The Big Idea: Time Out
Last year, Swiss watch exports reached an all-time high of over $22 billion, according to a report by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Exports to the US were up 55 percent, and January 2022 witnessed a year-on-year increase of 37.5 percent. The industry is clearly in robust health.
Despite this, many collectors can’t get their hands on the watches they want. Walk into any Rolex boutique and you will find almost zero inventory. To hear retailers tell it, pent-up demand due to the pandemic, a general increase in interest in watches and supply-chain issues are all to blame.
Watches from the big three—Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet—are always difficult to come by, but this year all of the makers’ models are experiencing unprecedented demand. If you are lucky enough to snag one at retail, you might still end up on a years-long waiting list. “Demand is going through the roof. Patek has always been that way, but Rolex has been that way since 2018, and it just keeps getting tighter, even though Rolex continues to make more and more product,” says Joe Perez, watch buyer at Seattle-based retailer Ben Bridge Jeweler. “They’ll increase 10 percent, but the demand goes up 30 percent. So it just continues to outpace the increase in product that they’ve been doing.” Audemars Piguet upped its production from 45,000 to 50,000 pieces, with the promise of reserving a “big chunk” for new clients, but even AP ingenues will still have to jockey to purchase. During a press conference earlier this year, Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias advised prospective clients to “create and develop a relationship with us,” meaning significant face time with retail managers is likely required for consideration.
The unattainability of vaunted brands is causing a ripple effect. “A lot of people come to find watches and realize they’re not readily available,” says Ruediger Albers, president of Wempe Jewelers in Manhattan. “However, they’re open for alternatives.” He cites Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato as a recent popular substitute to sports watches like the Nautilus and GMT-Master II.
Ben Bridge’s Perez says he’s seeing similar trends across brands whose wares have been traditionally easier to get, such as Cartier, Tag Heuer, Panerai, IWC and Breitling. “Tag Heuer actually stopped shipping [to] every retailer in November last year and didn’t start shipping again until mid-to late January,” he says. “They even canceled all orders because they just couldn’t supply anybody anymore.”
Ultra-niche brands such as Parmigiani, which makes about 3,000 pieces a year, are seeing unprecedented sales. It has long lead times on its Tonda PF and Tonda GT models. “I’ve been in the industry for 20 plus years and I have not seen anything like this,” says Gustavo Calzadilla, Parmigiani’s managing director. “Clients previously seeking immediate gratification are now okay waiting a year or longer for timepieces.” He added that the craze has caused some of their retail partners to dedicate staff to managing allocation and keeping track of orders, deposits and delivery timelines.
The phenomenon has even trickled down to jewelry sales, where some retailers have seen clients snap up jewels as they vie for VIP status. “A lot of big diamonds are flying out the door,” says Perez. “Prices are going through the roof right now.”
The moral of the story? Have your local authorized dealer not just on speed dial but also over for dinner.
Watch of the Year: Cartier Masse Mystérieuse
For the past 110 years, Cartier has been creating Mystery Clocks known for their transparent glass dials in which the hands appear suspended in air as though completely disconnected from the movement. The concept was miniaturized for wristwatches in 2013, but its latest iteration, the platinum 43.5 mm by 12.64 mm Masse Mystérieuse, uses the sapphire-crystal glass to highlight a world first: a spinning rotor that incorporates the entire skeletonized 9801 MC caliber into its oscillating mass, which twirls around the wrist in an apparent act of levitation.
The research and development required to bring this illusion to life took eight years. Six sapphire-crystal discs were used to set the stage. Two are exhibition-glass pieces for the upper-glass and caseback, and four others functionally rotate and are used for the separation of the hour hand, minute hand, rotor/movement and a fixed wheel, which the caliber rotates on. The hour and minute hands are connected to the crown through invisible gearing beneath the hour track.
Cartier has been a byword for exquisite design for more than a century—but this new technical marvel reveals the house is capable of serious horological magic, too. Limited to 30, price upon request
Annual Calendar: Patek Philippe Ref. 5205R
Many of the headliners at Patek Philippe this year had a sportier, more casual focus (i.e., the Ref. 5470P 1/10th Second Monopusher Chronograph and the Ref. 5326G Annual Calendar Travel Time). But Patek Philippe is first and foremost a maker of dress watches, and that’s often what it does best. Case in point: The sophisticated and rich update to the 40 mm by 11.36 mm Ref. 5205R Annual Calendar in 18-karat rose gold with a new dégradé olive-green dial. The shade has been popular in watchmaking for some time, but here the execution is exemplary.
If any brand can prove that a simple color update has huge significance, it’s Patek. Last year’s olive-green iteration of the company’s now discontinued Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-014 was such a hit that it currently goes for over 20 times its original retail price of $34,893 on the secondary market. And you may have heard about a $6.5 million blue Patek Philippe x Tiffany & Co. Nautilus Ref. 5711?
The difference here is that the annual calendar is more than a fashionable design piece—the high complication was invented by Patek Philippe in the ’90s. No hype needed. $55,592
Historical Revival: Vacheron Constantin 222
There is still nothing hotter than a ’70s sports watch with an integrated bracelet, so Vacheron Constantin’s timing cannot be faulted. The venerable Swiss watchmaker energized its lineup this year with a remake of its casual luxury timepiece from the decade, the 222.
The model, designed by Jorg Hysek, debuted in 1977 to celebrate the brand’s 222nd anniversary. Fewer than 1,000 pieces were made, and it has, in recent years, become an auction-block darling. A 38 mm steel model Ref. 44018 from its first year of production sold last year at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: XIV for $172,625, just over five times its top estimate of $32,500.
For its 2022 update, it comes in a 37 mm by 7.95 mm 18-karat yellow-gold version, featuring the company’s signature Maltese cross at 5 o’clock, and is now powered by the in-house 2455/2 movement. A sapphire-crystal caseback was added to give a view of its new engine and its 18-karat-gold rotor. When a steel update drops—as surely it will—expect this to become the next hype watch on everyone’s list. $69,000
Table Clock: Van Cleef & Arpels Fontaine aux Oiseaux
Rarely do you see craftsmanship, in any discipline, as extraordinary as Van Cleef & Arpels’s Fonatine aux Oiseaux automaton. The huge clock features a retrograde time display via an ebony base with 18-karat white-gold indicators on a 12-hour scale, topped off with eggshell marquetry protected by eight layers of vegetal lacquer.
Time, of course, is secondary in this awe-inducing animation. The stage belongs to two 18-karat yellow-gold and white-gold bejeweled birds. When activated, the companions turn their heads, sing a song (via bellows and a clicking box), flutter their wings and raise their legs as they draw closer together in a display of courtship around a basin of rippling water made of chalcedony, rock crystal and aluminum.
Each creature comes dripping in gems. The male bird is coated in sapphires, emeralds, tsavorite garnets, diamonds and lapis lazuli, while the female displays her sapphires, mandarin garnets, amethysts, diamonds and turquoise. An 18-karat white-gold, mother-of-pearl and enamel dragonfly hovering below 18-karat yellow-gold and lacquer water lily leaves in the water is adorned with sapphires and diamonds.
At a height of 44.15 cm and a width of 41.13 cm, it makes for an impressive showpiece for the home but more than deserves its place in a museum. One of a kind, price upon request
Minute Repeater: Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire
Chopard’s first L.U.C Full Strike minute repeater debuted in 2016 and was such a tour de force that it took home the top prize at the 2017 GPHG awards for, among other things, exceptionally crisp sound made possible by using sapphire-crystal gongs, instead of steel, to create its melody. In a holy grail–level update to the masterpiece, the company has now delivered the watch in a full sapphire-crystal 42.5 mm by 11.55 mm case—a world first for a minute repeater with sapphire-crystal gongs and case.
Extremely difficult to work with, sapphire crystal is so hard it requires the use of diamond-tipped tools to machine into shape and, as a result, is an extraordinarily expensive endeavor—hence why so few pieces are made. Here it offers a 360-degree view of the L.U.C 08.01-L hand-wound movement, but Chopard went a step further to engrave and paint the outer-minute railroad track onto the crystal, which encircles herringbone-shaped applied hour markers, an off-center seconds counter and a 60-hour power-reserve indicator.
While the timepiece was created to ring in the 25th anniversary of the L.U.C collection, it hardly needs a reason to celebrate. It’s a prodigious milestone in and of itself. Limited to five, price upon request
Collaboration: H.Moser & Cie x The Armoury Endeavour Small Seconds Total Eclipse
When Edouard Meylan, CEO of Swiss watchmaking company H. Moser & Cie, and Mark Cho, founder of menswear boutique the Armoury, first began orbiting each other’s sphere in 2019, it was a shared appreciation for timepieces and tailored menswear that forged their friendship. It was, however, a case of opposites attracting. Moser is known for its subversive and minimalist approach to watchmaking, while the Armoury’s ethos is rooted in a contemporary take on old-school sartorialism.
It turned out the stars were perfectly aligned, resulting in what might be the most elegant watch of the year: the 38 mm by 9.9 mm Endeavour Small Seconds Total Eclipse. It features Moser’s signature unmarked Vantablack dial (so dark it absorbs 99.9 percent of light) and is topped off with Cho’s favored dot-style hour indices and classic Breguet-style hands.
The combination of its under-the-radar surface and dressed-up indications proved a heavenly fit. Fifty-six models in steel were produced, half with a steel inner flange on the dial, the other half with a rose-gold flange to mimic the eclipse. They sold out in less than eight hours, with one piece held back exclusively for Robb Report’s February issue and sold to a subscriber. Limited to 28 each, $25,900
Collections: Patrick Getreide’s The Oak Collection
Special orders with unique dial-color choices; unusual Patek Philippe references including enamel-dial pieces from the ’50s; a Cosmograph Daytona that has been into space; a piece one of the founding fathers of post-fascist Italy gave to his surgeon for saving his life after an assassination attempt.
These are merely a handful of the 160 timepieces, curated down from many hundred by their owner, French businessman Patrick Getreide, that make up the OAK Collection: one of the finest private assemblages of watches in the world, which debuted at the Design Museum in London this spring and comes to New York later this year.
As well as the watches’ singularity (“OAK” stands for “one of a kind”), what makes Getreide’s collection so compelling is his borderline obsession with watches being in flawless and fully functioning condition (a clause that necessitates the employment of a full-time watchmaker).
Few private collectors of this magnitude go public with their pieces. What has persuaded Getreide to do so? “I’ve had paintings shown in museums,” he tells Robb Report during an exclusive preview of the collection, “and I believe that watches are art in the same way—they deserve to be shared with people.”
World Timer: Bovet Orbis Mundi World Time
Founder Edouard Bovet made his fortune traveling to far-flung locations to sell his watches. In 1818, he grabbed an early share of the Chinese market by heading to the Far East to sell four pocket watches worth today’s equivalent of $1 million. Two centuries later, the Swiss watchmaker continues to honor its globe-trotting roots with the introduction of an elegant world timer for the modern jet-setter.
The 42 mm by 11.25 mm Orbis Mundi is surprisingly simple. It offers a reading of multiple time zones at a glance, with time adjusted from a single crown. Both local and world time are positioned on an aventurine domed disc at 12 o’clock with global cities displayed in large yellow font. Global time in all cities can be read simultaneously with the local time via a patented mechanism. A seven-day power-reserve indicator is positioned at 3 o’clock, and an aperture at 6 o’clock reveals the in-house hairspring and escapement, as well as a three-armed seconds indication on a 20-second track.
World timers are often difficult to read—regularly featuring enamel dials bearing maps of the world with the names of the cities in minute font. Bovet’s innovation offers a welcome and intuitive solution for a traveler on-the-go. Limited to 60 in 18-karat red gold, $52,000, and 60 in titanium, $46,000
Ultra-Thin: Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
Bulgari delivered the magnum opus of its Octo Finissimo line of record-breaking watches that are among the slimmest on the planet with the Ultra, the thinnest mechanical watch in the world at a head-scratching 1.8 mm thick. Even the bracelet got slashed, reduced to half the size of the original, to fit the new dimensions. But beyond its impressively slim scale is a bold design language that takes this already very modern 40 mm titanium watch and links it directly to the digital era with a QR code engraved on the barrel to deliver special making-of movies, feature interviews and a 3-D tour of the movement for each of the 10 exclusive owners. And each piece will forever have its place in the metaverse with an original-artwork NFT. The Ultra is the eighth and final world record in the Octo Finissimo range, marking the end of an era of bona fide Bulgari icons while firmly cementing its very specific place in time. Limited to 10, $440,600
Selfwinding Tourbillion Openworked: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
It’s a landmark year for Audemars Piguet as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, created in 1972 and designed, as we all know by now, by the late watch wizard Gérald Genta. The model has become so iconic and so coveted that today some would argue it is the brand.
Earlier this year, the company released a slew of new references to herald its jubilee, but the standout was the 41 mm by 10.6 mm steel Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked. A first of its kind in the Royal Oak collection, the new caliber 2972—a version of the caliber 2950, which debuted in the Code 11:59 collection in 2019—presents the movement in an openworked variation to reveal its inner workings.
Exposing the bones required Audemars to execute elite-level finishing on its architecture. There is brushing in three decorations: satin, circular and sunray. The chamfers are hand-polished, and the bridges have been finished both vertically and horizontally for a 3-D effect.
It is a stunning evolution of the Swiss watchmaker’s first Selfwinding Tourbillon introduced in 1986 (a world first) and its first Royal Oak tourbillon introduced 25 years ago. Limited production, price upon request
Constant-Force Tourbillion: Grand Seiko “Kodo”
Based on a concept movement introduced in 2020, known then as the T0, the 43.8 mm by 12.9 mm platinum and titanium “Kodo” is Grand Seiko’s first constant-force tourbillon and first skeleton watch in its 62-year-long history—and is a world first as a tourbillon and constant-force mechanism operating on a single axis.
Tourbillons are relatively pervasive in watchmaking, but constant-force mechanisms are difficult to manufacture and far rarer. The purpose of the system is to deliver a constant flow of energy to the escapement, regardless of whether the power reserve is high or low. Coupled with the tourbillon, which rotates the escapement to prevent errors caused by gravity, it makes for a remarkably accurate timepiece.
The combination is so difficult to achieve only a handful of watchmakers—F. P. Journe, IWC and Haldimann—have achieved it. Grand Seiko maximized the complications by executing the two on the same plane to increase energy efficiency, delivering 50 hours of constant force at an accuracy of +5 to -3 seconds per day.
The piece represents a new very high-end and technical chapter in Grand Seiko’s history, suggesting it won’t be relying solely on its popular sports watches in the future. Limited to 20, price upon request
High Jewelry: Cartier Libre Morphosis
Geometrical dynamism was at play in Cartier’s creative Cartier Libre Morphosis, which is a two-in-one offering of both a bracelet and a wristwatch. Conceived as a series of triangular links on a flexible elastic strap, it twists and turns with the flexibility of a hair tie so that its wearer can get a view of the incredible setting from every angle while being able to wear it according to need.
Its movement, however, is more a matter of bragging rights than versatility. Each of the three versions, two in 18-karat rose gold and one in 18-karat white gold, are outfitted to the hilt in sparkling gems. The most striking is a rose-gold version set with 418 brilliant-cut diamonds, 54 gray moonstones, 81 black spinels and 81 red garnets.
The inspiration was a rock-crystal and diamond bracelet created for silver-screen legend Gloria Swanson in the ’30s, but its reinvention ups the ante in a feat of design gymnastics. Absolutely no one will be asking you the time, unless it’s to give you a stage for show and tell. Each version is one of a kind, price upon request
Perpetual Calendar: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin
Vacheron Constantin has been making timekeepers for women as far back as 1889, and while high complications have included everything from a quarter repeater to a tourbillon throughout its history, this is the first time in its modern lineup that it has included a perpetual calendar for women.
The introduction was delivered at the request of female clientele calling for the same elite functions delivered in men’s references. Equipped with the ultra-thin 29.6 mm by 4.05 mm caliber 1120 QP, it comes in a 36.5 mm by 8.43 mm case, accented with 76 round-cut diamonds, in either 18-karat white gold with a baby-blue mother-of-pearl dial or 18-karat 5N pink gold with a blush-pink mother-of-pearl dial.
Per the tradition of this complication, it includes a moon-phase, date, day, month and leap-year indications, while its 276 components can be viewed through the sapphire-crystal caseback, including its 22-karat-gold rotor.
Despite the watches’ overtly feminine appearance, they look rather sophisticated in the metal. This is a welcome addition to the ladies’ lineup. $87,500
Sports Watch: Audemars Piguet 34mm Selfwinding Black Ceramic
All-black models have become so desirable, they are almost compulsory for many watchmakers. Against that backdrop, Audemars Piguet’s dark monochrome Royal Oaks have entered the hype stratosphere with good reason. They stand out from the slew of steel and yellow-gold models and, as a result, they are exceedingly hard to come by. The smaller 34 mm by 8.8 mm time-only piece released last year and updated for 2022 will be no exception.
Previous Royal Oaks in this size have been equipped with quartz movements. The manual caliber 5800 is an ultra-slim automatic movement with 50 hours of power reserve present in both iterations. What’s new this year is that the signature is now crafted in 24-karat pink gold; the numerals in the date window are gold instead of white; the pins that connect the links in the bracelet are no longer visible on the side; and the length of the hour markers has been adjusted for better legibility.
While this new Ref. 77350CE, updated for the RO’s 50th anniversary, is the more desirable of the two black models, it’s also one of the best gender-neutral models on the market—a dress-up or dress-down piece delivering zero flourish and plenty of style. $48,900
Metiers D’Art: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales
How does Van Cleef & Arpels’s garden grow? In a burst of artisanal expertise and technical gravitas exhibited in one of its most complex watches to date. The 38 mm Heures Florales is a veritable performance piece that tells time via the opening and closing of 12 enamel and gem-set flowers, which bloom in a seemingly random pattern in a series of three cycles.
The epitome of style and substance, the system required five years of research and development. The flowers are set into motion via a wheel that charges a spring in the barrel (equipped with a centrifugal regulator to control the speed) which powers the animation. The hours are read by counting the blooms that pop open. Meanwhile, the minutes are read on a horizontal rotating disc on the side of the case.
Each piece, rendered in either a red-cherry-blossom theme or shades of blue petals, was a fertile playground for the company’s artisans and watchmakers. Limited production, price upon request
One to Watch: Zoe Abelson
The latest dealer to generate fresh buzz in the watch industry is 32-year-old New York City–based Zoe Abelson, who has become a go-to source for timepieces from high-end independent watchmakers. Operating as a one-woman show via her business, Graal Limited, she specializes in locating rarities from the indie elite such as an MB&F LMX and an F. P. Journe Réserve de Marche with an early brass movement and 18-karat rose-gold dial.
Abelson honed her expertise for over a decade before taking the risk of embarking on a solo venture in 2021. She landed a full-time job at Antiquorum auction house before she even graduated college, and several plum gigs followed at Auctionata, Crown & Caliber and, most recently, WatchBox, where she was senior client adviser and helped develop the company’s expansion in Hong Kong in 2018.
Despite her early auction-house background, Abelson makes it clear that she is not a vintage dealer. Instead, she specializes in neo-vintage (mid-’90s to early 2000s) and modern pre-owned models. “I’m really trying to be the outspoken independent watch dealer that people come to if they have something that isn’t a hype watch or something that’s a little bit off the beaten path that they need help selling,” she says. That doesn’t mean she won’t occasionally sell a Rolex, but she doesn’t typically dabble in anything under $25,000 in that arena, and her overall sweet spot is upwards of $40,000, due to the rarity of the pieces that she deals with.
And unsurprisingly, she has found a robust market, through both word of mouth and her Instagram, @watchgirloffduty. “I couldn’t be busier at the moment, and I’m not even trying,” says Abelson. “It’s the worst problem and the best problem to have, because I can’t even take on as many new clients as I would love to.”