Be honest now. You need a new watch.
Whether it's to mark the turn of the decade, to cop one of the surfeit of superb timepieces that made their way to market last year, or to take advantage of current costs before brands follow in Rolex's footsteps and hike prices, there's no time like the present to plump for a shiny new piece of hardware.
On our travels over the last 12 months to Baselworld, SIHH and beyond, we've been treated to the perfect blend of innovation, sumptuous design, and watchmaking craftsmanship. Below, you'll find a few of our favourites.
Maybe the world-record breaking Bulgari takes your eye with its scarcely believable thinness, or the wholly unique Ressence Type 2 tickles your fancy.
Whether it's for pleasure or for profit, this is a list you'll struggle to ignore.
Come on, the clock is ticking…
Patek Philippe Ref. 5235R Annual Calendar Regulator
Patek Philippe could bring out a Hello Kitty quartz watch and a portion of the watch fraternity would still fall over themselves to get a slice of the action. But that's not how the towering Swiss brand does its business.
Just take a look at the new Ref. 5235R Annual Calendar Regulator. It is, on all counts, stunning.
Regulators date back to the mid-18th century where regulator clocks were accurate timekeepers using a weight-driven movement for the highest level of precision available. Such was their renowned accuracy that watchmakers used them as reference points when adjusting their own creations - and as a result the style of separating the hour, minute and second hands came into fashion as a matter of practicality.
The minimalist dial, designed for function rather than aesthetics, shares its utilitarianism with Bauhaus-inspired watches, which brings us onto Patek Philippe's first regulator wristwatch, launched in 2012 and succeeded in stunning fashion this year.
The Ref. 5235 is a fascinating outlier in the Geneva watchmaker's hallowed collection. It is the only time Patek has made a regulator-style wristwatch and as such looks quite unlike any other piece in the brand's lineup. The sparse dial configuration, the ebony-black subdials and chapter ring, that sumptuous vertically-brushed graphite central section.
It oozes contemporary elegance rather than the more familiar hallmarks of Patek classicism
The best part is the watchmaker has leaned on its Advanced Research division to add to a number of high-tech movement components that blend this traditional device with the pinnacle of modern horology.
Brace yourself for the big words: under the hood you'll find a Pulsomax escapement, Spiromax balance spring, and Gyromax balance. This can get complicated pretty quickly so we'll explain these innovations as...
1) Marginal gains within the components of the balance wheel to create greater efficiency, and
2) The use of hybrid silicone material Silinvar for further efficiency and reliability.
To put it another way, it's a bit like the recent hybridisation of super cars. You're getting the best of both worlds: the grunt of a traditional petrol engine and energy-saving efficiency of advanced electric components.
The hybrid car shares other similarities with the Ref. 5235R, too. Both have their detractors who simply can't compute the confluence of tradition and technology, but many more are happy to see an old-school brand like Patek pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
£39,680. For more info, see patek.com
Urban Jürgensen Jürgensen One
The steel sports watch is credited as the saviour of the Swiss watchmaking industry for a reason. At the height of the 1970s quartz crisis, high-complication, high-price models were struggling against a riptide of mass-produced battery-powered timepieces that were as cheap as they were accurate. The industry needed an injection of cool to pull itself above the water - and it got it in the form of Gerald Genta's triptych of watch designs, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972), Patek Philippe's Nautilus and the IWC Ingenieur SL (both 1976).
It was nothing short of a revelation. Genta's designs broke down the conventions of dress and tool watch to create something altogether different: dressy but casual, luxurious yet rugged. Models like the Vacheron Constantin Ref. 222 and the Girard-Perregaux Laureato rode on the coattails of this newfound Swiss watchmaking momentum so that by the turn of the decade the giants of Geneva and beyond were back on top.
And then... nothing. The frenzy of creation that forged a whole new timepiece category dried up. Watch brands consolidated their iconic efforts and added new complications - to this day, there has been little advancement in the sports watch category beyond the odd movement update.
So forgive us for losing our collective minds at the sight of an independent brand Urban Jürgensen not just launching a brand-new sports watch, but one of the most harmonious, unique designs in the category (we'll say it) ever. Coming from a Danish-born, Swiss-bred brand with almost 250 years of continuous history this is something of a surprise, especially when you consider the handcrafted complicated pieces that encompass much of its range. But here we are: the Jürgensen One.
Truly iconic watch designs, like prized fighters, come around once or twice a decade. Meet the new heavyweight champion of the world
The timepiece started life as a series of varying circular shapes overlapping one another. This crystallised into a modern steel watch without a single straight edge and a distinctive bracelet featuring oval-shaped central links. The links are also tapered so that no two are shaped the same and create a stylish silhouette on the wrist.
Before we get to the attention to detail, it’s worth stressing that this is perhaps the first time in 40 years that a brand has dared to deviate this far from the Genta blueprint. This is bold and exciting watch design, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a long time.
The watch in the metal is composed of a seven-piece construction with stylised tear-drop lugs. There’s satin-brushed and mirror-polished surfaces across the timepiece, while Urban Jürgensen has opted for a medical-grade 1.4441 steel (a higher grade than what you will find in most similarly priced models). But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The central dial features an intricate wave-like grain d’orge guilloché pattern, while the the outer perimeter features a grained effect that adds further texture to the design. Urban Jürgensen’s immediately distinguishable hand-finished hands are present on the dial featuring more detail than you’re likely to see from almost any other brand: hand-riveted centre canons, slightly bent tips for further legibility and with either a highly polished or thermally blued finish. It’s a visual feast.
£22,500. For more, visit urbanjurgensen.com
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT
“The world’s thinnest…” seems to be a phrase that makes its way into every annual Baselworld press release where Bulgari are concerned – and, as a result, it’s easy to get a little bit numb to the remarkable advancements the Italian brand’s watch division has achieved in the world of micromechanics. Whatever you think of ultra-slim watches, you’ve got to respect the game. Bulgari balls hard.
And, lo-and-behold, we find ourselves here again: the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT, the world’s thinnest automatic chronograph. In the year the El Primero (the first ever auto-chrono) celebrates its 50th anniversary, it’s a delightfully irreverent play to bring this piece out right now. In the world of Swiss watchmaking, this probably qualifies as banter.
Astonishingly, Bulgari has wedged GMT and chronograph complications (and a 55-hour power reserve) into just 6.9mm of case depth. It comes with the brand’s typical low-key typography on the dial and a matte-grey sandblasted titanium finish.
So how have those whizzkids managed to create so much in such little space? For a start, they’ve dispensed with the traditional rotor and replaced it with a peripheral one, and have utilised the space of a slightly larger 42mm case. As if to throw a couple of fingers up at the competition, Bulgari has also added hand finishing on the see-through caseback in the form of the Côtes de Genève details you’re most likely to see on the watches of manufacturers at the upper echelons of horology.
Honestly, this is the most useful timepiece Bulgari has made – at a cost that isn’t so much f-you money as f-yes. Watch buyers are going to have to ask themselves a difficult question: the Bulgari offers world-record-setting innovation and a truly unique piece at the price point of a Rolex Daytona or a precious metal El Primero. Decisions, decisions…
£15,200. For more, visit bulgari.com
Grand Seiko 20th Anniversary of Spring Drive SBGY003
The Spring Drive movement has been ahead of its time for 20 years. Combining the might of a traditional mainspring, the accuracy of a quartz oscillator and the gliding second hand (controlled by an electromagnetic brake) that sweeps around the dial every 60 glorious seconds, Grand Seiko’s technology remains the closest horology has come to the perfect confluence of a hybrid watch.
Two decades of Spring Drive is a big deal for Grand Seiko, so it’s no wonder it feels like celebrating. There are four new commemorative watches rolling out this year, including platinum and yellow gold models, but we can’t resist the humble stainless steel version. In comparison to the precious metal pieces, the steel offers GS’s fine attention to detail and access to its unique watchmaking without the need to blow the budget wide open. Indeed, you’ll struggle to find another brand offering a manually wound movement with a 72-hour power reserve and +1/-1 seconds per day accuracy for a shade under £10k.
The looks are pure Grand Seiko: a luscious silver dial featuring a radial sunburst guilloché pattern, simple baton markers, and swooping lugs. It’s an exercise in less is more.
Here’s to another 20 years of Spring Drive.
£7,300. For more, visit grand-seiko.com
Rolex Yacht-Master 42
The Yacht-Master is the second youngest watch in Rolex’s famous collection and is perhaps the least well-known of its superstars, but its story is an interesting one, not least because it begins with a 1960s prototype chronograph that never saw the light of day.
The watch in question bore a resemblance to early Daytona models (created in 1964), but featured a larger 39.5mm case and regatta stylings on the dial. Why it never made it into boutiques only Rolex knows, but the story goes that just two examples now exist in the hands of collectors; nothing but a fascinating side note in the brand’s illustrious history.
Fast forward to 1992 and the Yacht-Master name makes its way onto a production model for the first time. During an attempt to update the look of its famous Submariner collection, the watchmaker’s designers stumbled upon the sleeker profile of what would become the Yacht-Master we know today.
At Baselworld 2019, Rolex brought a new rendition of this model to the world, without necessarily reinventing the wheel. The new Yacht-Master 42 grows to a largest-ever 42mm case size and is dressed in an elegant monochrome colour scheme thanks to its 18ct white gold case, matte black Cerachrom bezel insert and black dial. Wrapped around the wrist with the brand’s rubberised Oysterflex bracelet, this piece oozes sporty appeal with dressy elegance thrown in for good measure.
Under those handsome looks is the state-of-the-art calibre 3235. Rolex’s premier time-and-date movement uses a Chronergy high-efficiency escapement (an energy-saving answer to the traditional Swiss lever escapement) in order to regulate the watch to a highly impressive +2/-2 seconds per day – in short, crazy levels of accuracy for a daily beater.
From unproduced 1960s prototype to a happy accident at the turn of the century, the Yacht-Master doesn’t have the traditional Rolex storyline but its latest version goes to show that the Swiss giant still has tricks up its sleeve.
£21,400. For more info, see rolex.com
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Bi-Compass
The challenge of creating a modern icon is the number of models that already exist in the chapters of watchmaking history: standing out from the others, respecting what has come before, and conjuring something equally enduring is no small task. It takes persistence, ingenuity and no small amount of luck.
Just ask Carlos A Rosillo and Bruno Belamich, two entrepreneurs who first set up Bell & Ross as a university project in 1993. For 12 years, the pair collaborated with German watchmaker Sinn as well as creating pieces under their own label, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they made a significant breakthrough.
The BR-01 was the first in a line of Bell & Ross timepieces featuring the circle-within-a-square case shape that would later grow into an icon. Inspired by the onboard instruments of planes, it became an immediate leitmotif for the brand, with the unique aesthetic finding its own space in the congested world of watch design. The perfectly square case with four functional screws was tough, military-like in appearance and brought a new shade of cool to lovers of utilitarian design; form and function repackaged.
Two years later, in 2007, the smaller-sized 42mm BR-03 welcomed a whole new group of fans to Bell & Ross, and the brand continues to offer intriguing timepieces inspired by analogue aviation instruments.
The new BR03-92 Bi-Compass is yet another example. Sharing the familiar matte-black case of its BR siblings, the 2019 iteration brings a new level of depth and complexity to the dial thanks to its sector divisions.
It centres on an hour disk, where a printed triangle replaces the traditional small hour hand of the watch. Around this sits a sector on which the hours are displayed, with another step up to an outer chapter ring demarking the minutes and seconds.
This is a three-hand watch with the unique Bell & Ross flavour that continues to draw us back in with its way of showcasing time.
£2,990. For more info, see bellross.com
Zenith El Primero A386 Revival
The El Primero is a unique instance in watchmaking where the movement is bigger than the watch in which it is installed. Translated as ‘the first’ from Spanish, the name is logically attributed to an important cornerstone in watchmaking history: the debut of the automatic chronograph movement.
Launched in 1969, El Primero is and was a high-frequency (ie higher accuracy) integrated chronograph with a horizontal clutch but, more importantly, features the practicality of self winding. Hand-wound chronographs had existed since the early 20th century but remarkably it took Zenith’s innovation to modernise this popular complication. Its continued ability to stand the test of time proves the success of El Primero’s enduring design.
It could have been a different story were it not for Charles Vermot, a specialist in chronograph watchmaking at Zenith. In the depths of the 1970s Quartz crisis, the brand (owned by an American consortium at the time) made the shock move to stop producing its mechanical movements, including the El Primero. Vermot, who had spent his entire career at the manufacture, couldn’t just step back and watch without making a stand: in secret, he began preserving the essential elements for the production of the El Primero.
Every evening hewould hide the presses (150 of them), the technical plans, the cams and the cutting tools that future watchmakers would rely on to create the movement.
For chronograph connoisseurs and vintage watch nerds, there are few pieces that will stir the heart in quite the same way
By the 1980s, Vermot’s dedication paid off as the El Primero resumed production and would go on to assume its legendary status when it was installed in Rolex’s first automatic chronograph Daytona. It held its place as the beating heart of the iconic model until as recently as 2000 when it was finally replaced by the Rolex in-house calibre 4130.
Watchmaking anniversaries come and go, but a half century of El Primero is definitely something to celebrate – and how better to do so than reprising the original vehicle for Zenith’s incredible movement.
Debuted in 1969, the A386 reference featured a streamlined 38mm case with a bold dial design with three different coloured sub-registers and an angled date window at 4.30. The real innovation may be ticking underneath the hood, but it wore a face quite unlike any chronograph the watch world had seen before.
This year, Zenith is reviving a trio of A386s shrouded in white, rose, and yellow gold respectively. We weren’t around 50 years ago, but we can almost imagine what it must have been like to set eyes on the punchy tri-colour registers on the dial for the first time. It’s a visual feast: the vibrant splashes of colour, the contrasting black and white outer chapter rings and tachymetre, the blocky vintage stylings. God, it looks good.
This is a piece of watchmaking history ready and waiting for its place on your wrist.
£14,989. For more info, see zenithwatches.com
Girard-Perregaux Laureato Perpetual Calendar
The Laureato collection sits in the same category as other 1970s steel sports watches created during a wildly creative era for horology. Girard-Perregaux’s model shares the octagonal bezel of the iconic Royal Oak, but its frame seamlessly flows into the integrated bracelet rather than standing proud on top of the case like AP’s more chunky design. The elegant shape and no-nonsense Clous de Paris dial have been a fixture of the collection since.
Girard-Perregaux has now released a perpetual calendar as part of its most popular model – and, again, the brand has found its own way of standing out from its competitors.
Unlike sporty pieces available from Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe, GP’s perpetual calendar display isn’t symmetrical. Its off-kilter design shows the day of the week in a subdial at nine o’clock and the date on a larger register between one and two. Meanwhile, the leap-year is displayed above a window that opens onto a disk to display the months. It’s a winning combination – especially with its blue dial colour and contrasting red accents.
Classic perpetual calendar designs are one of the highlights of any watchmaker’s collection, but their over reliance on a traditional dial configuration does become a little repetitive – especially when you’re viewing a large number of models at a show like SIHH. For that reason, it’s nice to see Girard-Perregaux buck the trend in a piece that offers much more personality than most.
£25,500. For more info, see girard-perregaux.com
Cartier Santos Chronograph
Cartier has spent the last few years rebooting its iconic collections. Similar to Rolex, the esteemed brand keeps its big name (the Tank and Panthére) on a 15-20 year cycle – enough time to adjust for changes in modern tastes. In 2018, it was the turn of the brand’s oldest wristwatch to undergo a facelift, the Santos.
Cartier created a curvier profile to this model’s definitive square case, thanks mostly to new lugs, while the 8.83mm depth means this watch is as slim as it is shapely. There’s other additions, too, like the QuickSwitch system for swapping between bracelets and straps in seconds. As evolutions of a classic go, the Santos has been pitched perfectly.
All of this goes some way to explaining why we were so excited to see the launch of a new chronograph addition to the collection at SIHH 2019: all of the benefit of a reinterpreted classic, with the bonus of the most popular complication in watchmaking.
Cartier has really done a number on the movement here: it’s modified the 1904-CH MC caliber so that the start-stop pusher sits conveniently on the left side of the case, while the reset function is integrated into the crown itself. It’s a pleasingly ergonomic solution to where you put the chronograph buttons – something that is usually reduced down to two pushers either side of the crown on the right side of the watch. This is a watch in perfect harmony with its component parts.
The case is available in three metal combinations: stainless steel with a black ADLC steel bezel, stainless steel with an 18k yellow gold bezel, and solid 18k rose gold. The slightly demure monochrome of the former is our model of choice for everyday purposes.
£7,700. For more info, see cartier.co.uk
Piaget Altiplano Automatic 40mm Meteorite Dial
Piaget’s signature Altiplano collection remains the benchmark for all ultra-thin watches.
While the Ultimate 910P, boasting a case that also acts as the base plate for the movement, is undoubtedly advanced watchmaking, Piaget has still required all its horological might to introduce a meteorite dial to its marquee watch.
Derived from iron-nickel meteorites that form over a time period of millions of years, meteorite dials have a highly complex internal structure that makes them incredibly fragile – and therefore susceptible to breakage. The added difficulty of fitting meteorite to an ultra-thin timepiece is that the dial has to be even thinner than normal. It’s no wonder that just 300 pieces will be made of each colourway.
You’ll find Piaget’s micro-rotor Calibre 1230P under the hood, but the star of the show is that idiosyncratic extraterrestrial dial.
Piaget unveiled its first ultra-flat movement, the caliber 9P, in 1957. More than 60 years later, it’s undoubtedly impressive it is still finding ways to present this timeless design.
£24,300. For more info, see piaget.com
H Moser & Cie Tourbillon Concept
There’s something commendable about the way H Moser & Cie goes about its business. It is both staunchly traditional in its pursuit of horological perfection, while being equally happy to flip the bird at highly conservative Swiss brands who – in the eyes of this manufacturer – are too concerned with remaining true to the past. H Moser & Cie, on the other hand, keeps one eye turned back to watchmaking history and the other pointed firmly forward towards the future.
This year the brand has introduced a sumptuous tourbillon model atop a sunburnt royal blue ‘fumé’ face – and suffice to say it is simply gorgeous to look at, let alone to wear.
What you’re seeing here is a one-minute flying tourbillon and its corresponding automatic movement, but with the added convenience of a sturdy 42.8mm steel case water resistant to 120m.
Slightly less dressy materials (no platinum or white gold here) mean H Moser & Cie can undercut similarly well-presented tourbillons on the market and provide its model at a reasonable enough (in the context of a high-performing product like a tourbillon) price tag.
This is a watchmaker crafting timepieces with a wry smile on its face: “A sporty tourbillon? That’s blasphemy.” If it is, we’re happy to pay a visit to the confessional booth.
£55,000. For more info, see h-moser.com
Ressence Type 2
At last year’s SIHH, out-the-box thinkers Ressence introduced us to the Type 2 e-Crown Concept – a watch that, frankly, was a game changer in the marriage of mechanical and smart watches. It employs an electronic device that allows the watch to self-adjust to new timezones, set the time via a smartphone, or automatically reset after the power reserve winds down.
Designed in conjunction with iPod designer Tony Fadell, e-Crown Technology sits between the mechanical movement and Ressence’s unique display disc system.
Now, it’s here in a full-scale commercial model. The Type 2 features a curved 45mm case made of anthracite PVD titanium with the orbital-disk dial configuration that Ressence first pioneered in 2010, but really it’s all about that innovative e-Crown tech.
The horological industry has been content so far to view smart watches as a separate product to its luxury timepieces, but this is the first watch that boldly challenges that convention. Only time will tell how successful it will be.
CHF 42’500 (approx £32,000). For more info, see ressencewatches.com
Ulysse Nardin Freak Vision X
The Freak is one of our favourite collections of the modern era – there, we said it. Not only does it freely defy general watchmaking convention (using the movement as one of the watch hands is completely backwards), but it utilises the latest technology to boost the timepiece’s efficiency. The complexity of the Freak and its intricate movement assembly has pushed the price (close to six figures) out of reach for all but the most enthusiastic and well-financed watch collectors. That is, until now.
The Freak Vision X, new for 2019, is still an expensive watch, but it now sits alongside other horological models in the £15-20k bracket. We’re not going to use the word ‘value’, but there’s a lot to be said about how much watch you’re getting here.
First things first, Ulysse Nardin has traded out the platinum of previous models for a composite made out of aeronautical-grade carbon fibre. The effect looks like forged carbon – a suitably modern aesthetic for the innovation going inside the new 43mm case (down from a slightly unwieldy 45mm).
Now, to that incredible movement – or, to be precise, the new UN-230 calibre. It features the same lightweight silicon balance wheel with nickel flyweights and stabilising micro-blades as seen on last year’s model (the secret to a highly efficient and high-power reserve movement), but does make some concessions in an effort to bring the price down.
Previous renditions of the Freak have been adjusted through the bezel, but the latest model employs a conventional crown. Most notably, however, is a slightly less complex movement visible on the dial – crucially, it still doubles as the minute hand for the watch but most of the wheel train is now concealed.
In a sense, the latest rendition of Ulysse Nardin’s most advanced creation is a Freak-lite – sans precious materials and without the same visual drama of the models that put it on the map. Does this matter? In pursuit of an innovative, unique timepiece that is more readily available to the masses, absolutely not.
£19,100. For more info, see ulysse-nardin.com
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Huracán Performante
Innovation comes in many guises in horology, not just that of technical advancement. It can also mean a new way of thinking or a different approach to the creative process.
That would certainly typify Roger Dubuis’ collaboration with Lamborghini – one of the most integrated joint enterprises ongoing in watchmaking. By working with the Italian car brand’s head of design, Mitja Borkert, the watchmaker has been able to take design cues that perfectly align with the cars from which they are inspired, without coming across as just a marketing exercise.
The latest fruit of this partnership, now two years strong, is also the best. The Excalibur Huracán Performante utilises the unique RD630 movement, which features a strut bar-inspired bridge that looks just like a miniaturised version of the V10 engine of the Huracán.
It’s not all for show either, beneath the bridge you’ll find a twin-barrel movement fitted with a 12-degree balance angle escapement – chosen owing to this being the most common position of the wrist – that helps enable the timepiece’s 60-hour power reserve.
There are overt nods to the automotive world like the spoke-shaped balance wheel and the alcantara strap (suede-like material often found in racing cars) complete with a Pirelli tyre rubber inlay, but in conjunction with the rest of the watch these feel tasteful and well balanced.
In a world where many motor-racing inspired watches are freewheeling, this timepiece is happy to race full throttle.
£47,000. For more info, see rogerdubuis.com