor, floating in the middle of the dial. This is technically a skeleton watch but, rather than showcasing its inner workings, the beauty in this “cutting-edge” design is the fact that it doesn’t reveal the secret to its magic trick. “The King of Elegance surpassed all expectations with this incredible mysterious movement,” our judges note. “It’s a true feat of engineering, with a little Cartier panache thrown in.”
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
In the last decade, few brands have sought to challenge the conventions of watchmaking more than Bulgari. Its intense creativity over this period is staggering: eight patents leading to eight individual world records, with a design language all of its own. Its latest design, the Octo Finissimo Ultra, is its piece de resistance. This “incredible display of skill, nestled within the beautiful aesthetic codes of the Octo Finissimo” was crowned the thinnest watch in the world in March, standing at 1.8mm thick, before the title was wrenched from its hands by Richard Mille. No matter. The secret to its success goes beyond its striking dimensions – “a real sight to behold in the flesh” – thanks to the execution, being both “highly accurate” and “able to be serviced with relative ease”. Nobody has worked harder to push the envelope and undoubtedly Bulgari is reaping the rewards.
Tissot PRX Chronograph
The fact this is the third sports watch on our 2022 awards list should tell you all about the current state of the market: sports watches are sexy, baby, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Unlike Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin’s high-end examples, the latest model from Tissot plays in a totally different price bracket – without sacrificing too much watchmaking hardware. Indeed, the PRX Chronograph “offers everything that the 1970s icons do, at a price point available to everyone.” It’s a simple concept, but it works. Alongside great looks, this 2022 model adds a Valjoux movement with a tri-compax chronograph complication and a well-executed integrated steel bracelet. It’s a lovely thing to look at, especially in the ‘panda’ colourway. “This design just speaks to me,” one judge said. And they won’t be alone in that assessment.
Best of British
While Britain doesn’t have the industrial firepower of our Swiss friends, our recent output proves that we’re more than capable of punching above our weight. Bremont is, of course, the flag bearer for this increase in horological credibility. Its first watch in the sports watch category, the catchily named Supernova, is proof of its ambition: “Bremont’s first integrated bracelet and sports watch definitely puts them in contention to be the indisputably Best of British, as is their fantastic Wing manufacture in Henley – a real celebration of British watchmaking.” Bremont has loaded its Supernova with its top-of-the-line ENG300 series movement which, like the bracelet, is assembled in its facility in Henley. And “while it isn’t to everyone’s tastes, you have to applaud Bremont” for continuing to push itself further than any other British watch manufacturer.
Spirit of Independence
H Moser & Cie
The stock of smaller independent brands has never been higher, and H Moser & Cie is “without doubt, the hottest independent watchmaker right now”. In a marketplace that includes esteemed names like Laurent Ferrier, FP Journe, and Maximilian Büsser, it’s difficult to stand out from the competition, but H Moser & Cie balances “serious watchmaking, but always with an element of fun”. This year’s astonishing string of releases includes the technical marvel that is the Cylindrical Tourbillon, as well as the release of its most ‘affordable’ watch ever (still north of £10k, mind) the Pioneer Swiss Mad Red, offering exceptional independent watchmaking at a more palatable price point. This is a brand that, despite the limitations of its size, is determined to earn its seat at the top table of high-end watchmaking. Hats off to you, H Moser & Cie.
Georges Kern, Breitling CEO
Georges Kern is a force of nature. His bullish, no-nonsense approach to the world of watches has seen him rise through the ranks at Tag Heuer, transform IWC’s fortunes as CEO at the age of 36, and become one of the most respected figures in the industry. In a world that so often revolves around quiet conservative evolution, Kern is intent on breaking the mould – daring to shift the goal posts on how we define a watch brand in the modern age. For the last five years, he’s been doing just that at Breitling. As CEO and 5% shareholder in the independent watchmaker, he’s brought about a period of rapid change since his reign began. Gone are the oversized and overly masculine pilots watches of the last few decades, and in are a series of more elegant ‘modern retro’ collections circulating around the themes of air, land, and sea. Boutiques have been transformed, sustainability is front and centre of the company’s ethos, and a stream of exciting ambassadors have come on board as part of the ‘Breitling Squad’. The result? Business has never been better.
Read the full interview with Georges Kern here.
Rolex GMT-Master II ‘Destro’
You’ve got to respect Rolex for the latest iteration of its iconic GMT-Master II, dubbed the ‘Destro’ (meaning right in Italian), as it’s a case study in listening to your client base. Rolex told us at the watch’s launch that the Destro was born out of “better satisfying customer needs and demand” – in other words, they’d spotted a gap in its offering and filled it post haste. Rolex, here, flipped the movement 180 degrees and reverse stamped the date disk in order to accommodate the new position of the crown on the left side of the case, so that left-handed users could wear this watch on their right hand. It’s a simple trick, you might say, but since its announcement orders have gone through the roof – with models on the pre-owned market fetching a princely sum. It seems you, our readers, agree as you voted for it in your droves as this year’s Readers’ Choice.
Grand Seiko Kodo Constant Force Tourbillon
In our line of work, it’s easy to grow desensitised to the achievements of the world’s great watchmakers – don’t feel sorry for us, it’s very much ‘first-world problems’ taken to the extreme – but every so often a watch comes along that stops us in our tracks, reducing us to Homer Simpson levels of mindless drooling. The Grand Seiko Kodo is one such watch. It’s difficult to explain the triumphs of the Japanese outfit in so few words, but we’ll try our best. This is Grand Seiko’s most ambitious watch ever: the world’s first tourbillon and constant-force mechanism on a single axis, the brand’s most complicated watch, as well as its first tourbillon and first skeletonised movement. It’s far too reductive to call this watch beautiful, it’s simply staggering – and that ain’t the half of it. To put it another way, the Kodo, meaning ‘heartbeat’ in Japanese, is well named. It set our hearts racing.
Watch of the Year
Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques 222
“When a watch captures a show, a moment, the zeitgeist, you know it and you can feel it!” From the moment Les Historiques 222 was revealed at Watches & Wonders, there’s been a special buzz for this model quite unlike any other release we’ve seen this year. What was the secret to its success? Taking a beloved design of the past and making it better. Vacheron would be the first to admit that they haven’t reinvented the wheel here, but the “invisible improvements” like the new in-house movement, the exceptionally engineered bracelet, and the overall high quality of finish have transformed this watch from an icon of the past to a modern great. As one of our panellists surmises, “In terms of execution, judging the collective mood, and simply by virtue of looking and feeling absolutely excellent, the 222 is the watch of the year.” Sometimes, it really is as simple as that.