Out of the hundreds of great watches introduced in 2019, whittling them down to a top 20 is a tough gig. For various reasons, ranging from innovative engineering to outstanding presentation and execution, the following watches represent, in our opinion, the best of watchmaking this year. Being some of the hottest watches on the planet, and being made in limited series, many of these timepieces are not immediately accessible. In fact, some have wait lists rumored to be a decade long. We would therefore like to mention that every one of their makers introduced other, equally admirable watches this year—over the past five years, as a matter of fact—that some collectors are sure to consider even more notable, so do browse the websites in the links. There is nothing wrong with choosing two new watches: you could join the wait list for a treat down the road, and indulge in some immediate gratification now.
Moser Swiss Alp Concept Black
Moser blends contemporary minimalism with mechanical maximalism and throws in a touch of irony, an excellent combination that qualifies this watch as a top-twenty contender ($350,000). The rectangular case with its screen-like dial resembles an Apple watch, yet the watch mocks the smartwatch for what it will never do: employ a tourbillon escapement to chime the time via a mechanical minute repeater function, two ultimate symbols of mechanical watchmaking.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Twin Beat
The Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat ($199,000) is one of the most important innovations in mechanical watchmaking of the past decade. It contains two separate movements that run at different frequencies: one for when you’re wearing it, oscillating at 36,000 vph (5 Hz); and the other for when you take it off, oscillating at 8,640 vph (1.2 Hz) which saves power and prevents wear on the movement. In 1.2 Hz mode, the watch has a 65-day power reserve (the average is 42 hours).
Grand Seiko Micro Artist Masterpiece “Snowflake”
Japanese watchmaker Seiko has been outdoing the Swiss for years—with accurate mechanical movements, by inventing quartz, and by developing some of the world’s first tool watches. Now, the luxe Grand Seiko brand has emerged as a master of hand-finishing. The complex, hand-crafted pattern on the dial of its Snowflake watch ($76,000, limited to 30) is a nod to the snowcapped hills of the Shinshu region where it is made. It contains a state-of-the-art manual Spring Drive movement.
Patek Philippe 5212-A Calatrava Weekly Calendar
This watch represents two firsts: it’s the only non-limited-edition Calatrava watch in steel ($33,454) since the 1970s; and the world’s first and only weekly calendar complication. Week numbers are a standard reference in Europe compared to the week-of-month reference used in North America—although some manufacturing and printing companies use weekly numbers for production schedules. The numerals and lettering on its silvery opaline dial are based on the handwriting of one of its designers.
Patek Nautilus Annual Calendar Ref. 5726A
The Nautilus is the hottest watch on the planet right now, and this annual calendar is one of the most sought-after models. Warning: It is also one of the most difficult watches to get at retail, and prices on the secondary market are rising. If you don’t mind joining a lengthy queue, the Annual Calendar Ref. 5726A with a modern gradient blue dial ($45,928) is worth waiting for. If you don’t like waiting, and have your heart set on a new blue-dialed Patek, a more accessible model, one with a more vintage allure, is the chronograph Ref. 5172G ($73,712).
Breguet Classique Skeleton Extra-Plat Ref. 5395
Who better than the inventor of the tourbillon to take this illustrious complication to the next level? The trick to skeletonization is selective reduction: carving away as much as possible without compromising strength and functionality. Here, Breguet pares caliber 581SQ down by 50% to a mere 3 mm thickness—in the case, it’s 7.70 mm thick—remarkable for an automatic tourbillon ($225,200). What’s left is made of glistening 18-karat red gold. $225,200 in red gold.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetuel
Most manufacturers don’t have the capability of building a multi-axis tourbillon. For Jaeger-LeCoultre it’s a specialty. This one ($895,000), its fifth, is the ultimate example because it also includes a Westminster carillon minute repeater and a perpetual calendar, along with some noteworthy details that make it even more desirable: a constant force mechanism to keep the amplitude steady, and a date indicator hand that quickly jumps from 16 to 17 so as not to obscure the view of the tourbillon.
Hermes Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
The moon phase display is one of the most longstanding conventions in watchmaking. Traditionally it is painted in gold to eerily resemble a modern emoticon, and moves in an aperture on a stationary dial. Hermès throws the convention out the window, opting instead for two lacquered hour and minute dials rotating to eclipse two fixed mother-of-pearl moons (for both northern and southern hemispheres). It won the Calendar and Astronomy Watch Prize in this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève ($25,500).
MB&F Legacy Machine Thunderdome
The brief from the always-inventive Max Büsser for this piece was “make the craziest, most cinematic three-axis tourbillon ever.” The result is a first in watchmaking: the fastest tourbillon, with three axes revolving at different speeds, in 8-second, 12-second and 20-second rotations ($280,000). The independent watchmakers who co-created the piece are Eric Coudray, the man behind Jaeger-LeCoultre’s first spherical dual-axis Gyrotourbillon, and Kari Voutilainen, a renowned perfectionist and hand-finish artist.
Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht
This watch ($310,000) gets points for its inspired dedication to mega-yachts, which almost overshadows the mechanical merits (the flying tourbillon movement was co-designed by watchmaking impresario Christophe Claret). Sea tropes include: a ship’s bow plowing through the dial as if sailing through the Ocean, a power reserve indicator designed as a moving anchor connected to a windlass, a tourbillon decorated like a ship’s propeller, and a tide indicator displaying the tides in real time. It is a 30-piece limited edition.
F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical 20thAnniversary
This watch is one of the reasons Francois-Paul Journe is regarded as the world’s greatest living watchmaker. Instead of issuing a tweaked version of the Tourbillon Souverain for the anniversary, (in a different color, say, which itself would have been eagerly snapped up), he invented a new movement that doubles the rotating speed to 30 seconds and turns the regulator 90 degrees to sit perpendicular to the dial. The 42 mm case is platinum, and it is limited to 20 pieces ($284,400).
Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1
It took more than 6,000 hours to make this watch, which Stephen Forsey reckons is equal to three years of man-hours. It was 95% made by hand, which means more than what most brands mean when they say hand made, which really means hand finished. Only five out of the 308 components were not made by hand: mainspring, jewels, crystal, case gaskets and spring bars. The goal was to refocus on the pure craftsmanship of watchmaking. Mission accomplished. Priced well over $500,000, each one will be different; up to three will be made in the next year.
Bulgari Octo-Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic
Bulgari is the reigning king of thinnest mechanical watches, starting with the world’s thinnest minute repeater, followed by thinnest Automatic, thinnest tourbillon, thinnest ladies’ minute repeater and now, thinnest chronograph. It measures 42mm wide in a titanium case that is a razor-thin 6.90 mm thick. A peripheral rotor frees up just enough room to squeeze in a 24-hour GMT function, making this not only a timepiece, but an engineering masterpiece ($17,600).
Speedmaster Apollo 11, 50th Anniversary
Omega was the only watch that landed on the moon 50 years ago, and that gives it special cred as a collectors’ piece over any other commemorative moon landing watches—or for that matter, over any of the various T-shirts, coins, beers and sneakers currently proclaiming to commemorate the historic moon walk. This one, made of 18-karat “Moonshine” gold (paler than traditional yellow gold), has a burgundy tachymeter scale like the 1969 original. Only 1,014 will be made ($34,600).
Rolex Yacht-Master 42 White Gold
This is an era-defining timepiece ($27,800) that, when it comes up at auction years from now (and it will), will be described as one of the purest expressions of the Rolex brand: the matte-black Cerachrom bezel with subtle raised markings, the black canvas with Chromalight displays, the sleek Oysterflex bracelet, and the caliber 3235 with Chronergy escapement regulated to +2/-2 seconds a day—and it’s in white gold! (In case you have had enough of the steel trend.)
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon
Salmon colored dials are prized among elite collectors, but don’t confuse this with that. The pure 18-karat gold pink dial on this watch makes the others look like cheap imitations. It is the latest version of the previously black-dialed Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, just as impressive as the dial is the decorated-to-perfection movement that is typical of the German maker. Like the first edition, which had a platinum case, this one is limited to 100 pieces, and is thus a rarity ($287,800 in pink gold).
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin
The Royal Oak is one of a trio of models considered to be the best sports watches on the planet. The others are Rolex Daytona and Patek Nautilus (the Nautilus and the Royal Oak incidentally were both designed by Gerald Genta). By the way, this one is called the Jumbo ($55,400) despite its elegant 39 mm x 8 mm proportions because when it was introduced in 1972, 39 mm was considered huge.
This watch can be hard to find, and there is limited production. If you want to own a great Audemars Piguet immediate, may we suggest the Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph, 38mm ($52,700).
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin
Ultra-thin watchmaking is a complication in itself that involves impossibly tight tolerances and overcoming the challenge of maintaining stability in the face of excessive miniaturization. Thus, producing a perpetual calendar with an automatic winding system measuring 41 mm by a mere 6.3 mm took years of research and some crazy watchmaking magic. It was all worth it, because you can never be too thin (approximately $140,000).
The Barakuda is a fine example of the vintage-remake genre that has dominated new watch production over the past few years. The original 1960s version is reportedly selling more at auction than this remake, which is updated with a modern movement, a scratch-resistant bezel and Super-LumiNova in all the right places. Original features include the two-tone hour-markers, large date window and a tropical-type rubber strap that was popular in the ’60s ($14,100, limited to 500).
Breitling Ref. 806 1959 Re-edition
This one falls under the category of best modern re-edition. Breitling is one of Switzerland’s original heritage brands and as such, has rich archives ripe for revisiting. The Ref. 806 Navitimer remake ($8,600) is faithful to the original design down to theexact number of beads on the bezel and the unsigned winged logo. New elements include SuperLuminova markings, 30-meter water resistance and the brand’s top in-house movement, caliber B09.