Longines HydroConquest.
Longines HydroConquest.
Image: Supplied

When the smart creatives and engineers at the luxury watch manufactures met in their various studios one, two, three years ago to workshop their novelties for 2020, nothing could have forewarned them of the global catastrophe that lay ahead. Well, maybe Bill Gates did. From the renewed excitement and timepieces on display at last year’s fairs, everything looked set to usher in a new decade of much-needed energy and spending. 2020 got off to such a good start, with the industry confirming steady monthly year-on-year growth in global exports, for the top-tier brands at least. The times were also changing with long-overdue disruption to the tired formats of the Swiss watch fairs. But who’d have predicted the new format would be cyberspace?

PRACTICAL CLASSICS

As we simplify our lives for a “new normal” (whatever that means), there will be more appeal for the durability and everyday practicality of stainless-steel tool watches, and the timeless classic-style dress watch. Buying less but made better is the new mindset, with a return to investment pieces rather than short-lived seasonal fashion statements. “Beautiful limitarianism” is a term used by the team at trend forecasting company WGSN, which also “encourages minimalist design, but with a focus on individual expression”. Here, old-world elegance and Bauhaus principles apply as they find a contemporary interpretation through elegant examples such as the Nomos Lambda with its proud 84-hour power reserve display, the Montblanc Heritage Automatic, Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique, and the Hublot Classic Fusion 40 Years Anniversary.

THAT ‘70S SHOW

Industry creatives were fortuitous in delivering new pieces in a rainbow of uplifting, healing colours with dominant hues and calming pastels in cases, dials, and interchangeable straps.

This echoes the contagious outpouring of support and compassion for key workers during the Covid-19 pandemic from thousands of children around the world through their “hopeful rainbows”, according to a trend forecast report shared by Francesca Muston, VP fashion content at WGSN. It also highlights the centuries-old spiritual significance of the rainbow as we look to seers and ancient wisdoms for answers and guidance as the pandemic weighs heavy on our minds.

“In the 1970s, the rainbow flag became the symbol of gay rights used to bind communities together and symbolise the Pride movement. Now the rainbow has become a way for children to express their creativity and feeling of togetherness,” the report says. Much like the ’70s, the all-to-familiar protests, populism, fractured societies, and gender politics are at the fore again. Even if the past wasn’t really a better place, add the nostalgia for an era pre-internet as we nurse our Zoom-fatigue, and we will no doubt see even more interest in fashion and vintage-inspired timepieces from that era, such as the Prospex 1970 Diver’s Modern Re-Interpretation from Seiko. In a nod to the bow of hope and carefree beach culture, Breitling’s SuperOcean Heritage ’57 Capsule Collection, with its oversized bezel and exaggerated indexes, includes the modern-retro Rainbow Edition powered by their in-house Caliber 10. Parmigiani’s spectacularly shimmering Tonda Métropolitaine Rainbow Opal 36mm takes the theme to the next level, as does the less discreet brilliance of the Ulysse Nardin Sparking Blast.

“On the lighter side,” Muston says, “there’s also a need for colour that stands out in the digital space. Colours that pop on screen tend to perform well when your consumer is scrolling.” When Rolex finally presented its much-anticipated novelties in September, the new generation Oyster Perpetual 41 and 36 certainly grabbed our attention in a joyous array of colourful lacquer dials, which include coral, turquoise, candy pink, and yellow reminiscent of the Rolex Day-Date “Stella” collection of the ’70s and ’80s. The Victorinox Alliance XS also offers vibrant pastel tone dials for women. HYT measures the passing of time with a fluidic module. The dial of the HYT Soonow Instant Rainbow is set with 668 precious stones in 14 colour variations, which surround a skull with one eye for power reserve display, the other clocking passing seconds as “soon” turns into “now”, making every moment count.

IT'S COMPLICATED

To avoid feeling sorry for yourself in this period of austerity, you’d be forgiven for adding a measure of exuberance, which finds no better expression than in the technical brilliance that is haute horlogerie. With its unusual black-dialled De Ville Tourbillon, Omega surprised us with a high complication that is the first-ever manual winding central tourbillon to be Master Chronometer certified.

The Patek Philippe Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon has its striking mechanism in full view on the dial side, which I believe to be a first. The abundance of astronomical watches is also a celebration of watchmaker prowess and a reminder that time and astronomy are so closely linked. Including moon phases, perpetual calendars, time zones, signs of the Zodiac, and tidal indications, among others, these are some of the most challenging complications to achieve and also make an emotional reference to the origins of watches as tools of navigation. Stand-out examples include the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Grande Complication, the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Astronomical striking grand complication — also an ode to music — and the modern nautical IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide.

There is an even greater show of confidence in the choice of skeletal novelties with every detail of their magnificent machines proudly exposed to the world. Among the highlights are the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-thin Skeleton, Roger Dubuis Excalibur Twofold, Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique Skeleton, Hermès Arceau Squelette, and more accessibly priced Rado True Square Open Heart. Piaget stole the limelight, though with its 2mm Altiplano Ultimate Concept, pushing the boundaries of horological micro-engineering. Turn up the tempo with the Zenith Defy 21 Ultraviolet or Carl Cox glow-in-the-dark special edition, and get your party on.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

Blue dials are still the dominant alternative to black, white, and silver, but green has firmly established itself as the dial colour du jour. It has long been associated with the climate movement, due to its instinctive emotional connection to nature.

Muston explains that “precious and semi-precious stones, particularly lazuli and jade, have connections with the earth, which certainly reinforce the love of blue dials and this year’s explosion of green on the scene.”

While connecting us to the great outdoors, green also reminds us of the watch industry’s historic ties to various military corps over the last century, and is the perfect match for bronze diver’s watches. Longines’ modern dive watch, the HydroConquest is dressed in olive military fatigues this year. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback features a rich green ceramic bezel and matching dial with its 43.6mm case made of scratch-proof satin-brushed-ceramic, and is water resistant to 300m — impressive for a chronograph.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback.
Image: Supplied

The popular Rado Captain Cook Automatic is presented in bronze hi-tech ceramic with complementary green bezel and dial. The new Montblanc Heritage Automatic comes in 18kt yellow gold with a lacquered British-racing-green dial and matching strap for vintage appeal.

“Alongside green, we’re also seeing a strong appetite for spiritual references as people look for higher purpose and meaning. A deeper connection with our products and where they come from will be a fundamental part of the future,” Muston says.

“Another trend is the move to protective metals. Here it’s about copper and silver and their antibacterial or anti-microbial properties, which are obviously hyper relevant right now.” Hello, bronze alloys and other material innovations from the likes of Panerai. The brand’s patented Goldtech gold alloy with significant copper content can be seen in the new Submersible Goldtech OroCarbo 44mm.

Panerai Submersible Goldtech OroCarbo 44mm.
Panerai Submersible Goldtech OroCarbo 44mm.
Image: Supplied

SPORTS LUXE

Sleeves roll up as summer rolls in, providing an opportunity for some seriously haute wrist action. Ready to hit the courts or take a plunge? There are a number of exciting new sports-luxe timepieces arriving on the back of growing interest in all-steel versions of premium brand sports watches. The curvaceous H. Moser & Cie Streamliner Centre Seconds Automatic with its integrated steel bracelet and the redesigned Breitling Chronomat are favourites. Others to admire include the Laurent Ferrier Tourbillon Grand Sport, A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus, and elegant Longines Spirit 42mm Automatic Chronometer Chronograph.

 From the 2020/2021 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.

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