Why 2021 has been a great year for luxury watch designs


When I started this column in April, I did it just for a lark. I’ve loved watches since I was a teenager, with a Timex expedition, and later a Timex tank being my go-to timepiece for the best part of my college days and work life. Over the years, I had also inherited my father’s humble but charming Sonata, and a few adorable HMTs, one a quartz Galaxy and the other a mechanical Janata. But since the covid-19 lockdowns started in March of last year, I’ve started to dig deeper into the watch den, collect, sell, read and watch all I could about watches and everything related to watchmaking.

Now I’m no expert, but I’m a journalist, and journalists are usually good enough to learn on the fly, despite the delays in the job. As I said before, I write this column as a watch enthusiast, and if you are too, you have to agree that 2021 has been a pretty interesting year. A second year of the pandemic has seen the world of watchmaking be affected in unprecedented ways, from watch fairs like Fully Online Watches & Wonders, to the continued growth in online watch auctions.

Read also: Swiss luxury watches and the watch auction boom

Beyond these changes in the industry, there was a lot to admire in terms of watch design. The biggest trend, of course, was for green dial watches. Starting with a bunch of Watches & Wonders releases, 2021 has gone all-out for green. From the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 / 1A-014 to the Rolex Datejust ref. 126200 with the palm leaf pattern, and the Breitling Premier Heritage B09 chronograph, the variety of green on offer just shows how far away watch consumers are from the traditional black, white and silver dials. Even the once daring blue dial looks tame compared to this one. But of all the green dials, the most striking was the Grand Seiko SBGW275. A once in a lifetime hand-wound wonder, part of a trio of limited edition pieces, the 275’s beautifully crafted blue-green textured dial took my breath away.

Speaking of which, there was also green in my collection this year. I 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 pleasure to wear. But I had my eyes fixed on another Seiko with a green dial, the SPB155 Alpinist. Around the middle of the year, I sold the Matcha to a friend and brought the Alpinist. It now occupies a prominent place in my #greenwatchthursday posts on Instagram, and like a real sports watch, recently accompanied me on a Himalayan trek.

Also read: Take the Seiko Alpinist on a trek in the Himalayas

There were other notable designs this year as well, most notably the Grand Seiko SLGH005 White Birch and the Bulgari Octo Finissimo, both of which won the Grand Prix d’Horologerie De Geneve in November. The White Birch, a Grand Seiko knockout with its textured dial, evoking the white birch trees around the brand’s Studio Shizokuishi in Japan, won the men’s watch award. The Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar ref. 103200, the thinnest mechanical watch in the world, won the prestigious Grand Prix de l’Aiguille d’Or. A marvel of miniaturization, the Octo Finissimo titanium case definitely sets the standard for what is possible in modern watchmaking.

My favorite among the winners, however, was the superlative Zenith Chronomaster Sport, possibly the most stunning chronograph watch released this year. Equipped with a new El Primero caliber 3600 movement, the Chronomaster Sport remains faithful to Zenith’s first automatic chronograph from 1969, while offering better functionality and robust modern materials in its construction. It’s a gorgeous watch too, with its black ceramic bezel and overlapping sub-dials. If I had $ 10,000 to sell in an alternate universe, this is the watch I would buy.

Read also: Does the all-purpose watch exist?

The Zenith was released in January. The same month saw the release of another legendary chronograph, the new Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. It is an iconic line, in continuous production since 1957, and renowned for being the first watch worn on the moon. Omega seems to release a new Speedmaster almost every two years, but the classic Moonwatch needed a refresh. And my boy ticked all the boxes, especially the new movement (the manufacture caliber 3861) and a great new bracelet. The watch is available in more traditional hesalite crystal or modern sapphire crystal with transparent back.

The year has been a sort of triumph for Omega. The manufacture’s Seamaster Aqua Terra line has firmly established itself as the best luxury sports watch in its class, a fact that was remembered during the Tokyo Olympics. I have lost count of the number of athletes wearing Aqua Terras while jumping, running or sailing. In November, the brand was successful at auction, when a Speedmaster ref. CK2915-1 from 1957 sold for a whopping CHF 3,115,500 at Phillips Auction House in Geneva, well above the estimated auction price of CHF 80,000 to 120,000.

Read also: The watches worn by athletes at the Tokyo Olympics

2021 was also an excellent year for boutique watch brands. Too bad that given their small size, these brands are not available in India. It is also prohibitive to have them shipped within the country due to the high fees. But I would say there is definitely a market for them here. These brands offer exceptional value for money, like Baltic, Anordain, and Lorier, which offer affordable watches with stunning looks and specifications that you just can’t get from mainstream brands. For my part, I would love to get my hands on diver Lorier Neptune III. Who knows, maybe next year I will.

Manual winding is a bimonthly chronicle on watches and watchmaking.

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


Evelyn C. Tobin