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Why 2021 was an excellent year for luxury watch designs

From the vintage-inspired to the cutting edge, take a look back at some fantastic watches that were released in 2021

The Grand Seiko White Birch, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo.
The Grand Seiko White Birch, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo. (Narender Pal Singh)

When I began this column in April, I did so simply for a lark. I’ve been into watches since I was a teenager, with a Timex Expedition, and later, a Timex Tank being my go-to timepieces for the best part of my college days and work life. Over the years, I’d also inherited my father’s humble but lovely Sonata, and a couple of lovely HMT’s—one a quartz Galaxy, and the other, a mechanical Janata. But since the covid-19 lockdowns began in March last year, I started going further down the rabbit hole of watches, collecting, selling, reading and watching all I could about watches and all things horological.

Now, I’m no expert, but I am a journalist and journalists are generally pretty good at educating themselves on the fly, despite work deadlines. As I’ve said before, I write this column as a watch enthusiast, and if you’re one as well, you must agree that 2021 has been a pretty interesting year. A second year of the pandemic saw the watch world being affected in unprecedented ways, from watch fairs like Watches & Wonders going entirely online, to the continuing growth of online watch auctions.

Also Read: Swiss luxury watches and the watch auction boom

Beyond these shifts in the industry, there was a lot to admire in terms of watch designs. The biggest trend, of course, was that of green dial watches. Starting with a bunch of releases at Watches & Wonders, 2021 went all in for green. From the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-014 to the Rolex Datejust ref. 126200 with the palm leaf motif, and the Breitling Premier Heritage B09 Chronograph, the variety of green on offer just showed how far watch consumers have come from traditional black, white and silver dials. Even the once bold blue dial seems tame compared to this. But of all the green dials, the most striking was the Grand Seiko SBGW275. A time-only, hand-wound marvel, part of a trio of limited edition pieces, the 275’s exquisitely crafted bluish-green textured dial took my breath away. 

Speaking of which, there was some green in my collection as well this year. I’d bought the Seiko Presage Limited Edition SRPF41 ‘Matcha’ after being blown away by its delicately textured dial, evoking green tea leaves. A dress watch with a perfect 38.5mm case, it was a delight to wear. But I had my eyes on another green-dial Seiko, the SPB155 Alpinist. Around the middle of the year, I sold the Matcha to a friend and brought in the Alpinist. It now holds pride of place in my #greenwatchthursday posts on Instagram, and like a true sportswatch, accompanied me recently on a Himalayan trek.

Also Read: Taking the Seiko Alpinist on a Himalayan trek

There were some other design standouts this year as well, especially the Grand Seiko SLGH005 White Birch, and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo, both of which won Grand Prix D’Horologerie De Geneve awards in November. The White Birch, a Grand Seiko knockout with its textured dial, evoking white birch trees from near the brand’s Studio Shizokuishi in Japan, won the Men’s Watch Prize. The Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar ref. 103200, the world’s slimmest mechanical watch, won the prestigious “Aguille d’Or” Grand Prix. A wonder of miniaturisation, the titanium case Octo Finissimo definitely sets the standard for what’s possible in modern watchmaking. 

My personal favourite among the winners, though, was the superlative Zenith Chronomaster Sport, probably the most stunning chronograph watch released this year. Featuring a new El Primero caliber 3600 movement, the Chronomaster Sport remains true to Zenith’s first automatic chronograph from 1969, while offering better functionality and robust modern materials in its construction. It’s a gorgeous watch as well, with its black ceramic bezel and the overlapping sub dials. If I had $10,000 to spare in some alternate universe, this is the watch I’d buy.

Also Read: Does the do-it-all watch exist?

The Zenith was released in January. The same month saw the release of another storied chronograph, the new Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. This is an iconic line, in continuous production since 1957, and renowned for being the first watch worn on the moon. Omega seems to come out with a new Speedmaster nearly every other year, but the classic Moonwatch was due a refresh. And boy did it tick all the boxes, especially the new movement (the in-house Calibre 3861) and an excellent new bracelet. The watch is available in the more traditional hesalite crystal or a modern sapphire crystal with the see-through caseback. 

The year has been something of a triumph for Omega. The manufacture’s Seamaster Aqua Terra line has become firmly established as the best-in-class luxury sportswatch, a fact that was brought home during the Tokyo Olympics. I lost count of the number of athletes wearing Aqua Terras while jumping, running or sailing. In November, the brand registered an auction success, when a Speedmaster ref. CK2915-1 from 1957 sold for a whopping CHF 3,115,500 at Phillips Auction House in Geneva, way over the estimated auction price of CHF 80,000-120,000.

Also Read: The watches that athletes wore at the Tokyo Olympics 

2021 was also a great year for boutique watch brands. It’s a pity that, given their small size, these brands aren’t available in India. It’s also prohibitively expensive to have them shipped to the country due to the heavy duty fees. But I would say there’s definitely a market for them here. Such brands offer exceptional value for money, with the likes of Baltic, Anordain and Lorier releasing affordable watches with stunning looks and specifications that you just can’t get from mainstream brands. I, for one, would love to get my hands on the Lorier Neptune III diver. Who knows, maybe next year, I will. 

Handwound is a fortnightly column on watches and watchmaking.

Also Read: Why do we need mechanical watches in 2021?

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