Unlike fashion, watchmaking trends are often based on commercial realities. And it’s not news that the once crazily lucrative industry is now slowing down. At the consumer’s end, the handful of buyers who used to say yes to exorbitantly priced watches crammed with one too many complications (or gemstones) have grown savvier and pickier; while others in this rapidly growing watch lovers community are keeping brands in check by demanding good value. The question on each brand’s chief executive’s mind: How to continue engaging existing customers and attract new ones, whilst remaining relevant and also providing good value?
As it was observed at Baselworld 2016, stainless steel was a popular material choice. It allowed watchmakers the opportunity to continue pushing complicated timepieces. Case in point: Blancpain’s Villeret Quantième Annuel GMT watch, the first time the brand has combined an annual calendar complication with a GMT function in a steel watch. Over at Rolex, the watchmaking giant revealed the long-awaited and latest iteration of its iconic Daytona watch in steel, topped with a Cerachrom bezel. Girard Perregaux celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1966 collection by releasing many different models in stainless steel (the first of its stainless steel models was only introduced at the end of 2015). In fact, every 1966 novelty, with the exception of the 1966 Perpetual Calendar and 1966 Skeleton, was offered in steel. Chopard also gave in to market demands with the LUC Perpetual Twin, its first all-steel chronometer-certified perpetual calendar.
Watchmakers also made a concerted effort to downsize. Tudor’s Black Bay was offered in a 36-mm version that came without the rotating dive bezel, while Hermès replaced its 38-mm Arceau watches with 36-mm cases. The Slim d’Hermès is an elegant number featuring an 8-mm case protecting its fired enamel dial. At Omega, the new Seamaster Planet Ocean “Chocolate” was given a new 39.5-mm case so that it would benefit from a slimmer profile.
At the extreme end, tiny feminine watches that blur the line between timepieces and jewellery were popular. Both Chanel and Christian Dior continued to add more colourful versions to the fashionable La Mini D de Dior and Première collections (Chanel). At Hermès, the Fauborg Manchette Joaillerie watches paired Hermès alligator leather cuffs with small precious stone dials adorned with gem-set bezels. Bulgari also jumped on the bandwagon with its new 22-mm Piccola Catene and 23-mm Piccola Lvcea bracelet watches, while Blancpain celebrated the 60th anniversary of its Ladybird Collection. These 21-mm watches are powered by one of the world’s smallest self-winding movements.
On the technical side of things, the annual calendar was a favoured mid-tier complication, but our eyes were drawn to the popular and intriguing combination of a jumping hour and retrograde minutes complication. Bulgari offered it as the Diva Dream collection’s first petite complication, while Ulysse Nardin featured it in the super impressive Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. Chanel’s debut men’s collection, Monsieur de Chanel, sought appeal from the gents with a classically designed watch combining a jumping hour coupled with a retrograde minute hand trailing an unusually wide trajectory.
Monsieur de Chanel
Chanel finally debuted its first dedicated men’s collection, Monsieur de Chanel. The first watch in this collection features an elegant and round gold case (in white gold or its proprietary beige gold), slightly domed sapphire crystal, a classic opaline dial and a set of exclusively designed numerals.
Aside from its dapper good looks, it has a pretty impressive engine that was entirely conceptualised and manufactured in-house. Christened the Calibre 1, this integrated movement took five years to develop. Time is presented via an oversized jumping hour indication, a retrograde minutes display and a small seconds subdial. Notably, unlike most retrograde minutes, where the zero to 60 minute scale extends to only 180 degrees, the minute hand on the Monsieur de Chanel travels 240 degrees. The minutes can also be adjusted forwards and backwards, with a blocking mechanism put in place to prevent the hand from going beyond “0”.
The see-through caseback reveals the exquisitely finished movement in black. Watchmaker Romain Gauthier, who produces for some of the world’s best-known watch brands, made the expertly done wheels. Design touches, such as a small lion motif located on the movement, buckle and crown, as well as a star-shaped balance wheel, offer subtle references to the famous couture house.
Histoire de Tourbillon 7
How do you top a watch with a triple-axis tourbillon and a separate karussel escapement (in last year’s super complicated Histoire de Tourbillon 6)? Come up with one two biaxial tourbillon escapements. These are located at the left side of the Histoire de Tourbillon 7’s face, with each featuring two tourbillon cages: The inner one, which contains the inclined balance wheel, makes one rotation every 45 seconds, while the outer one that wraps around the inner cage, does a complete revolution in 75 seconds.
Although both biaxial tourbillons are identical in structure, shape and speed, they perform differently. This difference in performance is averaged out by a spherical differential that connects both tourbillons and optimises their performance.
On the left of the watch, the partially skeletonised dial is made of anodised aluminium, while a barrel-shaped power reserve indicator takes the space at six o’clock. Offered in two stylistic references — one in anthracite and the other with a red accent — each variant is limited to only 10 pieces each.
Speedmaster Master Chronometer Chronograph Moonphase
Equipped with the new anti-magnetic calibre 9904, this is the first Cosc-certified Speedmaster that has been subjected to rigorous testing by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (Metas). It features an accurate moonphase that needs adjustment only once a decade.
There are four variants offered: The steel (blue) variant features a Liquidmetal bezel; a yellow gold one shows off a new green Liquidmetal bezel; the Sedna gold iteration with a Ceragold bezel; and one in platinum with a red Liquidmetal bezel.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: On some versions, there is a little astronaut’s footprint on the realistically depicted moonphase. This discrete detail alludes to the historical moment in 1969 when Buzz Aldrin strapped on the Omega Speedmaster and wore it to the moon, making it the first watch to reach the lunar surface.
The Great Wave
Shining the spotlight on traditional métiers d’art is The Great Wave, an evocative and contemplative time-only watch featuring shakudō (a gold and copper alloy) and for the first time, Mexican silver obsidian dial.
Inspired by renowned Japanese artist Hokusai’s woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the watch features a wave applique in white gold affixed onto a shakudō base. The applique is then immersed into a bath of rokushō salts to achieve a unique patina. Once the patina sets in, the shakudō is removed. Some parts of the applique then go through a polishing process to intensify the impression of a huge billowing wave.
Part of the manufacture’s Villeret collection, The Great Wave is powered by the 13R3A, a hand-wound calibre that offers an impressive eight-day power reserve, thanks to three series-coupled mainspring barrels.
Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon
Another unforgettable highlight this year is this distinctive nautical design from Ulysse Nardin that celebrates the 20th anniversary of its Marine collection. There are four components that battle for attention on the inlaid wooden dial: The tourbillon at six o’clock with a skeletonised barrel, a blue translucent crystal banner showing the minutes from zero to 60 stretched across the entire dial, oversized apertures at 12 o’clock and a big blued hand (mimicking a yacht’s boom) that extends from the top of the dial and sweeps from the three to nine o’clock position.
Time is presented via a large double disc jumping hour display, while the minutes are pointed out by the blued retrograde hand as it trails along the minute counter. This animation is facilitated by a series of Dyneema fibre nanowires wrapped around four silver pinions that resemble winches. Reputed to be stronger than steel, these polyethylene nanowires are also used inside some ship rigging.
To ensure that the watch is user-friendly, the in-house made calibre UN-630 movement has a quick-set system for the hour indicator so that it can be advanced easily. It also has a special regulator to manage the accuracy of the minutes, since it takes about four seconds for the retrograde hand to travel from 60 back to zero. The watch is equipped with two barrels: One for the regulation of time and the other for the complications.
Pegged by many as one of the most exciting launches of the year, the new Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in steel features a black Cerachrom bezel with a redesigned tachymetric scale. Previously, only the newer gold and platinum Daytona models featured this bezel; in fact, it’s been some 16 years since there was a last update on a steel Daytona. Offered in a black or white dial, the former features white sub counter rings while the latter features black ones.
The watch is powered by the re-engineered chronograph calibre 4130 with a reduced number of components and enhanced reliability. It is covered by the Rolex Superlative Chronometer certification that was redefined by the brand in 2015, comprising a series of stringent tests conducted in its laboratories and according to its own criteria. The latest iteration of Rolex’s most coveted line will benefit from a remarkable precision rate of -2/+2 seconds per day.
Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater
After the 2014 launch of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, Bulgari hammered in another world record with the world’s thinnest minute repeater. Barely 6.85mm thick, the titanium clad watch is 1.24mm thinner than the one previously held by Vacheron Constantin.
Achieving super slender proportions was not the brand’s most important priority. Instead, it was adamant about attaining the perfect pitch and volume for the minute repeater’s chimes. Using titanium on the case and dial helped in its quest to build a perfectly resonant and slender minute repeater, because of the material’s strong, lightweight and low density properties. The cut-outs on the dial where the hour markers and small seconds are also help to amplify the resonance within the case.
Powered by the manually wound calibre BVL 362 that measures just 3.12mm thick, the 362 components in the movement had to be painstakingly miniaturised to fit within the svelte case. This extreme miniaturisation is best illustrated in the centrifugal strike governor that measures just 3.3mm in diameter. Despite its proportions, the 40-mm case offers a water resistance of up to 50m, thanks to the pusher-style activator at nine o’clock.
LUC XP Esprit de Fleurier Peony
Chopard marks the 20th anniversary of its LUC Collection with some spectacular new additions. Scoring top marks is this ladies piece with an engraved peony bloom on a Tahitian mother-of-pearl disc placed atop a diamond-set gold dial. The contrasts in colour, texture and the touch of sparkle help bestow the watch with an extremely feminine and heart-achingly beautiful effect.
Mirroring this emphasis on craftsmanship is the in-house produced LUC 96.23-L calibre. Crafted from rose gold, it features a peony motif decorated with Fleurisanne engraving, an almost-extinct handcraft. This distinctive expertise adds texture and a two-dimensional effect to the movement’s surface. Demanding patience and dexterity, the time spent on the hand engraved plates alone is 10 days.
Equipped with the patented Twin technology, involving two stacked coaxial barrels, the watch delivers a 65-hour power reserve. The self-winding movement is armed with a micro rotor to keep its dimensions dainty and elegant.
Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black
Riding on its reputation as the master of the art of fusion, Hublot created a 500-pieces-only watch with a case that has been machined from a solid block of sapphire crystal. It is available smoked or fully transparent (available in another series of 500 pieces), with the former launched in commemoration of the 10 years that have passed since the first Hublot All Black watch.
Notoriously difficult to machine, sapphire crystal cases have only been reserved for use on very rare or one-off productions. This is the first time any watchmaker has embarked on the ambitious project of producing 1,000 watches that are almost entirely made of sapphire crystal. The watch is powered by Hublot’s proprietary HUB1242 Unico movement, an automatic flyback chronograph with column wheel and a visible double clutch.
La Esmeralda Tourbillon
Girard-Perregaux fetes its 225th anniversary by bringing back one of its most important timepieces, the La Esmeralda Tourbillon, a pocket chronometer that won the gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Since its introduction in 1860, the Tourbillon with Three Bridges design has remained largely unchanged, earning itself a spot in history as the oldest watch movement still in production.
The modern interpretation of this legendary pocket watch is a self-winding pink gold wristwatch. Most of the other details remain faithful to the original timepiece, such as the three solid gold bridges and their double-headed arrow design. The tourbillon carriage is also shaped after a lyre, just like the original. Like most haute horlogerie timepieces, this is the product of great craftsmanship: Each of the arrow heads is mirror-polished with hand-chamfered edges and drawn flanks, and it took the craftsmen a week to fine-tune the bridges. Two weeks were needed to decorate the movement and a month was needed to assemble it.
The watch is powered by the GP09400 self-winding movement with a unidirectional rotor mounted next to the mainspring barrel. This allowed for a larger size mainspring that extends the power reserve to 60 hours.