It’s the last few days of 2019, and as we countdown the hours to the new year, it’s fitting that we look back at the ups and downs of an industry that literally helps us keep time year on year — watches.
Even prior to the announcement of sweeping reforms on the trade show circuit– most notably SIHH and Baselworld — the biz had experienced some of its biggest (not to mention most polarising) developments within the last half-decade.
In no particular order: Audemars Piguet launched their much-discussed Code 11.59 collection; OMEGA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing with the relaunch of calibre 321; and, just for good measure, Saxonian heavy A. Lange revealed their inaugural stainless steel sports watch this October. (We haven’t even gotten to the myriad auction results, special showcases, and surprise drops which have been happening essentially non-stop.)
Unsurprisingly, at the centre of all this excitement are the watches themselves. Before we embark on a brand new decade — and the promise of an even more exciting frontier in horology — it’s only fair to recognise what we consider to be the ‘best’ (translation: our favourite) watches of 2019. Ranging from familiar, big-name complications to simple 3-handers that deserve more props, here are seven timepieces which proved the most consistently desirable in our office all year-round.
OMEGA Speedmaster Professional in platinum
Although OMEGA spent the earlier half of 2019 releasing a slew of professional Speedies in gold and steel, the new platinum variant is far and away the culmination of their aerospace-obsessed efforts. This release is the first Speedmaster Moonwatch since 1968 to feature the legendary calibre 321: a faithful duplication of the chronograph movement issued to the Apollo XI crew. OMEGA decided to re-introduce what is arguably their most desirable movement in grand style: the case and bezel take their handsome mid-century looks from the original moonwatch (i.e. the ST105.012), and are rendered in ideal form through the usage of premium materials. Think a solid gold Speedy is cool? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
To learn more about the Speedmaster Professional (calibre 321) in platinum, visit OMEGA online.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak perpetual calendar ultra-thin
Whereas most brands would be happy to coast on the achievement of having manufactured one or two extremely flat watches across their entire lifespan, the new ultra-thin Royal Oak QP is a testament to Audemars Piguet’s nearly unrivalled dominance in this area — frequently considered the most difficult kind of complicated watchmaking. Originally developed as the RD#2, AP’s latest Royal Oak offering is an exercise in panoptic envelope-pushing: at 2.89mm the calibre 5133 is, bar none, the thinnest self-winding perpetual calendar movement in the game; and is cased in a design that compromises nothing in terms of aesthetics, comfort, and usability. We actually went hands-on with this watch for a story we published back in September, and if you’re even a little interested in the mechanics of a complicated movement — from three tiers to one — we encourage you to check it out below.
To learn more about the Royal Oak ultra-thin perpetual calendar, visit Audemars Piguet online.
Rolex GMT-Master II with meteorite dial
When Rolex dropped their stainless steel ‘Pepsi’ GMT-Master II in 2018, it was a moment of such seismic cultural significance that it caused mechanical watchmaking to invade the pop culture mainstream. It’s difficult to believe that this kind of ‘lightning in a bottle’ could ever be replicated, and yet the new meteorite GMT is compelling evidence that (as ever) conventional rules don’t really apply when talking about Rolex.
In textbook fashion, this year’s hero GMT-II is a slight variation on the 126710: swapping out the latter’s steel case and Jubilee bracelet for a white gold variant on Oyster. On the dial, the chosen material for this release is meteorite — an iron/nickel combo which makes about as much sense for a tool watch as leather does on sneakers. Still, the theoretically incongruous mixture of white metal, meteorite, and tool watch do work its magic over time; and is bound to impress collectors who favour an ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ ethos.
To learn more about the GMT-Master II in white gold (with meteorite dial), visit Rolex online.
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
Elegant, airy, off-kilter — these are all words which can rightfully be used to describe the Arceau L’Heure de La Lune. Originally unveiled by Hermès in January, this addition to the Arceau lineup takes a conceptually simplistic idea — displaying the phases of the moon in the northern and southern hemispheres — and executes it in a manner that’s highly original. Both the hour and minute sub-dials (which double up as the moon discs) are mounted over the main carousel, with the latter making one complete revolution every 59 days, ensuring that the age of both moons is accurately displayed. This being Hermès and all, the current production is limited to just 200 pieces — available exclusively in the brand’s boutiques.
To learn more about the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune, make an appointment at your local Hèrmes boutique.
Grand Seiko Elegance SBGK005 ‘Slim’
Grand Seiko has always had a plethora of watches that are more than capable of pulling duty in the ‘dress’ category. However, last year, in an effort to streamline their vast (and at times confusing) offering, they launched the ‘Elegance Collection’ — a new line of leather-strapped models which take aim squarely at aficionados of svelte, classically-styled dress watches. The SBGK005 is one of the newest editions to this lineup and an important one at that. It’s powered by the new calibre 9S63: both the first hand-wound Grand Seiko movement in 8 years and the first-ever to feature sub-seconds.
In profile, the case and dial are designed with a vaguely perceptible curvature — some of the hands are even manually curved — that has a satisfying presence under external light, helped along by the house’s hypnotic and iridescent ‘Mt. Iwate’ dial. One of our favourite ‘sleeper’ hits of the year.
To learn more about the SBGK005, visit Grand Seiko online.
Chopard Alpine Eagle
For most of 2019, the general feeling has been that the market needs another line of steel sports watches about as much as it requires a hole in the head. Imagine our surprise then when the Alpine Eagle — Chopard’s latest entry into the fiercely competitive sports watch fray — elicited genuine excitement from enthusiasts. Inspired by the St. Moritz line produced by the brand throughout the 1980s, the new Alpine Eagle comes in both 36mm and 41mm formats. In steel, the larger size is — barring half a dozen or so obvious but much pricier alternatives — the platonic ideal of a sports watch. From the distinctive ‘eagle’s iris’ dial down to each painstakingly aligned bezel screw, this is a sports watch that diehard fans of the genre will find to be every bit as compelling as your average big brand analogue. And just for good measure: it’s made with partially recycled steel. Now how’s that for responsible luxury?
To learn more about the 41mm Alpine Eagle in steel, visit Chopard online.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong here, by Randy Lai.