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The 10 Best Watches of the Year

By Lynette Kee

In what was supposed to be presented in the highly exclusive, rarefied confines of watch fairs, watch brands have adapted seamlessly by showcasing their new releases through virtual events or behind Zoom windows. Below, meet the 10 best watches of the year to connect with.

Chanel J12 Paradoxe

Wunderkammer StudioChanel J12 Paradoxe watch in black ceramic and white gold with diamonds, price on request.
Chanel J12 Paradoxe watch in black ceramic and white gold with diamonds, price on request.

To mark the 20th anniversary of its iconic J12 watch, Chanel created the J12 Paradoxe — which could easily pass off as a digitally-doctored version of the original at first glance. It is, in fact, an enthralling take on the two-tone concept — fusing two thirds of the case in white ceramic and the remainder in black ceramic. In 2000, the first J12 exploded onto the scene when it launched as the first entirely black ceramic timepiece. Arnaud Chastaingt, director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio told The New York Times, “Her (the J12) whole life, she’s worn a black or a white dress, and I wanted to take that dress off. She’s old enough today that she can do what she wants.”

Today, it continues that pioneering streak with its provocative mixed monochrome interpretation. In a numbered limited edition of 20 pieces, the Paradoxe Diamonds iteration dresses in high jewellery attire, combining black ceramic with white gold and baguette-cut diamonds. For a watch with merely two decades of history, the Chanel J12 has certainly proved to be ahead in modern watchmaking.

A.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater

Courtesy of A.Lange & SöhneA.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater watch, price on request.
A.Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater watch, price on request.

The art of crafting minute repeaters is considered to be the very pinnacle of all horological achievements. For A.Lange & Söhne, the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater certainly represents an intellectually noble accomplishment, but a symbolically important one as well.

The maison’s first-ever Zeitwerk Minute Repeater wristwatch was released five years ago, born out of borrowed technology from A.Lange & Söhne’s Grand Complication (a concept watch with a making cost of over $2 million), and incorporated into the body of a Zeitwerk Assembled with a digital time display, the watch debuted as a decimal repeater, which allows the watch to sound the hours, the minutes in tens, followed by the remaining single minutes (instead of the usual hours, quarters and minutes). In layman terms, this mechanical timepiece is created for intuitive time telling not just visually from its digital clock but aurally with a chiming mechanism that produces crisp, pleasing sounds.

The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater returns this year, executed in white gold while the dial mellows down to a deep blue, highlighting the silver bridges around the time display — a sensibility on A.Lange & Söhne’s part in using non-hands time indicators. Centuries ago, watchmakers devised minute repeaters for wealthy owners to sound the time during the night. While the invention of electricity rendered such audible means obsolete, the German house continues to invest in this horological marvel as an emotional tribute to timekeeping’s past.

Pasha de Cartier

Wunderkammer StudioPasha de Cartier watch in stainless steel, S$9,250.
Pasha de Cartier watch in stainless steel, S$9,250.

Cartier is best known for its shaped watches like the Tank and the Santos. But the Pasha de Cartier is one of its most historically important timepieces as it was created to fill a gap in the watch category that was notably lacking in the sporty department. Since its launch in 1985, the Pasha (also a title granted to high ranking officials) has had a wide array of incarnations, including ones detailed by George Cramer, author of the book “Cartier — The Gentleman’s Files.”

This year, the luxury house reintroduces the Pasha, modelled closely after the original timepiece with some subtle revamping. The new Pasha consists of a full-fledged collection in stainless steel, pink gold, yellow gold (a nod to the 1985 debut model in gold) and one set in diamonds. In terms of design, the watches retains its non-conformist nature by bringing opposites together — a square filigree rail-track is found within the circle of its dial, decorated with a radial stamped guilloche. Another key design element is its screw down crown topped with a blue cabochon, now protected by a fluted crown cover with a blue sapphire.

Each purchase of the new Pasha de Cartier comes with an interchangeable leather strap featuring the house’s patented QuickSwitch and SmartLink mechanisms, which essentially allow the bracelet of straps to be detached from the case with a simple push of a tab. The delicate appeal of this latest iteration truly lies in its modern technological advances despite the simple outlook of the watch, which perhaps is a reminder of the Pasha in its initial glory during simpler times.

Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer

Courtesy of OmegaOmega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer watch in Sedna gold, S$232,500.
Omega De Ville Tourbillon Master Chronometer watch in Sedna gold, S$232,500.

Save for a few independent watch brands, few watchmakers in the market offer watches with a central tourbillon. For Omega, it is a beloved feature that sets the brand apart from its competitors. The Swiss luxury watchmaker has recorded many firsts in watchmaking history, and now the brand is trumpeting the Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon numbered edition, the first of its tourbillon watches to be Master Chronometer certified — which means that one of modern watchmaking’s most iconic tourbillons is now one of the toughest as well. Master Chronometer is a certification indicating the Swiss industry’s highest standard of precision and performance. To be Master Chronometer certified, the watch undergoes stringent tests in extreme circumstances over 10 days — twice.

Since its founding, Omega has prided itself on being the brand to focus on technical chops in timekeeping. After all, Petros Protopapas, the director of the Omega museum, once said, “Omega is the only company named for its most important movement — not a founder.” Indeed, to have developed a tourbillon cage capable of resisting magnetic fields of up to at least 15,000 gauss — one of the tested measures in the Master Chronometer certification — is to display, in many respects, the history and branding of the watchmaker.

IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide

Wunderkammer StudioIWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide watch in pink gold, price on request.
IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide watch in pink gold, price on request.

Straying off the beaten path, IWC has recently introduced a new model to its Portugieser family Yacht Club line that features a tide indicating complication. The new movement allows the watch to track the ocean’s ebbs and flows, which occupies an esoteric area in the watch market — the mechanical tide indicator, up till now, has only appeared in two independent watch brands.

“The starting point for the development of the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide was the historical connection of this watch family to the worlds of seafaring, sailing and navigation,” says Christian Knoop, creative director of IWC. According to Knoop, the Swiss watch manufacturer wanted to “surprise the customers.” And since tides are a terrestrial effect of the fluctuating gravitational and centrifugal forces exerted by the moon and sun, the house thought it appropriate to create a completely new tide indicating complication to be placed in symmetry with its trademark double moon phase indication.

As a man who enjoys sailing himself, Knoop contemplates the idea of a yachting timepiece, saying, “A yachting watch needs to be more than a precise wristwatch that withstands the elements at sea. It’s a watch that radiates the spirit of elegant yachting and cuts a beautiful figure on board and ashore, telling about your passion.” It’s been 10 years since the Yacht Club line was first introduced to the Portugieser collection, and the new Yacht Club Moon & Tide appears to have encapsulated that idea in its latest creation, encased in a 44.6mm wristwatch. IWC has always branded itself as an easily legible instrument. For its commanding proportions, the watch dial is executed to a clean finish and is especially easy to read for a layman.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar

Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultreJaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar watch in stainlesss steel, S$21,600.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar watch in stainlesss steel, S$21,600.

Going by the elusive sobriquet “Grande Maison,” Jaeger-LeCoultre is certainly at a vantage point in the world of top-end Swiss horology. Its Master Control line, which launched in 1992, has demonstrated all kinds of technical mastery, but its latest release achieved the unthinkable feat of combining a chronograph, triple calendar and a moon phase in a single wristwatch.

For Jaeger-LeCoultre, a manufacturer that develops its own movements, it is all about “defining the right architecture,” says Catherine Rénier, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre. “The general approach for the Master Control is a craftsman’s approach towards a well-made object.” Rénier says, “It is like making a suit jacket by choosing beautiful fabrics, a beautiful lining and making sure that the assembly is perfect.” This is how the Swiss watchmaker has, over the years, perfected its Master icons — through a continual process of improving movements and revising designs.

By introducing new timepieces to such a classic collection, Rénier divulges that success is led with continuity. She says, “Contemporary watchmaking does not deny its past.” In fact, the Master Control Chronograph Calendar has taken all the house traditional house design codes of simplicity, balance and harmony to conceal the new highly complicated movement under a tastefully proportioned dial. On the dial, the day and month window sit at the 12 o’clock, distributing the weight of the new moon phase located at 6 o’clock.

For Jaeger-LeCoultre, “ingenuity and mechanical know-how exude a certain magic and are vectors of emotion when they are made with such passion and exigency.” Like its latest Master Control Chronograph Calendar watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre fine-tunes the balance between technical know-how and storytelling to present consumers with watches that have true emotional value.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon

Wunderkammer StudioVacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon watch in rose gold and diamonds, price on request.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon watch in rose gold and diamonds, price on request.

Following the feminine streak that saw the launch of its first range of women watches in decades (the Égérie collection), Vacheron Constantin releases two new variations of its Traditionnelle Tourbillon at the Watches and Wonder fair this year (held virtually) — one Tourbillon in rose gold and the other in white gold and fully paved diamonds designed to appeal to women. This marks a first for feminine models of the house to be christened with a tourbillon. The tourbillon cage — the latest automatic iteration used in 2018 — takes up the grand positioning at 6 o’clock on the mother of pearl dial, demarcated by a ring of diamonds.

Competitive complications in watches used to be reserved exclusively for the male consumers, but Vacheron Constantin is among the industry players that recognises that women’s tastes in watches are changing. Encased in a delicate 39mm watch face, the watch features a classic design that directs attention towards its model movement, for the discerning woman who is just as captivated by the intriguing complications as she is by a beautiful appearance.

Richard Mille RM 33-02 in Carbon TPT and Red Gold

Courtesy of Richard MilleRichard Mille RM 33-02 watch in carbon TPT and red gold, price on request.
Richard Mille RM 33-02 watch in carbon TPT and red gold, price on request.

Avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille is better known for its signature tonneau-shaped watches. But every once in a while, Richard Mille whips out a round, slightly dressier watch to satisfy those who desire something a little more different.

For the new version of the RM 33-02, originally introduced in 2011, the luxury watchmaker embarked on a complete facelift that boldly employed a combination of two materials. The new case, now in red gold, is sandwiched between its carbon TPT material on the front and the back of the watch. The dramatic evolution in this model embodies the brand’s intended vision for extreme versatility as Julien Boillat says in a release, “The exterior decoration, case and dial have been reworked to project a sportier vibe.” He says, “the RM 33-02 thus achieves a delicate synthesis of so-called ‘lifestyle’ style and sporty style.”

By using carbon TPT on the case, a material which treads almost every one of Richard Mille’s timepieces, the RM 33-02 is given a distinctive appearance thanks to the striped effect created by layers of carbon composite. Apart from that, the new watch shares the same objective as its predecessor: To execute a round watch that’s unmistakably Richard Mille.

TAG Heuer Connected Gold Edition

Wunderkammer StudioTAG Heuer Connected Gold Edition watch in titanium, price on request.
TAG Heuer Connected Gold Edition watch in titanium, price on request.

TAG Heuer and the realm of sports have always been inextricably linked. When it comes to developing its smartwatches, the Swiss luxury brand presents its second generation
of themed Connected watches — the Golf edition.

The Golf edition smartwatch is the brainchild of TAG Heuer’s newly announced CEO, Frédéric Arnault, 25, who has worked on developing the watch with his team to introduce features like a rotating crown and functioning pushers as well as access to upgraded proprietary 3-D mapping software for more than 39,000 of the world’s golf courses. The new model, with a 45mm titanium case, was conceived with equal verve as the brand’s mechanical counterpart, and is designed to be a fully functional timepiece, beautifully made for a targeted audience.

For Arnault, having a specific direction for its Connected watches would solidify its brand as a luxury leader by providing thoughtful solutions for its consumers. “Every detail has been purposefully engineered to help refine the player’s strategy, improve their accuracy and remove the guesswork so they can focus on enjoying the game, without compromising on elegance and style.” The highly adaptive watchmaker has also created an application available on both Apple and Android products to provide a well-rounded digital experience for its users.

Zenith Defy 21 Ultraviolet

Courtesy of ZenithZenith Defy 21 Ultraviolet watch in titanium, price on request.
Zenith Defy 21 Ultraviolet watch in titanium, price on request.

The Swiss watch brand Zenith was founded in 1865 and named after the highest point in the sky. Ever since its current CEO, Julien Tornare, took over in 2017, the brand has been forging ahead and reaching for the proverbial stars. To achieve that meant to finely balance between forward-thinking sensibilities and being grounded. For all the times Zenith looked into its famed attic for inspiration, it has resulted in a release that energises its watch line — its new variation of the Defy 21 Ultraviolet is a case in point.

At first glance, the watch sports a striking violet hue (as suggested by its name) complemented with a matte titanium case. Seeing as its predecessor, the Defy 21 was the highest frequency chronograph in contemporary watchmaking (capable of timing events within 1/100th of a second), it makes perfect sense to have the colour violet — with one of the highest frequencies in the visual spectrum — extend the symbolism inherent within the watch. At the heart of this bold, new Defy model, the movement, which made its debut inside the Defy El Primero 21 in 2017, is also painted violet.

Three years on, the movement remains one of the highest frequency chronograph movements in the market, and Zenith has lived up to its name as a contemporary watchmaker that takes traditional mechanical concepts in new creative directions.