This year's Swiss watch fairs were naturally buzzing about the much anticipated spring release of the Apple Watch and what it will mean for the traditional watch market. Several luxury brands announced their own "smart" responses, which we will cover in a later issue. Nevertheless, those who truly appreciate fine mechanical watchmaking won't be trading in their treasures for the latest disposable gadget any time soon.
Among the thousands of watches released each year, a handful stand apart from the crowd for various reasons. Perhaps they break new technical ground and advance the state of the art or maybe the design is strikingly avant-garde or beautifully timeless. Many other timepieces caught our attention, but these are the 15 that rose above the rest.
Breguet Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon
Breguet marked the 10th anniversary of its flagship Tradition collection with a number of technological heavy hitters, including the new Tradition Répétition Minutes Tourbillon ($460,700), which reworks a complication invented before electricity.
The musical minute repeater, which chimes the hours, quarter hours, and minutes with tiny hammers striking thin wire gongs on demand, remains one of the most challenging complications. Breguet's master watchmakers audaciously decided to build a 21st-century version from scratch.
Rather than tune a mechanism to achieve the desired sound, they started by selecting two ideal tones from about 100,000 synthesized samples and built the watch to optimally reproduce them. The gong springs were completely reconceived to spread across the watch on top of the movement, instead of encircling the dial. They were then attached to a sound-radiating bezel for heightened amplification. The striking mechanism, which is easily and safely activated with a push piece, is also unprecedented. The hammers strike the gongs vertically from beneath rather than horizontally along the periphery of the movement. Even the quarter song was rewritten with the second quarter notes striking low to high instead of the usual high to low. A sapphire crystal case back reveals the movement's intricate construction, fully visible thanks to a peripheral winding system. breguet.com
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater
For its first pure minute repeater, A. Lange & Söhne went decimal, a natural choice for the watch's digital time display. Traditional minute repeaters that sound hours, quarter hours, and minutes are designed for how we read analog watch dials. Only a decimal striking system would chime the time as you read it on the dial of the Zeitwerk ($467,700). A low-pitched tone chimes the hours, followed by a double tone for each 10-minute period, and a high tone for each minute.
A. Lange developed a push button to activate the striking mechanism. A safety system protects the movement from damage should the user attempt to set the time during the chiming sequence. A time-delay system pauses the switching of the numeric discs until the chiming sequence has finished, allowing the timing function to immediately catch up. Another system prevents the power-hungry striking mechanism from activating when the 36-hour power reserve drops to 12. Transmitting the sound through a waterproof platinum case is a challenge. While the piece has been criticized for its low decibels, the brand prefers to play up the purity and sweetness of the music it makes. alange-soehne.com
Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph
Patek Philippe's Ref. 5370 split-seconds chronograph is powered by the brand's in-house designed, developed and crafted chronograph movement that debuted in 2009. A split-seconds chronograph allows you to time separate events that start together but do not end together. The chronograph's two center hands will run together until you stop the flyback hand, allowing you to record an intermediate time while the chronograph hand continues timing. The Ref. 5370 ($249,500) is operated with two pushers for the start, stop and reset functions and an on/off button in the crown for the split-seconds function.
Underneath the masculine black enamel dial beats the manually wound CHR 29-535 PS movement, featuring a traditional construction with a column wheel and horizontal clutch system, further enhanced by patented technical innovations that maximize timekeeping performance. patek.com
Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon
Don't be fooled by its old-fashioned appearance. Ulysse Nardin's Anchor Tourbillon ($89,400 in rose gold, and $93,600 in white gold), the product of eight years of research and development, has an escapement made entirely of silicon and capitalizes on the elasticity of the flat silicon springs. The result is a friction-free constant force escapement.
The 60-second tourbillon, with a cage that weighs 0.4 grams, achieves constant amplitude regardless of how much energy is stored in the barrels. The payoff is heightened accuracy. Ulysse Nardin will produce 18 pieces each in a rose gold or white gold Classico case with an old-world white Grand Feu enamel dial. ulysse-nardin.com
Hermès Slim d'Hermès Perpetual Calendar
This year's Slim d'Hermès collection has an entirely fresh face thanks to original typography designed by Parisian graphic designer Philippe Apeloig. The lines that form the dial's stylized numerals are broken up with white space lending an airy quality to the dial. Slim d'Hermès ventures into complicated territory with a 39.5 mm perpetual calendar ($38,900). Hermès is one of a handful of fashion brands that have genuine watchmaking credibility, thanks to its ownership stake in movement maker Vaucher. Vaucher developed the base movement, which is fitted with a perpetual calendar module by the specialty house Agenhor to create a perpetual calendar movement measuring only 4 mm thick.
The perpetual calendar function, which adjusts for varying-length months and leap years, is beautifully complemented with a moon-phase display in mother-of-pearl on an aventurine glass sky, in addition to a dual-time display. And yet, for all the function this watch packs, its form remains pure and beautiful. hermes.com
Piaget Altiplano Chronograph
Piaget flaunted its 50-year-plus legacy in ultra-thin watchmaking with the Altiplano Chronograph ($28,600), the world's thinnest manual winding chronograph. Watchmakers pared down every component of the new 883P movement to achieve a thickness of only 4.65 mm in an elegant contemporary case measuring a mere 8.24 mm thick. The flyback chronograph function allows you to reset the chronograph hands to zero and immediately start timing again with the single push of a button, rather than having to stop the hands first before resetting. The technical achievement is beautifully enhanced with traditional hand-finishing techniques including circular Côtes de Genève, a circular-grained mainplate, beveled bridges, sunburst wheels and blued screws. piaget.com
Vacheron Constantin Harmony Ultra-Thin Split Second Chronograph
Vacheron Constantin marks its 260th anniversary with the Harmony collection, tracing its distinctive retro design to one of the brand's first chronograph wristwatches from 1928. Powered by new movements, the six limited-edition models include the Harmony Ultra-Thin Split Second Chronograph ($339,000 in platinum) the thinnest automatic split-seconds chronograph in the world, its movement measuring 5.2 mm thick within the 8.40-mm-thick, cushion-shaped case. The brand's most skilled and experienced Geneva watchmakers were called upon to assemble the Caliber 3500's 459 parts in the tight space. The automatic movement is wound by a peripheral oscillating weight, a first for the brand. It not only slims down the watch's profile but also provides an unimpeded view of the beautifully hand-finished and decorated movement through the sapphire crystal case back. vacheronconstantin.com
Angelus U10 Tourbillon Lumière
This year's reintroduction of a bygone brand makes an aesthetic splash. Founded in 1891, Angelus would fall victim to the '70s-era quartz crisis, but not before earning a reputation for chronograph, multi-complication and alarm wristwatches. Angelus has been revived by movement maker La Joux-Perret. The radical U10 Tourbillon Lumière ($110,000) design concept references the multi-display travel clocks that Angelus made in the mid-20th century, interpreted with the sculptural minimalism of '60s and '70s German and Italian industrial design pioneers Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso. The oblong case takes design cues from '60s-era televisions.
The watch's movement has been deconstructed, separating the large pocket-watch-style flying tourbillon on one side from the time display with deadbeat seconds on the other and the linear power reserve on the side of the case. As the name implies, the transparent sapphire crystal case allows light to flow through and illuminate the spinning tourbillon in its vitrine. Angelus will produce 25 pieces, and we look forward to seeing how it will follow up its first 21st-century watch. angelus-watches.com
MB&F celebrates its 10th anniversary with a special limited-edition collection, the HMX (about $30,000). Max Busser's childhood dream of designing cars is evident in this stainless steel and titanium driving watch in four colored limited editions: Lotus Black, Ferrari Red, Bugatti Blue and British Racing Green. The bidirectional jumping hours with trailing-minutes time display is vertically positioned on the edge of the case for easy legibility. The numbers on two rotating discs on the top of the watch are reflected at 90 degrees and projected to the vertical windows by two sapphire crystal optical prisms. The transparent hood that covers the engine allows light to pass through to illuminate the display. mbandf.com
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
Known for value-driven, classic tool watches, Oris plucked a piece from its 1965 archive and faithfully reproduced it as the Divers Sixty-Five ($1,850). Oris preserved the vintage watch's aesthetic, but endowed it with modern know-how and technology. First, the case was upsized to 40 mm and made from anticorrosive stainless steel. The unidirectional rotating bezel has a black aluminum inlay with a 60-minute scale. To enhance legibility, the retro bubble-curved glass is made of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal coated with an antireflective finish, and the luminous hands and indexes on the curved dial are filled with "Light Old Radium" Super-LumiNova. Water-resistant down to 10 bar/100 meters, the Divers Sixty-Five is powered by the automatic Oris Calibre 733, which is based on the reliable Sellita SW200. oris.ch
Nomos Tangente Automatik
The German watchmaker Nomos, regarded for high-value movements made in the historic Saxon watchmaking center of Glashütte, has introduced a new ultra-thin version of its flagship Tangente ($3,780) powered by a new automatic movement.
The Bauhaus-tinged Tangente has collected more than 40 awards since it was designed in 1992 with its pure lines and graphic dial. Until now, however, it was only available in a manually winding version.
Engineers built the DUW 3001 without adding parts to the top of the movement, instead inserting them between the base plate and three-quarter plate, adding only 0.3 mm to the thickness of its manual sibling. They also shaved the production tolerance for components in half, ensuring that the slim movement maintains excellent precision. nomos-glashuette.com
Bremont Jaguar MKI
Bremont's collaboration with Jaguar seems a match made in Anglophile heaven. This year, Bremont is democratizing last year's strictly limited Lightweight E-Type Chronometers by producing two new models, the MKI three-hand watch and MKII chronograph, in stainless steel.
Last year, Bremont announced that it was producing six Lightweight E-Type Chronometers, one for each of the reproduction Lightweight E-Type automobiles that Jaguar has been building to reprise its '60s-era aluminum sports car. Each aluminum and white gold watch was paired to one of the cars, sharing a number printed on the dial with the automobile's VIN (vehicle identification number). The watches (at about $40,000) were offered first to those who paid nearly $1.7 million for a car.
Evoking the car's tachometer, the stainless steel MKI ($10,950) resembles the limited edition and shares the same engine. The caliber BWC/01, which powered the brand's Wright Flyer, incorporates some British-made parts into a La Joux-Perret base movement. Date windows at 6 o'clock set both models apart from the limited edition. bremont.com
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master
Much like Patek Philippe's new pilot watch, Rolex's black and 18K Everose gold Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master ($24,950, at 40 mm) raised eyebrows with a design departure clearly targeted to a younger audience.
The powerhouse brand developed and patented the new Oysterflex bracelet that marries the durability of a metal bracelet with the comfort of black elastomer, which resembles rubber. At the bracelet's core is a highly flexible titanium and nickel alloy metal blade that is molded over with the resistant and robust black elastomer. A cushioning system on the inside of the bracelet stabilizes the position of the watch on the wrist.
Available in 40-mm and 37-mm sizes, the Yacht-Master's signature rotating bezel has also been updated with a new Cerachrom insert in black ceramic with its raised numerals and graduations highly polished to create a contrast against the matte-finish base. The black dial is also a first in the Yacht-Master line, which is sure to attract a new style-conscious fan base with its fashionable good looks. rolex.com
Cartier Clé de Cartier
The Clé de Cartier collection was designed to follow the Santos, Tank and Ballon Bleu as Cartier's next pillar, exuding the Paris house's famous penchant for elegance. Clé is also intended for volume with 22 models for men and women in three sizes—40 mm, 35 mm and 31 mm—with white gold, rose gold and yellow gold cases. Designers were asked to create a fresh form based on a circle. Its perfectly round dial is set in an elongated ovoid case. The case is also ergonomically curved on the back to cradle the wrist. Clé (key in French) is named for its crown, with an elongated sapphire that pulls out and pivots to wind and set the time with a motion similar to turning the key of a clock or pocket watch movement.
Clé also marks the debut of a new Cartier movement, the automatic 1847 MC. It is a workhorse engine designed for volume production that will eventually free Cartier from dependence on ETA (the Swiss manufacturer of movements that is owned by the Swatch Group).
With prices starting at $18,800 for the men's rose gold model on leather strap (shown), the Clé is taking some criticism from a value point of view, but a more approachable and aggressively priced stainless steel model could help target it to a broader audience. cartier.com
Without the precision to measure minutes, the earliest watches had only one hand to track the elapsing hours. Later, regulator styles were dominated by a single minute hand with hours and seconds displayed separately on the dial. The German brand MeisterSinger brings a modern sensibility to the one-handed watch, the boutique producer's signature. The 43-mm Adhaesio ($3,575) adds a second time-zone function to indicate local and home time as well as the date with a single tapered hand.
The dial's concentric, numbered rings may appear perplexing at first, but once you learn the system, reading the time is a snap. The watch's needle-shaped hand indicates the local time with an hour scale that is indexed in five-minute increments. The hour at home is shown by a small arrow on the center of the dial pointing to the interior ring marked with a 24-hour scale that slowly turns clockwise. A second arrow pointing to the middle ring, which turns counter clockwise, tells you the date. The typography of the Arabic numerals and colors of the four dial designs were chosen for legibility, and the automatic ETA 2893 movement allows you to easily adjust local time, second time zone, via the crown. meistersinger.net
Laurie Kahle is a freelance writer who specializes in timepieces and travel for Cigar Aficionado.