Welcome to the latest instalment in what was never planned to go beyond one issue! We prophesy no return to the salad days of best-off lists, unless such a story also doubles as a litany of unavailable watches. If you are reading this magazine in order (why would you do that, and who are you?) you would have just come off several stories that feature those very same watches so there is no need to repeat ourselves. No, this story concerns the watches that could be, for those who want to be first and not regret it later. We cannot, and do not, claim to have gotten it right all the time, or even most of the time. This is especially true when the watches we are discussing in these stories are, by definition, not the subjects of overheated demand.
Given that this is the third story of its kind in as many years, you might wonder if you should trust these recommendations. Well, we were right on the money about the Tudor North Flag, Blancpain Air Command and TAG Heuer Aquaracer. Okay, that last one was just us trying to get the word out to TAG Heuer, and given what has happened this year around this product family, we consider ourselves heard. Our cover says everything about the Blancpain choice, and yes the 2020 model is completely sold-out.
On that note, a brief point about dive watches. Our recommendation remains to look to Omega for the Seamaster and Blancpain for the Bathyscaphe. There is no shortage (in general), and both represent great value in their segments — these are hardly secrets, but might be unfairly overlooked occasionally.
If you follow any social media or YouTube creators, then you do not need us to tell you that under-the-radar watches are possibly — and perversely — hotter than the most popular watches out there. Well, stories about them are. As noted elsewhere, if everyone could get their hands on a Rolex Oyster Perpetual (or perhaps we should say get Oyster Perpetuals on their wrists) there would be no need for endless bits of content pushing alternatives. This is not about vicissitudes though, because that would involve discussing form dress watches, which we are not doing here.
It is certainly a fact that the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are amongst the most desirable wristwatches, and both models are form watches. They differ from true form watches such as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso in that they do not use form movements. Both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus are popular for reasons beyond their shapes — it is really about what we call total watch design.
We are not proposing that all the Reverso needs is the right bracelet to have a breakthrough in terms of desirability. The Cartier Santos and the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo have excellent bracelet options and overall design, but neither are real challengers to the aforementioned kings of this segment. The real problems are of course perceived value, wrist-power, and the potential capital upside. That last one is laughable and we will not address it here, having spent part of the last 30 pages confronting it. No, our 2021 dark horse watches list includes pieces we think are great fun, especially when you want to strike a disruptive note in your circle of watch collecting friends. In other words, watches that would do some degree of what the Royal Oak and Nautilus did in the 1970s, and Richard Mille and Ulysse Nardin achieved in the early 2000s.
In doing this, we were challenged by our decision to avoid repeating brands. The pandemic era has only produced one devastating watch: the Tissot PRX, which we mention elsewhere and thus cannot repeat here either. Blancpain and Parmigiani Fleurier are well represented elsewhere, leaving us without two of our favourites here. That brings us to the subject many connoisseurs are discussing: independent watchmakers with very small production runs. Accordingly, we have selected some non-obvious (hopefully) options.
Some of the timepieces listed in this story are technically not watches released in 2021 but are whole collections that are notable for various reasons. We wanted to ensure availability, so we tried to offer broad options, while deliberately avoiding repeats (no Aquaracer variant this time, nor Greubel Forsey). We also wanted to highlight watches with a good degree of scarcity, which we think some models in the various collections do. Honourable mention must go to the brands listed in this introduction and some models in the previous section as well. We trust common sense will at least inform you which ones to exclude!
Breguet Marine Collection
Savvy watch collectors will know that Abraham-Louis Breguet was in the thick of things in terms of developing precision instruments for navigation at sea. That is what the Marine collection from the contemporary brand honours. It has thus always been in a different class to the dive watch, and helped Breguet and Blancpain differentiate their offerings from each other — both are owned by the Swatch Group and were managed directly (at one point) by the same person. The Breguet Marine collection also demonstrated that there were other ways to make watches inspired by old Big Blue. Major changes were made in 2018 to the design, chiefly to the lugs, that today make the Marine collection more appealing than ever.
We will follow our own advice and say that a seriously complicated model is what is called for here, even if we wholeheartedly recommend the entire collection. This is Breguet, after all, and you do not go to this brand in search of the toughest and most sturdy instrument you could take on an expedition to Venus. You come to Breguet for a horological adventure, and that is what you get with reference 5547, otherwise known as the Breguet Marine Alarm Musicale (pictured above). The alarm compilation here is quite distinctive, and it basically strikes a single note for roughly 15 seconds with a hammer and gong, at the appointed hour. So while it does not play a tune, it is still very different to the usual buzzing style that alarm complications typically feature.
Chanel Monsieur.Superleggera Edition
Of course, we had to choose a watch with a full stop in the name. A pioneer of gender-neutral watches, Chanel debuted the Monsieur model in 2016 as its first proper watch designed for men. The Chanel Calibre 1 powered that first watch, as it does here. As its name suggests, it was the first manufacture movement for the watchmaking arm of the storied brand. From the start, the watch was highly idiosyncratic, with an instantaneous jumping hour where a date window would typically appear, and a highly unusual 240-degree retrograde minute display. Since then, Chanel typically creates versions of this watch to match specific creative visions. Here it is racing machines, and thus the face of the watch has been gussied up to reference the speedometer. The resulting Superleggera Edition takes advantage of the Monsieur watch’s aesthetic properties.
We do not typically recommend facelifts, as such, but the Monsieur.Superleggera Edition fits right in here because this seems the perfect form for it. It was originally a much dressier watch; for all its gumption, it was a time-only two-hander. It was a watch for the insouciant gent of means, but now it presents a decidedly sportier character. Collectors interested in severe counter-programming might want both the original beige gold version and this new 42mm ceramic speed demon.
Gorilla Fastback Thunderbolt Chronograph
No, this has nothing to do with Bored Ape or NFTs, although maybe there is an angle for a future story there. Instead, what we have here is a study in transparency, smart and muscular design, and practical watchmaking. For those who are not aware — and there are many — Gorilla is Octavio Garcia’s outfit, which he established in 2016 upon leaving Audemars Piguet. The designer of one of our favourite watches for that brand, the MIllenary, he has since given his vision of watchmaking free reign. While it features various elements from Garcia’s time at Audemars Piguet, Gorilla watches are not quite like anything else; the Fastback Thunderbolt Chronograph adds a bit of a twist with the chronograph module from Dubois-Depraz.
This chronograph specialist has created modules for many brands, and its part in the resulting watches is a mention in the press release. Well, Gorilla takes a page out of the MB&F playbook and pays tribute to Dubois-Depraz by adding its badge to the face of the watch. Normally, modular chronographs do not even reveal their workings via the caseback, being mounted dial-side. Gorilla resolves this issue with a partially open dial that allows you to see what happens when you activate the chronograph (via those marvellously powerful pushers). You will want to see this 44mm mixed material watch in person, but it is limited to 99 pieces so you might have to settle for trying a similar Gorilla watch to get a feel for it.
H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner
Here then is a model that we cannot say for sure you will have any shot at, but the H. Moser & Cie Streamliner collection needed to make at least one appearance here. We can report that the case construction of this steel 42.3mm watch is a delight, as is the integrated bracelet. It is no understatement to call this one of the most comfortable watches to wear — the design and construction of the bracelet links themselves make for a great story.
According to the official website, the base model Centre Seconds is completely unavailable, leaving you with a couple of options, with the perpetual calendar version being the latest in this line. While both the chronograph and the perpetual calendar are quite distinctive for H. Moser & Cie, the perpetual calendar has a longer history with the manufacture. It can be argued that this complication is one of the things collectors would have known about H. Moser & Cie across various incarnations.
Whether you decide on the chronograph or the perpetual calendar, you can rest assured that H. Moser & Cie watches pass the scarcity test — the manufacture does use the tagline “Very Rare”, and it does not do so flippantly.
Longines Heritage Classic Sector
Given that we are suggesting a few alternatives to certain unattainable dive watches, this Longines showcases that exciting watches might be in the dress watch category. The Saint-Imier-based brand has gained a strong reputation for offering great value propositions, and it actually is without many competitors in the dress category. The watch we have selected here is one the team is quite enamoured with, and you have seen it more than once in our pages. This is exactly the sort of watch to offer a different perspective to the zeitgeist, which is somewhat ironic because it too expresses a fondness for the past.
For the Heritage Classic Sector, it is the 1930s, and there is a sense of both Art Deco and Bauhaus about the watch, contradictory though that may be. But of course, the most prominent design decisions here are the sectors and the truncated number 6. Both are deliberate, but the latter poses a challenge to the collector who must accept this is part of the watch’s character. Last year, Longines had the opportunity to do a variant that resolved this (and the logo) but kept it the same. We applaud that, because quirks that are just right make all the difference.
Moritz Grossmann Benu Heritage Tremblage
While we know Moritz Grossmann fairly well, it is a name that is not yet as famous as its neighbours in Glashutte. Yes, there is more to this Tremblage than meets the eye, but it stands on its own merits — or the merits of Glashutte as a whole. Seeing it — and imagining the texture — immediately marks the watch’s provenance. That such a traditional technique has been placed front and centre is a credit to the watchmakers at Moritz Grossmann, more so because they mastered this technique themselves; the firm produces this dial in-house. Certainly, the Tremblage model does not lack for authenticity.
Take a good long look at the Tremblage watch, which is a part of the Benu collection. Everything you see is hand-worked, and those numerals are not appliques. The solid German silver dial is a remarkable feat of traditional watchmaking, seen here with painstakingly engraved dimples. The numerals are actually carved out of the material, first by machine but then finished by hand. The high polish makes for a nice contrast with the textural dial, while matching the signature Moritz Grossmann hands. While the tremblage engraving technique was used for movements, historically, the calibre 100.1 has a more uniform granulated finish that contrasts nicely with the flourish of the engraved text and the elaborate engraving on the balance cock. Available in rose gold and steel, the Benu Heritage Tremblage is limited only by production.
Romain Gauthier Freedom Continuum
One of two selections here that may be relatively unfamiliar, Romain Gauthier is about as well known as F.P. Journe. We went for his eponymous watchmaking brand because the company or the man himself was involved in creating the movement for the Chanel watch also featured here. The inclusion of that watch tipped our hand towards Romain Gauthier, which happens to have a very cool watch with an even cooler name. It is a limited edition of 28, but considering the hand-finishing touches, the manufacture could never make many (in a reasonable time frame) anyway. Interestingly, this is the high-end sports watch desired by many collectors in many markets, right down to the play of shapes and finishes on the 41mm grade 5 titanium case and bezel.
This is a quirky watch with a quirky movement to boot — one that required extensive use of grade 5 titanium for the case, bezel, movement parts and even the dial. The rubber strap breaks things up, but finds a complementary touch on the crown featuring two rubber rings. The movement features one of the most interesting stop-seconds mechanisms we have encountered, using a cam system that kickstarts the balance when the movement restarts. We cannot go into further detail here, but we must note that Romain Gauthier is unrepresented in Singapore.
Tag Heuer Carrera 02 Tourbillon
This is not the first lap for this watch, which we have written about a few times now since its shocking debut in 2016. This version is a 2021 debut and thus allows us to make a few timely points about a watch that impressed us right off the bat. Of course, it remains the most accessible grand complication from a major watchmaker, even if its asking price has crept ever higher since its debut (which is not unusual for watches in general). In this particular version, limited to 250 pieces, the real story is in the blue dial. While TAG Heuer itself notes that this model has never featured a blue dial, it has rarely, if ever, featured a proper dial at all. That alone makes this limited edition in titanium with bracelet an intriguing proposition, but it is by no means the only thing.
TAG Heuer features the remnants of past visions and creatives, and the Carrera 02 Tourbillon is the most prominent. In fact, this is the only version still in production, but that may yet change. Carole Kasapi, Movements Director, is virtually synonymous with the tourbillon, and will undoubtedly want to make sweeping changes with this watch. It will probably stay in the collection, but in a different form. Note this version of the Carrera 02 Tourbillon with blue dial because it could be the most significant yet.
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