The (genuinely) most interesting men’s timepieces from Watches & Wonders 2021

Timothy Barber

9 April 2021

Forget tiny tweaks and technical tinkering, these are the new watches you really need to know about

9 April 2021 | Timothy Barber

This week sees the launch of hundreds of new watches at Watches & Wonders 2021, the year’s marquee event for the luxury watch industry. Taking in many of the world’s biggest brands, including Rolex, Patek Phillippe, Bulgari, TAG Heuer and Tudor, Watches & Wonders is taking place online but promises a return to the glossy theatre of a live trade show next year. Despite a year in lockdown, big technical advances, brand new designs and high glamour are all in evidence in this year’s releases, as are continuing trends in colour – green is everywhere – and versatile, casual styles. Here’s our round-up of the key releases.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar

As a design template, Bulgari’s super-thin Octo Finissimo range has entered bona fide ‘modern classic’ territory, with its crisp angles and matt-grey tones that are the antithesis of glitzy Roman bling. It’s also a platform for profound technical innovation, and the new perpetual calendar joins recent Octo Finissimo creations like the chronograph GMT, the minute repeater and the automatic tourbillon as a world-record holder for the slimmest example of the complication. If you’re counting, the watch is just 5.8mm thick – not a lot of space to fit in a grand complication as complex as a perpetual calendar, let alone do it with the kind of elan and style that Bulgari pulls off. Another truly fabulous piece of watchmaking from the Italian maison.

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925

Perhaps the most unexpected development of Watches & Wonders 2021 was this: the introduction of a watch cased in sterling silver from Rolex’s sibling brand, Tudor. But boy, it’s a handsome look, with a milky gleam that’s quite distinct from other metals. The particular sterling silver alloy Tudor is using is designed to be stable over time and resist becoming dull – you won’t need to reach for the silver polish every few months. Tudor’s colour choices are always deft, and the taupe dial and bezel here combine with the silver for a genuinely original, luxurious look that’s nevertheless at one with the Black Bay’s historic form factor. 

Rolex Explorer

Last year, Rolex sprung a surprise by announcing a glammed-up, steel-and-gold version of its most hardcore professional utility watch, the Sea-Dweller. But even that doesn’t soften the shock of a similarly two-tone outing for the Rolex Explorer, the all-time-classic steel field watch that Rolex had managed to leave alone for 68 years without adding a precious metal variation. Well, all change. At 36mm (the original size of the Explorer), this arguably makes for a modishly unisex take, though one that’s still built to a customarily high spec, containing Rolex’s latest generation of movement.

IWC Little Big Pilot

IWC’s Big Pilot watch, originally from a design of watches made for Luftwaffe pilots during World War II, was one of the defining watches of the big watch era of the early-to-mid 2000s, alongside huge watches from Panerai, Hublot and others. Times have changed, though, and IWC has now developed a resized version of the watch, down from 46mm to 43mm. Turns out 3mm is a huge difference: in its smaller size, the Big Pilot becomes an eminently wearable sports watch, still rippling with deluxe style but now far more versatile.

Baume & Mercier Riviera

The 1970s sports-luxe trend has dominated the watch industry for the past two years, and now comes to the polite world of Baume & Mercier, which is resurrecting its own design from the 1970s, the 12-sided Riviera. Style comes from the luminous applied numerals and wave-form dial decoration, while a version with a see-through blue dial, displaying Baume & Mercier’s highly-engineered in-house Baumatic movement offers a techier variation.

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 5711

The steel Patek Philippe Nautilus, Reference 5711 with a blue dial, is the unrivalled hottest watch of the modern era, with years-long waiting lists, sky-rocketing after-market prices and copycat versions appearing across the entire watch sector. And earlier this year it was announced that it would be discontinued, sending hopeful collectors around the world into paroxysms of angst. Well, reopen the waiting lists, since it’s continuing after all – except with a green dial. If nothing else, this is solid confirmation that green in watch dials is no longer a trend but utterly commonplace, even if commonplace is the one thing this watch never will be. Good luck seeing one in the metal, let alone getting it on your wrist.

Hermès H08

Hermès approaches watchmaking the same way it approaches everything else: with an effervescent deftness, lightness of touch and sense of stylish fun. And that’s all present and correct in its completely new watch range, the H08. A sportier, versatile style of watch than anything else in the brand’s line-up, this one is right on the money, with a characterful font set for the numerals and a circle-in-an-amorphous-square case design that is all soft angles and contrasting surfaces. Ultimately, it’s a sports watch, with versions in lightweight titanium and all-black graphene composite, on funky webbing straps or a very smart new bracelet, but one that packs in enough Gallic style to be a hit for any occasion.  

Zenith Defy Extreme

For those who like their watches chunky, muscular and full of high-octane watchmaking content, we bring you the Defy Extreme from Zenith. The company’s Defy range contains the most advanced version of its famous El Primero chronograph movement, whose 1/100th of a second timing capability is a mechanical feast for the eyes, sending the sweep hand round the dial once a second. That’s now packaged in a full-blooded design that’s all angles, edges and high-tech resilience, and should lay to bed the ghosts of the last, little lamented ‘Defy Extreme’ collection from the mid-2000s.

Read more: The standout women's watches from Watches & Wonders 2021