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The Watch Report: Novelties 2020

Feature: Long Read
Words by Robin Swithinbank

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the luxury watch industry has been hugely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. With shops and factories closed and the year’s major watch fairs cancelled, little has proceeded as normal.

 

But unlike fashion, watchmaking isn’t seasonal. Lead times on new designs can stretch to years, and the lifespan of a watch can cross generations. And of course, taking the trade shows out of the equation doesn’t mean brands can’t launch spectacular new creations.

Rolex

Rolex has finally broken its silence, sliding into the new watch conversation with its signature authority. At one point, the Swiss giant said it would delay any announcements until 2021, such was the impact of Covid-19 on its mighty production schedules. But to the enormous pleasure of watch enthusiasts, it’s brought its delayed plans forward. Leading the line are the everyday classic Oyster Perpetual 36 and 41 collections. Both are powered by Rolex’s newly minted Calibre 3230, a class-leading automatic that delivers exceptional accuracy, as well as elevated resistance to the daily perils of shock and magnetism. But it’s the rainbow assortment of dial options that really catch the eye. While the more standard black and silver dial variants are available, both sizes feature a palette of poppy colours, including candy pink and turquoise. In these pallid times, the splash of pigment couldn’t be more welcome.

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Vacheron Constantin classical Traditionnelle Tourbillon Automatic

Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin’s new collection includes the most complicated wristwatch the Geneva maison has ever made, with no fewer than 24 complications built in. That one-off watch shouldn’t distract from pieces such as a glittering version of the venerable watchmaker’s classical Traditionnelle Tourbillon Automatic, a 39mm ladies’ watch that glamorises its signature tourbillon device – the whirring anti-gravity mechanism that sits in an opening at 6 o’clock – by surrounding it in 559 diamonds. Despite being invented more than 200 years ago, the complex tourbillon remains one of the distinguishing marks of the finest watchmakers.

Cartier fine watches

Cartier

In our increasingly genderless times, it would be wide of the mark to say Cartier’s recent introductions have been aimed at men. Designs such as the Drive or Clé de Cartier, and even the Santos-Dumont XL service the female wrist every bit as well as the male. But the new Maillon de Cartier, which translates as ‘link’, is definitively female. A jewellery piece as much as a watch, its silhouette is formed by stepped links that flow almost seamlessly through the case. There are a number of pieces at launch, all in precious metals and some set with diamonds. This is the rose gold version with a diamond-set bezel.

Piaget fine watches

Piaget

At 2mm thick, Piaget’s Altiplano Ultimate Concept becomes the world’s thinnest mechanical watch. Six years in development, it achieves this by integrating the case and movement into one, where normally they’d be separate. Some of its vitals are extraordinary. The case back, which is made of a new cobalt alloy used for its rigidity, is only 0.12mm thick (thinner than the average human hair), the sapphire crystal over the dial is 0.2mm thick, and Piaget says that its customisation options mean there will be over 10,000 possible variations. Few of them will ever be realised – Piaget can only make three to five pieces a year.

  • Zenith fine watches

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    Zenith

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    Zenith

    Zenith’s androgynous Defy becomes instantly feminine in the Defy Midnight collection of women’s watches. Its 36mm steel case has a confidence to it, made zestier by brilliant-cut diamonds and a graduated glossy blue dial, depicting a starry sky. Zenith packages each watch with three additional coloured straps that can be switched out in a jiffy thanks to a quick strap-change system.

  • IWC fine watches

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    IWC

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    IWC

    The revival of a time-only version of IWC’s Portugieser will be welcomed by purists – although neophytes will appreciate its elegant form, too. The Portugieser Automatic 40 is a gentle modernisation of the 1930s original, created for two Portuguese businessmen, hence the name. Originally based on a pocket watch and unfashionably large for its time, the new model – at 40mm – is right in the hole.

  • Bvlgari fine watches

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    Bvlgari

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    Bvlgari

    Alongside its scene-stealing haute creations, Bvlgari continues to explore favourites such as the Bvlgari Bvlgari, its hit from the 1970s. This year, the story is of nine 41mm pieces coated in black diamond-like carbon (known as DLC), and powered by an automatic mechanical movement. Each of the Cities Special Edition 2020 watches is named after one of nine cities, as marked on the bezel.

  • Chopard fine watches

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    Chopard

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    Chopard

    The Mille Miglia road race may still happen this year; it’s been postponed to October. Meanwhile, Chopard continues its annual watch-creation tradition that began in 1988, this year producing two watches to mark its association to the event. One is the Mille Miglia GTS Azzurro Power Control (pictured), an automatic mechanical cased in stainless steel and 18-karat rose gold. Only 500 will be made.

Panerai

It’s been 70 years since Panerai’s Luminor tool watch was released – and this year it’s introducing a raft of new models cased in innovative materials, developed in the Italianate company’s Swiss workshops. One of them is the limited-edition Luminor Marina Fibratech – 44mm (pictured above), which becomes the first luxury watch made of Fibratech™, an opaque, uneven material comprising mineral fibres and polymers. Panerai has also applied an advanced luminescent material to the edge of the dial and parts of the case, so it lights up like the Florentine riverfront at night. The final flourish? An unprecedented 70-year guarantee.

Jaeger-LeCoultre fine watches

Jaeger-LeCoultre

One of the likely attributes of a post-Covid-19 world is that flashy, provocative luxury will look rather passé. Thank goodness, then, for the calm restraint of Jaeger-LeCoultre and its new Master Control Calendar – a watch that says, “not everyone needs to know you’ve made it”. Bracketed by a 40mm stainless steel case is a dial showing the triple-calendar combination of day, date and month indications, as well as phases of the moon – a style the grand old company first became known for in the 1940s. A modern touch is the evolution of a mechanical date-hand that jumps across the dial from 15 to 16 to avoid obscuring the moon phase.

Breitling fine watches

Breitling

Breitling’s Top Time Limited Edition will have a familiar air about it if you’re a James Bond fan. Sean Connery’s 007 was issued with a Top Time in Thunderball, making it the first Q-Branch-optimised (it had a built-in Geiger counter) wristwatch that Bond ever wore on screen. That legacy hasn’t enriched Breitling’s collection in the same way the Submariner and Seamaster have Rolex’s and Omega’s respectively – a failing rectified by the introduction of this handsome, vintage-looking automatic chronograph, distinguished by its ‘Zorro’ dial markings. Production is limited to 2,000 pieces.

  • A. Lange & Söhne fine watches

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    A. Lange & Söhne

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    A. Lange & Söhne

    A. Lange & Söhne watches are typically classical, so the stainless steel Odysseus sports watch signalled a shift when it was introduced last autumn. Proving it hasn’t succumbed entirely to utilitarianism, the German house has now recast the Odysseus in white gold (pictured). Still in place are the oversized day and date windows and Lange’s impeccable in-house automatic mechanical movement.

  • Hublot fine watches

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    Hublot

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    Hublot

    Hublot’s Big Bang Integral signals the ongoing popularity of sports watches on metal bracelets (this is the first Big Bang with an integrated bracelet), and also a fashion for muted designs. Finished in brushed titanium, it might be modest by Hublot’s standards, but it’s no shrinking violet; full-fat versions in all-black ceramic or Hublot’s own rosy 18-karat King Gold are also available.

  • Roger Dubuis fine watches

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    Roger Dubuis

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    Roger Dubuis

    Roger Dubuis watches never cease to amaze. The new Excalibur Twofold features three unique developments: a case and bezel made of ‘Mineral Composite Fibre’, a lightweight material making its watch debut; glow-in-the-dark movement parts; and a strap, pioneering a built-in technology called ‘LumiSuperBiwiNova’ that makes it glow in the dark, too, like a Tron costume. Bonkers.

  • Audemars Piguet fine watches

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    Audemars Piguet

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    Audemars Piguet

    As well as giving those of daintier proportions access to one of the most recognisable designs in wristwatches, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Selfwinding 34mm also delivers a newly developed automatic mechanical movement. Many previous smaller Royal Oaks were fuelled by battery-powered quartz units, but the romance of a mechanical will always outlast the initial allure of anything electronic.

Harrods Fine Watches

Fine Watches

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