Haute Horology

New timepieces unveiled at this year’s watch fairs acknowledged both the sophisticated consumer and the tighter economy
| By Elizabeth Doerr | From Adrien Brody, September/October 2010

It was no easy task choosing the 10 best new watches this year. There were many impressive offerings in terms of originality, creativity, functionality and price, though the major brands seemed to opt for classicism over novelty. Some of the very best innovations and most interesting mechanics were introduced by small boutique brands, and this is not too surprising-it behooves the smaller companies to continually innovate regardless of costs in order to retain their clientele of discriminating collectors.

Other brands are starting to concentrate on in-house component production rather than relying on third-party suppliers. And justifiably so, as Swatch-owned ETA (the largest supplier of watch movements) announced that it will be restricting sales to outside companies in the near future. Many brands have fortuitously adjusted prices to retain a customer base, and in the process foregone all-out novelty elements.

Brands such as Carl F. Bucherer continue to amaze the educated watch-buying public with its new base movement, but this year decided to introduce a new ladies' model rather than a more complicated addition to the men's line. And, naturally, Rolex continues to be a perennial favorite, with this year's talked-about introduction being a stainless steel version of the evergreen Submariner model as well as a snazzy sports watch by sister brand Tudor, which is currently not distributed in the United States.

Bovet Amadeo
Due to the rarity and high retail prices of the Bovet timepieces, this brand rarely makes it onto Cigar Aficionado's Top 10 list. This year, however, the Fleurier, Switzerland-based marque has introduced an extension to its gloriously classic line that may well appeal to a more conservative watch buyer interested in classic aesthetics and exclusivity.

The Bovet principle sees its classically styled timepieces clothed so traditionally as to resemble a pocket watch. The look is achieved to a great extent by placing the crown between the lugs at the 12 o'clock position-like on a pocket watch-rather than at 3 o'clock. Other pocket watch characteristics include the bow-styled strap lugs.

Bovet has now come out with an addition to the line that makes perfect sense given these predilections. Working out a user-friendly system with no muss and no fuss, Bovet introduces a variation on its Fleurier line called Amadeo that allows the 39 or 43 mm watch to be quickly, easily, and safely converted between wristwatch, pocket watch (or pendant for women), and table clock.

Needing seven years of research to perfect the mechanism, Bovet presents this delightful timepiece in just the right economic climate: a classically styled watch with variable uses in a solid gold case, powered by a reliable and beautifully finished automatic movement with five days of power reserve. The reserve might seem unnecessary in an automatic watch. Why does it matter how much power reserve an automatic watch has if it is being continuously wound by the wearer's kinetic movement? If the watch is worn as a pocket watch or pendant, or, most importantly, used as a desk clock, five days of power reserve is really a necessity. Being automatic, as soon as it is worn again, it will wind itself. Convenience is thus one of the key elements of this timepiece.

Conversion from pocket to wristwatch and back is done without any tools, which means that that the Amadeo can be easily worn by anyone in any desired manner.

The 43 mm Bovet Amadeo in 18-karat red gold with a polished black enamel dial retails for $34,000 and comes with a beautiful 26 cm red gold-plated silver chain. The great thing about Bovet is that the production is so intimate that customization of any sort is easily accommodated-particularly miniature paintings on the dial, which is a specialty of the company. The chain is also available in solid gold.

Breguet Type XXII
Breguet is generally known for its high complications, and in particular the tourbillon, but what many don't realize is that Breguet also has a sports watch line that appeals to more casual tastes.

But it isn't just a chronograph stopwatch. This particular complication is outfitted with some of Breguet's groundbreaking technology: a silicon escapement and flat balance spring allow the watch's frequency to be radically increased to 10 Hertz, which equals 72,000 vibrations per hour, or two-and-a-half times the normal rate. It is usually the case that a higher frequency endows a movement with more precision. A side effect of this is that the chronograph second hand makes one complete rotation in 30 seconds as opposed to the 60 seconds of a regular chronograph. Thus, the start of the chronograph function and its readout can be said to be twice as precise. So why doesn't every mechanical chronograph do this? The answer is relatively simple: a high frequency like that (a normal high-frequency wristwatch generally beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour, less than half of the new Breguet Type XXII) puts an incredible strain on the components making up the escapement and balance and ages them much more quickly. Crafting these particular parts in silicon not only solves the wear-and-tear problem, but since this material is ultralight, it actually ensures that this frequency can function without lubrication, the bane of every wristwatch.

For practical reasons, it is good to know that this chronograph is also outfitted with a flyback function, which means that the timing procedure can be started over again without having to first reset the chronograph hands. The Type XXII also displays a second time zone. It is housed in a 44 mm matte stainless steel case and retails for $18,200 on an integrated alligator skin strap (shown) or $19,600 on a stainless steel bracelet.

Bulgari Sotirio Bulgari Caliber 168
The year 2010 was a milestone year in watchmaking for the Bulgari group. Not only did Bulgari reconfigure its relationship to its haute horlogerie subbrands Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth, the Italian group also introduced its first in-house caliber created for use in everyday wristwatches.

Caliber 168 is the name of the new automatic movement showing the time and date, and is currently showcasing in an equally beautiful line of timepieces called Sotirio Bulgari-named for the founder of the renowned company. While the advent of a relatively simple automatic movement may sound like nothing special, it is important to note that very few companies actually make their own movements, and that most are supplied by one concern. In this day and age, manufacturing one's own movement is the mark of a serious player in the world of luxury timepieces and the birth of Caliber 168 represents the embodiment of Bulgari's integrated manufacturing division. In 2005, Bulgari had already acquired high-quality suppliers of dials and bracelets; 2007 saw the purchase of a watch case manufacturer. Setting up its own workshop for making movements was Bulgari's final step to becoming almost fully autonomous.

Caliber 168's plates and bridges are crafted in German silver, a finicky alloy that few companies use despite its advantages of sturdiness, aesthetics and rigidity.

Perfectly symbolizing its intended use as a base movement for continuing introductions, the Sotirio Bulgari is already available in four versions housed in a contemporary 43 mm case: stainless steel, stainless steel coated with black DLC (diamond-like carbon), 18-karat rose gold, and two-tone 18-karat rose gold with stainless steel. Prices start at $6,900.

Bulgari Gérald Genta Octo Biretro
Having to pick only one model from the revamped Gérald Genta collection was nearly impossibile as the "merger" Bulgari performed on its most complicated collection has led to a stunning revamp of the entire line. What had most collectors up in arms before they ever laid eyes on the timepieces turned out to be the best thing Bulgari could ever have done with its two mini-brands, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth.

These two brands-acquired by the Bulgari group in 2000-have since formed the base of Bulgari's complicated watchmaking expertise. However, the group has never really been quite sure how to approach the collector's market interested in these pieces, and sales performance has been less than stellar throughout the years. After various attempts, Bulgari made the decision this year to integrate the models and names into its own pool of know-how, mainly by adding the word "Bulgari" to the dial alongside each of the pre-existing names.

"Both the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta brand names will no longer exist as individual brands," Group CEO Francesco Trapani explained. "They are integrated into the Bulgari collection, but both will maintain their haute horlogerie ‘DNA.' We intend to fully respect their stylistic codes and specificities."

This is precisely what Bulgari has done-and, contrary to what the aficionado may have previously expected, the result is magnificent. Italians have always had a well-deserved reputation for style, which is also true of the watch and jewelry industries. What Bulgari has added to the Genta and Roth lines is an Italian feel for the fineness of the material, turning these mechanical masterpieces into spectacular works of art.

The Genta Octo Biretro model, which the company aptly describes as a "sports model for intense living," features hours displayed in digital, jumping fashion (a window shows the numeral of the current hour, which jumps to the next at the top of the hour) and retrograde minutes and seconds (shown on respective scales with a hand that jumps back to the beginning in the blink of an eye at the appropriate time). The 43 mm steel and ceramic case housing the automatic movement boasts loving details such as an onyx cabochon in the crown and a signature rubber strap ($18,200).

Cartier Calibre
Cartier is ready to approach the men's market in a serious way now with its new introduction simply entitled Calibre. This may sound like a no-brainer if you're a casual comer to the watch industry, but in fact Cartier has never really had a watch made exclusively for men. All previous models, including the fabulous Ballon Bleu introduced two years ago, were released as unisex models, but their subsequent appeal to women caused Cartier's watches to become perceived as feminine by default.

At 42 mm, the new watch is masculine, yet classic in size. It is powered by in-house Caliber 1904MC, a svelte automatic movement, coming in at only 4 mm in height.

Cartier's Calibre comes in three case versions: stainless steel, two-tone stainless steel and rose gold, and solid rose gold. The all-steel version is outfitted with either a black or white dial, while the two-tone edition only has a white dial. The rose gold Calibre gives the wearer the choice of a white or chocolate-brown dial. The dial's design is signature Cartier: clean, clearly legible and dominated by a slightly raised and oversized XII. The curved lugs of the case provide a comfortable fit on the wrist, while the extended right side of the case also acts as crown protection from shocks that could affect correct functioning. The crown itself is set with a synthetic spinel cabochon. An alligator skin strap comes with a double-adjustable folding clasp.

The stainless steel model starts at $6,500, the two-tone model, $9,500. So far, I haven't spotted this watch on any female wrists.

Glashütte Original PanoMaticCounter XL
Have you ever wanted to keep track of something, but kept losing count? Glashütte Original gives you a simple, unencumbered way to accomplish this while remaining stylish.

Glashütte Original's new Caliber 96-01 is a classic automatic mechanical chronograph movement outfitted with a flyback function-which allows the chronograph's stopwatch to be reset and restarted without pressing an intermediary button. But the Saxon brand's clever engineers have added a twist: a novel counter, something that has not yet been seen in watchmaking. What looks so simple is in fact deceptively complicated: the module for the counter alone needs 217 individual parts. Housed in a window, the seamless double-digit display going up to 99 does its counting when the wearer simply pushes a button.

The extreme ingenuity of this timepiece actually lies in the fact that one can also perform a timing act to go along with the manual counting. Suppose you want to count how many times your teenaged daughter says the word "like" in the space of 10 minutes. Simply start the chronograph and push the counter button every time it happens.

The counter is found on the left side of the dial and controlled by the pushers on the left side of the case: forward at the 9 o'clock position; minus at 8 o'clock, and the reset button is located at 10 o'clock.

The PanoMaticCounter comes in a 44 mm stainless steel case and retails for $25,100.

Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX 5
When asked about the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre's collaborative efforts with English automaker Aston Martin, CEO Jérôme Lambert could simply have replied "Jaeger, Edmond Jaeger," referring to the watchmaker who daringly diversified his watchmaking company in the wake of World War I; incredible foresight led the Le Sentier-based brand to manufacture dashboard instruments for the most luxurious cars of the era.

Though this may or may not have included James Bond's favorite marque, Lambert relates that, "In 2004 we began making history together." He is referring to the year he and Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez introduced the AMVOX 1, an innovative timepiece manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre inspired by the car company founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. "This needs to be a relationship that we are all proud of, not only Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre, but also the clients of both these brands." The AMVOX line represents a way for Jaeger-LeCoultre to experiment and explore without it becoming a gimmick or an extension of the car. "The world of Aston Martin is strong inspiration-both the corporate and the racing sides," he explains.

The AMVOX5 World Chronograph is pure adrenaline: it is a complicated and demanding piece of micro mechanics that marks the first world timer in the exclusive collection. Caliber 752's 279 components allow the wearer to see every time zone on the globe at once, with the reference cities-which include Gaydon, the location of the Aston Martin factory, instead of London to represent Greenwich Mean Time-easily clicking into place. The highly robust limited edition timepiece is available in a 44 mm ceramic case in combination with 18-karat rose gold ($26,150) or titanium ($20,500). Its open-worked dials are adorned with a grid motif evoking the radiator grille found on Aston Martin automobiles.

Two racing versions inspired by the Lola Aston Martin LMP1 race car-one with orange and the other with black-and-white elements-are also available in limited editions of 100 pieces each.

Tutima Grand Classic
I nominated a watch from this same line as part of last year's Top 10 list. Though repeats are unusual, I find that this line and its many evolutions are so well priced and attractive that, in this case, it was indeed warranted.

Appealing to modern tastes (and the perhaps tighter budgets), Tutima continues to release various versions of the popular Grand Classics, first introduced in 2007 in honor of the brand's 80th anniversary, in a larger case size than the company had previously ever issued. New variations and colors, each really more interesting and beautiful than the last, continue to hit the market. This spring saw the introduction of three new colors of the time-only Grand Classic: black, Bordeaux, and a gentler pastel hue with a mother-of-pearl dial for women.

The men's models with black or Bordeaux-colored dials and straps to match are straightforward, no-nonsense wristwatches of incredible toughness and legibility.

Additionally, a new strap with distinct rivets on either side has been added that not only matches the pilot style of these watches, but also adds a touch of elegant sportiness. Its deployant (folding) clasp is comfortable and secure.

Considering the well-executed details of the watch and the consensus among experts that automatic movements are beyond reproach, this stylish stainless steel timepiece should by all rights cost a mint. Surprisingly, it doesn't. A common feature of Tutima timepieces has always been the uncommonly moderate pricing, and this line is no exception. The time-only model retails for $1,500 on the stylish pilot-style strap and $2,000 on a stainless steel bracelet.

Vacheron Constantin Ultra-Fine 1968
Vacheron Constantin is the oldest continuously manufacturing Swiss brand, so it is only appropriate that its Historiques line expresses the company's heritage by reviving some emblematic models of the brand's long past, but it does so with contemporary reinterpretations.

Following the Chronomètre Royal 1907 and the Historiques American 1921 models of the last three years come two timepieces that celebrate the heritage of ultrathin watches. The Ultra-Fine 1955 is a classic round model, while our nominated timepiece-the Ultra-Fine 1968-shows a bit more unique character housed within a golden square. Additionally, while it is easier to make an ultrathin hand-winding movement, it is considerably less easy to do so while retaining the comfort of an automatic movement, thanks for the most part to the addition of the rotor needed for the automatic winding, which automatically adds height. Caliber 1120 is just such a mechanism-and it measures only 2.45 mm in height, just under twice the height of its manually wound counterpart ticking away in the Ultra-Fine 1955 model.

The Geneva-based company pays tribute to both its past and its future by equipping this classic with the same vintage caliber that powered the original model, though it has been rebuilt using modern production methods and now bears the ultimate mark of quality: the Seal of Geneva.

The aesthetic revisitation of this model includes some interesting stylistic elements: the 18-karat gold is a darker rose gold color framing the dial in a strict square. This contrasts with the case sides, which offer a slight curve that release the geometry from extreme strictness. While it pays almost direct homage to the beautiful model released in 1968, it has also been updated in accordance with modern production methods with water-resistance to 30 meters and a scratchproof sapphire crystal. Despite these improvements, the watch is actually more than one millimeter thinner than the original and retails for $28,200.

Zenith Elite Ultra Thin
Welcome back, Zenith! The company's return to its classic designs has resulted in many worthy introductions of 2010, all of which longtime Zenith followers are sure to adore.

The last decade now seems almost like a faraway dream; under new management brought in after the Le Locle, Switzerland-based company was taken over by luxury powerhouse LVMH (Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy) the Zenith style was changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable. Manufacture movements and legendary status mainly propagated by the El Primero chronograph caliber combined with a nearly unbeatable price made Zenith one of the standout brands during the mechanical renaissance of the late 1980s and onward. An agreement with the Zenith Radio Corporation prevented these classically styled timepieces from being distributed in the USA before the LVMH takeover.

LVMH not only rectified that situation, it also immediately brought new management on board to revamp the company's style. This was done successfully, but two things happened: Zenith's signature style changed dramatically and the prices skyrocketed. Consequently, unshakable Zenith followers became disenchanted. The strategy didn't take.

This is why Zenith hired Jean-Frédéric Dufour, who brought back the classic Zenith look. The new collection presented at Baselworld 2010 was heartily applauded, and fans of mechanical timepieces are certain to enjoy the more moderate pricing.

"I want to use Zenith's rich manufacturing capability to realize new timepieces representing all these values," Dufour recently revealed. "But most importantly, I see Zenith continuing to be the leader in manufacturing chronographs, especially with our El Primero movement." Dufour plans to base the new Zenith collection on two main pillars: El Primero (chronographs) and Elite (time only).

While the new El Primero chronographs are beautifully traditional and moderately priced, the Elite timepieces that have emerged fall directly in line with the consumer's current need for classic aesthetics and value for the money. Caliber Elite 681 is automatic and outfitted with an unusual rotor crafted in tungsten.

The watch's look is clean and uncluttered, and the restrained dial comes in a myriad of colors: silver, black, slate-gray, and white, as well as three limited editions (brown, silver with diamond hour markers, and black with diamond hour markers). Housed in a classic 40 mm case, it retails for $3,900 in stainless steel and $10,800 in rose gold. v

Elizabeth Doerr, who recently published 12 Faces of Time, is a freelance watch writer based in Germany.