The Good Life

Time’s Top Tier

This year’s top 10 watches deliver enhanced value and timeless styling—plus some over-the-top grail watches for good measure
By Laurie Kahle | From Alex Rodriguez, September/October 2018
Time’s Top Tier
Retro classic was a major theme this year. IWC dug deep into the past with the Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years wristwatch, modeled on the maker’s Pallweber pocket watch that dates to 1884.

With a double-digit increase in U.S. sales during the first half of 2018, the outlook for watches priced above $1,000 is rosier than it has been for years. 

This year’s models continue the ongoing emphasis on retro-classic designs sourced in historical archives and an emphasis on value with the prolific use of stainless steel at more affordable prices. The influence of the dominant millennial market was also evidenced by designs that are clearly targeted to attract them with sporty styling and vintage flavor.

Of course, a handful of extreme complications with six-figure price tags from the usual contenders such as Greubel Forsey, A. Lange & Söhne, Richard Mille, and Patek Philippe still wow elite collectors and hardcore enthusiasts. 

Ultrathin watches also made powerful strides this year with some record-breakers from Bulgari and Piaget that we will discuss in an upcoming issue. 

From mind-boggling complications to no-nonsense timekeepers, here are our picks for the watches to keep an eye out for this fall.

Richard Mille RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough

Richard Mille RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough

Always one to deliver extreme performance (as well as pricing), Richard Mille once again turned to polo star Pablo Mac Donough for inspiration in creating the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough. The piece was previewed with a video detailing the polo champion’s many bone fractures and injuries, dispelling any notion that polo is a genteel sport. 

Mille, who designs extravagant sport watches built for his elite athlete ambassadors to wear in competition, introduced the first Mac Donough polo watch in 2012. Ready for hard knocks, it resembled a Civil War-era submarine with a hefty metal case revealing the time in a porthole. By contrast, this year’s 53-01 was built to show off the intricate tourbillon movement for all to see. 

A tourbillon is a delicate mechanism, so building one that can withstand the rigors of a six-chukka match was a daunting challenge. The solution was to suspend the movement with tiny braided steel cables that allow the watch to take shocks of up to 5,000 g. The mechanism is housed in a tough Carbon TPT case, which is notched for heightened durability. 

To reinforce the sapphire crystal over the dial, Mille turned to a favorite source, the automotive world. The patented result is two pieces of sapphire glass separated by a thin sheet of polyvinyl film that holds the glass together like automotive safety glass even if it were to be shattered by a mallet strike. The $900,000 watch is limited to 30 pieces. richardmille.com

A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split

A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split

Germany’s A. Lange & Söhne took the split-seconds, or rattrapante, chronograph to an unprecedented level of complexity with the Triple Split ($147,000), the first of its kind to track comparative times as long as 12 hours. 

A simple chronograph functions as a stopwatch, whereas the rattrapante features two aligned timing hands that start simultaneously and can be stopped separately allowing you to time two separate concurrent events. In 2004, Lange’s Double Split featured a groundbreaking dual rattrapante function, allowing it to track aggregate times of up to 30 minutes, a considerable increase over the standard 60 seconds. Limited to 100 pieces, the Triple Split ups that by a factor of 24 with three pairs of blued-steel rattrapante hands for seconds, minutes and hours. This ultimate split-seconds chronograph also features a fly-back function that allows timing to be reset and restarted with a single push of a button. 

The new manufacture calibre L132.1 movement is a technical triumph consisting of 567 components. A sapphire crystal case back invites you to admire the intricate, beautifully finished, multilayered architecture and contemplate this staggering feat of micro-engineering. alange-soehne.com/en/

Greubel Forsey Différentiel d’Égalité

Greubel Forsey Différentiel d’Égalité

Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey take their time when developing and perfecting their horological masterpieces. This year’s unveiling of Greubel Forsey’s fifth invention, the Différentiel d’Égalité́ (about $268,000) enjoyed a decade of R&D since the watchmakers presented the original concept in 2008. 

In the pursuit of timekeeping perfection, the mechanical tour de force uses a spherical differential to ensure a steady and consistent transmission of power from the mainspring barrel to the regulating organ. Because the same amount of energy is released to the escapement each second, constant amplitude is maintained throughout the entire 60-hour power reserve. Typical mechanical watches lose precision as the energy in the movement winds down. The constant transfer of energy is regulated by a secondary spring on the differential that rewinds itself every second. This feature allowed the boutique brand to introduce its first jumping, or dead-beat, seconds on a sub-dial at 4 o’clock with a hand that moves in precise increments akin to a quartz watch, rather than the usual sweeping seconds hand.

Performance is further heightened with the brand’s 30° inclined balance wheel, which counteracts the impact of gravity when the movement runs in different positions. When you pull out the crown, the balance wheel stops and the seconds hand resets to zero to set the time with precision. The Différentiel d’Égalité is limited to 33 pieces in white gold. greubelforsey.com

Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5968A

Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5968A

While we have come to expect such sublime complications as the Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater from Patek Philippe, the Geneva institution also showed off a lighter side this year with the sporty Aquanaut Ref. 5968A chronograph ($43,770) designed with—gasp—orange accents and an alternate rubber strap also in orange. While such a vibrant flourish elsewhere would not bat an eyelash, at the usually reserved Patek Philippe, some eyebrows were undoubtedly raised. 

The Ref. 5968A marks the first chronograph in the Aquanaut range, which makes a clear appeal to a younger client, albeit one with a healthy bank account. It is equipped with Patek’s CH 28-520 C caliber, a self-winding flyback chronograph with column-wheel construction and a vertical disc clutch for smooth and precise operation. In other Patek news this year, Aquanaut’s big brother, the hard-to-get Nautilus introduced its first perpetual calendar, unconventionally merging a sport watch with a high complication. But the Aquanaut best represents the brand’s evolution with a nod to millennials, complete with an Instagram story. patek.com

Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II

Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II

Rolex’s star launch this year is the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II, with a new in-house movement, the caliber 3285 with a 70-hour power reserve and chronometer precision of -2/+2 seconds per day, plus the GMT function to display local and home time for globetrotters. The 40-mm, Oystersteel version ($9,250) is fitted with a 24-hour bidirectional “Pepsi” bezel in graduated red and blue Cerachrom, a proprietary ceramic. Since 2014, the Pepsi bezel had been limited to the white-gold GMT II. 

Another update is the five-link Jubilee bracelet, marking the first time Rolex has combined that bracelet, an Oystersteel case, and the Pepsi bezel, causing Rolex collectors to salivate. The watch is also available in two-tone steel with Everose gold ($14,050), and solid 18-karat Everose gold ($36,750) for the first time. Those models are appointed with a complementary brown-and-black Cerachrom bezel. For those with shallower pockets, Rolex’s sister brand Tudor launched a steel Pepsi-bezel Black Bay GMT ($4,210) at less than half the price. rolex.com

Baume & Mercier Baumatic collection

Baume & Mercier Baumatic collection

Baume & Mercier made news this year with the launch of its first proprietary automatic movement in the new Baumatic collection (from $2,590). The caliber was developed with parent company Richemont’s ValFleurier, which produces movements for sister brands Montblanc and Panerai, in collaboration with the Richemont Research & Innovation team. Baumatic is endowed with cutting-edge technology, such as a silicon hairspring and escapement for extreme antimagnetic resistance of up to 1,500 gauss and an extended recommended maintenance interval of five years. The movement delivers a five-day power reserve and COSC chronometer certification with precision of -4/+6 seconds per day. It will have the exclusive use of this high-performance movement for the foreseeable future. baume-et-mercier.com 

Carl F. Bucherer Manero Tourbillon Double Peripheral

Carl F. Bucherer Manero Tourbillon Double Peripheral

Carl F. Bucherer combined its proprietary peripheral winding system with a peripherally mounted flying tourbillon at 12 o’clock in the Manero Tourbillon Double Peripheral ($72,300). The CFB T3000 automatic movement was developed in house with a silicon escapement that reduces friction and requires no lubrication. The striking tourbillon appears to float at the top of the dial. Rather than mounting the tourbillon to the main plate or an overlying bridge, the tourbillon cage is supported on the periphery with ceramic ball bearings. The movement, which required years of development, also features a stop-seconds function that allows you to stop and start the rotating tourbillon cage. The highly accurate COSC-certified chronometer movement is housed in a robust 43.1-mm rose-gold case with a silver-colored dial appointed with rose-gold plated indices, making a classically pure design statement that puts all the focus on the star attraction, the spinning tourbillon. carl-f-bucherer.com

Vacheron Constantin FiftySix collection

Vacheron Constantin FiftySix collection

Vacheron Constantin lowered the bar of entry to one of watchmaking’s Holy Trinity (Vacheron, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet), with the FiftySix collection directly aimed at affluent millennials. With a retro sector-dial design inspired by 1956’s ref. 6073, the collection opens with a steel automatic watch powered by a movement developed by Richemont Group and assembled and finished by Vacheron. At $11,900, it is the most affordable Vacheron available in the current collection. The rose-gold version goes for $19,900. For those with complicated tastes, there is the Day Date model ($17,900 in steel; $33,400 in pink gold) and the Complete Calendar ($23,500 in steel; $36,800 in pink gold) powered by in-house Vacheron movements that are awarded the prestigious Geneva Seal. Rumor has it that even more complicated FiftySix models are in the pipeline this fall. vacheron-constantin.com

IWC Jubilee collection

IWC Jubilee collection

IWC Schaffhausen marked its 150th anniversary this year with a Jubilee collection of 28 limited-edition Portugieser, Portofino, Pilot’s Watch and Da Vinci models. Also debuted was a series of Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years wristwatches, modeled on its historic Pallweber pocket watch, which dates to 1884. The display shows jumping hours and minutes through apertures using a digital format via rotating discs. The glossy white and blue lacquer dials recall the original Pallweber’s enamel dial. Twenty-five watches are in platinum ($57,800), 250 in red gold ($36,600), and 500 in stainless steel ($23,100).

For purists, IWC also introduced a 50-piece, limited-edition pocket watch in red gold ($66,500). The Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years pocket watch is the first digital pocket watch IWC has produced since 1890, when it phased out the Pallweber, and the brand’s first 21st-century pocket watch. iwc.com

Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar École Piece

Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar École Piece

Independent watchmaker Laurent Ferrier has always impressed with its elegant timepieces with superlative finishing. With the Galet Annual Calendar École Piece, the brand launches its fifth in-house movement with a practical annual calendar function that is designed for smooth and easy adjustment. Just turn the crown forward and backward to set the date and month and use the push button at 10 o’clock to set the day of the week. 

An annual calendar automatically accounts for months of varying lengths, so it requires adjustment only once per year on March 1. The Galet Annual Calendar’s retro dial evokes 1940s-era triple-calendar flair and the indicators are designed for instant legibility with the date displayed by a central hand and the day of the week and month in apertures. The manual-winding movement delivers a power reserve of 80 hours, with the power reserve indicator on the movement side. 

On the dial, vintage-style numerals are painted in blue, while the date hand pops in burgundy or red. The watch is available in steel ($58,000), red gold ($63,000) and a new pale yellow gold ($63,000), with silver-toned or anthracite gray dials decorated with a vertical satin brush finish in the centers, encircled by a contrasting circular satin brush finish. The result is a refined design married with a practical function. laurentferrier.ch 

Time

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