2022 is nearly a month old now, and we’re still in the slow winter days of watch news. There will be a fresh glut of new watches in a month or two, certainly around the time Watches & Wonders rolls around. But till then, it’s slim pickings. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some excellent new releases already. We’ve already seen some lovely new pieces from Grand Seiko, Oris and Zenith, for example, as well as a faithful vintage re-issue from Porsche Design and a vintage-themed new chronograph from TAG Heuer.
The Grand Seiko is easily the pick of the bunch for me. It’s a new version of 2021’s award-winning White Birch, a watch that exemplified how the Japanese luxury manufacture has taken the art of dial design to a whole other level. 2021’s SLGH005 was powered by an in-house Hi-Beat automatic movement, while the new SLGA009 houses the famous Caliber 9RA2 Spring Drive.
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A technological breakthrough that Grand Seiko is renowned for, the Spring Drive movement fuses together a quartz and a mechanical movement to create marvellously accurate timekeeping, along with a deliciously smooth sweeping seconds hand. The Spring Drive, paired with the breathtaking textured dial of the White Birch (inspired by the white birch forests near the GS studio in Shinsu, Japan), we probably already have one of 2022’s big releases.
The other big news is that of an absence. One of the most iconic and popular watches is no more. The Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, which was discontinued a year ago, is finally off the manufacture’s books. 2021 was a bit of a victory lap for the luxury sports watch that was launched in 1976. First, we saw the green dial ref. 5711/1A-014 launched in April. Then came the Tiffany-blue dial variant in December, the limited edition ref. 5711/1A-018. But it’s unlikely that Patek is going to retire it for good. We can probably expect to see a new reference number this year, maybe even with a new movement. The waiting list, for those who can afford the Nautilus, is likely to remain as long as ever.
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Speaking of the Nautilus, 2022 marks an important year for that watch’s designer, the legendary Gérald Genta. He revolutionised the concept of the luxury steel sports watch with the Nautilus, and equally famously, with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, and the manufacture just announced a new 39mm Royal Oak Ref. 16202 with a new extra-thin movement (Cal. 7124) in stainless steel, platinum, pink and yellow gold variants. AP has announced that it will release a slew of anniversary models through the year, including a 37mm model as well as a Royal Oak chronograph in 39mm and 41mm.
With the Royal Oak, Genta had created a new design vocabulary for sports watches that continues to this day. Take a look at any watch featuring an integrated bracelet, prominent bezels, polygonal or quadrangular shapes, and the lineage of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus is clear. In May, Genta’s personal Royal Oak will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in Geneva, along with many of the original sketches for the many watches that he designed in his lifetime. Given how ubiquitous 1970’s inspired integrated bracelet sports watches have become in the past few years, such styles may well blow up into a full-blown trend.
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Let’s not forget another similar design from Genta, which also made its debut in 1976, the original IWC Ingenieur. Given the fact that we haven’t seen an Ingenieur since 2017, could this be the year for a new one?
Released in 1977, and while not designed by Genta, Swiss luxury manufacture Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas was an answer to the Nautilus. Designed by Jorg Hysek, the Overseas (or, the 222 as it was called then, a reference to the number of years Vacheron Constantin had been in the watch business), was a huge hit. These days, you can take your pick from over 15 references and styles—from a chronograph to a perpetual calendar. And given the fact that the Overseas turns 45 this year, I won’t be surprised if there’s a new model this year.
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It will also be interesting to see what Rolex come up with this year. 2021 was an interesting year for the brand. It refreshed iconic lines like the Explorer and the Explorer II with the latest movements. This leaves just a few other lines that still need a movement refresh, including the Milgauss. The availability (or the lack there of) and skyrocketing prices of Rolex watches remain something of a joke, but hey, Rolex remains in robust health so, who cares, right?
Away from the big-ticket watch releases, there are a few things industry watchers will be looking to get some answers on in 2022. Will watch auctions continue to become more popular and break more records? Will the vintage watch market continue its boom? Will China continue to become more important as a global market? Will the demand for mechanical watches stabilise in the face of the continuing rise in the popularity of smartwatches?
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We sure will find out later this year. Finally, to end this column, here’s a personal wish. Will someone, somewhere, make an affordable 38-39mm automatic dive watch? Usually when it comes to value propositions, one can count on a brand like Seiko to deliver. But despite over 200 watch releases last year, the Japanese giant’s best dive watch offering remains the SPB14x range, each of which are a hefty 40.5mm in diameter. And coming in at about ₹98,000 in retail for the SPB143, it isn’t exactly what I would call affordable. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Handwound is a fortnightly column on watches and watchmaking.