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Watches
The Best in Watches, From Audemars Piguet to Vacheron Constantin and Beyond
While the world’s watch maisons eye new markets and groundbreaking materials, they continue to combine function with the finest heritage craft.
BY Winnie Chung  |  February 16, 2023
21 Minute Read
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Illustration by Shout

The Big Idea: Changing Faces

Despite its small size, Hong Kong held the title of the largest market for Swiss watches for many years thanks to its own affluent residents and regular visits by tourists eager for tax-free shopping. But recent years have seen the market in flux for a variety of reasons, and luxury watchmakers have had to rethink strategies and products to appeal to wider demographics, two of the most important being the female and the younger millennial and Generation Z markets.

With regard to the first, it’s no surprise given the male-dominated industry that more complicated timepieces have so far been aimed at that demographic, with women sometimes having to be satisfied with just simple self-winding or even quartz alternatives—with a huge dose of bling, of course.

But some watch brands are now catering to the growing female demographic with more interesting complications while retaining a demure size. Panerai refined its rugged Luminor into the smaller, slimmer Luminor Due, and recently released the moon phase Luminor Due Luna at 38 mm. Jaeger-LeCoultre also expanded on the complications for its Rendez-Vous line with the Dazzling Moon Lazura and the Dazzling Shooting Star, while some makers have bolstered their unisex collections, like Vacheron Constantin with its Traditionelle.

And with the traditionally advanced age of luxury watch buyers cutting out a sizeable market segment, maisons have been looking for ways to appeal to the younger set, addressing concerns and interests such as blockchain, sustainability, and price point.

The past year has seen a number of brands introducing NFTs. Hublot launched two tokens in collaboration with iconic Japanese artist Takashi Murakami; IWC, Panerai, Bulgari, and Jacob & Co. are just a few others that have dipped a digit into the metaverse. According to The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2022, about 57 percent of brands intended to launch an NFT in the coming year.

Concerns for the environment have contributed to a growing secondary market for pre-owned timepieces. This is frowned on by luxury maisons, which have tried to counter the trend with increased research and development into more sustainable materials for cases and straps, with some made from recycled substances.

And while it’s not exactly luxe, perhaps we can get a pointer to the future from the biggest disruptor of 2022 in terms of youth appeal: the MoonSwatch, the hybrid son of Swatch and Omega’s Speedmaster. The bioceramic ode to the solar system was launched last March to long queues swarming Swatch shops around the world, with police being called to some locations for crowd control.

With the watch carrying a price tag of only about HK$2,000, the Swatch Group is hoping that the MoonSwatch and its contrary mix of DNA will offer the younger generation a path into the world of fine watchmaking. Maybe we could call it a movement.

IWC Schaffhausen

Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Edition “Woodland” 

IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Edition “Woodland” 

Producing consistently coloured ceramics is challenging, which is why most ceramic timepieces on the market are either white or black. Although Swiss maker IWC experimented with prototypes in coloured ceramics as far back as the 1980s, the maison only released its first fully fledged coloured ceramic novelty in 2019: the sandy Mojave Desert model inspired by Top Gun: Maverick and featuring the film logo on the caseback.

Now the maison has released the white Lake Tahoe and the green Woodland models to complete the coloured collection. Like the Mojave Desert, the new editions feature the Top Gun logo on the caseback, and come inside a 44.5 mm case with a 46-hour power reserve.

The Lake Tahoe and the Mojave Desert feature stainless steel crowns and pushers, as well as titanium casebacks, while the crown, pusher, and caseback for the Woodland are made of black Ceratanium, a combination that gives the material the lightness of titanium alongside the hardiness of ceramic.

The Woodland is also the only one of the three with perfectly matching shades for case, dial, and strap. The colours of the collection are inspired by the landscapes US Navy pilots see on manoeuvre, with the deep combat green also emblematic of the uniforms of the flight school.

iwc.com

Image courtesy of IWC Schaffhausen.

Piaget

Polo Skeleton in Green 

Piaget Polo Skeleton in Green 

Green has increasingly been the colour du jour for the watch industry, with brands introducing green dials to both existing and new models. And on the back of its declaration that “green is the new shade of bold,” Piaget introduced two green Polo novelties in 2022. These aren’t the first green dials we’ve seen on the Polo, but they’re beautiful nonetheless. Nor are the new Polo Date and Polo Skeleton completely new, with the Skeleton released in more classic grey and blue in 2021.

After a time when it seemed Piaget had been focused on breaking ultra-thin records with its Altiplano series, the maison has pivoted towards sporty chic with the Polo. Though with the Skeleton models, Piaget hasn’t really abandoned those thin ambitions: the watch is only 6.5 mm thick with an automatic movement of only 2.4 mm.

Of course, openworked dials have long been a source of fascination, with their glimpse into the inner workings of sophisticated timepieces, and the Polo Skeleton Green is no exception. What constitutes the dial is a green metallic ring that contains a minute track with hour markers, and the mainplate and bridges of the movement.

The stainless steel 42 mm piece comes with an interchangeable stainless steel bracelet and a matching alligator green leather strap, for more elegant occasions.

piaget.com

Image courtesy of Piaget.

Hublot

Square Bang Unico

Hublot Square Bang Unico

The Big Bang family has become Hublot’s mainstay since its launch in 2005; just a decade after its debut, it was making up about 50 percent of the brand’s sales. And for quite a while, Hublot was happy to stay true to its design code of a round shape, with the trademark polished bezel inset with six visible screws.

It took until 2014 for Hublot to surprise fans with its first tonneau-shaped Big Bang. And now, it’s upped the ante with the Hublot Square Bang Unico. The new square timepiece comes in five iterations: two in titanium, two in King Gold, and a 250-piece all-black version. The titanium and King Gold both have an option for a black ceramic bezel.

Splitting the latter two is a difficult exercise, and probably depends on your preference for the case materials. Inside the collection beats the brand’s in-house HUB1280 chronograph movement, and fitting this round movement into a square case has been one of the most impressive feats of the new collection. Even more impressive has been the brand’s ability to keep the case size to a manageable 42 mm, albeit with a thickness of 14.5 mm. Square cases are also notoriously difficult to keep water resistant, but Hublot promises a resistance of up to 100 metres.

The openworked dial is a beauty to behold, with the column wheel visible at six o’clock and other inner workings presenting a very 3-D feel to the watch, which also comes with Hublot’s One Click release for easy changing of the rubber, alligator, or leather strap.

hublot.com

Image courtesy of Hublot.

H. Moser & Cie.

Streamliner Tourbillon

H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Tourbillon

H. Moser & Cie. has been using Vantablack, an innovative coating used in the aerospace industry, on its watch dials for the past six years. The material absorbs up to 99.965 percent of visible light, making it the absolute blackest of black and the darkest of dark.

At Watches & Wonders 2022, Moser announced its Blacker than Black Streamliner Chronograph, completely coated in Vantablack including the case and bracelet. When set against a black background, the only things visible were the watch hands; beautiful, but perhaps not so practical when you’re trying to find your watch in a dark room.

More recently, the brand released its Streamliner Tourbillon in Vantablack, which represents the first time Moser has used the material on a watch that’s not stainless steel. The piece comes in a striking 5N red gold and integrated bracelet, complete with red gold stick indices—also a first that necessitated a new form of application that wouldn’t see the delicate carbon nanotubes of Vantablack disintegrate in the application.

The red gold offers up a gorgeous contrast to the deep void of the dial, but shouldn’t detract completely from the flying tourbillon positioned at six o’clock. And with an in-house automatic HMC 804 movement equipped with a double hairspring for accuracy, the Streamliner Tourbillon in Vantablack is definitely the epitome of beauty and brains.

h-moser.com

Image courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.

Parmigiani

Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante 

Parmigiani Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante 

The new Parmigiani Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante has been called the “understatement of the year,” and it’s easy to see why. While some brands may opt to put all their bells and whistles on display, the new GMT Rattrapante practically screams for attention with its air of sleek simplicity.

At first glance, there’s very little to reveal that the watch movement includes not only the dual time GMT but also a type of rattrapante. Also known as a double chronograph or split-second chronograph, this is normally an additional second hand for the chronograph function superimposed over the normal second hand and an additional pusher that allow the user to record multiple time intervals that start, but don’t end, at the same time. But this rattrapante is slightly different.

Such is the simplicity of the GMT Rattrapante that its Milano Blue guilloché dial is unembellished by anything other than the hour and minute hands—until you press the pusher sitting at eight o’clock. This causes the hour hand to jump one hour forward, revealing another rose gold hand that displays time in your place of residence. When no longer needed, the pusher returns the upper hour hand to its original position.

At other times, the watch remains a subtle, classy dress watch suitable for business both day and night, with only the wearer knowing the technological secrets hidden beneath its unassuming dial.

parmigiani.com

Image courtesy of Parmigiani.

Breguet

Tradition Quantième Rétrograde 7597

Breguet Tradition Quantième Rétrograde 7597

Breguet is one of the oldest and grandest watchmaking maisons, having been founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet 248 years ago. The Swiss watchmaker was truly a visionary and has been credited with many advancements in the horological world, not the least of which are the tourbillon movement, guilloché dials, and tact watches.

Underpinned by this history, the manufacture’s timepieces have tended to be serious technical watches with perhaps more conventional design codes and colours. The Tradition collection was introduced in 2005 as a nod to Breguet’s souscription watches, for which he charged a modest price in return for down payments to allow him to buy the necessary materials.

One of the main intentions of the Tradition line was to showcase some of the original components of the movements under the dial of the souscription pieces. This was embodied in a perfectly symmetrical openworked dial that shows all the bells and whistles, with a subdial for the time at 12 o’clock and a date counter sitting at the base.

What makes the 2022 Tradition Quantième Rétrograde 7597 interesting is the choice of white gold and monochrome blue for the subdial and the date counter. A recent addition to Breguet’s collections, the colour is a sign that the maison is taking steps into a more Gen-Z world.

breguet.com

Image courtesy of Breguet.

Vacheron Constantin

Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Civilisations 

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Civilisations 

Not many watch maisons have dipped their fingers into métiers d’art waters, choosing instead to pursue the technological aspects of fine watchmaking. The term, which is French for “artistic professions,” encompasses the use of decorative arts, and requires a firm commitment because building the skills and creativity to match artistic flair to technological prowess is not an easy, or inexpensive, endeavour.

Vacheron Constantin has always been able to thrill and delight with its métiers d’art novelties over the years. It seems only natural that somewhere along the way, the grand maison would find a way to collaborate with one of the major museums in the world, the Musée du Louvre.

The collaboration has produced an impressive four-piece collection paying tribute to “great civilisations.” Each of the four, limited to five pieces each, is inspired by a masterwork from a period in antiquity that has been conserved in the Louvre and whose culture has influenced the development of modern civilisation.

All the watches feature intricate carvings and enamelling. There are no hands so that the artwork is unencumbered; rather, four windows along the edge of each case show the hour, minutes, day, and date. The pieces highlight the Lion of Darius from the Achaemenid Empire under Darius the Great; the victory of Samothrace from Greece’s Antigonid dynasty; the Grand Sphinx of Tanis from early pharaonic Egypt; and a bust of the first Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. This is literally wearing history on your wrist.

vacheron-constantin.com

Image courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.

Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak Self Winding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self Winding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) 

Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak turned the luxury watch industry on its head when it was most needed. To battle the onslaught from cheap Japanese quartz watches in the early 1970s, the maison made the bold move to task Gerald Genta with designing “a sports watch for all occasions with the most beautiful finishes ever seen” for the Swiss Watch Show (now known as BaselWorld).

Overnight, Genta came up with the polished 39 mm piece with a thickness of 7 mm, making it an elegant size for formal wear. The most outstanding feature was an octagonal bezel secured by eight visible screws, which imbued the timepiece with a sporty look.

For the line’s 50th anniversary in 2022, Audemars Piguet announced the new extra-thin Calibre 7121 and Calibre 7124, and the flying tourbillon Calibre 2968. The Calibre 2968 is the centrepiece of the Royal Oak Self Winding Flying Tourbillon Extra Thin RD#3, which comes in two sizes: 39 mm with a blue dial and a 37 mm version with a plum-coloured dial for smaller wrists.

The self-winding Calibre 7121 is housed in the Royal Oak Jumbo anniversary collection, which comes in stainless steel, platinum, rose gold, and yellow gold, with an openworked variation powered by the Calibre 7124.

The 50th anniversary models stay beautifully true to Genta’s original vision. If you’re lucky, you might just get one before the 60th anniversary rolls around.

audemarspiguet.com

Image courtesy of Audemars Piguet.

Panerai

Luminor Calendario Perpetuo PAM01569 

Panerai Luminor Calendario Perpetuo PAM01569 

With its history dating back to 1860, when Giovanni Panerai opened his first workshop in Florence, it’s a little surprising that Panerai for years shied away from perpetual calendar timepieces.

The movement with the capability to automatically adjust the day and date, and account for leap years, has always been well-liked by watch lovers. But it wasn’t until 2021 that the Italian brand succumbed to popular demand.

The Goldtech PAM00742 and the Platinumtech PAM00715 were followed by the Goldtech PAM01269 in 2022, when the brand also announced a new model for 2023: the Luminor Calendario Perpetuo PAM01569, a limited edition of 30 pieces exclusively for Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

The iconic Luminor watches have long been known for their heft and their signature lever crown protector. The PAM01569 is a sleek timepiece coming in at a more elegant and comfortable 44 mm. The translucent blue sapphire dial is a beauty to behold, but it’s the day and date in Chinese characters that will send Chinese-speaking Paneristi running to get their hands on one. A very subtle second time zone on the dial also shows the hours in Chinese characters.

The “Fu” PAM366 from 2010 and PAM498 from 2012, which had the Chinese character for prosperity etched at the six o’clock position, are the only two other novelties that feature this type of nod to Panerai’s Chinese-speaking market.

panerai.com

Image courtesy of Panerai.

Jaeger-LeCoultre

Rendez-Vous Star

Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Star

The Reverso is arguably the most popular of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s collections, for both men and women. After more than nine decades, the watch with the reversing case remains iconic.

In the past couple of years, however, the brand has really caught up with the female demographic, with some very interesting iterations of the fairly new Rendez-Vous line (it’s only 10 years old) in terms of movement and design.

In 2021, Jaeger-LeCoultre already gave us a hint of what was to come with the stunning moon phase Rendez-Vous Dazzling Moon Lazura, with a celestial map marking the brightest constellations.

This year, the manufacture has outdone that with another ode to the night sky featuring two complications: the Rendez-Vous Dazzling Star and the Rendez-Vous Star. Both 36 mm novelties feature Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new in-house automatic Calibre 734, which incorporates the shooting star that appears at random times.

Both novelties are equally spectacular, with the Dazzling Star having a more conventional dial design with the shooting star in the middle, but with two rows of diamonds on the bezel. The Star exhibits a more subtle single-row diamond setting and a more whimsical dial design with clouds and a crescent moon.

The novelty is available in white gold with a blue dial and pink gold with a taupe dial. And although the timepiece is obviously aimed at the female market, it wouldn’t be too far out of place on a slender male wrist.

jaeger-lecoultre.com

Image courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Roger Dubuis

Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon/X

Roger Dubuis Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon/X

What would a collection called Excalibur be, if there were no reference to the Knights of the Round Table? Roger Dubuis’ 2022 limited-release Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon/X isn’t the first time the figures have appeared on one of the maison’s timepieces, but it is the first time the brand has included a tourbillon movement.

Given the brand’s fixation on tourbillons, it seems surprising that it’s taken eight editions for the movement to make an appearance at the table, as it were. Unlike collections such as the Excalibur, which has the tourbillons at various hourly positions on the dial, the new monotourbillon sits smack in the middle, surrounded by blocks of purple Murano glass and sapphire crystal.

The 12 knights, of course, stand in for hour indices on the dial. Each is intricately handcrafted in pink gold and stands a mere 6 mm tall, the entire case 45 mm wide.

This is also the first time Roger Dubuis has created a central tourbillon movement. There are no hands on the watch; the time is shown by a pair of golden markers driven by a double-disc rotating system that circles the tourbillon. The mix of hyper horology and aesthetics has not been lost on collectors. As we go to print, the limited edition of only eight pieces has already sold out.

rogerdubuis.com

Image courtesy of Roger Dubuis.

Franck Muller

Cintrée Curvex Two-Tone

Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex Two-Tone

In the heritage-bound world of horology, Franck Muller is still a relatively young brand. The Swiss-born “Master of Complications” only presented his first tourbillon at the front of a wristwatch in 1984 and officially launched his eponymous brand in 1991.

In this short time, however, Muller has established himself as a leading contemporary watchmaker known not just for ultra-complicated movements like the Crazy Hours, but also for ground-breaking Cintrée Curvex tonneau cases that not only feature a curved outside case for greater comfort, but also a curved back, dial, hands, and glass.

Playful, colourful hues are also no stranger to the brand, especially notable in the Color Dreams novelties and the bright Arabic numerals that mark their dials. The latest releases of the marque’s Cintrée Curvex Two Tone merge two of these signature features and add matching watch straps.

The Cintrée Curvex Two Tone collection, exclusive to Hong Kong and Macau, comes in rose gold or stainless steel with vibrant hand-painted numerals in six colour tones: coral red, mandarin orange, lemon yellow, pastel pink, minty green, and violet.

The vibrant cases and dials house the Calibre FM800, a self-winding movement with a bi-directional rotor and a 42-hour power reserve. A diamond-set bezel completes a killer combination that would tempt most women collectors.

franckmuller.com

Image courtesy of Franck Muller.

TAG Heuer

Carrera Plasma 

TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma 

TAG Heuer doesn’t get the credit it deserves for innovation and precision, particularly in the categories of chronographs and stopwatches—case in point, the Mikrotimer Flying 1000, which was the first wristwatch to be able to measure 1/1,000 of a second.

In all honesty, that lack of attention by people outside the industry could be due to the brand’s more conservative aesthetic. But in 2022, the TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma made everyone sit up and pay attention, not only for its innovative Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph beating heart, but also for the ground-breaking use of lab-grown diamonds.

The Carrera Plasma, or Carrera Plasma D’Avant Garde as it’s sometimes known, is all about carbon, from the pioneering carbon composite hairspring in the movement to the diamonds used in every form from the dial to the crown.

Mounted into the side of the case are 48 lab-grown diamonds totalling 4.8 carats, and the crown is a single 2.5-carat piece. The glitzy dial is made of polycrystalline diamond, or finely ground and fused diamonds. These feats are arguably only possible with the lab-grown gems, as it’s notoriously difficult to control the shapes of natural diamonds.

Photographs are probably the closest most of us will get to this magnificent beauty, as it’s set to be a very limited edition, but we’ll wait with interest to see what TAG does next with this intriguing technology.

tagheuer.com

Image courtesy of TAG Heuer.

Richard Mille

RM UP-01 Ferrari Ultraflat

Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari Ultraflat

Other than their complications, Richard Mille timepieces have always been highly recognisable for their thick tonneau-shaped cases. It explains why the RM UP-01 Ultraflat, a collaboration with Ferrari, was announced to a chorus of gasps around the world.

Boasting a thickness of just 1.75 mm, the RM-01 is thinner than most watch straps. Most ultra-thin watches with similar complications come in around 5–7 mm. For a watch this thin, both the mechanics of the movement and the design of the case required a massive rethink. Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet Le Locle engineers spent more than 6,000 hours on research and testing on the watch’s engineering, resulting in elements like a new type of escapement with a balance wheel in grade 5 titanium to guarantee perfect flatness without compromising strength.

The thinness of the watch also eliminated the possibility of creating a normal watch face. The result is a sideways tonneau containing four circles and an engraving of Ferrari’s familiar prancing horse. The time is read on the small sub-dial on the upper centre of the watch, with the balance wheel visible on the right and the function selector and winding mechanism on the left.

Few expected Richard Mille to wade into the ultra-thin fray. Not only has it done that, it has stamped an indelible mark on it. This will be a hard one to beat.

richardmille.com

Image courtesy of Richard Mille.

Rolex

GMT-Master II 

Rolex GMT-Master II 

The watch market is predominantly aimed at right-handed people, and while timepieces that cater to lefties are not unheard of, they are infinitely harder to come by. Heretofore, the feature of the crown being on the left of the case has never been seen on the GMT Master except for a mysterious novelty that surfaced at a Phillips auction in 2018. It explains why there’s an estimated waiting time of several years for this 2022 GMT Master II.

The Rolex GMT has had many iterations over the years since it was first released in the 1950s, with its dual-time function making it a highly popular travel watch, especially the GMT “Pepsi” featuring a blue and red bezel.

The new GMT Master II also comes with a two-tone Cerachrom bezel in black and green ceramic, the latter colour having become a popular choice for watch maisons in recent years. And in keeping with the flipped orientation, the date aperture is no doubt contentiously situated at 9 o’clock.

The 40 mm case houses the Calibre 3285, which Rolex introduced in 2018. The in-house self-winding movement has several patents and offers outstanding performance in terms of precision, power reserve, resistance to shocks and magnetic fields, convenience, and reliability. Admittedly this GMT II will appeal to only about nine per cent of the world’s population, but what an appeal.

rolex.com

Image courtesy of Rolex.