While 2016 has served up a series of unexpected events, what’s happened in the watch industry this year has been more predictable. Companies have begun a shift West as the US and European markets grow larger than those in the fast-shrinking East, making this year (and next) all about bigger, more affordable steel watches.
Jury’s still out about the impact of smartwatches on the traditional watch market, but with Apple selling millions and millions of its Watch, it can’t be ignored. Distilling these trends into a handful of watches was never going to be easy, and the outcome is of course subjective – but I thought I’d have a go anyway. Here goes.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex’s new batch this year included a controversial revival of its Air-King (the dial design split critics) and a tweaked Explorer – two significant additions to the canon.
But it was the new Daytona that hogged the headlines. Its black Cerachrom (Rolex’s ceramic) bezel and white dial with black-rimmed chronograph counters looked great (as did the black-dialled, white-rimmed counter reverse), but really, the story was all about availability. Demand for Daytonas has always been higher than supply, a point proved by waiting lists for the new model which have stayed sky high all year. One appeared on a pre-owned seller’s website recently for almost twice the list price. Now that’s brand power.
Pros: enduring design and technology, hugely desirable, brilliant investment
Cons: getting hold of one
See more at Rolex, RRP £9,100.
Piaget Polo S
No watch signalled the move West and the industry’s newfound awareness of how out-of-reach so many of its watches have become for next-gen buyers than Piaget’s Polo S sports watch. This is the first Piaget steel watch (hence the S) since 2001, a reminder that Piaget’s eggs have been piled high in Asia’s golden basket these last 15 years. Priced well below anything else in the Piaget collection and marketed around Hollywood A-Listers Ryan Reynolds and Michael B Jordan, the Polo S is squarely aimed at young(ish) men.
Will it work? Well, it’s a good-looking thing, inspired by the original 1979 Polo, and its ‘TV screen’ dial has a satisfyingly retro feel to it. My pick is the grey-dialled three-hander, but the blue chrono is a cracker, too.
Pros: credible addition to the high-end steel sports watch market, brings one of Switzerland’s finest closer in range
Cons: Piaget will feel too esoteric to some
Available at Piaget, priced £8,650.
Cartier Drive de Cartier
Over the last decade, Cartier, like so many other watch brands, has gone big on in-house watch and movement manufacturing. There were political reasons for this, all to do with the decision by one of the big movement manufacturers (Swatch Group) to stop supplying brands like Cartier. And Cartier did an incredible job getting around this, creating a highly original suite of calibres that proved what a creative maison it is.
But movements and movement technology are a tough sell, particularly when you’re a romantic brand like Cartier. Talk of components and isochronism are nothing compared to design and style, which is why this year the brand changed tack. The Drive is a men’s watch aimed at louche sophisticates – and boy does it work. Happens that it’s also powered by Cartier’s excellent base in-house calibre, but that’s just not the point now, is it?
Pros: Cartier doing what it does best – louche, stylish watches
Cons: its cushion-shaped case won’t be for everyone
Available at Cartier, priced £5,000.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
The ‘accessible’ watch story is new to some brands, but others have been preaching it for a long time – while others saw dollar signs during the recent industry boom, Oris stuck to its ‘sensible pricing’ strategy, winning it a new generation of fans.
It’s also been making some great watches. The Divers Sixty-Five line was launched in 2015 and was joined by this 42mm version on a roughed-up leather strap this year. It’s not a deep-sea diver’s watch, but with 100-metre water resistance, a uni-directional rotating bezel and a sturdy steel case, it’s certainly practical. Best of all, it’s a proper Swiss watch for a reasonable price – who doesn’t like retro-utilitarian-chic that doesn’t break the bank?
Pros: versatile, handsome design, with high spec for the price
Cons: it’s not for serious scubas
See more at Oris, RRP £1,300.
Apple Watch Series 2
Generally speaking, I get excited about smartwatches in the same way I get hungry when I see celery, but it can’t be denied that Apple’s second stab at a connected Watch has had a big impact on the watch industry.
Tim Cook certainly thinks so, reliably informing the world at launch that Apple is now the world’s second biggest watch brand. Series 2 is also a big improvement on the company’s first effort – built-in GPS and water resistance being the most useful advances. But the big difference with Series 2 is that Apple has stopped pretending it’s a fashion/style item (ditching the absurd rose gold Edition for a much cheaper, more practical ceramic model), deciding instead to market it as a wrist-worn activity device. In that category, it’s unbeatable.
Pros: the most wearable piece of tech on the market
Cons: not pretty, still expensive, battery life still poor, ubiquity
Available at Apple, priced £369-£1,399.
Farer Endurance Automatic
I could have picked any one of the watch brands, many of them British, that of late have started to fill the space between £500 and £1,500 vacated by the traditional Swiss brands over the last decade. Christopher Ward and Larsson & Jennings get a well-deserved mention too, but the latest and – for me – best-looking of the new batch is the collection of automatics launched by Farer a couple of months ago.
Here we’re getting a Swiss Made watch, a considered piece of design and, to use the grim cliché, something different. Farer’s is a fairly priced mechanical watch for style-conscious early adopters, and the market needs that.
Pros: British design, Swiss manufacturing, mechanical yet affordable, that signature bronze crown
Cons: some will find the vintage aesthetic tired
Available at Farer, priced £875.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze
I’ve said before that I bought into Tudor’s original Black Bay, but this year I almost wished I’d held my breath and waited for the bronze version. One of the undoubted stars of March’s Baselworld watch fair, it’s been a critical and commercial success, picking up a gong at November’s Grand Prix Horlogerie de Genève, the self-styled Oscars of watchmaking.
One of its big selling points is that it carries Tudor’s debut in-house movement, a unit with a 70-hour power reserve (the norm is around 40 hours), but it’s the visual combination of its naturally ageing bronze case and bezel, matte brown dial and aluminium bezel insert, and fabric strap that has been so winning.
Pros: well designed and made, no two examples will patinate in the same way, pre-owned models already trading above retail
Cons: if you don’t like a lot of patina, you’ll need a lot of lemon juice
See more at Tudor, RRP £2,730.
Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One
Chopard doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a watch brand, at least not in the UK (in France, it’s better known than Patek). In 1996, it began a programme of in-house fine watchmaking, naming the collection this spawned L.U.C after the company founder, Louis-Ulysse Chopard.
Twenty years and eleven movements later comes a collection of travelling watches, one of which is this bewitching platinum-cased world timer, the L.U.C Time Traveler One. Rarely are world time watches so stylish or well balanced. As the name suggests, it’s the first watch with a world time function the company has made in-house.
Pros: class and sophistication in spades, useful if you’re a travelling businessman
Cons: the platinum case is heavy, not to mention expensive – bring on the steel version
Available at Chopard, priced £27,610.