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The Best Watches of 2011

Elegant styling, profound complications and tributes to classic models mark our annual best-in-show top-10 list of wristwatches.
Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

(continued from page 1)

This is obviously not an easy thing to master, and up to now not one watch company has been able to do it properly without overcrowding the dial—and making it rather illegible.

Powered by a full in-house automatic movement, it is available in an elegant 42.5-mm rose gold-case and water-resistant to 30 meters ($45,500).

Urwerk UR-110

This boutique brand has thus far manufactured watches that defy any form of conventionality. The brand is a proponent of a bold look that either grabs the potential wearer or leaves him cold. Fence-sitters are rare when it comes to Urwerk, but if there are any out there, they will probably be convinced by the newest twist on time that Urwerk’s watchmaker/designer duo has come up with: the UR-110.

One of the coolest attributes of the 110, which is nicknamed the Torpedo, is that its time display has been turned to the side so that it beautifully peeks out from underneath one’s cuff. It will no doubt draw attention there—what the wearer of an Urwerk is after anyway. The sideways time display takes such elements from the UR-203’s display as planetary gearing and “satellite” displays that twist and turn in a seemingly complicated manner to appropriately display the right hour
numeral at the right time.

“The beauty of the UR-110 is in its apparent simplicity,” explained watchmaker and company cofounder Felix Baumgartner. “Among the challenges posed by this complication was working out the optimal architecture for supporting the central carousel and the rotating hour modules. We finally opted for a technical solution that is radically different from any of our other creations: instead of ball bearings, a fixed axis runs the full height of the watch, providing maximum rigidity and minimum play. The whole complication is perfectly balanced on this axis.” This can be fully appreciated through the panoramic sapphire crystal, including the so-called control board, which is usually found on the back of an Urwerk. The control board found at the bottom of the dial space boasts a day/night indicator as well as one telling the owner when it’s time for an “oil change” (i.e., servicing) in addition to subsidiary seconds.

The UR-110, powered by Urwerk’s automatic Caliber 9.01, is available in a 47 x 51 x 16-mm case and water-resistant to 30 meters. It comes in Grade 5 titanium ($102,000) and AlTiN ($115,000), an industrially applied titanium aluminum nitride alloy that not only has the effect of multiplying the underlying metal’s resistance to scratches, shocks, oxidation and even acids, but shimmers with a brownish-purplish color.

TAG Heuer Monza Calibre 36

TAG Heuer has spent the last few years introducing concept watches, limited editions and interesting high horology. It is a strategy intended to lift the brand up out of the ranks of mass-market and finally bring it to a place where it can be more widely appreciated.

Last year, TAG Heuer outdid itself with an haute horlogerie concept watch called the Pendulum. Though it is not close to serial readiness, the sheer ingenuity of it had the industry abuzz at a time when it was sorely needed. Calibre 1887, a robust in-house movement, also added to the allure of the brand. This year during each of the two major fairs, TAG Heuer presented extraordinary chronographs not destined to land on all wrists: the limited edition Carrera Mikrograph introduced during the SIHH can measure 1/100th of a second; and the concept watch Mikrotimer Flying 1000—for which the brand called a special press conference during Baselworld attended by hundreds of journalists and broadcast live all over the world—can measure 1/1000th of a second (if your eye can follow).

The strategy is good: more luxury watch enthusiasts are paying closer attention to TAG Heuer than ever before, and what they will find is eminently appealing: last year’s anniversary Monacos were among the hottest watches of the season, a real sight for sore eyes during the economic downturn. This year, it is a Monza that caught the regular guy’s eye, and this limited edition of 1,911 pieces (the number symbolizes the year Heuer’s Time of Trip was patented, the world’s first dashboard chronograph) is a real beauty.

Originally introduced in the 1930s, the Monza sets itself apart with its round dial within a cushion-shaped case. The 38-mm stainless-steel model also nods to company history by featuring the brand’s original Heuer logo as opposed to the TAG logo that the brand has used since its takeover by Techniques d’Avantgarde in 1985 (it was subsequently sold to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 1999). It retails for $6,500.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande
Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute
to 1931 U.S. Edition

This year may have seen the appearance of more thin, elegant dress watches than in the last 10 combined, with most of them classically round. But Jaeger-LeCoultre has decided to pay homage to the style in its own way, with its iconic rectangular art deco Reverso model, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. This case also swivels 180 degrees to reveal a case back that can be decorated as the wearer chooses: engraving, enamel, or just plain nothing other than case back—the choice allows the wearer to make his or her Reverso truly personal.

The words Tribute to 1931 in the watch’s name refer to the year of its birth. Eighty years ago, in 1931, it first arrived to grace the wrists of polo players. They could swivel the case to avoid crystals smashed by racing polo balls. This evergreen watch model enjoys consistent updating of details so that it never looks old-fashioned or outdated. A super touch is the simple “LeCoultre” logo on the elegant dial, which recalls the fact that the company was known in the U.S. only by this name until the 1980s.

The Reverso is as much part of the past of this company as the future, and this model embodies the best in the present. The stainless-steel case, which measures 46 x 27.5 mm, is only 7.6 mm in height, thanks in great part to an in-house, manually wound movement with a height of only 2.9 mm. A 45-hour power reserve is controlled by the company’s unique thousand-hour quality control system applied to every piece that leaves the factory.

Polo buffs will appreciate not only the classic good looks of this exceptional watch, but the exclusive Eduardo Fagliano cordovan leather strap manufactured by hand in Argentina. Fagliano is an Argentinean maker of polo boots, kneepads and accessories as well as bespoke boots, jodhpurs and shoes. Casa Fagliano began its more-than-a-century-old history by manufacturing shoes for simple people. Across three generations, the Fagliano family’s clients have become polo players, famous actors, military dignitaries, kings and nobility.

The Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 U.S. Edition will be available in a non-numbered edition of 2,011 pieces for $7,250.

Elizabeth Doerr, who published Twelve Faces of Time: Horological Virtuosos, is a writer based in Germany.


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