The Swiss watch industry has, traditionally, not been quick to adopt modern ideas. Even e-commerce is a relatively new development for some brands. It’s been even slower to embrace sustainability efforts. In fairness, this is an industry that prides itself on building a product that can (often) last, with servicing or restoration, for many decades—in some cases even centuries. But with younger generations demanding the brands they patronize place increasing focus, and resources, on environmental efforts, watchmakers are finally tuning in to the cause.
In the last three years, early tangible efforts were mostly relegated to straps. In 2018, Breitling partnered with surfer Kelly Slater on a line of Superocean dive watches outfitted with straps made from Econyl, constructed from discarded fishing nets and other repurposed nylons. They’re now available for all Breitling models. In 2020, it introduced watch boxes made from upcycled PET plastic bottles and got rid of authenticity papers in favor of digital records. The company predicts its foldable box will also reduce transport-related CO2 emissions by over 60 percent.
Companies are also looking to expand the life span of their products. For its new Tank Must, which goes on sale this September, Cartier introduced vegan straps, which are composed of around 40 percent plant matter and produced using waste from apples grown for the food industry in Switzerland, Germany and Italy. The timepiece also comes equipped with the brand’s first solar-powered watch movement. “We wanted to work on something that would be an interesting innovation, but also increase the durability of the product and reduce its carbon footprint,” says CEO Cyrille Vigneron. The light is absorbed through openings in the Roman numerals, and it can run for up to 16 years without additional maintenance.
But making the watch itself from recycled materials has proven to be much more challenging. In the luxury sector, only Ulysse Nardin and Panerai have proposed watches with recycled elements beyond the strap. Last November, Ulysse Nardin debuted the Diver Net, which includes an inverted uni-directional bezel and parts of the case constructed from discarded plastic fishing-net material. It won’t go into production but is being used as a blueprint for future sustainable practices. Panerai’s new Ecologico Submersible eLab-ID has gone a step further, producing a watch made from 98.6 percent recycled material. Unveiled this year, it will go into production in 2022.
Better yet, the almost entirely recycled watch won’t be a one-hit wonder. Panerai has opened the doors on the process to reveal each one of its suppliers. It has developed a supply chain dedicated to the production of the components in the hopes that the whole industry will come calling. It’s a bear of an endeavor and, one hopes, a game changer.
Men’s Watch of the Year: Jaeger-LeCoultre
After 90 years and countless iterations both straight-forward and complicated, it hardly seems possible that Jaeger-LeCoultre could conceive yet another compelling chapter in the history of the Reverso. Yet it has flipped the script again to deliver its magnum opus. This swivel-dial watch now comes with not two, not three but four dials in the new 18-karat white-gold Reverso Hybris Mechanica Caliber 185. The world first involves 12 patents and 11 complications.
The mechanical wizardry whips up a flying tourbillon, a minute repeater, an instantaneous perpetual calendar, jumping hours and several indications of the lunar cycle into just 800 parts in a case measuring 51.2 mm by 31 mm with a thickness of 15.15 mm. Dial one features the first three functions of that list, along with a day/night indicator, while dial two plays host to the jumping digital hours display, a minutes indicator and a minute repeater. The interior cradle, or third dial, indicates the Northern Hemisphere moon phase, month and year. It also reads the draconic lunar cycle, or the position of the moon relative to the ecliptic plane, and the anomalistic lunar cycle, indicating the apogee (when the moon is furthest from the Earth on its elliptical cycle) and the perigee (when the moon is nearest to the Earth). Finally, the back of the cradle, or dial four, displays the moon-phase indicator for the Southern Hemisphere. Rather than end up in vaults around the world, at least one of the 10 pieces available worldwide should, someday, be destined for a museum. What will you do with yours? Approximately $1.64 million, limited to 10
Function: De Bethune
Watches with dual dials are nothing new. Jaeger-LeCoultre, of course, is the most widely known, and Patek Philippe’s $31 million Grandmaster Chime famously had pivoting displays. You would, however, be hard-pressed to find one as futuristic-looking as De Bethune’s DB Kind of Two Tourbillon. Followers of the brand will instantly recognize the spaceship-style dial with the symmetrical deltoid-shaped bridge. Crafted with the use of heat-blued titanium and hand-polished titanium surfaces, the first dial of this lightweight piece features a 30-second tourbillon beating at five hertz for a bit of gravity-defying showmanship for the wrist.
It seemingly floats in between the exterior case and lugs as it turns over to reveal its more conservative side. The traditional take comes with a hand-guilloche finishing at the center of a silvered dial, along with classic Breguet-style blued hands and Arabic numerals. There are no bells and whistles on this end—just pure, straightforward time-only beauty.
No matter which way you prefer it, the piece swivels with just a touch of the finger, so you can flip-flop to suit your alter egos with ease. $250,000, limited to 10
Ultra-Thin Movement: Bulgari
Mechanical watchmaking, by its nature, is built around turning extraordinarily complex and tiny parts into functional works of art. Reducing that know-how to its thinnest possible form is a technological achievement in mere millimeters that is practically a field unto its own. Despite its broader recognition as a jeweler, Bulgari has carved out a niche in ultra-thin watchmaking in the last seven years that has defied all of the odds. With six world records in the category already, Bulgari brings the seventh this year with the slimmest perpetual-calendar caliber in the world, at just 2.75 mm thick. That’s thinner than two quarters stacked together.
Incredibly, 408 components are packed into a case measuring 40 mm by just 5.8 mm. To achieve this level of micro mechanics, Bulgari integrated the perpetual calen- dar into the initial Octo Finissimo caliber, which added 150 components in a mere 0.4 mm of additional thickness. It also required eliminating the moon-phase function of traditional perpetual calendars. But even traditionalists should be able to appreciate the space-saving sacrifice, as it allows for a minimalist appeal in keeping with the Octo Finissimo’s aesthetic. Likewise, the date and leap year are indicated through a retro- grade display, a nod to the forward-thinking design of Gérald Genta, a brand the company acquired in 2000.
And it feels as sleek as it looks. The platinum version, on a blue alligator-leather strap, weighs just 95 grams, while the titanium-bracelet model is only 74 grams. It would hardly seem believable, if it hadn’t already been proven year after year, that conquering the impossible is this horological Houdini’s specialty. $89,000 in platinum; $59,000 in titanium
Heritage Tribute: Vacheron Constantin
How do you celebrate the centennial of your most legendary model? In Vacheron Constantin’s case, no update was necessary. Although the 266-year-old watchmaker did release versions of its coveted American 1921 model in new sizing and case materials this year, the pièce de résistance is its literal one-of-a-kind re-creation of the Roaring Twenties original. Not only the method of crafts- manship but also every single component, save for the strap, bridges and plates, has been made exactly the way it would have been a century ago.
It took in-house specialists from the heritage and restoration department 15 months to re-create the timepiece from scratch. Of the 118 caliber components, including everything from the hands, gear train, wheels and hair- spring to the balance and pinions, all were old new-condition 1920s stock parts stored away in the archive since the dawn of the American 1921’s creation. “Some of them were already in finished condition and some of them were raw. We had to finish them by hand,” says Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s heritage and style director.
The 16 original ruby jewel bearings proved an extra challenge. “Setting jewels in the ’20s was an entirely different process than today. They were set like diamonds, and we had no record of how to do it, so it required a lot of trials,” says Selmoni. For the practice runs, five watch-making kits comprised of plates and bridges (the only parts manufactured on modern CNC machines) were created to learn the process. Four out of five were used before the antique method was mastered.
From the single Côtes de Genève finishing (not done at the house since the ’30s) to the 31.5 mm 18-karat yellow-gold case and grand feu enamel dial and hour markers, everything (save for the strap, bridges and plates) required the use of era-appropriate machines and, in some instances, tools that had to be re-created by hand.
You can see the extraordinary handmade piece in person this month through October in Vacheron Constantin’s new Fifth Avenue flagship. As of press time, the company says it hasn’t yet decided if it will offer the watch for sale, but it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. It will be the only one of its kind. Of the 12 first-series pieces from 1919 and the 24 second-series pieces from 1921, Selmoni estimates, there may be only 10 early models still in exis- tence (three of which belong to the company’s private collection), so it would be a crown jewel in any vault. “The last time I saw an original American 1921 at auction was in 2005, and I still remember the estimate, which was around $10,000,” says Selmoni. “Quite a bargain these days!” This one, should it be sold, will likely come at an astronomical price.
Métiers D’Art: Audemars Piguet
As one of the most in-demand dial artisans in the Swiss watch industry, Anita Porchet is always busy. So when the artisan was enlisted by Audemars Piguet, her work was reserved for one of the watchmaker’s most elite creations, the Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie. The new caliber 2956 combines a traditional grande sonnerie—striking the hour, quarter-hour and minutes on demand, as well as the hours and every quarter-hour by default—with the company’s Super-sonnerie technology, which equips a wristwatch with the high-volume acoustics of a pocket watch.
While its interior hosts all of the auditory fireworks of watchmaking’s most complex function and then some, its striking greenish-blue grand feu enamel dial, created by Porchet, is accented with century-old antique gold spangles. “I found the spangles from the old stocks of enamel ateliers,” says Porchet. “There are many, from centuries past, that have closed little by little over time.” After carefully collecting as many as she could find, the artisan says, it took her two years to acquire the ancient tools and learn the skills required to revive the art of spangling, which dates to the 18th century.
A veritable audible and visual symphony, each of the five pieces is unique. Three of the dials come with round or linear hand-applied 18-karat-gold spangles arranged in varying formations, while two even more exclusive versions are reserved for clients who wish to have a personalized design by Porchet. Approximately $784,000, limited to five
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar
Those caught up in the never-ending hype surrounding Patek Philippe’s sporty Nautilus would be remiss to overlook the company’s new 41.3 mm by 11.5 mm platinum In-Line Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5236P-001. The linear display of the day, date and month is, surprisingly, a first for a wristwatch by the company. And while it may seem incredibly logical, especially for a manufacturer that specializes in the complication (Patek Philippe produced one of the first perpetual-calendar wristwatches in 1925), its realization was more challenging than it appears.
Based on the 1975 No. P-1450 pocket watch, which now resides in the brand’s museum and features a similar display, the new wristwatch was a challenge in size, space and energy. The linear alignment requires 118 additional parts for an already hefty complication. As a result, the extremely slender caliber 31-260 REG QA, introduced in the Ref. 5235 Annual Calendar Regulator, was used as a base. Secondly, moving the simultaneously changing discs onto one plane causes a drain on energy, so among other improvements the torque of the spring barrel was increased by 20 percent and the winding power was boosted by a platinum mini-rotor in lieu of a 22-karat yellow-gold one. Finally, keeping the display legible while maintaining an elegant size was another hurdle, requiring four discs rather than the traditional three.
In case you need further proof of its horological prowess, it also took three patents (for the display, the shock absorber and the date switch from 31 to 01) to create the perpetual-calendar mechanism. This is pure Patek at its best, and the movement finishing shows oof the same thoughtful execution while exuding the signature restrained elegance on which the watchmaker originally built its name. $130,110
Sports Watch: Greubel Forsey
For most mere mortals, hanging around in a sports watch equipped with a 24-second tourbillion with a 25-degree incline, a universal-time indication built on a rotating titanium 3-D globe with a reading of day and night on an engraved and lacquered synthetic ring, a GMT indicator with raised engraving, a variable geometry hour ring with luminescent hour and minute indices, a universal-time 24-time-zone indicator and a 72-hour power-reserve indicator would be an extravagant proposition. But why not? Greubel Forsey’s GMT Sport is the most complicated timepiece built for rough-and-tumble adventure that your hard-earned dollars can buy. And it’s finished to the same exacting standard as the brand’s equally elite dress watches.
Introduced last year on a rubber strap, the blue-dial, 45 mm by 15.7 mm titanium GMT Sport is now offered on a bracelet—a first for the watchmaker. Thanks to its lightweight alloy and its unusual curved oval case shape, it wears smaller than its size suggests. And while taking a six-figure watch for a dip in the ocean may seem outrageous, if not insane, it is water-resistant to approximately 330 feet. Built as a go-anywhere, do-anything piece, this watch is equipped with all of the horological complexity and durability required for the rarefied collector who considers a Daytona run-of-the-mill. Approximately $572,000, limited to 33
Panerai took its deepest plunge to date with its new Panerai Ecologico concept. Created from components made of 98.6 percent recycled material, its new watch is diving into uncharted territory. Unlike other consumer categories, the watch industry has been slow to embrace sustainability. For one, it is counterintuitive to a mechanical timekeeper built to last generations. Secondly, creating the infrastructure that’s required to build one almost entirely from non-virgin material has been a challenge. It took Panerai three years of R&D, plus the creation of an entirely new supply chain, to be able to give birth to the Ecologico Submersible eLab-ID. Its case, sandwich dial and movement bridges are made from EcoTitanium, a recycled aerospace-grade version of the alloy. Its Super-LumiNova, silicon escapement, gold hands and sapphire crystal are also recycled. The 30 pieces won’t go into production until 2022, but Panerai has a more far-reaching goal. No other company has made a fully sustainable high-end luxury watch, so in an effort to encourage others to join its cause Panerai has made its list of suppliers public. If more watchmakers join the movement, the effect could be seismic. $61,700, limited to 30
Design: A. Lange & Söhne
At this German house, the aesthetic DNA has always been about ultra-refined sophistication with serious watchmaking expertise under the hood. So it may come as a surprise to Lange fans that the new Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar is the first new model in which the complication comes without other high-end functions since the Lange-matik Perpetual Calendar, released in 2001.
Although additions to models in the last two decades were minute in appearance—like a small retrograde power reserve in a circular aperture at six o’clock in the hours and minutes subdial or tourbillons that were not even visible on the dial side—the latest edition returns to an even more sober approach by eliminating these flourishes. The moon-phase aperture displays its 18-karat-gold sphere on the top rather than the bottom of the subdial, similar to the Lange 1 Moon Phase, except this time the function has been flipped to appear on the left-hand side of the dial.
These are incredibly Teutonic subtleties, but when combined with a striking 18-karat pink-gold dial set in an 18-karat white-gold case accented by the pop of azure blue on the moon phase, it allows for maximum impact while delivering minimum fuss. Consider it a purist’s paradise. $116,000, limited to 150
Chronometry: F. P. Journe Résonance
F. P. Journe’s Chronomètre à Résonance was the first wristwatch to incorporate the phenomenon of resonance, in which two balances in motion effectively beat in opposition to counterbalance each other’s time-keeping discrepancies, resulting in greater accuracy. The solution was first developed in a pocket watch by 18th-century master Abraham-Louis Breguet. To date, Journe is the only watchmaker who creates wrist-watches using Breguet’s exact principle for the method. A unique version of his first model, created in 2000, sold at Phillips in June of last year for a record-breaking $1.09 million. That headline news also happened to coincide with the model’s 20th anniversary and followed the release of Journe’s latest improvement to his masterpiece to produce an even more accurate Résonance, with the new rose-gold caliber Ref. 1520.
It contains the same double-balance design, but the movement now comes with a single mainspring barrel and a differential directing energy to each of the separate going trains, both of which have a one-second remontoir d’egalité (a function which provides constant force to the escapement). And you can view a peek of the differential through an aperture between the two dials. So what does that mean, exactly? It’s no longer compulsory to wind it at 24 hours thanks to the remontoirs d’egalités, which allow for a rate of stability around 30 hours. Effectively, in its final state of production at the manufacture, it would have zero discrepancy in its timekeeping during a 30-hour window.
This exacting precision is the ultimate slam dunk in chronometry and intellectual watchmaking. But you may have to wait years till one appears at auction or exchanges hands privately. The Résonance aside, every single F. P. Journe men’s model is sold out through 2022. $112,700 in red gold; $116,700 in platinum
Often, the complexity of a watch is seen through a sapphire-crystal caseback, but in Breguet’s Classique Double Tourbillon 5345, exhibitionism is flaunted on both sides. Here, the complex 588N movement, introduced in 2006, is now visible on the dial side. Two tourbillon cages are mounted on the movement plate, twirling as they rotate around a fixed differential over a 12-hour period. Part of the two tourbillons’ bridge is blued along half its length to indicate the hour, while an independent blue hand moves separately to indicate the minutes. The tourbillons, along with two mainspring barrels, which are each topped off with a monogram letter “B,” collectively turn clockwise so you can see the entire caliber move as it tells the time. Would you expect anything less from the brand whose founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, created the tourbillon 220 years ago?
In a further tribute to Monsieur Breguet, the caseback features a next-level hand-engraved rendering of his original manufacture on Paris’s Quai de L’Horloge. The detail is so intricate that you need a loupe to make out the figure of a woman peeping out of a window at the center, just next to a ruby jewel bearing, as the movement’s golden gear-train wheels spin through windows like the glow of candlelight.
Here, history comes full circle to remind the wearer that the blindingly minute and groundbreaking inventions that, today, take center stage on the wrist, rather than inside the pocket, were once conceived by hands with nothing more than the flicker of flames to guide their way. Price upon request
High-Jewelry Watch: Cartier
Cartier delivered a juicy new twist on its signature Panthère motif with a timepiece set with two large octagonal aquamarines totaling 12.71 carats, flanked by two octagonal blue tourmalines totaling 20.58 carats. All four come sandwiched between ribbed coral on one side and brilliant-cut diamonds with flecks of onyx on the other. Despite what looks like a watermelon motif, the design inspiration is actually rooted in the history of coral. Traded widely between the Mediterranean and India for centuries, the material was not only prized for its beauty but also thought to ward off harm. Thus, this piece’s coral is contrasted with exquisite aquamarines and tourmalines to evoke the striking color of the sea connecting East and West.
The unusual contrast in materials first bore fruit at Cartier in the 1920s under the direction of Louis Cartier, who introduced the spotted-diamond-and-onyx feline Panthère motif in 1914. Among the coral-, onyx- and diamond-set jewels to appear at the French house was a series unveiled at the 1925 Paris Exposition. And when the Great Depression brought new challenges, Cartier began to use semi-precious gemstones, like aquamarine, for the first time. They were a more economical alternative to, say, emeralds, but they also offered a larger variety in geometric cuts, which sized up perfectly with the architectural Art Deco style of the era.
Introduced last year, this [Sur] Naturel High Jewelry Panthère Tropicale watch is a stunning reinterpretation of the house’s greatest decades of design. Price upon request
Enameling & Gem Setting: Van Cleef & Arpels
Though Van Cleef & Arpels stayed true to its favorite fairy theme (pictured here at nine o’clock), the mythical creature is just a supporting act to the magnificent dial of the Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique. Set in an 18-karat white-gold case accented with round diamonds, it features an off-set sunset with round-yellow sapphires in an unusual honeycomb pattern, with a dusting of round-white diamonds, making the star pop. Emanating from this focal point are 18-karat white- and yellow-gold sunbeams, in a polished or hammered design, alternating with multicolored plique-à-jour enameling trimmed in 18-karat white gold to create subtle transparency and add depth. Diamond rays set in 18-karat white gold are partially obscured by the enamel, but the gems can still be seen gleaming beneath.
All of this comes set on a lapis lazuli, onyx and white mother- of-pearl tableau sprinkled with pink and blue opaque enamel beads evoking the planets. Pieces like this require multiple métiers d’art experts and plenty of time to create. Magic, after all, hardly happens with just the wave of a wand. As a result, only three people in the world will have one on their wrist. $365,000
Secret Watch: Bulgari
First developed as party tricks in the ’20s for women to discreetly check the time without being impolite, secret watches typically came with a hunter-style or a sliding covering to conceal the dial. But in Bulgari’s Serpenti Misteriosi Cleopatra, the hands are hidden beneath a faceted transparent hexagonal rubellite of over five carats. They are just barely visible to the wearer. To an observer’s eye, they blend in with the cuff, which is encrusted with 4,000 snow-set diamonds, two citrines and two amethysts, as well as a single aquamarine, tourmaline, tanzanite and peridot set in 18-karat rose gold.
The jeweler’s unique vision for blending time into the gem itself is a brilliant new take on the genre. And while there is nothing discreet at all about this extravagant piece, it does offer a genteel way of checking on the hours and minutes left before implementing your exit strategy. With all of these gems, however, you would hardly go unnoticed. Approximately $804,000, one of a kind
Dial Innovation: Bovet
From extraordinary gem setting, enameling and miniature painting to guilloche engraving to skeletonizing to the use of unusual materials, like aventurine, Bovet has done every kind of dial work imaginable over the course of its almost 200-year history. And indeed so, too, have other watchmakers over the last few centuries. Bovet, however, is the first to introduce a sugarcoated treatment.
It may sound simple, but it’s no small feat to apply the substance without liquifying the crystals. The watchmaker uses a patented process to prepare their structure so that it doesn’t change when exposed to light or heat. But the next step is the most challenging. Each tiny crystal is chosen for size and then combined with special paints to be hand-applied to the dial by artists specializing in miniature painting. If even one small mistake is made, the entire process must begin again from scratch. Once finished, each unique hard-candy dial has a sparkly textured effect.
The heavy dose of sweetness doesn’t end there. When the hands meet, for instance at 12 o’clock, they form a heart. In a counterbalance to its saccharine overdose, the Miss Audrey Sweet Art houses a serious automatic movement beating at four hertz for high-level chronometry. And for an extra treat, its diamond-accented stainless-steel case can transform from a wristwatch to a table clock to a pendant. Delicious. $28,000 to $35,000
Just four years into launching their company, watchmakers Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat have enjoyed significant success. While both men are under 30 years old and the Petermann Bédat brand has only one watch under its loupe, its 1967 Dead Beat Second took home the Horological Revelation prize at the biggest watch awards of last year, the 2020 Grand Prix de la Haute Horlogerie. True success, of course, is measured in dollars: After releasing the watch in June of last year, in a limited run of just 10 pieces in 18-karat white gold and 10 in 18-karat rose gold (both priced around $66,000), they sold out in two weeks.
Petermann’s and Bédat’s pedigrees include stints at A. Lange & Söhne and restoration work for Christie’s Geneva. When they set up their own restoration and servicing business in 2017, they found themselves next door to Dominique Renaud, the famed watchmaker behind Renaud & Papi (now owned by Audemars Piguet and called Audemars Piguet Le Locle). He generously collaborated with the duo on the design of the Caliber 171, based on the mechanism of a 1940s pocket watch. The well-executed movement peeks through the dial between one and four o’clock.
The piece garnered attention in the right circles, and soon master watchmaker Philippe Dufour dropped by for a visit. “We were under a lot of pressure, but at the end we were very grateful that he told us it was a very nice watch with nice finishing,” says Petermann. His visit was at the behest of a potential client who wanted him to vet the newcomers’ work. In the end, the collector made the purchase: As far as stamps of approval go, it doesn’t get any better. The current waiting list for future editions? Three years and counting, if they deliver
a watch to everyone currently in line.