The Swiss watch industry certainly knows how to navigate its way around a crisis, and the pandemic was no exception. The major fairs and brands quickly adapted in 2020, in some cases even evolving as they moved business and communications online. By and large, the forced pause also gave our “always on” society an opportunity to reset the clock and establish a new rhythm. With everyone suffering from Zoom fatigue, in 2021 the fairs adopted a most welcome “phygital” (physical and digital) format with “sustainability” and “digital” topping the agenda of the daily panel discussions, serving to highlight the important shift in consciousness for both industry and consumer.
From grand complications and navigation tools that remind us of the origins of watchmaking to new materials and companions for modern adventurers, the novelties for 2021 are a pretty good reflection of our changing attitudes and the spirit of this new age.
Grand accomplishments in watchmaking are often hidden in plain sight: a high complication masked to the untrained eye only through the clever simplicity of the dial design. But flip them over or open them up — and the high art of the mechanical heart is revealed.
The Patek Philippe In-Line Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5236P-001 has its day, date, and month displayed on a single line. On the surface, it has an unassuming, elegant design with a satin-finished blue dial, yet within its 41.3mm platinum case is the new self-winding mechanical Caliber 31-260 PS QL with a highly sophisticated mechanical “memory” of four years. “Complexity made simple”, the minimalist H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Perpetual Calendar has an impressive power reserve of 168 hours. Through simplified display, its hand-wound HMC 812 calibre shows the months via a small red and white central hand, and a window indicates the date, updated at midnight through a “flash calendar” instantaneous date-change mechanism. A sight to behold, on the other hand, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque is the first four-dialled wristwatch and is the horological equivalent of a children’s fantasy pop-up book. Featuring 11 complications, its mechanical wonders are revealed in microscopic detail as you turn the four dials of the quadriptyque.
Such grand complications also remind us of the origins of watchmaking as we look for new navigation tools, to the stars or sages in search of answers.
Much like motoring, the watch industry is about emotion and the synergy between design and complex machines. For example, the Longines Heritage Classic Silver Arrow breathes life back into an archival piece from the post-war 1950s that referenced the torpedo-shaped Mercedes-Benz racing cars. But while there are many re-issues of historic icons to stir the emotions, innovation remains the cornerstone of the industry and even more so now to keep a new generation of collectors interested.
Innovation is about surprising clients with fresh ways of timekeeping and real-world practicality such as the user-centric Ressence eCrown system — a hybrid watch that uses a photovoltaic cell to keep a mechanical movement on time. Throwing down the gauntlet, Tony Fadell has said: “Fine-watchmaking must embrace new technologies to bring back functionality and excitement for the new generations.”
As the inventor of the iPod and founder of home-automation firm Nest Labs, Fadell knows about ground-breaking technologies but also has a very clear view of the future of things. With the rapidly growing interest in analogue timepieces from a younger audience looking for substance over fashion, along with a dose of nostalgia, there is even more pressure on manufactures to be innovative. Fadell also happens to be the tech coach to one of the most innovative young watch brands, Ressence, which takes a “beyond hands” approach to reading time by eliminating conventional raised hands, with sub-dials set seamlessly into their patented ROCS (Ressence Orbital Convex System) display.
Looking like a nuclear-reactor emergency-shutdown button, the slim version of their original Type 1 is presented this year in bold red. Within their focus on pilot’s watches this year, IWC presents the future of watchmaking and extreme aeronautics with its Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL. This is the first watch to feature the brand’s patented new shock absorber system based on a cantilever spring that suspends the movement inside the case. Protected movements have survived the extreme forces from accelerations in excess of 30 000 g, making it ready for interplanetary sports.
The major watch fairs quickly adapted and evolved last year but have now shifted to a most welcome “phygital” (physical and digital) format. Topping the agenda of daily discussion with industry experts presented during the fairs were “sustainability” and “digital” but also included corporate social responsibility, distribution, client experience, blockchain technology, collaboration, and innovation. There is a commendable commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals involving ethical material sourcing and more circular economies, with pioneers such as Chopard and IWC leading by example.
Another positive takeaway from this dramatic period is our realisation that sports and movement are paramount for our physical health and mental wellbeing
This, and the huge benefits of digital for enhanced user experiences and transparency are now very much part of the watch industry’s “new normal”. With more than 50% of consumers surveyed for the Deloitte “Swiss Watch Industry Study 2020” indicating that they look at a brand’s green credential to inform their purchasing decisions, the pressure is on. This is particularly evident among millennials and Gen-Z, who are known to be conscious consumers, the study shows. The possibility of upcycling all components of a watch was demonstrated through the Panerai Submersible eLAB ID, with 98.6% of its weight made from recycled elements.
Cartier’s iconic Tank is once again reborn for the new decade, including an innovative piece that integrates a photovoltaic movement along with clean, bold dials and material straps created through responsible and sustainable production practices. The new Cartier Tank Must features straps made from leather alternatives such as apple waste.
The Panerai Ecologico initiative also drives innovation in this area, and the manufacture has decided to share these innovations and all of its supplier’s details with the entire industry through open source. Fifty-eight percent of the components in the new Panerai Luminor Marina eSteel references are made from a new alloy that incorporates recycled materials. The 47mm Swatch Big Bold in Bioceramic is made from two-thirds ceramic and one-third bio-sourced plastic.
The booming market for vintage and reimagined archival pieces, along with the emerging 1970s trend, reflect our quest for something solid in unpredictable times. Watches, particularly of the mechanical kind, are made to last many lifetimes, and while they reflect the demands, styles, spirit, and innovations of a particular age, they are (mostly) not about fads. Trends steal our bandwidth and through fashion suffocate our planet.
A long-term relationship with a timepiece begins with one that reflects your personality and your lifestyle. You shouldn’t choose a watch with a “sage green” dial because we tell you it’s the strongest trend of the year but because you appreciate the values of the watchmaker and the design of the timepiece in front of you. Green is a thing though, and we do acknowledge our fascination with an industry that, while planning its novelties years in advance, manages to be so in tune with the current zeitgeist. With the reassuring tick of a mechanical timepiece on your wrist, maybe the timekeepers can provide us with some insights on the world at large in this time of great flux?
The various tints, tones, and shades of green have firmly established the hue as the dial colour du jour. This echoes what’s going on in fashion, while also making a play on our emotional connection to nature and the environment. Combining the trending material and colour, the Zenith Defy 21 Urban Jungle features a “khaki green” ceramic case and an open-work dial, which show-cases the exceptional El Primero 9004 automatic movement: the fastest, most precise series-made chronograph in production today. Green highlights the miniature components of the 2mm thick Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Ultra Thin, the world’s thinnest mechanical, hand-wound watch.
Many watches this year are inspired by collections and colours of the 1970s. Refreshed and brought up to date, these include the 37mm Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 and the stainless-steel Baume & Mercier Riviera, with its 12-sided bezel and unique ripple-pattern dial.
The more refined TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 takes many of its design cues taken from Heuer’s first diver’s watch of the 1970s, the “Ref 844”. Available in 36mm and 43mm case sizes, all models feature a new uni-directional rotating, 12-facetted bezel with ceramic insert, thinner case, screw-down crown, and new bracelet.
The Piaget Limelight Gala highlights the much-needed rainbow of bright healing colours that continue this year to calm and lift our spirits after the year in the doldrums. Oris says its Diver’s Sixty-Five “Cotton Candy” collection is “designed to bring warmth and the optimism of better times”. Breitling captures some beach ready vibes in its SuperOcean Heritage 57 Pastel Paradise line-up.
Innovation extends to new technology and materials that need to stand up to the rigors and attitudes of this century. Sapphire, carbon fibre-based composites, bio-sourced materials, and high-tech ceramics are fast becoming the contemporary case materials of choice. With even more concern around sustainability, we will see more eco-friendly, recycled materials, such as Panerai’s eSteel, added to that list. Four new versions of the Hublot MP-09 with Tourbillon Bi-Axis manufacture calibre are constructed using lightweight, coloured, 3D carbon.
Anything but fragile, many luxury-watch brands use robust ceramics for their strength and scratch-proof, anti-wear, light-weight, antimagnetic, and hypoallergenic properties. In celebration of summer and the Mediterranean locations of its new boutiques, Hublot has also launched six exclusive editions of its 45mm Classic Fusion Chronograph in satin-finished and polished ceramic.
The “Master of Materials” Rado has taken its Captain Cook heritage-inspired model and infused it with years of research and development to create the 43mm Rado Captain Cook High-Tech Ceramic. The 43.5mm Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Black celebrates the darkest corners of the ocean and shows the versatility of ceramic through contrasting shades of a single colour. The new 38mm Chanel J12 Electro Caliber 12.1 is part of a capsule collection inspired by electronic music and the rave culture of the 90s, while also waving the rainbow flag.
Another positive takeaway from this dramatic period is our realisation that sports and movement are paramount for our physical health and mental wellbeing. Not since the 1980s, when Jane Fonda’s Workout video had the world doing the donkey kick, have human beings been so active. Accompanying this is a healthier work-life balance as more people work from home.
From the urban jungle to the highest peak, Wunderman Thompson Data shows that 58% of people surveyed recently value the outdoors and the environment more as a result of the pandemic crisis. “In an age where almost every experience is now mediated via a screen, more people are opting for tangibility over immediacy and convenience,” the Wunderman report notes. If “resilience” is the word for the year, there are certainly many novelties built to accompany any attire and outlast new lifestyle pursuits and adventures.
All terrain tool watches and luxury sports watches remain a key focus but are more elegant in design yet even more robust to cope with the rigors of modern living. They are also becoming more practical through technical updates such as extended power reserves, anti-magnetism, improved precision, and interchangeable straps to suit mood swings and various activities. Examples of this are the cushion shaped Hermès H08, Louis Vuitton Tambour Street Diver, and the 18kt gold or silver editions of the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. The two-tone trend continues through examples such as the 41mm Longines HydroConquest sport collection in steel and rose PVD or steel and yellow PVD for an additional touch of elegance.
Whether they’re purely a nod to their past or embracing new trends, the brands have also presented their new models in smaller vintage, unisex sizes. Meeting the needs of extreme adventures, the new-generation 36mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer is an evolution of the original watch from 1953, which accompanied some of the greatest explorers. Its testing ground has been the most extreme environments, where time management is often key to survival. The Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms No Rad reinterprets an iconic model from the mid-1960s, which featured a “no radiations” logo indicating that Blancpain did not use luminescent materials composed of radium on professional diver’s watches.
• From the 2021/2022 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.