The last weeks of the year bring the inevitable roundups. The best restaurant, the best books and, for us, the best watches. Now that the world has opened up and trade shows have returned, there have been many more exciting watch launches than last year, which makes compiling this list incredibly difficult.
It is by no means definitive, completely subjective and in alphabetical order. So no one can get mad that they aren’t number one.
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Red Radar
This update to the BR01-92 from 2011 has a dial that is guaranteed to make you make airplane noises while looking at it. Or pretend you’re in a Cold War thriller from the 70s. Instead of radar flashes marking the hours and minutes on concentric circles, as in the previous incarnation, we have airplanes. There is a circling commercial airplane to indicate the hours and a jet fighter for the seconds; chosen because in real life a commercial aircraft will move slower than a jet fighter. The seconds are now displayed by a slim analog hand.
It took all the considerable talents of the engineers to create the ultra-thin, frictionless discs on which the planes orbit, but the result is an important piece of watchmaking that combines fun with technical prowess.
Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph
Say what you like about Georges Kern, but since he started at Breitling, watches have definitely improved. This pistachio-colored beauty proves the case (there’s a red gold version with a silver dial, but why would you?).
Taking its name from a collection dating back to 1943, with a nod to Breitling’s modern history of innovating the chronograph complication, it’s that rare thing: a vintage dress chronograph whose price tag is unappealing.
Shrunken down to a more refined 40mm, it’s powered by the manual-winding in-house B09, the pushers are flush in the case rather than pump-like, and the applied indexes add a touch of luxury. It’s just fantastic.
Bremont MB Savannah in titanium
Sometimes a change of color scheme is all it takes to take a watch from decent to highly desirable. That’s exactly what happened with Bremont’s MB Savanna. The MB has always been a beautiful watch and you can jump out of a plane in it if you want to, but this new grey-brown colorway adds a touch of sophistication to its muscular shape.
This is still a tool watch that has been altitude tested to 100,000 feet, has been tested for vibration, has been exposed to temperatures from -40°C to +40°C and has been subjected to the equivalent of an 18G impact at a rate of 42 feet per second, but the case’s lightweight material makes it easier to carry, while the new color scheme means it’s not just for weekends anymore.
Bulgaria’s Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
Bulgari hits watch slimness records as Novak Djokovic picks up Wimbledon titles. This perpetual calendar makes it seven in a row, alongside the thinnest tourbillon, chronograph and minute repeater.
At just 5.8mm deep, this beautiful timepiece manages to hit all the intricate beats of the perpetual calendar – day, date, month and leap years – adding a modern twist by leaving them retrograde and wisely omitting the moon phase; an addition whose inclusion may confuse even the best watchmakers.
All functions can be controlled by the crown or one of the three correctors built into the case, so there’s no need to flip through a War & Peace-sized manual if you want to use it.
It comes in platinum, but the sandblasted titanium has become such a hallmark of these ultra-thin designs as the Octo case and integrated bracelet that any other material just seems wrong.
Cartier Tank Must de Cartier / Cloche de Cartier
The truth is we can’t decide. The tank had the advantage when we saw Paul Mescal in custom Gucci at the Fashion Awards with a cloche and that triggered the tie.
Starting with the Tank, it was first launched in 1977 and, as the Must points out, was part of Cartier’s more accessible line that originally included lighters, pens and bags – must-have accessories bearing the Maison’s name. The new iteration, especially this one in rich burgundy, has a touch of Studio 54’s mixed with a New York uptown elegance about it. A daring dress watch, if you will.
The Cloche is from the 1920s and even more daring. The unusual shape came about because this was originally a jewelery watch designed to be locked in place, with the dial turned so that the watch could be lifted and read. It was transformed into a wristwatch in 1921, but kept all its idiosyncrasies. Now it’s back for 2021, with a hand-wound movement, and it’s as extraordinary as ever.
Hermès H08 Orange
This is the watch that was on everyone’s year-end list, so it would have been rude not to include it here. And there’s a good reason why everyone fell for this timepiece. Described by the CEO of Hermès as the ultimate urban watch, it’s sporty yet sophisticated enough to wear on smart occasions, has a beautiful retro yet modern aesthetic, and a strap made from a patented rubber-coated textile developed for use in Hermès bags.
It is also powered by a movement created in collaboration with the famous creator of the caliber Vaucher. It feels luxurious but is robust enough to wear every day. In fact, why would you want to take it off?
Oris Aquis Date Upcycle
Oris has had a stormy 2021. It launched its retro Rectangular, gave its Big Crown Pointer Date a gorgeous blue dial and new timepiece, and also unveiled this version of its iconic Aquis Date – now with added eco brownie points.
In collaboration with #TIDE, a Swiss organization that collects and upcycles different types of plastic from our oceans, Oris has decided to turn its salvaged PET into these colorful watch faces. Due to the way the plastics are recycled, no two watch faces are the same. So for just under £2,000 you can buy a one of a kind piece. And at the same time do your bit for the oceans.
Tissot PRX Powermatic 80
Tissot has a long standing reputation for producing quality watches at affordable prices, but this surpasses them all.
Let’s start with the inside: the Powermatic 80 – launched in 2013, this timepiece pushed the boundaries of precision and power reserve. It runs for 80 hours and has a high-tech escapement controlled by laser and at a low cost.
The exterior is almost as impressive. It’s a chunky piece of 1970s sportiness that reads like the ‘greatest timepieces’ of the era: tapestry dial, integrated steel bracelet, contrasting bezel and case shapes.
It’s stylish, easy to wear and costs less than a Tomahawk steak at Nusr-Et.