The international watch community (at least the one into mechanical watches) is a relatively small one, but a highly committed one. For example, you can bet your hairspring that they’re all glued to the new watches for 2021 that are being released right now at Watches & Wonders. They’re gazing lovingly at new pieces from the likes of Patek Philippe or Rolex or A. Lange & Söhne, or admiring wristshots from the global #watchfam on Instagram.
Loving watches has become an entirely online phenomenon now. This was increasingly the case even before covid-19 hit last year, and the pandemic has only hastened the transition. No wonder then that the 2021 edition of Watches & Wonders (April 7-13) is being held online (there will be an in-person event in Shanghai, but that’s super exclusive). The international watch fair, which is now the only one of its kind since the storied Baselworld has pretty much collapsed, has been on for just a day as I write this, but there has been some landmark releases already.
Take the Patek Philippe Nautilus, for instance. The beloved—and highly exclusive—steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet has been the most “un-Patek Philippe” watch that the brand has ever released. Designed in the late-70s by the legendary watch artist Gérald Genta, the Nautilus was the one watch that held the most value. The flagship steel Nautilus ref. 5711 had a decade-long waiting list and retailed for about $34,000 (about ₹25 lakh). In the secondary market it fetches 6 times that price. So anyway, Patek Philippe announced in January that it is discontinuing the Nautilus.
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Cue howls of outrage from around the world. And not just from the waitlisted customers, but also from watch aficionados who would never get closer to the Nautilus than via Instagram. On 7 April, as one of the first releases at the Watches & Wonders, Patek Philippe dropped a new Nautilus, the ref. 5711/1A-014, replacing the discontinued ref. 5711/1A-010. From the iconic blue dial of the latter, the new Nautilus has shifted to a gorgeous olive green dial. Everything else remains the same, including the price: $34,890 (about ₹25,86,000). Fair warning: even if you have that amount of cash, you’re unlikely to get it in retail. So save more. I’ll be admiring the Nautilus from afar, in two-dimensions, on a screen, like I always have. Also, green dials are now definitely a trend for 2021. I’m looking at you, Breitling, with your “pistachio” green handwound Premier Heritage B09 Chronograph!
And then, there’s Rolex. The world’s most important watch brand doesn’t believe in re-inventing the wheel with its new releases, unlike, say, the world’s other most important watch brand, Seiko. Rather, Rolex goes with small, incremental upgrades to its existing, iconic watches. And it’s no different this year. There have been three releases thus far. Of these, the most buzzy one is that of the new Rolex Explorer II. This famous GMT model watch was first introduced in 1971, aimed at spelunking enthusiasts. The new ref. 216570 gets Rolex’s in-house calibre 3285 automatic movement, an upgrade from the older 3186. Other than that, the new reference remains mostly the same, priced at $8,550 (about ₹6,33,750). There’s even been three new 36mm Datejusts with interesting dials. But my favourite is the new Explorer, which has been slimmed down to its classic 1950s 36mm case size. The ref. 124270, at $6,450 (about ₹4,78,000), is also less expensive than its immediate 39mm predecessor.
Till April 13, there will be many more watches to admire from afar, and there are already enough and more horological talking points for 2021. But even as I follow Hodinkee livetweeting with #watchesandwonders, I need to admire a watch ‘in the metal’ too. So, as I write this, I have on my wrist a sports watch with an integrated strap, a design icon on par with the Nautilus. The Casio G-Shock DW 5600-E, which, at about $59 (about ₹4,380), is the only watch you’ll ever need. But then again, when was loving watches anything to do with “need”?
Handwound is a fortnightly column on watches and watchmaking.