We obsess over “novelties”, but every brand has collection stalwarts that have unjustly been pushed from the spotlight. Alex Doak identifies the best watches we don’t talk about enough, from Switzerland’s biggest watch brands.
ROLEX – CELLINI DANAOS XL
Rolex has a habit of pulling its more obscure references from the catalogue without any warning (we’re still reeling from the discontinuation of the basic-as-you-like Air King), and this – as well as all the other “designer” Cellinis – is being phased out by last year’s classically styled Cellini Time, but you’ll still find this in some retailers, making it a surefire future collectible. Named after an archaic term for “Greek”, the case shape and dial are unusually jazzy for Rolex and certainly better suited to the peacocks among us – but a handwound Rolex movement inside a white-gold case for £5,000? That’s worth the money alone.
In a nutshell: Get it while you can, if you think you can pull off a 34mm dress watch with jazz-age aesthetics.
ZENITH – CAPTAIN POWER RESERVE
Zenith’s cool Captain line has been persistently and criminally overshadowed by the high-frequency El Primero halo range. 2014’s more paired-down look is a terrific facelift for a watch that emerged in 2011 alongside a moonphase and GMT model, all alluding to the Captain collection of 1952. You’ll struggle to find a better-balanced dial design than this – thanks mostly to a rare restraint in sizing the sub-dial components. And with an entirely in-house Elite movement powering proceedings, that sub-£5,000 pricetag seems too good to be true.
In a nutshell: Zenith doing what Zenith does best, without relying on the reflected glory of an “El Primero” dial marking.
VACHERON CONSTANTIN – ARONDE 1954
The effervescent post-war years saw an exuberant outpouring of far-out designs from Switzerland’s finest watchmakers, who went to town on all manner of case shapes – some that proved enduring (viz. Patek, Vacheron Constantin and Cartier) and some that, ahem, didn’t. Otherwise known rather unappealingly as the “Lips” watch, Vacheron Constantin judiciously alluded to its 1954 model’s swallow-wing profile instead when it came to naming the 2011 reissue (aronde meaning “swallow” in French). And only once you’ve finished caressing that voluptuous pink-gold case do you notice the dial – another classic bit of VC hand-guilloché, picking up on the geometric graphics of the 1950s.
In a nutshell: Long may this rather random but insanely desirable reissue reside in the darker realms of Vacheron’s oeuvre.
PIAGET – POLO CHRONOGRAPH
The Polo range suits a very particular, turtlenecked persuasion of a person, its unashamedly Seventies case dividing opinion as much as the merits of a prawn cocktail today. In modern chronograph form, it takes on a slick, urban feel, while Piaget’s 880P movement inside offers a fine haute horlogerie cocktail of its own. One of the thinnest column-wheel chronograph movements ever made, with a thickness of only 5.6mm, it also manages to pack in a flyback function, two barrels adding up to 50 hours’ reserve, and even a 24-hours second time-zone indication at 9 o’clock. Yup – the exact same functionality that Piaget has now refined into the even thinner (handwound) Caliber 883P found in this year’s thinnest-ever chrono, the Altiplano Chronograph.
Price: from £28,600
In a nutshell: Who said Piaget was only good for ultra-thin Altiplanos? A classic Seventies design with a peerless high-octane movement beneath the hood.
AUDEMARS PIGUET – JULES AUDEMARS CHRONOGRAPH
Now remember, not everything at Audemars Piguet is octagonal. You could opt for a squashed oval from the Millenary range, or even a cushion-cased piece from Tradition (once known as a “TV screen”, until all TVs became wide and rectangular). However, those looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore should look no further than the reassuringly round Jules Audemars collection – in particular the Chronograph, whose 1920s aesthetic is set off by the dial’s exquisite lacquer treatment. Simply one of the most handsome, classic-style chronographs around,
In a nutshell: Unlike anything else in the AP canon, as faultless an execution of a traditional bicompax chrono as you could hope to find.
IWC – Da Vinci Automatic
It’s true to say that, in IWC’s big, bold “Engineered for men” current guise, a tonneau dress watch with a fancy guilloché dial is, well, a little out of kilter. Or at least, it was until autumn 2014 saw the release of the Portofino Midsize collection. Given the cycle of reboots IWC tends to go through, it might be reasonable to imagine something in the offing on the Da Vinci front… well, at some point. When that happens, if things go to form it’ll mean an in-house movement instead of the current worked-up ETA tracteur (an almost dead-cert, following IWC’s announcement this January of three new in-house calibers), possible upsizing and likely up-pricing. In other words, now could be the time to invest in what is, for those who can’t afford a Patek Philippe Gondolo, a smart and distinctive tonneau piece enlivened by a natty big date display.
In a nutshell: At 35mm by 42mm, this is highly wearable, somewhat unusual and just the thing for the renaissance man.
BREITLING – SUPEROCEAN HERITAGE
A throwback to a 1957 model, and one of the first modern watches to help bring the Milanese mesh bracelet back into trend, the Superocean Heritage demonstrates that Breitling is far from being a one-trick pilot pony. In fact, with a bezel recalling Blancpain’s 1954 Fifty Fathoms and a chunky case good to 200m, this is that rare sort of high-end diving watch: one that you’d actually envisage diving with. Which isn’t to say you’d be opting out of that alluring, high-octane Breitling universe with your purchase – all of the brand’s usual aviation tropes come through (monochrome dial, chunky crown, etc.) but at a temptingly low price.
In a nutshell: As above, so below – Breitling proves it can dive as well at it flies.
OMEGA – MD’S WATCH
Ever since Antiquorum’s “Omegamania” mega-sale of 2007, and George Somlo’s subsequent Vintage Omega boutique opening on Burlington Arcade, our thirst for obscure Omega collectibles has been satisfied by choice re-releases from a seemingly bottomless archive. The brand’s little-trumpeted Museum Collection pays tribute to the most outstanding oddities, selected from its very own museum in Bienne (stocked heavily from the Omegamania sale, incidentally). Limited to 1,938 pieces, the “MD’s Watch” features a pulsometer scale with alternating red and black figures concentric to the outermost minutes/second track, designed for doctors to calculate patients’ pulses. If you find this as irresistible as we do, best look away from the other two Museum pieces – they’re just as gorgeous.
In a nutshell: A “budget” alternative to AP’s Jules Audemars Chronograph, this is genuine pedigree, driven by cutting-edge Co-Axial movement technology.
BAUME & MERCIER – CAPELAND CHRONOGRAPH
Sitting in Baume & Mercier’s Hamptons beachfront diorama of a pavilion at SIHH in 2011, it was impossible not to immediately fall in love with the Capeland collection’s breezy 1948 flyback chrono reissue (nor also to consider investing in a pair of flannel slacks). But with every watch brand and its dog now doing mid-century reissues, the crisper, sportier Capeland chronograph has emerged from the rose-tinted white noise, its electric blue dial with red accents shouting pure contemporary sharpness.
In a nutshell: The perfect entry-level mechanical sports watch, boasting style as well as substance.