With the new decade just days old and January now free from the usual Geneva-based distractions of SIHH, the QP team instead reflects on their favourite watches of the past 12 months. In the absence of any categories and criteria, the list of our writers’ preferred timepieces from 2019 pays tribute to the watchmaking that really struck a chord with them and is nothing if not varied.
Completely inaccessible to 99.9999% of the population, this £600k-£1m watch is nonetheless of huge importance to watchmaking in general. The production of watches has, for the most part, been almost completely industrialised for the last century and, for a shorter period, movement design limited to the exacting capabilities of computer-controlled milling machines. Greubel Forsey set out to understand what a movement made by human hands and analogue machines might now look like. The dizzying 6,000 hours lavished on each watch also accounts for mastery of the hairspring, which has been rolled from a single billet of alloy, and the brand’s exception level of finishing.
Runner-Up: the Habring2 Perpetual-Doppel deserves mention for both its complexity and its value, as it features both perpetual calendar and split-second chronograph complications for £19,000.
January was but two weeks old when I discovered what would remain my ‘watch of the year’ throughout 2019 – A. Lange and Sohne’s delectable and technically brilliant Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon in new ‘salmon dial’ format with white gold case (€285,000). And if you ever get bored with looking at the front, look through the transparent case back and ogle the 729-part, hand-wound movement. It’s equally attractive.
Runner up: the Patek Philippe Ref 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar
There were certainly plenty of contenders, but Patek Philippe’s Reference 5212A Calatrava Weekly Calendar (£25,610) has remained in my mind since it was unveiled in Basel last March.
The Roman jeweller’s Jura outpost has proved its Swiss-made credentials with formidable aplomb in recent years, not just through in-house autonomy but establishing its Octo’s squashed ziggurat as the most important watch design of the 21st century (so far). On top of all that, Bulgari has the cheek to smash every ‘ultra-slim’ record going. Tourbillon, automatic watch, manually wound watch, minute repeater, and now the least predictable yet: the thinnest mechanical chronograph in watchmaking history, both manual and self-winding. Which also manages to throw in a GMT for good measure. Unpredictable because, despite its ubiquity, a fully integrated stopwatch function is particularly hard to master – and Bulgari hadn’t even tried before, let alone down to Matzos levels of 3.3mm wafer-thinness. A peripheral rotor helps of course, but the choice of a column wheel over a cam hardly aids the diet plan. The final headscratcher: a pricetag of just £15,200.
Runner-up: the Tissot Heritage 1973
Sorry, I couldn't not mention my 40th birthday watch, could I? On the wrist for less than 3 days at the time of writing, I can safely report it's another incredibly good-value contribution to the reissue craze from Tissot (£1,760). Considerably less slimline than the Bulgari, thanks to the Valjoux movement's mighty architecture (plus voluptuously retro ovoid case), but all the more wearable for it.
This isn’t so much a single watch as a collection (because I’m greedy), but in a wash of retro reissues, Rado’s collaboration with Les Couleurs Suisse stands out like a joyful rainbow of loveliness. Les Couleurs Suisse is the company that controls who is allowed to use architect, designer, painter and stone-cold Bauhaus legend Le Corbusier’s two palettes of colours one created in 1931 the other in 1959 called Le Polychromie Architecturale. Together these two palettes comprise Le Corbusier’s theory of colour and how these complementary shades can be used in homes and buildings to subtly change an interior’s flow and how the space is perceived. Rado spent 10 years matching nine of these colours precisely – nuking ceramic at 1,400º can apparently throw certain shades off – and the resulting collection (£1,780 with each colour limited to 999 pieces) is bright, colourful and very desirable; a little slice of sunshine to get you through the dark times. Which is something we’re all going to need next year.
Runner-up: the S.U.F Helsinki 180
This utilitarian field watch from S.U.F, the more basic arm of moon-phase obsessed Stepan Sarpaneva’s business, looks basic from a distance but up close there’s plenty to marvel at. From the railway-track minutes and pared-back but perfect numerals to the play of brushed and polished steel on the case, its simplicity is deceptive. And it also comes with the most fabulous fire-engine red dial too. Buy one now (for €2,728). I have!
Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer
Not just the first wristwatch to be made in England for half a century, but the most interesting movement of the 20th Century [the watch has slowly been developed over the last three decades, for the full story read James' piece here] in my opinion. Leaving the movement aside, everything else about the watch is groundbreaking; the use of 22ct gold for the case, and Zirconium ceramic for the dial, the use of PVD for printing the dial and the use of equal length hands for the hours and minutes. There is currently nothing like it on the market (from £60,000). NB The Isle of Man is NOT in England.
This was the year I finally cracked. With watch prices spiralling out of control like a third world currency on a dictator’s birthday, I’ve run out of ways to say a £40,000 gold chronograph has a place in the real world. Yes, Audemars Piguet, I’m looking at you. So I’ve done the full volte-face and plumped for Seiko’s cheap as chips (from £250) sports-cum-diving watch. For a few hundred quid, you get a well-designed, high-functioning, mesh-braceleted man-watch with an automatic day-date movement and a dial name you can be proud of.
Runner-up: Newly reborn, the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date, in all its swish new guises (from £930), has never looked more relevant, and so too pieces from relative newcomer March LA.B, whose wonderfully odd AM2 (from €1,195) is - I’m calling it - a future classic.
Full disclosure. I’m far from scientific when it comes to picking ‘the best’ of anything. I generally tend to go with what just grabs me. And based on this very subjective metric, the watch that I felt myself longing over most intently whenever I saw it, was the epic solid gold tribute to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 (£26,480). Which is kind of weird, as I’m not typically a Speedmaster kind of guy. But I think the fact that it’s both historically accurate and so astoundingly ‘un-Speedy’ makes this even more perfect. The new ‘Moonshine gold’ is — slightly OTT name aside — an excellent looking alloy, less obviously ostentatious than traditional yellow gold. It’s also a proper, non-gimmicky limited edition, and a very cool tribute to both an iconic watch and an astonishing moment in our history.
Runner-up: the anOrdain Model 2
This is a smart, value-packed (from £950) take on the sometimes tired trope of the military field watch. It turns out some modern design sensibility and fantastic enamel dials were more than enough to get this guy out of the trenches.
The most difficult question in the world for a watch lover has to be “if you could choose one watch, what would it be?” The question “What’s your favourite watch for 2019” narrows things down slightly, but it is still a hard one. After much deliberating, I’m going to go with the Patek Philippe Nautilus Dame Ref. 7118/1R in rose gold with a golden-brown opaline dial and not a diamond in sight. It is seriously elegant, without the need to dazzle. I like that in a women’s watch (£36,460).
Runner-up: Coming a close second, and at a much more affordable price, I do have a bit of a crush on the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date in bronze (£1,500) with the pale green dial. The red one is also quite nice, as is the blue and the new bronze dial… you see how hard it is to choose?
‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.’ And so, to Bell & Ross’ BR05, launched in September to widespread accusations of horologic appropriation. Its crime? Taking the genre-defining features of the luxury steel sports watch – integrated bracelet, geometric case, decorative screws on a come-hither bezel – and combining them into a commercially-savvy, circle-in-square, go-anywhere offering of its own. Oh, the audacity!
Other critics, citing the watch’s soft edges and understated 40mm size, questioned whether the BR05 was even a Bell & Ross at all. Square cases and exposed screws, the hecklers seemed to forget, have been brand principles since the beginning. A clean-cut, design-led timepiece that punches above its weight as a value proposition (from £3,990) and packs plenty of presence on the wrist – the BR05 is Bell & Ross hitting bullseye.