It’s been a funny old year in the world of watches. Kicking off as always with its brace of trade-show spectaculars – SIHH in Geneva, then Baselworld in, er, Basel – things had never felt younger, breezier, and more accessible. Few could have predicted that by autumn, Basel’s biggest exhibitor, the mighty Swatch Group (Omega, Tissot, Longines et al.) would have jumped ship altogether, along with Maurice Lacroix, Raymond Weil, Corum, and goodness-knows-how-many-more TBA.

Meanwhile, underscoring their reasoning that week-long trade shows in far-flung aircraft hangars are old-fashioned, watchmaking creativity has been at fever-pitch all year round, all over the world, with product at market from the get-go.

Trends seem outdated, too: instead, we are consistently revelling in the joys of blue dials, NATO straps, military conscripts, sporty chronographs, GMTs, vintage revivals, ’60s divers, you name it. And all along, innovation and investment on the factory floor means genuine Swiss watches are more affordable and transparent than ever.

In short, watches are getting more ‘fashion’. So who better to pick 2018’s winners (plus honourable also-rans) than yours truly?

Best Diving Watch

Certina DS PH200

One of those rare Baselworld curveballs, this excellent bit of kit is a time capsule beamed straight from the sixties. It was an era when – thanks to the trailblazing technological efforts of Blancpain, Rolex and Omega – the newfangled hobby of scuba meant every Swiss watchmaker and his dairy cow had a new sector to exploit: the water-resistant diving watch, featuring a rotating timing bezel, luminous hands, and a chunky crown.

Half a century on and our enthusiasm for retro revivals means that long-overlooked gems like Certina’s are recognised once again. (Let alone Certina itself and its own sub-aqua pedigree, kitting out US Navy divers during the Sealab II project and standard-issue to divers from the Royal Australian Navy.) That price tag for a 200m model, fitted with precision mechanics? Just £565. Simply to dive for.

With Honourable Mention To…

When it comes to diving watches, the vintage revival trend is the gift that keeps on giving. Both of our other two favourites are the Doxa Searambler ‘Silver Lung’, evolving its iconic 300 M of the sixties in collaboration with venerable dive-gear manufacturer Aqua Lung, plus the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 68 Limited Edition, celebrating 50 years of the Swiss adventurists’ egg-shaped classic.

Best Chronograph

Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley

The dramatic turnaround of every pilot’s favourite watchmaker (if they’re not already Bremont diehards) continued apace this winter, with Breitling’s hyperactive new (ex-IWC) CEO Georges Kern unveiling the super-slick ‘Premier’ collection to global press gathered in central London in late October.

To the Superocean diving watch range and rebooted Navitimer aviators, Premier contributes a ‘land’ category alongside ‘sea’ and ‘air’, conveniently opening new roads for Breitling’s unloved-of-late Bentley Motors partnership – modern watchmaking’s longest-running car-llaboration.

Rendered in the carmaker from Crewe’s trademark Racing Green, it’s powered by the watchmaker’s own high-octane mechanics, Calibre B01. A fitting accessory to the next-gen, mile-gobbling Continental GT.

With Honourable Mention To…

The latest and greatest from the youthful British startup, Farer’s Cobb Chronograph takes a similarly contemporary route to Breitling, with bold use of colour, oblong pushers and super-smart ‘bicompax’ sub-dial array. Meanwhile, the TAG Heuer Monaco Bamford, rendered in carbon and electric-blue accents, moves things on from contemporary to downright futuristic.


Seiko Presage

The Japanese giant that is Seiko: as equally recognised for populating the premium pages of the Argos catalogue as giving the likes of Omega a run for its money with its haute-de-gamme Grand Seiko range, painstakingly handcrafted in the snowy woods of Morioka.

Somewhere in between these extremes you’ll find Presage, embracing Seiko’s mass-production capacity, but also its high-quality mechanical watch expertise, with the one quality that binds its entire oeuvre: bafflingly good value. The glamour of a cocktail bar comes to mind with this latest piece’s sunray-engraved tobacco dial. For just £429? Arigato.

With Honourable Mention To…

Defined by the Golden Ratio a half-century ago, the proportions of Patek Philippe’s Ellipse are still divine, as demonstrated by the anniversary-edition ref. 5738R. Proportionality is also a strength with the Omega Seamaster 1948 Limited Edition, with its silver dial a perfect accompaniment to a dinner jacket.

Best Complication

IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition ‘150 Years’

Revived for IWC’s 150th Jubilee Collection, the exotic ‘Pallweber’ digital display was first introduced into a range of pocket watches in 1875 by an Austrian watchmaker, Josef Pallweber.

IWC bought the rights in 1883, sat on them, and only now has perfected the system via a new independent powertrain and ingenious energy-efficient switchover system. The gently indented windows of the white-lacquer-dial version, in combination with that rather fabulous, forgivably anachronistic Art-Deco typography is a rare triumph of less-is-more elegance for a brand best known for out-and-out masculinity.

With Honourable Mention To…

A year of record-smashing diet plans courtesy ultra-slimmers Piaget and Bulgari was heightened by the Audemars Piguet RD#2 concept – the thinnest-ever perpetual calendar at 6.3mm. At the other end of the complicated spectrum, Ulysse Nardin’s Freak Vision revels in non-simplicity with all the mechanics doubling up as the hours hand, throwing in an enormous silicon balance wheel for good measure.

Best Vintage Revival

Tissot Heritage Petite Seconde 2018

The word ‘homage’ can be overused by an industry so in thrall to its own heritage. But Tissot is classier than that – which means we’re free to wheel it out with aplomb, as this sepia-tinged beauty is a pinpoint perfect homage to the Swiss legend’s golden mid-century years – all kickstarted by its breakthrough ‘Antimagnetique’ watches of the 1930s.

Keeping things relevant and useful in 2018, however, it’s certainly not all fur coat and lack of unmentionables. Into the quite-extraordinary £850 bargain goes a voluptuous ‘box’ type anti-reflective sapphire crystal and, displayed proudly through a crystal back, every collector’s favourite manual-wind movement, the Unitas of the Fifties – slightly post-dating the 1943 subject of homage, but who’s counting?

With Honourable Mention To…

It’s another Swatch Group bedfellow that won worthy nostalgia points this year: the Longines Heritage Military, which revived a WWII RAF-issue pilot watch so faithfully, it comes with pre-faded dial. Also scoring highly is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox – poster boy for new entry-level luxury sports line, ‘Polaris’, whose design language is rooted in a 1968 diver’s alarm watch.

Best Minimalist

Nomos Glashütte Tangente Neomatik 41 Update

It wouldn’t be a category on minimalism without a Nomos Glashütte, and this clever switch-up of the German watchmaker’s hero ‘Tangente’ range shows why. All it adds is an instantaneous date calibration to the outside of the dial that can be set backwards or forwards, with a red indication showing through a subtle perforation, but it feels as crucial as anything Bauhaus in philosophy and design can permit. Nomos caused mild controversy elsewhere on its Baselworld stand this year, with the decidedly non-minimalist Autobahn (we liked, others cried blasphemy). But everyone was agreed that when it comes to ‘updating’ the cult brand’s core tenet of clean and democratic modernism – something inherently resistant to embellishment – the Update was a supremely deft move.

With Honourable Mention To…

For some, the idea of a full-gold watch being considered minimal is a bit like suggesting Elton John’s interiors owe a debt to Bauhaus. However, the ultra-thin Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sandblasted Rose Gold is a highly contemporary exercise in design restraint. Meanwhile, the Breguet Classique 5157 proves that minimal doesn’t always mean modern with a wash of traditionally applied guilloche engraving hopping straight on board the anti-Scandi maximalism trend.

Best Under £500

Timex Marlin Automatic

At just £175, this is easily the cheapest – sorry, ‘most affordable’ – watch in our list, but other than winning our budget category, the Marlin could easily score mentions elsewhere for so many reasons. The Vintage Revival category, of course, being a slick reboot of the US firm’s popular sixties model, complete with domed acrylic ‘glass’ and sun-ray dial (go burgundy for extra style points). Best-Dressed and Minimalist, too. But special mention must be made for the fact it comes equipped with proper, and pretty precise self-winding mechanics into the bargain. Japanese-made, admittedly, but as we know from Citizen and Seiko, that’s nothing to be sniffed at.

With Honourable Mention To…

Swatch Group brands are renowned for making superlative Swiss-made mechanicals at amazing prices, and this Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical 38mm is a case in point. But while that alludes to an old US infantry-issue piece, the tough-as-old-boots Elliot Brown Holton Professional is embarking on a proper tour of duty, being the first British watch to be approved by NATO for military procurement in over 10 years.

Best Pilot

Rolex GMT Master II

Barely changed, merely tweaked and improved since 1955, Rolex’s GMT-Master II (the ‘II’ was added in 1982 when a new movement was used allowing the hours hand to be set independently of the others) is considered the ultimate dual-time zone watch.

It is famously easy to use – all you have to do is set your watch to your local time, while a GMT arrow-tipped hand points to your second time zone; then the rotating 24-hour bezel gives a third time-zone option. A usefulness that earned the watch standard-issue status among Pan-Am’s transatlantic pilots in the fifties. However, it is not just what it can do that gives this watch iconic status – it also has the looks to match.

Traditionalists will always go for the ‘Pepsi’ red-and-blue/day-and-night bezel, but the new brown-and-black colour combo feels particularly stately.

With Honourable Mention To…

Bremont’s latest aviation collaboration took things to new heights, or rather, speeds. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Concorde’s first-ever Mach 2.0 flight, the British watch incorporated parts of the third British Airways aircraft in its first manual-wind, the Bremont Supersonic. Oris’s Big Crown Pointer Date kept things more earthbound taking colour inspiration for its dial from Le Corbusier’s Polychromie Architecturale.

Best Collaboration

Bell & Ross x Bape

Collaborations are very 2018; it’s almost starting to feel like a Spotify playlist with the amount of ‘vs’, ‘x’s’ and ‘feat.’ now littering watch press releases. But when they work, they can really breathe new life into an old favourite, as this Bell & Ross x Bape piece does.

Bape is the Japanese clothing and lifestyle brand founded by Nigo (AKA Tomoaki Nagao) – the name is a shortening of A Bathing Ape in Lukewarm Water, which is a reference to the film Planet of the Apes and to the Japanese belief that bathing in lukewarm water is a sign of complacent overindulgence. To celebrate its 25th birthday, it has chosen 25 companies to collaborate with – one of which is Bell & Ross.

Two Bell & Ross BR03-92s have had the Bape treatment. There’s a rather bold version with a dial in the Japanese brand’s signature green camo, or the plain black version, which can be jazzed up with a camo strap. It’s almost as fun as sitting in mildly warm water.

With Honourable Mention To…

When TAG Heuer announced its partnership with Aston Martin, it made instant sense – and not just because of the brands’ shared involvement with Red Bull Racing. It also produced a rather tasteful timepiece in the TAG Heuer Formula 1 Aston Martin Special Edition. Another car/ watch collab’ that caught the eye was Zenith’s Defy x Range Rover Evoque, with an alloy-wheel skeleton dial design that looks right where too many others’ shoe-horned automotive motifs can feel, well, wrong.

Best Smartwatch

Montblanc Summit 2

When Montblanc’s first Summit came out just over a year ago, it satisfied on the looks department – the brand made the decision to base the crown and case construction on the Montblanc 1858 – but there were niggles with the tech. Now the Summit 2 solves all those problems, delivering a smartwatch that looks like a normal timepiece, but with extra technological punch.

It is the first luxury smartwatch powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset, which gives it a longer battery life. It is now also water resistant to 50m, so you can take it for a swim, and it has Google Pay and GPS. For the gentleman traveller, Montblanc has equipped the watch with a Traveller info app and what it calls a Timeshifter app, which gives personalised advice on how to minimise jet lag.

Also added is the new Montblanc Running Coach app with added scientific insight. V2.0 also has a smaller 42mm case, which means you won’t have to whip it off your wrist when you change into your bespoke suit.

With Honourable Mention To…

Sweden’s Kronaby Sekel is smart in the tech department but also smart in the wardrobe department – refreshing for a sector defined chiefly by lifeless black rectangles. Speaking of which, the Apple Watch Series 4 is more about life than ever, its new accelerometer and gyroscope being able to detect hard falls, plus an electrocardiogram feature earning De Novo classification by the FDA.

Editor’s Pick

Tudor Heritage Black Bay GMT

In our humble opinion, you’re looking at Best Watch of 2018. Echoing sister brand Rolex’s famed GMT-Master and its blue-and-red ‘Pepsi’ 24-hours bezel, Tudor’s smash hit is far cleverer than first meets the eye, or what the price (a mere £2,790) implies. Mostly down to brand-new mechanics, which ‘integrate’ the second-time-zone GMT function into the existing works, rather than sitting on top of the ‘base calibre’ and chunkifying matters.

The Black Bay range is sometimes pigeonholed as a greatest hits of retro details dating from Tudor’s glory days kitting out various sub-aqua military outfits. The GMT version now elevates the collection into icon status on its own, contemporary merit.