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It was a big year for watches but a bigger year for enthusiasts. Though the numbers pointed to a tough 2016 and early 2017 for the Swiss watch industry, things appear to be bouncing back, thanks in no small part to watchmakers actually adapting to the changes in the industry and acquiescing to enthusiast’s vocal complaints and desires.
For one, luxury brands, such as IWC, started to embrace e-commerce. Efforts to bring back beloved references and create more accurate vintage reissues were also in full force. But perhaps most exciting was a movement by brands to offer more value for money, in part advancing the science and art of watchmaking at universal price points.
The Marlin caused quite a stir upon its release in the fall. Not only is it Timex’s first hand-winder in decades, it’s one of the few mechanical watches you can get under $200. That’s not all, though — its design is a completely accurate recreation of the ’60s original. And while Timex’s affordable quartz watches have dominated the lower end of the market, a reentry into mechanical watches could ignite more enthusiasm from young buyers for mechanical timekeeping. Given the overwhelming popularity of the Marlin (it has already sold out twice, though there should be more on the way), it would make sense for Timex to pursue more heritage-inspired mechanical timepieces in 2018.
Tissot Everytime Swissmatic
Like Timex, Tissot made a bold entry into the affordable mechanical market this year with the Everytime Swissmatic. Coming in at under $400, it’s one of the cheapest Swiss automatics you can buy. Its movement is derived from the revolutionary Swatch Sistim51, which is made through a fully-autonomous process. While that movement appeared in the Swatch Sistim51 lineup, the Everytime Swissmatic is a more mainstream package given its slim proportions and Bauhaus aesthetic. Ultimately, we found the Everytime Swissmatic lacked some finer details when we reviewed it, but it’s a heartening sign that Swiss watchmakers realize the importance of building captivating entry-level mechanics for would-be enthusiasts.
Seiko Presage Collection
Seiko’s Presage collection technically debuted in the U.S. in 2016, but the brand expanded its lineup with some gorgeous additions this year. Seiko’s fairly utilitarian automatics make up the guts of this year’s new Presage additions but each one goes the extra mile regarding dial design and finishing — a remarkable feat, given that the industry has seemingly forgotten that dial textures can add so much to a watch’s personality. From the shimmering guilloche of the sub-$500 Cocktail Time to its $1,000 enamel dial watches, they show that you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a timepiece that looks like a piece of art.
Tudor Black Bay Heritage Chrono
As ETA seeks to end the sale of its movements to third-party watchmakers, it has left many among the industry looking for solutions. For some, that means simply finding another supplier. For others, it means making their own movements. And while the latter strategy has been Tudor’s go-to in recent years, it resorted to the former for its newest chronograph, the Black Bay Heritage. The source of that movement was also unexpected: Breitling, who supplied its Caliber B01. And while that forms the basis for this new movement, Tudor reworked it with its own winding rotor, finishing, regulating system and a silicon balance spring. It’s not an unprecedented move for two competing watchmakers to team up on a movement, but it is an inspired one in the face of ETA’s massive industry upheaval.
Tag Heuer Autavia
Tag Heuer has plenty of iconic racing chronographs in its archive. The Carrera. The Monaco. The Monza. But the Autavia might just be its most anticipated comeback yet. The original was a fixture in the ’60s and ’70s racing scene, and Tag Heuer managed to wring out as much hype with the revival as it could with a tournament-style vote-athon to determine which reference should make a comeback. Unsurprisingly, the winner was wholly deserving: the reference 2446, famously worn by F1 driver Jochen Rindt. While the watch isn’t exactly an exact recreation (it’s ballooned quite a bit), many enthusiasts have been waiting years for this vaunted watch.
1957 was a big year for Omega — it saw the release of three of its most iconic watches: the Speedmaster, the Seamaster and the Railmaster. For the 60th anniversary of all three, Omega pulled out all the stops. Using a digital scanning technology, the brand was able to recreate the look and feel of the ’57 originals. The result is a trio of watches that truly feels ripped out of the ’50s. Case diameters are reserved and the dials all have faint “tropical” patina and warm, beige markers that take on the look of faded radium lume. Many watchmakers try to recreate their past glories but Omega’s trilogy is perhaps the most faithful recreation we’ve seen all year.
Cartier Drive de Cartier Extra Flat
Cartier is a brand with serious horological pedigree, especially when it comes to its watch case designs (its rectangular Tank models are iconic). That said, it’s always had something of a crusty air amoung young watch buyers. The Drive de Cartier Extra Flat, though, might be the watch that proves Cartier can still reinvent the case. It maintains the brand’s signature Roman numeral-adorned dial design but comes in a thin, squircle case that gives the brand’s traditional look new life.
Compared to last year’s bombshell release of the new Daytona, Rolex’s 2017 Baselworld announcements felt mum. Still, the re-introduction of the Sea-Dweller was a show-stopper. Its looks are based on the early “Single Red” reference, and, as such, it features a single line of red text — it’s the first time a Sea-Dweller has gotten red text since the 1970s. It has a helium escape valve (the original was a pioneer of this feature) and though the watch features a controversial date magnifier on the crystal (Sea-Dwellers have never had this), few can argue against the fact that it’s a return to form for one of the coolest professional watches ever made.
A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Mérite
If you love watches, you almost certainly love A Lange. & Söhne. At the end of the day, the brand doesn’t let complexity get in the way of elegance and the Tourbograph Perpetual Pour Le Mérite is the sort of logical conclusion to that ethos. Depite the fact that it combines a split-seconds chronograph, a perpetual calendar (with a moonphase indicator) and a tourbillon with a fusée and chain mechanism (which feeds constant energy from the barrel to the going train for superior accuracy), it’s all laid out in an achingly-beautiful configuration with gorgeous, exclusive-to-Glashütte finishings.
Zenith Defy Lab
While watchmakers have managed to insight small, incremental advances in mechanical movements, on the whole, the basic principles of mechanical watchmaking have remained the same for hundreds of years, utilizing a traditional balance spring escapement. Zenith’s Defy, though, is genuinely a rethinking of that mechanism. It replaces the entire escapement — which normally comprises some 30 parts — with one large, single silicon disk oscillating at a rapid 108,000 beats per hour. The result is a mechanical watch accurate to within 0.3 seconds per day, which greatly outpaces even certified chronometers.