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Watches & Wonders 2021

Feature: Long Read
Words by Robin Swithinbank

Some of the world’s finest watch companies announced the beginnings of their 2021 collections via Watches and Wonders Geneva, Switzerland’s first online watch fair. Rolex, Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre were among those ‘there’. Look no further for our pick of the best in show.

Rolex

Rolex is a master of so many disciplines, whether that’s smelting its own gold or telling its stories through the winning exploits of elite sportspeople. This year, it returns to the art of gem-setting with this dazzling (no other word for it) iteration of the Lady-Datejust. Just about visible is an 18-karat yellow gold case and bracelet, all but hidden behind a starry array of 817 diamonds set into the case, bezel, dial and bracelet. The 28mm watch is powered by an automatic mechanical movement, although that becomes a secondary consideration given its attention-grabbing decoration. The unapologetic contrast created by the dial’s blackened Roman numeral hour markers only adds to the bristling confidence one suspects its owner will feel on wearing it.

Rolex: New Watches 2021
Cartier Tank Must watch in burgundy
Cartier

There is something of the insider about Cartier’s Tank Must, which makes a welcome return this year after a long hiatus. Known to aficionados and style flâneurs, it first appeared in the late 1970s, the anglicisation chosen because Cartier wanted its customers to feel they ‘must’ have it. Its form was based on the inimitable Tank (created in 1917 and based on the bird’s-eye view of Allied tanks) and became a universal symbol of Parisian chic. It’s revived this year in three colours: blue, green and this brilliantly louche burgundy. The case is steel, the movement quartz and the look demure but assured, and perfect for the post-pandemic mood.

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Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 watch
Vacheron Constantin

There’s a joyful and entirely welcome determinism about the centennial celebrations of Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques American 1921. This decade may not yet have come close to blossoming into the roaring, post-austerity season of abundance we might have expected, but there’s nothing wrong with a little post-war-style cheerful optimism. It’s this revivalist spirit that brings the watch bubbling to the surface, even though the cushion-shaped, angled-dial look of a watch Vacheron made 100 years ago is sublime in its own right. There are two white gold models available, one at 40mm and this one at 36.5mm, both powered by one of Vacheron’s exquisitely finished hand-wound mechanical calibres.

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Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K watch
Tudor

To a Harrods exclusive and Tudor’s unexpected introduction: a first gold version of its hugely popular Black Bay Fifty-Eight diver's watch. Gold utility watches don’t always work, but there’s no denying the 18K’s green and brushed-gold palette is a triumph. The secret is in the ageless proportions of the Black Bay’s form, which show no signs of ageing, despite being derived from a 1950s model. The 39mm watch is also one of a new generation of Black Bays with a transparent sapphire case back (it’s still water-resistant to 200 metres), giving a view into Tudor’s own hardy automatic movement. It comes on a leather strap with a green and gold fabric alternate included.

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  • Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
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    Bvlgari

    Bvlgari

    Seven years, seven records for thinness. There appears no limit to how low Bvlgari’s Swiss watchmakers can go, taking complications mastered by the old guard and shaving them down to previously unseen proportions. So this version of its Octo Finissimo becomes the world’s thinnest perpetual calendar at just 5.8mm thick, half a millimetre thinner than the previous record-holder. Brilliant.

    Shop Bvlgari
  • A. Lange & Sohne Triple Split watch
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    A. Lange & Sohne

    A. Lange & Sohne

    Lange’s Triple Split was already one of the world’s most beautiful chronographs, but the introduction of a pink gold and blue-dialled model has somehow made it even more desirable. It is the only mechanical watch that can time two events that start at the same time but finish independently of one another over a period of 12 hours. Only 100 will be made.

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  • Hublot Big Bang Unico Yellow Magic watch
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    Hublot

    Hublot

    The happy marriage of Hublot’s bright yellow ceramic and the news that Pantone’s two colours of the year include Illuminating – an ‘optimistic' hue of yellow – make this one of the most buoyant new watches introduced this year. Hublot created the material in-house and here wraps it around its own automatic flyback chronograph calibre.

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  • IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Edition ‘Mojave Desert’
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    IWC

    IWC

    Three of IWC’s signatures combine: the Big Pilot’s watch, with its oversized crown; the brand’s in-house perpetual calendar (with a calendar that only needs adjusting by one day every 577.5 years if kept wound); and its long-time association with the US Navy’s Top Gun pilot school. For the first time, they come together in a sand-coloured ceramic case.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Small Seconds
Jaeger-LeCoultre

It’s the 90th anniversary of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s clever flip-case watch. Its association to polo-playing officers of the Raj will be as familiar as its silhouette and reversible dial, but less so will be this green-hued version arriving in time to mark the milestone. One of the great watch design icons, it looks better than ever in this fresh livery.

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Panerai Luminor Marina eSteel watch
Panerai

Panerai’s charge towards a sustainable watchmaking future continues with a watch that, by weight, is 58.4 per cent recycled (according to the brand), thanks to its use of a new alloy in the case and dial called eSteel. This is the Luminor eSteel ‘Blu Profondo’, which comes with a Panerai three-day automatic movement and 300 metres of water resistance.

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Glow Me Up!
Roger Dubuis

Diamonds that glow in the dark? For Roger Dubuis, no problem. The latest expression of its Excalibur carries the esoteric distinction of being the first watch with diamonds that glow in the dark in different colours. Movement parts light up too, while the case is made of a new non-tarnishing pink gold dubbed ‘EON Gold’. Only eight of these will be made.

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Montblanc Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100
Montblanc

Montblanc’s charming Heritage collection is one of the great introductions of the last 10 years. This latest addition comes in rose gold and with a chocolate dial, and offers a perpetual calendar function powered by a special movement that means all those calendar indications can be adjusted forwards or backwards via the crown. As the name suggests, only 100 are on the way.

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  • TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 Tribute to Ref. 844
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    TAG Heuer

    TAG Heuer

    So much glory is soaked up by TAG Heuer’s racing chronographs it can be easy to overlook the company’s redoubtable toolwatch, the Aquaracer. This year, the design has been refined, albeit with the familiar 12-sided bezel and 300-metre depth rating still in place. The hero from eight new releases is this, a tribute to the company’s 1978 Ref. 844 diver’s watch.

    Shop TAG Heuer
  • Ulysse Nardin Diver X Skeleton
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    Ulysse Nardin

    Ulysse Nardin

    What we see here is the explosive effect of marrying two watch styles together – in this case, Ulysse Nardin’s broad-shouldered Diver X and its high-end Skeleton X. The result is a 44mm watch cased in a blue lightweight aerospace material called Carbonium, and fuelled by a skeletonised movement with a hefty 96-hour power reserve.

    Ulysse Nardin
  • Zenith Defy Extreme
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    Zenith

    Zenith

    Zenith’s 1/100th of a second El Primero automatic mechanical chronograph calibre is one of the most spectacular in watchmaking – the chronograph central seconds hand completes a full tour of the dial once a second. Zenith has now put it in an equally bombastic case, the 45mm Defy Extreme, an angular design with a twelve-sided ring under the bezel, seen here in matte titanium and rose gold.

    Shop Zenith
  • Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One Black
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    Chopard

    Chopard

    It’s with no small degree of optimism that Chopard returns to its world-time watch this year, a piece redolent of our globetrotting past. For when that luxury nomadic lifestyle returns, this muted, monochromatic version of Chopard’s 24-time-zone watch, set for the first time in lightweight ceramised titanium, will fit the bill nicely. The ghostly chic of it is intoxicating.

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Chanel J12 Electro
CHANEL

CHANEL’s spin on the rainbow trend is to tie it to the electronic music and art scenes of the 1980s. The spectrum of watches in the collection begins with this 38mm black ceramic version of the J12, which carries the colours of a ‘neon rainbow’ through its dial and bezel. Beyond the oh-so fashion fix, it’s also a Swiss Made automatic with chronometer certification for accuracy.

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H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Tourbillon Concept Tiger’s Eye
H. Moser & Cie

The dials of Moser’s Endeavour Tourbillon Concept watches never give much away, instead serving as a palette for beautiful colours and finishes. This year, in steps Tiger’s Eye, a natural stone said to bring safety and prosperity, and seen here in blue ‘Falcon’s Eye’. The watch’s tourbillon whirrs away through an aperture, the case is white gold and only 50 are slated for production.

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Piaget Limelight Gala Rainbow
Piaget

The spirit of the 1970s is alive and well in watchmaking – deep-rooted enthusiasm for the decade’s stainless steel sports watches has made sure of that. Just as evocative of the period is Piaget’s asymmetrical Limelight Gala, the imperious cocktail watch of the late 1970s loved by New York’s aristocracy and many more since. This piece is decorated with precious stones graduated in both size and colour – a gem-setting masterstroke.

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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph
Audemars Piguet

Additions to AP’s Royal Oak collection can never pass without note, even if it’s a footnote. The independent company wasn’t at Watches and Wonders, instead announcing new pieces a few weeks before. One of those was this yellow gold and green-dialled Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph with the famous ‘Grande Tapisserie' dial. What a watch.

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