The year is coming to a close, and though we still have about 2 weeks before 2022 comes along, we are guessing that there will be no further significant novelties for the rest of the year. Here are our top picks for the best new watches for 2021
Best has many meanings. What would be best for one person, might be the worst for another. So perhaps we start with trying to define a guideline.
2021 roundup: Six of the best new watches
The guideline we used is a personal one – what are 6, and only 6 watches launched in 2021 that I would buy this year. With the proviso that the asking price is not an object, and I can somehow find the money to buy it. Needless to say, as a journalist, having a handsome budget is as far from the truth as it can possibly get. In reality, for 2021, I did not buy a single watch.
As we have put aside the money issue, this list would be one peppered with watches that meet my personal criteria and taste. Which I thought would have been an easy thing to define and pen down. But when I started to think about it, I find that this is tougher than initially considered. The struggle to define the essence of what would be, essentially, a collecting style, is surprising difficult. And rather than a feeble attempt to note the characteristics of what these might be, perhaps allow me to take the easier way out by just choosing my top 6, and let you decide.
So, with that, here it goes, in no particular order. This was how it came to me as I began to write, though perhaps the psychologically minded among you might be able to analyze even this, and come up with some additional conclusions on how I have sub-consciously ranked this list.
When Lange introduced their innovative Perpetual Calendar in the Lange 1 family in 2012, it came with a tourbillon. For 2021, they removed the tourbillon, and offered it in a more accessible price. This allowed the perpetual calendar module, which had been added over the Daymatic base movement to shine on its own. And shine it does!
The dial layout is clean, clear and very legible. The essential display of the month indication is carried by a ring around the peripheral of the dial, with a small aperture open to indicate the leap year. The movement finishing on the caliber L.021.3 is absolutely stunning, as is the expected norm for Lange. My pick is the limited edition white gold cased version with a solid rose gold dial.
A collection of watches were released in 2021 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Chopard’s L.U.C manufacture. Many of not all are beauties in their own right, but the one which captivated my imagination is the jumping hour which is aptly named L.U.C Spirit 25. This is first jumping hour mechanism for Chopard, though the movement is based on the well established L.U.C 1.98 movement, first seen in 2005 as the original Quattro. Chopard had also used the movement in a later versions of the Quattro. This magnificent movement is equipped with 4 barrels to provide the a long power reserve of 9 days. The high torque produced in the design has now come in handy for the instantaneously jumping hour mechanism in the Spirit 25.
The dial is an in-house manufactured grand feu enamel in pure white. I love the design of the jumping hour aperture at 6 o’clock, with most of the dial left empty in classical negative space. Clean. Clear. Beautiful. With the Poinçon de Genève, the movement is superbly finished. Cased in 18k rose gold case which is elegant in an near perfect 40mm size.
Citizen surprised us in 2021 with a new reference level mechanical watchmaking. They did this with a moniker which they call “The Citizen” – their ideal of the highest expression of the pursuit of the essence of a watch, which debuted in 1995 with a quartz movement. We have waxed lyrical over The Citizen, so impressed with it, that it has caused a re-evaluation of my personal thoughts on quartz watches. The AQ 4020-54Y represented a soul which I had hitherto not found in quartz powered watches. But which I found in abundance in The Citizen. From the beautifully sculptured case, the magnificently lavish finishing, the washi paper dial, to the technically advanced movement. It breathed life. Yet, one which different from one with a mechanical heart.
This leads us the mechanical version of this ideal. And the new The Citizen Mechanical caliber 0200 will sit on the top tier pedestal in Citizen’s hierarchy, along side with its high precision quartz version. The movement and it’s finishing was done in collaboration with their Swiss subsidiary Manufacture La Joux-Perret S.A.. but remained entirely made in Japan. The watch is an exceptionally handsome one, with a vintage vibe and abundance of details to captivate a collector’s attention. The dial is magnificent – textured and nuanced. The finishing is exquisite. Though naysayers will find fault with the design and point to similarities to existing designs by other maisons.
This new timepiece is a gauntlet thrown by Citizen into the ring to challenge the crown of Best Japanese High Horology watch, now comfortably held by Grand Seiko. And eventually challenge the Swiss and other Europeans at their own luxury game.
For those seeking a more accessible “gateway drug” so to speak, is advised to consider their Series 8 collection, also with mechanical movements, albeit aimed at more modest goals and somewhat lower than haute horlogerie finishing levels. Many may not know that Citizen is one of the largest watch manufacturers in the world, with superior in-house capabilities. This is a 100+ year old, ultra traditional and very conservative Japanese company which is more adept at engineering than marketing. So the months and years to follow will see how well their marketing story can support this push to the top. It took Grand Seiko some 12 years to be what it is today on the global stage. Let’s see how long it will take Citizen.
Vacheron Constantin held many surprises this year. From the amazingly beautiful and conceptually elegant Overseas Dual Time Everest, to their Metiêr d’Art pieces, all have tugged strongly at my heart strings. But if I remain faithful to my love for complicated mechanisms, then the pick from VC’s 2021 offerings must be the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin Collection Excellence Platine.
This is a watch which has got it all: elegance, opulence, exclusivity, and of course, ingenuity. The outstanding Caliber 3500 is a paragon of luxury and high watchmaking. First seen on the limited edition, now sold out, Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph, the movement’s magnificence cannot be denied by anyone who is fascinated by movement mechanics and fine finishing. I am very happy to see the movement reborn in this new reference, rather than being put on ice indefinitely, which would be a real shame.
Perhaps it may be a surprise to see Breitling on this list. But my admiration of this very old watchmaking maison, founded in 1887, has risen considerably with the leadership of Georges Kern. Ever since he took the helm of the company in 2017, the transformation has been huge and very swift. Everything about the brand has changed, and yet not changed. What has changed is the entire collection, and the speed in which new watches are being introduced. What has changed is the dusty image of an aviation obsessed behemoth known for throwing wild parties has made way to a modern, environmentally aware and “woke” brand, which remain relevant with their various squads. What has changed is the remarkable agility to re-invent, and re-create. And the surprising consistently and quality of the novelties. What has not changed, thankfully, is the remarkable value prices that Breitling watches are pitched at.
Like the years since 2018, Breitling have had several major launches this year. But the nicest addition to have caught my eye is the addition to the Premier family with a range of new chronographs by Breitling. Among the models introduced, interestingly when I reviewed my feelings about the novelties, my pick is the Datora B25 Chronograph with day, date, and moonphase – the classical triple calendar display.
This pick came as a surprise, even to me, as normally I would have gone for the other two models powered by the in-house B09 and B15 movements. The Datora has the B25 movement, which is an elaboration based on the Concepto C2000 ebauche. Suffice to say, that this time, its not about the movement, but the overall aesthetics of the Datora which appealed to me. The look has a vintage feel, perhaps akin to some vintage Patek Philippe triple calendars and perpetual calendars. The copper coloured dial is amazingly attractive, even with the busy triple calendar dial evokes the classical look but with refreshingly modern accents.
This is a magnificent come back story. Bernhard Lederer was one of the early AHCI watchmakers. Always innovative. With provocative and mechanically interesting watches. He somewhat disappeared from my radar for a long time. But appeared suddenly in 2020 with this wonderful new watch – The Central Impulse Chronometer.
This watch is impressive! The crystals on both sides are like domes, extending to a thin sliver of the bezel which then extends smoothly into the equally thin case middle. And the technical innovation are equally mind boggling! The double trains equipped with double remontoires is complicated, and a proper discourse on the direct impulse system is found in our first article on the watch, as it appeared in August 2020.
I wrote this in my review of the prototype that the version that I gravitated towards was the one with the closed dial. We understand Lederer will not offer this version commercially, but I loved it because it was the most discreet version. Looking at that watch, there is no indication to the complexity of the movement within. It looked like a regular 3 hand watch, with its subsidiary seconds hand at 8 o’clock. Very understated. Till you flip the watch over to see the movement side. And then all breaks loose, and jaws begin to drop. Sublime.
And I can confirm that the magic is still there in the commercial realization. But the surprise of discreetness is perhaps taken away as the dial side is open worked to show the double apertures to expose the counter rotating seconds hands. But nothing will stop the jaw dropping when you flip the watch over. Magnifcent.
So there it is. My 6 picks on watches I would buy myself, money not being an object. How would your list look like? Please do share.