Fashion is often described as cutting edge, but seldom as futuristic. Fashion appropriates, and its creatives are usually more retrospective in their storytelling — the adoption of technological advances and environmentally friendly materials aside — yet it still directs and captures the spirit of the day.
If fashion is the outward expression of our current state of mind, at least then its present ’80s bent is a fitting reflection on the turning point in our “connected” history. The ’80s was the decade before the internet became publicly available.
Communication was by fixed line, public call box, and some ground-breaking global print-media titles. The ’80s provides an accessible reference point for a new generation seeking self-expression and some respite from our obsessively over-connected world. With a premonition of what lay ahead, musicians synthesised beats and launched us into the future at a relentless 140bpm.
The ’80s also brought a sigh of relief to the Swiss watch industry’s near-death experience of the previous decade, thanks to co-founder of the Swatch Group Nicolas George Hayek, who took on the Asian manufacturers by introducing Swiss-made excellence to the manufacture of quartz movements.
Yet it’s the very fine mechanical movements that quartz almost killed that a new generation is now rediscovering. The number of impressive releases and the list of finalists in the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Challenge category, which salutes excellence in watches produced for less than Sf4 000 (about R58,000), include the Seiko Presage Shippo Enamel and Tudor Black Bay GMT to feed the trend.
While the world appears to be going gender neutral, the watch industry continues to woo women with “manly” complications in appropriately sized cases. Although women have been neglected for decades, their desire for fine watchmaking actually dates back to the 1800s. Of course these were largely very exclusive pieces made by Breguet and Patek Philippe for the nobility. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the first modern commercially available wristwatches were introduced, albeit for men.
1. 2018 ANNIVERSARIES
Decades on — more than a century in some cases — and many notable anniversaries have been falling due, including a few world-firsts from the early days of watchmaking. But the spate of celebratory editions over the past few years has not been as prolific as the desirable updates and vintage-inspired pieces featured in 2018.
IWC has its 150th anniversary this year, and celebratory editions include the Tribute to Pallweber. In 1904, the Cartier Santos was the first purpose-designed wristwatch to be produced, but the redesigned and renamed Santos de Cartier celebrates its 40th anniversary with new streamlined models and a new bracelet design.
2. HAUTE HORLOGERIE AND HAUTE COUTURE
High-fashion brands have also joined the ranks of haute horlogerie by acquiring Swiss manufacture facilities, and there’s mounting competition from the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton for a place on the wrists of women who seek more than pure adornment. Add to this the boom in online luxury-goods sales, and the result is high-end watchmakers have woken up to e-commerce.
The Richemont Group leads the pack on its Net-a- Porter and Mr Porter sites, with luxury watch brands such as IWC, Cartier, and Jaeger-LeCoultre among the listings. Chanel has been making watches since 1987 when it launched the Première collection. The acquisition in 1993 of Manufacture G&F Châtelain presented Chanel with the opportunity to be highly inventive, particularly in the use of ceramics, as first seen in the iconic J12 collection.
The first in-house movement, the Calibre 1, however, debuted only in 2016 with its jumping hours and instantaneous retrograde minutes featured in the covetable Monsieur de Chanel collection. The Boy-Friend, with its 37mm by 28.6mm octagonal 18kt beige-gold case (also available with 66 brilliant cut diamonds gem-set on its bezel) was originally revealed in 2015, featuring an ETA 7001 manualwinding movement.
This year, the collection has been updated with the most refined manualwinding Calibre 3 skeleton movement with a magnificent interlinked circular bridge.
3. INTO THE BLUE
Our growing concern for the oceans and the demand for “useful”, sporty tool watches from a new wave of conscientious young collectors has seen a proliferation of dive watches. These are accompanied by some fine vintage-inspired, classic revivals and anniversary editions.
Omega is credited with introducing the first commercially available diver in 1932 — the square, dual-cased Marine — but its familiar Seamaster came much later to coincide with its 100th anniversary in 1948. The Diver 300m was added to the Seamaster collection in 1993 and has since become one of the most popular professional dive watches. The Diver 300m model celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with 14 updates to the range. With a new 42mm case, every detail has had a rethink, including a ceramic bezel and an updated laser-etched wave pattern on the dial. For added precision, the Master Chronometer Calibre 8800 powers the collection.
Although Rolex patented its legendary watertight Oyster case in 1926, the Submariner was its first purpose-built watch, launching in 1954 to become the quintessential diver. A new 40mm Submariner Date in Oystersteel and yellow gold with blue dial will serve you well, but if you’re on a mission to discover lost empires in a dark abyss, you’ll require the most advanced Rolex of them all. The 44mm Deepsea Sea-Dweller 126660 is the ultimate tool watch, equipped with a new-generation Calibre 3235 movement and waterproof up to an extreme depth of 3,900m.
Tudor has issued the 39mm Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, which was inspired by one of its first dive watches from the ’50s. It is powered by the new Tudor manufacture Calibre MT5402 self-winding mechanical movement with bidirectional rotor system. The Calibre MT5402 has been certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (Cosc), the institute responsible for certifying the accuracy of wristwatches in Switzerland. Like the original Submariner, the Fifty-Eight features large gold-trimmed hour markers and angular snowflake hands for perfect legibility against the black-lacquered dial.
Ulysse Nardin’s precision-navigation instruments have reliably served seafarers for more than a century. Today, the Freak is the first piece that comes to mind when you think of the manufacturer, but it is equally renowned for its solidly built, unashamedly masculine dive collection.
Apart from its unique design, the Freak made industry history as the first to feature silicon components when it launched in 2001. Requiring no lubrication and far less servicing, silicon now features in all Ulysse Nardin watches. Described as “stark yet shark”, the new 46mm hammerhead-adorned Diver Deep Dive makes a bold statement for fans of active leisure both above and up to 1 000m below the surface. Inside its impressive titanium and rubber case is the Calibre UN-320 movement with silicon spiral and anchor escapement.
Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms collection includes notable reinterpretations of the first “real” dive watch from 1953, of which this year’s Fifty Fathoms Automatique Grande Date is one of my favourites. The original watch gained a huge following when it was worn by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his crew in the 1956 award-winning documentary film The Silent World co-directed by Louis Malle. Helped along by an earlier feature in National Geographic, the demand for his improved Aqua-Lung diving apparatus and related diving gear for more leisurely scuba pursuits went through the roof.
4. AFFORDABLE LUXURY
Eager to attract the millennial market, manufacturers continue to offer good value propositions for newcomers seeking the prestige of a luxury brand and mechanical movements but at a more accessible price. Young scuba enthusiasts can choose from models such as the Longines HydroConquest (starting at about R16 000), first launched in 2007 as part of a new sports collection that builds on the company’s expertise in the world of sport.
Watertight to 300m, this year’s bold-yet-elegant HydroConquest collection has been reimagined, featuring an updated uni-directional, rotatable bezel with coloured ceramic inlay to complement the grey, black, or blue dial options. Seiko’s expertise in dive watches is also celebrated in new Prospex pieces that commemorate the 1968 original. Of course these are not tools for men only.
Women’s tastes in watches are rapidly evolving. Tag Heuer’s Aquaracer is available this year in a new 32mm women’s version with the automatic Calibre 9 movement and features the collection’s characteristic elements with the addition of a ribbed mother-of-pearl dial, date window with built-in magnifier, and second hand with arrowhead tip.
5. SETTING THE STANDARD
Function and precision are taking precedence over complication, with watches now expected to comply with even stricter standards than the Cosc. Examples include the Tag Heuer Carrera “Tête de Vipère” Chronograph Tourbillon Chronometer, which is the brand’s first chronograph to bear the prestigious “Tête de Vipère” stamp of excellence, awarded by the Besançon Observatory, and the “futuristic” gravity-defying Zenith Defy Zero G.
Some complications are worthy of inclusion as we try to simplify our lives, even if only to keep brand designers and engineers on their toes as they eagerly try to outshine each other on innovation, speed, precision, and extreme slenderness.
There will always be big watches, but small is gaining traction as the new big
Featuring the world’s thinnest minute repeater, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is a case in point, as is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin. Feeling even more nostalgic? The charming 41mm stainless steel Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox is an intriguing little bit of magic and beats any smartphone notification as it chimes out a gentle reminder for important rendezvous.
The emphasis has clearly shifted to practical complications, which include the moon phase, chronographs, annual calendars, and multiple time zones for the new jet set. However, the tourbillon is still the one exception to the rule this year. Although it was originally a Breguet patent, it was Audemars Piguet who revolutionised the tourbillon in the late-’80s with the first series-produced automatic version in a wristwatch.
When it comes to women’s watches, Audemars Piguet is known for spectacular avant-garde pieces such as the Diamond Outrage in 2017. This year is no exception, with the release of the women’s Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon: the first of the Concept models for women and also the first flying tourbillon to feature in the collection.
Richard Mille continues to impress with high-performance, lightweight tools inspired by some of the world’s leading sports stars. This year’s RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough is made to absorb extreme impact without breaking, both on and off the polo field.
With the world on ocean watch, the moon phase is also a useful complication to track the tides through the diurnal movements of the moon and sun, while also reminding us of early navigational tools and our place in the universe. The ocean is at the heart and soul of Officine Panerai and at the top end the customisable L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT — first released in 2010 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first celestial observations of the moon. This year’s made-to-order skeletonised edition is the first watch by the company to feature moon-phase indications and a new system using polarised crystals to indicate the date.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas ultra-thin perpetual calendar and moon phase is also a fine example, as is the IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Moon Phase Edition “150 Years”.
Despite all these wondrous miniature mechanical works of art, the beloved chronograph is this year’s number one complication. From land to sea to air, great adventurers and our obsession with speed have largely inspired the development of wristwatches. Of the chronographs, the most spectacular pieces are inspired by the high-speed world of motor racing. The first wristwatch to feature this complication was the iconic Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow created in 1957. It was the first with its tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel — a feature designed for the benefit of racing drivers — and celebrated its 60th anniversary last year with the Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer, with this year’s update being the black-ceramic Moonwatch Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8 inspired by an exhilarating endurance race of the lunar kind.
This year’s chronographs also include the Chopard Mille Miglia Racing Colours, celebrating 30 years of the brand’s association with the Mille Miglia classic and vintage-car rally, and their shared love of fine mechanics and performance; the Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph Limited Edition 100, which pays tribute to the Minerva chronograph specially developed in 1920 for use in a wristwatch; a new version of Rolex’s highly prized Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona — named after the birthplace of motor racing, Daytona Beach — in 18kt Everose gold and adorned with gemstones; and a more understated Patek Philippe Aquanaut featuring the collection’s first chronograph with the fly-back Calibre CH 28-520 C self-winding movement.
6. THE PERSONAL TOUCH
At the very top end there are endless opportunities for personalisation limited only by the size of your bank balance. However, customisation at entry to middle market is still limited to colourful dial choices and interchangeable straps, now made more practical through ingenious new systems such as the Cartier QuickSwitch. Variations on cool, calm, and confident blue still dominate as the main dial choice, and on some watch cases, such as the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Blue.
There will always be big watches, but small is gaining traction as the new big. This is driven by a number of factors including the focus on women, practical everyday wear watches, the development of thinner movements, and of course the revival of classics from the ’50s and ’60s. To introduce younger collectors to their portfolios, some luxury brands are making their icons more accessible by producing them in stainless steel, and we have the launch of design-led brand Baume this year, which draws on the expertise and 188-year heritage of its mother company, Baume & Mercier, to offer equally considered pieces designed by 29-year-old automotive designer Sylvain Berneron with customisation and mindful design at its core, starting at about R7,000.
7. BACK TO BLACK
Black is the new gold; hi-tech ceramic, carbon fibre, and rubber are not only lighter and more durable but offer a slightly more discrete aesthetic, especially when it comes to pieces such as the audacious Ulysse Nardin Freak Out Black or the latest update on the Zenith Defy El Primero 21, the world’s most accurate chronograph with the magic of its ground-breaking El Primero 9004 automatic movement exposed inside a black ceramic case.
- From the Wanted Watches, Jewellery, and Luxury 2018/19 Special Edition magazine.