In Watches, the Outside Influence

Mark A. Carlson


There are 38 brands now showing at Watches and Wonders in Geneva, a substantial number, but by no means an exhaustive roster of the world’s most influential luxury watchmakers. Some brands, such as Omega and Audemars Piguet, have said that — for now, anyway — they have no plans to return to the fair game. Others, perhaps because of budget reductions, have taken up positions in the hotels, cafes and exhibition spaces of central Geneva to introduce their new pieces, hoping to catch the wave until the fair ends on Tuesday. Here’s the best of the new watches not on show.

No mistake, the organizers of Watches and Wonders would welcome the likes of the Swatch Group brands Omega and Longines, and the super-independents Audemars Piguet and Breitling. According to Morgan Stanley, that quartet was estimated to account for almost 20 percent of the Swiss luxury watch market in 2021. Adding a living artist or two, such as F. P. Journe, probably wouldn’t go amiss either. But for now, these watchmaking giants are all walking their own paths.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin

Price on application

Heady days at Audemars Piguet. Analysts have calculated that last year the family-owned company climbed above its rival Patek Philippe in pure revenue terms for the first time in living memory, posting $1.6 billion in sales, an increase of about half a billion on 2020 estimates. Production is said to be climbing, as are average prices — and then, along comes the 50th anniversary of its maypole watch, the Royal Oak. Among the models timed to capitalize on the 1972 introduction of the original ultrathin Royal Oak “Jumbo” steel sports watch is this flying tourbillon edition. With its eight-side bezel and blue tapisserie dial, it may look familiar, but its automatic flying tourbillon Calibre 2968 is new, a micro-mechanical wonder that, at 3.4 millimeters thick, was designed specifically to fit in the 39-millimeter proportions of the original Jumbo. It’s wrapped in stainless steel, finished with a 50th anniversary rotor and limited to 75 pieces.

Breitling Navitimer B01 43 Chronograph


Since his arrival as chief executive five years ago, Georges Kern has overseen a complete transformation of his charge, Breitling. Gone is the sexualized marketing and the air-polluting Breitling Jet Team, and in have come recycled packaging, “squads” of ambassadors in fields from surfing to cinema and a far more casual approach to luxury. Estimates have shown that revenues have almost doubled over the same period, making Breitling one of the industry’s fastest-growing brands. But not everything has changed. Still in play is the Navitimer, the luminary pilot’s watch with a circular slide rule, that first took flight in 1952. For its 70th anniversary, it’s been given a colorful face-lift and a few nips and tucks: The date has been secreted into the counter at 6 o’clock, and the logo is now the wings of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which made the Navitimer its official watch in 1954. There are 46-, 43- and 41-millimeter variants in steel or red gold, and with blue, copper or, as here, green dials.

Omega Seamaster Ultra Deep


Three years ago, Omega plunged to the deepest point on earth — the bottom of the Mariana Trench — with the ponytailed adventurer Victor Vescovo. Three of its Ultra Deep concept watches were attached to the exterior of Mr. Vescovo’s submersible, and all were said to have survived the 12-hour voyage that took them down 10,935 meters (35,875 feet). Those hardy museum pieces have now morphed into a collection of seven commercially available watches, each of which is flooded with Omega’s proprietary tech and stamped as being water-resistant to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). Six of them are cast in a new alloy Omega is calling O-Megasteel that is said to be stronger, shinier, whiter and more anti-corrosive than regular steel. The company is ultra-confident in its latest design, saying it has tested the material to 6,269 meters (20,565 feet) in the Mariana Trench. It also says that in a first for the Swiss watch industry, the Institut Fédéral de Métrologie, a Swiss government agency commonly known as METAS, has qualified it as “for saturation diving” (during which professional divers spend weeks at a time in compressed, helium-enriched air).

F.P.Journe Automatique


When the gavel fell for the final time at Phillips’s Geneva Watch Auction XIV in November, the results confirmed what many already knew: that F.P.Journe, founded in 1999, has become one of the world’s most highly prized collector brands. It shared the podium places at that auction with Philippe Dufour, another independent brand headed by one of the most highly regarded master watchmakers of our time. François-Paul Journe is now in his mid-60s. News therefore of a fresh-faced Automatique, fueled by the 20th anniversary execution of the company’s celebrated Octa movement, will no doubt spark some kind of bidding war, given the high probability that buyers’ investment in the low-volume watch will be well rewarded in the secondary market. At face value, the watch is pure Journe. An off-center subdial for the time, an oversize date, a retrograde 120-hour display for the power reserve and a sumptuous movement shaped in 18-karat rose gold. Platinum, shown here, and red gold versions at both 40 millimeters and 42 millimeters are to join the line.

There is no escaping the hold that past designs have on contemporary watch collections. Watch brands across the price, style and geographical spectra continue to seek inspiration in their own archives or those of others. Arguably, this approach has never been more potent. Nostalgia sells at the best of times and, right now, consumers seem to be lapping it up.

Girard-Perregaux Casquette 2.0


The frisson of excitement around Girard-Perregaux’s offering at the Only Watch charity auction last fall proved to be enough for the brand to revive its oddball tubular LED quartz watch, the Casquette. Today’s interpretation of the largely forgotten 1970s curio comes in ceramic and titanium and adds chronograph and second time zone functions. The battery is said to last two years, and 820 watches are to be made.

Longines Spirit Zulu Time


Longines’s easygoing Spirit collection has proved popular since its introduction two years ago. Three-handers and chronographs have led the line so far, leaving the door open for a G.M.T. (Greenwich Mean Time) model, which duly steps into the light this year. The Zulu Time model (Zulu is the military term for Coordinated Universal Time) has a solid automatic caliber with a 72-hour power reserve behind it, but its strongest suit is its classic sports watch look.

Seiko Prospex Glacier “Save the Ocean” 1968 reinterpretation


Seiko’s reinterpretations trade on a reputation that the brand earned among serious divers, explorers and even polar researchers during the 1960s and 1970s. This one picks up on the polar theme, marrying a glacier motif dial to a hardened steel case and bracelet, and a 70-hour automatic. The final flourish is the promise that sales will support Seiko’s marine charity partners.

Tissot Telemeter 1938


When you have been around as long as Tissot (coming up on 170 years), the archives are unlikely ever to run dry. Its new Telemeter 1938 is said to take its cues from a Tissot stopwatch used to time a ski race in the Swiss town of Villars-sur-Ollon in 1938. It is an obscure reference, but the watch is an handsome thing, defined by its colorful telemeter and tachymeter scales.

Harry Winston Avenue Classic Graffiti


Art Deco’s influence over Harry Winston, with its New York roots, has always been particularly acute. The jeweler returns this year with further versions of its bijou Fifth Avenue-inspired cocktail watch, each decorated with a scattering of precious stones, some of them laid out across the dial to spell the brand’s name in a graffiti style.

Bremont Dambuster


The wartime rhetoric peppering Bremont’s design language reaches a new pitch this year, with a watch inspired by next year’s 80th anniversary of Britain’s so-called Dambuster mission in World War II. The steel monopusher chronograph will be limited to 232 pieces, recalling the 232 miles-per-hour speed at which British Lancaster bombers had to fly to make sure the Barnes Wallis-designed “bouncing bombs” hit their targets.

Certina DS Super PH500M Sea Turtle Conservancy


The intention behind Certina’s latest dive watch is clear from its name: This is a watch made in support of the Florida-based organization Sea Turtle Conservancy. The style is unquestionably vintage, but the tech behind it is determinedly en vogue, as both its strap and packaging are made from environmentally friendly materials. If this can be done in an $890 watch, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Bamford London B347 Titanium

2,500 pounds (the equivalent of $3,890)

The retro-looking B347 is the latest brainchild of George Bamford, TAG Heuer’s London-based official watch customizer, and his own dial name, Bamford London. Having appeared first in carbon, the monopusher chronograph has just been released in titanium, a marginally more universal metal in the watch world, and as ever, Bamford offers it in a range of punchy colors. B347, incidentally, is alphanumeric for “beat,” as in the beat of a chronograph seconds hand.

Gerald Charles GC Sport


It is hard to age Gerald Charles. Founded by Gerald Genta in 2000, the brand has been re-energized recently by Federico Ziviani, its 20-something general manager. His product centerpiece is the Maestro, an esoteric form designed by Mr. Genta in 2006 and now taking shape as this titanium-cased GC Sport model.

Vertex M60 AquaLion


Vertex, a British Ministry of Defense supplier during World War II, was reborn in 2016 and has built up a solid fan base for its aviation-inspired watches. The muscular M60 AquaLion takes the brand under the waves, offering 600 meters (1,970 feet) of water resistance, as well as chronometer-certified performance and three interchangeable straps.

Watchmaking’s paradox is that its survival depends on finding new ways of repeating the same old tricks: If there’s one thing that sells better than nostalgia, it’s novelty. The industry remains a creative vortex, absorbing ideas and influences from sources as diverse as micro-mechanics, fashion and traditional art forms. And alongside the old guard, here are new faces, taking the story forward.

Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum


The French luxury house’s left-field adventures in Swiss watchmaking continue with a version of its Spin Time that merges mechanics with electronics. Behind each of the spinning blocks that flip mechanically to show the hour is an electrically powered LED light that is activated by pushing the crown. Each light stays on for three seconds, a stunt the company says the watch will perform about 7,500 times before the battery needs replacing.

Greubel Forsey Double Balancier Convexe


The elite independent Greubel Forsey has a new chief executive and a new 10-year plan, part of which is to increase the brand’s new-watch cycle and its production volumes, although to 200 watches a year from its current 100 level. The second of four new models planned for 2022 is this three-dimensional head-spinner, a piece with two balance wheels inclined at 30 degrees — an invention said to deliver greater accuracy.

Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Multimeter


Tool watches, a broad category for watches that place a premium on function as much as aesthetic, are a Bell & Ross specialty. The French company’s three decades in watchmaking have been defined by watches made for pilots, firefighters and even bomb disposal experts. Its latest is aimed at athletes, and it is graphically detailed with multiple tachymeter, pulsometer and asthmometer scales, the latter for measuring breaths per minute.

Breguet Marine Hora Mundi


Breguet’s Hora Mundi complication had been three years in the making when it was introduced more than a decade ago. Its quirk was to synchronize the time, date, day/night indicator and world city so that with a single click, all four would align with wherever you were in the world. This is the first time the complication has appeared in the brand’s sportier Marine line.

Andersen Genève x BCHH Celestial Voyager Sunset over Cappadocia”


The master watchmaker Svend Andersen has made fewer than 1,500 watches since he set up shop more than 40 years ago. This 10-piece world timer in the classic Louis Cottier style, complete with cloisonné enamel dial, is made in tandem with BCHH, a watch business founded in 2019 by Benjamin Chee to put Singaporean craftsmanship on the map.

Carl F. Bucherer Heritage BiCompax Annual Hometown Edition


The Lucerne-based watchmaker’s mid-century-style big-date chronograph provides the palette for a new Hometown Edition, which offers buyers 88 examples of each of the 17 watches representing 16 cities — Beijing gets two — across nine countries. Each carries a case back engraving detailing the city skyline. This is the Statue of Liberty-inspired green edition for New York.

Atelier Wen Perception


The vision of two French Sinophiles, Atelier Wen has been largely quiet since its arrival four years ago. Now we know why. Its second watch family is a step on from its first, with a bespoke case shape and a guilloché dial said to have been hand-turned by Master Cheng, which the brand described as “the sole guilloché master craftsman in the whole of China and Asia.” And, it said, each one takes him eight hours. That is a lot of craft in a watch at this price — the beauty, the company said, of high-end Chinese watchmaking.

Porsche Design Chronograph 1 — 911 Edition 50Y Porsche Design


Ferdinand Alexander Porsche’s Chronograph 1 of 1972 does not get the credit it deserves. Aside from being widely accepted as the first all-black watch (an aesthetic still casting shadows today), it kick-started Porsche Design. In its 50th year, the flyback chronograph has been rereleased for the first time as two watches, one of which is this model, available only to buyers of the 750 Porsche 911s produced to mark the anniversary.

Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph


Credit to the budding French brand Reservoir. For its first chronograph, it has forgone the quotidian three-counter dial arrangement and instead opted for a more experimental bi-retrograde display, with seconds and date indicated by hands that skip up and down a linear scale. Where most of Reservoir’s collection is inspired by cars and planes, the Sonomaster’s aesthetic is taken from the world of hi-fi and audio.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon #tide


Maurice Lacroix’s gradual rejuvenation accelerates with this diamond-set pink plastic version of its flagship Aikon. Aside from the poppy color palette, its story is told by a case made of what it calls “ocean-bound upcycled plastic” and glass fiber, a material produced by the Swiss company #tide. Apparently, the material makes its carbon footprint what the marketing calls “six times less than PET,” the recycled plastic used by many Swiss watch brands to burnish their sustainability credentials.


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