he annual watch calendar, much like the annual fashion calendar, used to follow a well-trodden timetable. The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH for short) went first, showcasing the latest creations of brands belonging to the Richemont Group – Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai among them – as well as a smattering of independent watchmakers every January.
A few months later, in March or April or early May, the watch world made its way to Baselworld for the newest toys from the rest of the big-hitters – Hublot, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Tudor, Patek Philippe and Zenith included. There have been spin-off shows in Hong Kong and Dubai. For a few years, every autumn the UK had its very own Salon QP.
Whether or not ‘SIHH’ or ‘Baselworld’ means anything to anyone outside of the watch industry – and whether or not magazines should pin their watch specials around such events – will no longer be a conundrum with which editorial departments have to wrestle.
Both Baselworld and Salon QP have been canned, indefinitely, and SIHH has morphed into Watches & Wonders, a ‘phygital’ event that this year will take place in Shanghai (physically) and everywhere else (digitally) in April. No word, yet, on what will happen in the years to come.
With watchmakers no longer tied to traditional trade shows, brands are launching their 2021 collections according to their own timetables. Keep track on who’s dropped what below...
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
Tudor’s masterstroke this year was restoring silver’s historic place in watchmaking. Until the 1930s it was a fairly common case material, but fell out of favour because it tarnished more easily than stainless steel. But, to an audience unaccustomed to silver and in favour with patina, the proposition of a precious metal watch at a price lower than bronze and only slightly more expensive than steel, the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 proved irresistible, something helped by the natural pairing of silver with a taupe dial and bezel.
Bremont MB Savanna
With its manufacturing facility, The Wing, newly opened in Henley-on-Thames, Bremont now has the means to produce more of its own watchmaking components in the UK than ever before and its latest watch, the 43mm MB Savanna, uses the first titanium cases it has milled itself. The MB, of course, stands for long-time partner and ejector seat maker Martin Baker, a partnership which reveals itself through a knurled caseband and pull-cord counterweight on the seconds hand. Even the sandy coating on the titanium is colour-matched to a section of its parachutes.
A Lange & Söhne Langematik Perpetual
Lange’s Langematik Perpetual, now cased in 18ct pink and white gold with deep blue dials as 50-piece limited editions, brings clever touches of refinement from the German manufacturer. It pairs the perpetual calendar complication, which will keep track of the date until 2100 if you (or your grandchildren) keep it wound, with Lange’s oversized date window, giving it a look that is distinct from other QPs while also offering a zero-reset mechanism and a main corrector for advancing the calendar, making short work of setting the date.
Schofield Bronze Beater B4
The Bronze Beater B4 is Schofield founder Giles Ellis’ love letter to Japan, and a watch more densely packed with Japanese touches you are unlikely to find, well, anywhere really. On the reverse is a caseback etched with a traditional Japanese Durama-san doll, the Japanese symbol for luck emblazoned on its chest, while the design also includes the gingko and cherry blossom motif used on a Tokyo drain cover. The dial is made of Indigo-dyed Japanese Boro patchwork cloth, while the strap is made from Japanese Mudcloth. And the automatic movement inside the heavily patinated 44mm bronze case? That, at least, is Swiss.
Ball Engineer Skindiver II Heritage
Ball’s Engineer Skindiver II Heritage gives the brand’s 1960s-inspired dive watch a covert, matte-black makeover with a Titanium Carbide coating on its 42mm stainless steel case and bracelet. Paired with a black dial and a sapphire crystal-topped unidirectional bezel, the only opportunity for colour comes from Ball’s signature, self-powered micro gas tubes. Hands and hour markers are rendered in a candy-coloured assortment, while green tubes are inlaid into the bezel illuminating its minute scale. Limited to 390 pieces, the watch is water resistant to 200 metres.
Oris Aquis Date Upcycle
While much of the watch industry has now followed suit, Oris has been doing its bit to save the oceans for years, from supporting coral planting projects to creating packaging from algae. Its latest developments include announcing that the brand is climate neutral. There's also this Aquis Date Upcycle dive watch with a dial made from recycled PET plastic.
Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France
Breitling’s loss is Bell & Ross’ gain as the former pivoted away from Top Gun-style aviation leaving its long-term partner, Patrouille de France, free to sign with the latter. To celebrate its new relationship with the French national fast jet display team, Bell & Ross has created the BR 03-94 Patrouille de France, a square 42mm black ceramic chronograph with bi-directional bezel. The dial takes on the blue, white and red of the French tricolour, while the Patrouille logo sits at six o’clock. As well as creating a 500-piece limited-edition automatic chronograph, Bell & Ross is also making a 100-piece quartz-powered version.
Richard Mille RM 07-01
Despite appearances, the three-watch RM 07-01 Coloured Ceramics capsule collection is potentially the most traditional watch Richard Mille has ever made. Yes, the cases use pastel-coloured ceramics of pink, blue and violet, mismatched with rubber straps and ceramic and rubber marquetry dials. But, in a first for the brand, the metal sections of the dial also feature fine, time-honoured, hand-applied guilloche decoration.
Bremont RFU 150
Last year, Bremont, a brand that’s about as British as a queue of Beefeaters talking about the weather, became the official timing partner to both England Rugby and its spiritual home, Twickenham stadium. It plays, then, that the Henley-on-Thames-based watchmaker would mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Rugby Football Union with a red-white-and-blue chronometer engraved with a rose on its case-back. The 43mm Bremont RFU 150 features a 24h GMT hand and a bezel that indicates half-time and full-time via accents in red. Crouch, touch, pause, engage a crown at the unusual position of 10 o’clock.
TAG Heuer Carrera Porsche Chronograph
Long-time BBFs, TAG Heuer and Porsche, made things official this year by entering into what they are calling a 'holistic and long-term collaboration'. The first fruit of this old-new relationship is, fittingly, given the brand’s historic motorsport links, a Porsche-themed Carrera. As well as appearing on the ceramic black bezel of a new 44mm chronograph, Porsche’s insignia has been engraved onto the watch’s oscillating weight – re-shaped to resemble a Porsche steering wheel – which is visible through an exhibition case-back. Other nods to the motoring marque include indexes in Porsche’s font; the use of the car manufacturer’s signature red, black and grey colourway; and a dial designed to resemble asphalt.
Piaget Polo Skeleton
Patek Philippe has its perpetual calendars. Breitling has its pilots’ chronographs. Panerai has its luminescent dive watches. Piaget has two specialisms. Skeletanisation and ultra-thin movements, fortes writ large in the new Polo Skeleton. The model is 30 per cent thinner than existing Polo watches, with a 42mm case that's been slimmed down to just 6.5mm thick. An in-house, wafer-thin movement measures just 2.4mm deep. Despite its leanness, the watch has a 44-hour power reserve and is water resistant to 30 metres. If you're not digging the blue, choose slate grey instead.
Grand Seiko White Birch Forest High Beat
Focus on the dial. Forged in Grand Seiko’s manufacture in Shizukuishi, it's been made to resemble the birch trees that grow in the surrounding forests. The watch houses a high-beat movement with an 80-hour power reserve and is accurate to an impressive +5 to -3 seconds per day. You can watch the calibre do its thing though an exhibition case-back. But we detract, just look at that dial.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT
The cult status of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo continues to gather pace. Seven years and six world records since its 2014 launch – thinnest tourbillon, thinnest minute repeater, thinnest automatic, thinnest automatic tourbillon, thinnest automatic chronograph, thinnest tourbillon chronograph, and breathhh – the eight-sided ultra-thin is quickly becoming the watch face of Rome’s leading luxury conglomerate. New for 2021 is this polished-steel-meets-blue-sunray-dial Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT. Equipped with a larger screw-down crown than former sandblasted models, the new GMT is now good to a depth of 100 meters. Whether you'd pair the watch with a wetsuit is another matter.
Oris Carl Brashear Cal. 401 Limited Edition
The third watch in the partnership between Oris and the Carl Brashear Foundation is the first to be powered by the watchmaker’s in-house Calibre 401 movement. Translation: the perfectly-proportioned 40mm automatic dive watch will now run for five days from a fully-wound state. Take the watch off on a Sunday evening and it should still be ticking when you strap it back on after work the following Friday. Track how close the tank is to empty via a power reserve indicator at six o’clock.
Hublot Big Bang Integral Ceramic
There’s a lot to like about this new Hublot – the integrated bracelet (new in 2020), for starters. Then there’s the single-material architecture (everything except the lugs and rubber elements on the crown and pushers is made from ceramic), and the fact it’s more than twice as scratch-resistant as steel. Mostly, though, it’s about the colour – a polished-then-satin-finished, titanium-esque, gun-metal grey. Here’s hoping there’s a solid-dial version in the offing.
Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm Guillaume Néry Edition
Props to Panerai for coming up with a strap made from recycled plastic resin. The strap seen here is not that strap. This strap is made from white rubber. A pretty mega style statement in itself, we’re sure you’ll agree, but this strap goes one further. The words ‘Officine Panerai’, printed on its side, have been coated in a luminescent paint – meaning they’ll glow in the dark. Now that’s seriously cool. Switch between the two straps with the use of a mini Panerai screwdriver. Also seriously cool.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Double Flying Tourbillon
Fresh from its cameo in one of the most-watched documentaries of all time – see the wrists of both Michael Jordon and Scottie Pippen in last year’s The Last Dance – Roger Dubuis presents the latest interpretation of its Excalibur Double Flying Tourbillon. The skeletonised star on the updated timepiece no longer forms part of the base movement, instead criss-crossing between two bridges set at different levels. By reducing the weight of the watch’s two tourbillons, Roger Dubuis has also been able to up its power reserve to 72 hours. Balling.
£162,000 in pink gold, rogerdubuis.com
Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385
More than a sepia-tinted throwback, Zenith’s latest Chronomaster is a genuine reissue of a stainless-steel chronograph from 1969. The tonneau-shaped A385 featured a brown gradient dial – possibly the first ‘smoked’ dial ever made. This year’s A385 uses the original production plans from the initial model, to wit: a 37mm case, pump-style pushers and, if you opt for a metal over calf leather, a stainless-steel ladder bracelet.
A titbit of horological trivia for anyone who's interested: to prove that a mechanical movement was superior to the nascent quartz movements of the time, an original A385 was strapped to the landing gear of an Air France Boeing 707 on a flight from Paris to New York. Despite drastic temperature changes, extreme wind force and huge changes in air pressure, upon landing the watch was still functioning perfectly.