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(In)vested interests

The season’s new timepieces are tailor-made for investment aficionados. Colour is a big drawcard, as is individuality and, unsurprisingly, elegance.
watches

Traditionally at this time of year luxury watchmakers showcase their superstars and temptations for the season. This year, off the back of a hugely successful Watches and Wonders fair, the offerings are stellar.

 

Casual elegance, understated mastery
A raft of beautifully subtle pieces lead the holiday parade. Primary among them is Rolex’s Perpetual 1908, chic, practically a dress watch, with the accent firmly on formality. It confirms a rising demand for classicism, ironic when much of the world is renouncing the suit and all it stands for. The 1908 is available in white or yellow gold, with either black or white dials. Notable is its thinness, harking back to the original, a beautifully realised, restrained design much prized by collectors. Much of the chatter at Watches and Wonders was how much of a departure 1908 is for Rolex – and that was a good thing. The Arabic numerals at 3, 9 and 12, the small seconds hand at 6, the rounded hour hand, all came up for praise. The practicalists are embracing design flare.

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Equally chic is Breitling’s latest Navitimer, the 36 and 32. As the monikers allude to, it’s a significantly smaller watch – either 32 or 36mm – than most Breitlings, which again speaks to the understated elegance trend that Rolex is reacting to. And in the case of the 32mm it’s a very different look to a conventional Breitling insomuch as it forgoes its iconic circular slide rule to give maximum space for the face. Brave indeed; the 32mm looks like no Breitling before it, clean and, yes, dressy. Add the splashes of pastel, mother of pearl and diamonds and it all adds up to a decidedly luxurious watch, one that will instantly appeal to a sophisticated urban clientele. The diamonds, Breitling are at pains to point out, are lab-grown and sourced from accredited producers. The gold too is “better gold,” traceable they say, “to artisanal and small-scale mines that meet the Swiss Better Gold Association’s criteria for social and environmental impact”.

As the Navitimer traditionally pays homage to the skies, Omega’s latest Seamaster celebrates the deep seas. Or rather the New Zealand team at the 2024 America’s Cup, for which it is the official timekeeper. And the black and turquoise Planet Ocean Deep Black ETNZ Edition is a real looker, especially in the dark when the deep turquoise hour markers glow magnificently in the black void, clearly representing the craft as they cross the Med, off Barcelona, host of the 2024 race. Planet Ocean 600m itself has been a massively successful Seamaster subrange, the steel dark blue contrast and effective use to 600 metres make it both stylish and an effective diving tool. Effective and accurate as well – the 45.5mm Deep Black houses the superb Master Chronometer Caliber 9900 in-house movement.

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Staying on the high seas, and also honouring the America’s Cup, Panerai’s Luna Rossa Luminor Due celebrates the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team in fine style. ‘Due’ is Italian for ‘two’ and the almost monochromatic watch with the single red stripe is unmistakable. As is the trademark crown protector which makes the watch appear wider than it actually is (38mm). Luminor is a Panerai best-seller and many of the special editions – such as the Luna Rossa Titanium Carbontech of 2021 – remain collector’s favourites.

Back to the art of the understated, classic maison Vacheron Constantin released its Traditionnelle Manual Winding to much fanfare recently and it’s easy to see why. Look closely: those 54 diamonds on the 33mm watch hardly scream opulence, so understated is the treatment. It and the larger 38mm piece features Vacheron’s trademark railway-type minutes track and Dauphine-style hands, equally restrained. Gorgeous with matching strap.

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Restrained too is Bell And Ross’ latest BR 03, the Black Steel. It’s slimmer, with a case size down from 42mm to 41mm, the lugs shrunk by 0.5mm. The French watch is still instantly identifiable of course, and wholly masculine, the iconic circle in a square with four screws motif a stand-out design.

Minimalism is Nomos Glashütte’s raison d’etre and the Original Orion Neomatik 41 Date rates as one of the season’s most pared down, neatest watches. It doesn’t come as any great surprise to discover that Nomos is German; there’s a simplicity that suggests extreme order, much loved by the maison. Note the slivers of gold as indices which seem to lend the watch a contemporary edge, even though the 175-year old company specialises in vintage looks.

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If the clean Nomos is a step too far, Tudor’s Royal walks a careful path between understated and extrovert. The integrated metal bracelet and notched or diamond-set bezel suggest sober restraint, yet the new salmon and chocolate brown dials offer an unexpected twist. Tudor has added applied Roman numeral hour markers as well, and for the high-flyers there’s the option of eight diamond-set hour markers.

Tradition is what Cartier are best at, and the latest Cartier Tank, the Cintrée Platinum, accents the past while presenting a wholly contemporary face. Cartier even has a name for the approach – Les Rééditions de Cartier – a new take on an established icon. Cintrée is the latest, almost a dress watch, elegant, simple, classic with just the material (platinum) setting it apart from the watches of yore. That and the movement of course, Cartier’s lauded Calibre 9780 MC movement.

Jaeger-LeCoultre is just as good at accenting the past. In 2018 it revived its iconic Polaris model to much fanfare. Now the latest 42mm Polaris Chronograph takes it further, offering a rubber strap with an interchangeable steel bracelet, two looks in one. The complex triple level dial gets 40 layers of varnish to achieve its exquisite depth of field.

 

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Never the wallflower
Of course understated elegance doesn’t work for every occasion and the counterculture is alive and promenading this season. Head of the class is Louis Vuitton with their astonishing Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Kaleidoscope. It’s been a great couple of years for Tambour, LV’s stand out watch cheerleader brand and the Kaleidoscope is a fitting finale to 2023. Using the classic technique of cloisonné enamel, gold threads are soldered to the dial to create the kaleidoscope pattern. The gold threads form thin partitions separating the different enamel areas. It’s a labour of love – the dial alone takes nearly two weeks to complete. The gold hands are skeletonised to ensure full viewing pleasure, and discreet gold semi-spherical dots represent the hour markers. It goes without saying the Kaleidoscope is a limited edition.

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Just as flamboyant, and a technological tour de force to boot is Piaget’s super-thin Altiplano Ultimate Concept Midnight Blue Edition. Technically brilliant because it is just 2mm thin. Piaget are the undisputed masters of ultra-thin watches and the Ultimate Concept is the zenith. It uses a special patented alloy (based on ultra-rigid cobalt) for the case and a redesigned crystal dome for the cover that is just 0.2mm thick. And thin though it is, Piaget has still managed to make it water resistant. Remarkable, beautiful and deeply covetable.

Speaking of zenith, the Neuchâtel-based watchmakers have added a dose of cool to their popular Zenith Defy collection, care of a collaboration with South London DJ Carl Cox. The British spin master lends his name and kudos to the Extreme, which, among other details, features his beloved Technics 1200 deck on the dial. Three vinyl-like black subheads spin on that dial, all very Right Now. Happily, underneath the glam there’s real engineering; Zenith is one of the world’s oldest watchmakers and their dedication to accuracy is legendary. So it is with the Defy Extreme Carl Cox, which runs the El Primero 9904 movement.

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Connected, with class
No seasonal roundup would be complete without a hat tip to the world of luxury connected watches. There are interesting things at play in this arena. Characteristically connected watches have traded primarily in the sports arena, it’s where they were born. Refreshing then to see a new generation of connected watches breaking ground this year that accent elegance rather than exercise.

H. Moser & Cie exemplifies this. Actually, the august watchmaker has had a bit of fun with their Swiss Alp Final Upgrade, which looks like a connected watch but isn’t. Satire from the Swiss, how wonderful. The deep black screen has a ‘loading’ symbol (Apple owners will get it) for the seconds, as well as the traditional hour and minute hands. Underneath the playful exterior it’s deadly serious; the company’s HMC 324 is a hand-wound movement. For their full fat connected watch, watch out for Moser’s Endeavour, out soon.

Arguably the best established in the connected watch sector is Tag Heuer, and their stocking filler of note this year is the eminently desirable Connected Porsche Edition. The watch is especially intriguing as its face features printed circuit boards and racing circuits (try and work out which ones) and connects to certain Porsche models to show car data such as fuel used, total mileage or battery percentage on the electric Taycan. The usual sports metrics such as heart rate are there too, for fortunate owners unfortunate enough not to own a Porsche.

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Finally, that other smartwatch heavyweight, Hublot is championing the UEFA Champions League with a celebratory Big Bang E. It’s blue to match the iconic competitions’ colours, and 44mm of ceramic in line with Hublot’s love of boldness. ‘Match mode’ activates 15 minutes before a specific kick off, and from there you get goals, yellow cards and full time alerts in real time. Smart indeed; being able to follow every Champions League game from your wrist is a big drawcard. And a great present for the football obsessed person in your life.

 

by Peter Frost

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