9 striking luxury watches coming to the market this year
After two years of pandemic-related disruption, the luxury watch world descended on Geneva, Switzerland to confer on the latest horological trends and most exciting new timepieces at the annual Watches & Wonders trade show.
With almost every heavyweight brand and CEO in attendance, the six-day event offered a chance to take the pulse of Swiss watchmaking, an industry that generated over $24 billion in exports in 2021 -- not only matching pre-pandemic levels but up 2.7% on 2019, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
Like many luxury goods sectors, watchmaking was affected by Covid-19 in numerous ways, from boutique closures to stalled production in the Jura Mountains, where most of the country's watch factories have been located since the 19th century. But just as they did in the 1980s -- when faced with near-decimation at the hands of new, cheaper quartz technology from Asia -- luxury watches have proven their enduring, emotional appeal by bouncing back in short order.
The rebound may be down to wealthy buyers seeking tangible investments amid economic uncertainty or even finding themselves with more disposable cash after months without vacations and entertainment. And having been staged virtually for the last two years, Watches & Wonders was out to capitalize on resurgent demand with an IRL fair that welcomed over 22,000 visitors.
And, boy, were there some creations this year -- many of which were in development long before the pandemic but on display for the very first time.
Throughout every vaulted hall of Watches & Wonders, which wrapped up last week, delegates delighted at vitrines showcasing a veritable rainbow of colored timepieces, innovations in ceramic and titanium, jazzy interchangeable straps, lots of travel functions and occasion-only stunners (we're going out again, after all).
"It always looks a bit like the whole watch industry had a discussion in advance to agree on the major trends," said watch manufacturer IWC's CEO, Christoph Grainger-Herr, as he toured the historic brand's shipping-container pavilion. "Last year there was a huge presence of green. Post-pandemic, we've seen quite an outburst of color in every single direction, and I think that there's a playfulness that's come back."
"It's fantastic to be back," enthused Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-CEO of Chopard, from the threshold of his own gleaming, wood-paneled pavilion, "because there's nothing like showing watches (and) jewelry pieces in real time, to real people... And that is irreplaceable."
Here are 10 of the most eye-catching watches on display at this year's Watches & Wonders:
Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 5226G
With Patek Philippe obsessives, of whom there are many, abandoning hope of acquiring a recently discontinued Nautilus Reference 5711 (short of dropping an extortionate sum on the pre-owned market), there's another option. Cool and youthful, but just classic enough, Patek Philippe's Calatrava Reference 5226G sports a refined case with a hobnail pattern guillochéed around the entire circumference of the caseband. The charcoal-gray dial, which fades to black at the rim, has a grainy texture deliberately reminiscent of antique camera cases.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II
There's always a buzz around Rolex's stand. Sure enough, Switzerland's biggest brand (with an estimated 29% share of the country's watchmaking industry, according to Morgan Stanley) surprised us all by not only giving its GMT-Master II travel watch a new green-and-black ceramic bezel, but by repositioning its crown for left-handers. For such an established watch design -- the first to combine a 24-hour "home time" hand with a rotating bezel -- the new configuration takes a mental adjustment as well as temporal one. But the result is as handsome as it is great value. (If you can get on the waiting list in the first place.)
Parmigiani Tonda PF Rattrapante GMT
Since Parmigiani Fleurier hit a bullseye with last year's dramatically nipped and tucked Tonda PF range (like so many pandemic-era launches, it had been hard to predict, let alone gauge collectors' interest), buzz around the Swiss watchmaker has been at fever pitch. This beautiful new take on the GMT traveler will further bolster the brand's reputation. Push the button at 8 o'clock to skip your "local" hours hand forward or backwards as you venture through time zones, while a second gold-crafted hour hand keeps you rooted to home.
Cartier Masse Mystérieuse
This watch has been eight years in the making, which might seem odd given how little adorns the dial. It is, however, the latest in Cartier's long line of "mystery" clocks dating back to 1912, when the French brand debuted a clock face that seemed to float in mid-air. Here, six layers of sapphire glass support the hands and central winding rotor, which also houses the highly (and necessarily) shock-resistant movement that winds as you move your arm. In fact, the only thing conventional about this watch is how it tells the time.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Dazzling Star
Jaeger-LeCoultre's MO is all about precision, so there were plenty of raised eyebrows at the brand's Watches & Wonder presentation as it described its latest mechanical innovation as reflecting the unpredictable, romantic nature of shooting stars. After all, how can precise watch mechanics be engineered to behave randomly? Well, the firm certainly delivered with this complication. Using the kinetic power supplied by the wearer's daily (and unpredictable) wrist movement, a star arcs across the dial's aventurine sky at arbitrary moments in the day. Jaeger-LeCoultre is keeping the mechanics behind the feat a secret. But who wants facts when you can have magic?
Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222
It was Audemars Piguet that sparked the "sporty chic" watch trend in 1972, with its immortal, octagonal Royal Oak design pitched at the era's burgeoning, disco-glitz jet set. Patek Philippe was next, with its 1976 Nautilus range offering its own luxury take on steel. Vacheron Constantin followed suit the next year by rendering its integrated, geometric bracelet design entirely in luscious gold, the "222" in its name marking the watchmaker's 222nd anniversary. Forty-five years on, and the original Riviera blinger is back and as silky on the wrist as ever, bedecked with all the latest mechanical tech.
A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Titanium
While Vacheron Constantin has brought a '70s legend back wholesale, its Richemont stablemate, A. Lange & Söhne, is instead nurturing a brand-new take on the integrated sporty-luxe genre. Now in titanium, it's something no one expected from Germany's most venerable and traditional watchmaker -- which is rather the point. But this is no gimmick, either. Titanium is around 45% lighter than steel and significantly stronger, too, rating 6 on the Mohs scale of hardness (where diamond is 10 and steel is just 4). Plus, a new ice-blue dial has been guillochéed by hand, yielding gentle arcs that bring newfound coherence to Lange's Odysseus
IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition "Lake Tahoe"
Just over the border from Germany, in the Swiss town of Schaffhausen, IWC has been at the forefront of titanium watchmaking since 1980, when it collaborated with Porsche on a chronograph. This year, it's collaborating with another speed merchant: the US Navy fighter instructor school made famous by "Top Gun" (and just in time for Tom Cruise's reprisal of his role as the new movie's titular "Maverick"). IWC's new Pantone-registered frosty-white ceramic case was inspired by the snowy mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, which the Nevada school's trainee pilots fly over. But the design is surely more "Iceman" than "Maverick."
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
Ten years is a blip in time for watchmaking, but that's how quickly Elizabeth Taylor's favorite Roman jeweler has managed to establish its monumental, 110-faceted Octo as a modern classic. It's also broken an astounding eight world records for slimness. This is the latest, which steals back the record for history's thinnest-ever wristwatch from Piaget, by cutting things back another 0.2 millimeters to a diaphanous 1.8 millimeters (0.07 inches). The watch is little more than its movement, with its case serving as baseplate and the hands sunk flush. There's also a laser-etched QR code on the winding barrel -- your portable ticket to the watch's unique NFT.
Top image: Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222