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The Best Watches of the Year

By Lynette Kee

 
Cartier Baignoire

From Cartier Santos to Cartier Crash, what makes a Cartier watch unique is not only the shape of the watch but the volume it bears on the wrist. This year’s Baignoire model is a case in point. Baignoire (“bathtub” in French) is monikered after its shape — an idea derived by Louis Cartier in 1912. The watch then evolved into a slightly curved oval shape in the late 1950s with its dial stamped with Roman or Arabic numerals, finished with gold gadroons (convex curves or fluting) along the edge of the case. The Baignoire watch today, although reworked by Cartier’s design studio, bears the same design as the model introduced in 1958. The only changes are reflected in more sophisticated lines, Roman numerals on silvered sand-blasted dial and a narrower bracelet. Although invisible, the refinements provide a more substantial and polished presence on the wrist while epitomising its ancestral heritage as an eternal classic. Cartier Baignoire watch in yellow gold and taupe alligator leather strap, S$15,100.

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Chanel J12

Chanel J12 has cemented its position as one of the icons in the watchmaking world since its launch in the year 2000. The watch, executed in black ceramic (a novel material in its day) greatly revolutionised the design of luxury sport watches for men and women. Its commercial success eventually led to a series of white ceramic and jewellery variations in the following years. Fast forward almost two decades, a new J12 steps in. Unveiled in Baselworld this year, the changes were subtle — the bezel refined, indexes redesigned and presented in ceramic while the width of the crown is shrunk by a third, along with the ceramic cabochon that adorns it. The most significant update lies at the heart of the timepiece, which is the new movement manufactured by Kenissi, visible from the sapphire caseback. To celebrate the new classic, Chanel engaged 10 celebritymuses to front its campaign. Chanel J12 in black or white ceramic and steel with diamonds, S$10,000.

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Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph

As “salmon dials” have become increasingly popular in recent years, Montblanc’s latest pulsograph chronograph with a salmon dial provides a warm welcome in the parade of black, white and blue watches at SIHH this year. The beauty of the dial is further enhanced by the blue indices and details, and the vintage style Montblanc logo emblematic of the Minerva wristwatches from the 1940s and 1950s. Mechanically, however, the watch is defined by the “doctor’s pulsograph” once utilised by medical doctors to measure a patient’s heart rate, according to the maison. This 40mm art of a timepiece, crafted in steel, is powered by the Montblanc monopusher chronograph calibre MB M13.21, which is visible through the caseback. For a timepiece so rich in heritage, Montblanc executed the nostalgic charm with much aplomb. Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph in steel and alligator leather strap, S$44,600. Limited to 100 pieces.

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TAG Heuer Autavia

The name Autavia, birthed from the contraction of “automobile” and “aviation”, aptly capture the adventurous and daring spirit of the Autavia line of watches, which was in production from 1962 to 1985. Reintroduced at Baselworld 2019, TAG Heuer’s new Autavia collection marries tradition and innovative watchmaking technology to present three-hand models with a date window, each set in a 42mm round case and extended bevelled lugs reminiscent of the first generation Autavia watches. Most significantly, the watches are equipped with a cutting-edge technology: TAG Heuer’s Isograph carbon composite hairspring introduced earlier this year. Available in stainless steel or bronze with titanium caseback, the new Autavia is definitely an ode to modernity, evident from the “smoked” gradient dial treatment and the interchangeable straps and bracelets. TAG Heuer Autavia in stainless steel and bronze with bracelets, leather or nato straps, SS$6,050.

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Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph

As with the previous watches in the Octo Finissimo collection, the newest member of the line also bags the title of “ultra-thin”, and it’s fitted with an automatic chronograph — earning Bulgari its fifth record in the ultra-thin arena, with the thinnest automatic chronograph calibre ever made — at a mere 3.3mm, with a GMT complication, no less. Appearance-wise, the new Octo Finissimo Chronograph has stuck to its streamlined design codes with a solid sandblasted titanium dial, as well as minimal typography and markings set against the oversized watch face of 42mm (a 2-mm increase from its automatic sibling). For a watch carrying the weight of such technical marvel, the case is extremely lightweight, though no less substantial as seen on the wrist. Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic in sandblasted titanium, S$24,700.

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IWC Pilot Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun

While most Top Gun watches already feature a black case and dial, IWC’s latest evolution of its double chronograph Top Gun watch takes on a new material called ceratanium that is essentially a hybrid of titanium and ceramic. The new case combines lightweight properties of titanium with a matte scratch-resistant ceramic to meet the specific needs of jet pilots. In this watch — as the name suggests — is a double chronograph movement that has been in use for more than 25 years at IWC, thus proving the mechanics to be extremely robust. At 44mm, the monochromatic watch in ceratanium, which render a darker shade of black than usual, is made more wearable despite its larger proportions. IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun in ceratanium and black rubber strap, S$21,600.

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Bell and Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze

The Bellytanker BR V2-94 model first surfaced in the watch world when Bell & Ross created a sub-line of two watches inspired by its namesake racecar built upon “Bellytanks” — commonly known as drop tanks fitted in fighter planes — 
in 2017. The first, a BR V1-92, 38.5mm automatic timepiece with a flat bezel reminiscent of watches from the ’40s and ’50s, and the second, the chronograph Bellytanker BR V2-94. The latter, despite featuring a complication, has managed to retain its vintage-oriented visage by keeping relatively slim and thin with minimal expansion of the case to 41mm. Both watches were designed in a cool-copper-coloured dial steel bezel as a tribute to the wheel rims of the racing car. This year, in a more contrasting approach, the new limited edition Bellytanker Bronze chronograph is rendered in an aluminium (CuAI7Si2) bronze case, bronze fixed bezel with a black aluminium insert and a two-tone reversed panda dial. The gold details against the black background make for better legibility and give a unique spin to the Bellytanker collection, proving how big an impact a smart colour change can make. BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze in CuAI7Si2 bronze and black calfskin leather, S$7,800. Limited to 999 pieces.

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Tudor Black Bay Bronze

When Tudor first introduced the Black Bay Bronze to its dive watch arsenal in Baselworld 2016, the new case took on a larger dimension of 43mm and an in-house movement (MT5601). This year, the brand welcomed its third incarnation of the Black Bay in bronze with a grey dial following the brown (2016) and blue (2017) dial renditions from previous years. The hue, to which Tudor describes as “slate grey”, gives the watch a new layer of depth with its sunburst gradient effect. The bronze, lume-filled applied markers underlines the vintage-inspired aesthetic borrowed from the very early models of Tudor Submariners, further emphasised by its 3-6-9 numerals from its Explorers family. While the proportions and technical aspects remain the same as its first model, the overall look of the new Bronze model gives off a sense of versatility like that
of a typical steel or titanium-cased watches. Tudor Black Bay Bronze in bronze and black leather or nylon straps, S$5,544.

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Vacheron Constantin FiftySix

The FiftySix line was launched in early 2018 
as Vacheron Constantin’s entry-level range of timepieces designed to woo a younger crowd to its brand. While the initial response was found to be quite polarising, the line quickly proved itself to be a worthy addition to the maison’s prestigious reputation for high horology as the collection grew over the past year. The name FiftySix pays tribute to an iconic heritage model introduced in the 1956 (reference 6073). Stylistically, the watch is executed in a retro style yet fitted with a contemporary case shape. This year, the FiftySix collection is given a handsome facelift while its technical features remain unchanged. The collection, now dressed in blue, delights as one that could easily connect with younger watch collectors. Vacheron Constantin FiftySix in stainless steel and blue alligator leather strap, S$33,100

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Girard Perregaux Cosmos

Headlining Girard-Perregaux’s SIHH 2019 novelties is the Bridges Cosmos — a 48mm bead-blasted titanium piece, powered by an all-new Calibre GP09320 with a 60-hour power reserve. In conjunction with the brand’s new dialogue that runs on the theme of “Earth to Sky”, this novelty model of a watch showcases two complete globes: One of the earth and the other of different constellations in the sky, placed at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions respectively. At the other two cardinal points of the watch are a subdial at the 12 o’clock (which tells local time) and a tourbillon at the 6 o’clock that form a “bridge” between the terrestrial land and the night sky. Girard Perregaux Cosmos in bead-blasted titanium and blue alligator leather strap, S$486,600.

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Panerai Submersible Automatic

Panerai’s history of supplying the Italian navy team with underwater instruments was exceptionally prevalent in the brand’s new offerings at SIHH this year. The Panerai Submersible 42mm automatic — the most basic yet most salient of the lot — took on a familiar aesthetic in two new models. While the grey dial version with blue ceramic insert provides a more appealing visual with its textured surface, the black dial piece with a black ceramic bezel insert remains closer to the DNA of a classic Panerai. The Submersible features peg markings on the bezel, which are all treated with white luminescence (as are the indices and hands on the dial) for legibility underwater. On the wrist, both watches in stainless steel, a 42mm case with a Luminor-style crown guard and fitted with a rubber strap, fit comfortably and portray great sporty presence. Panerai Submersible Automatic in brushed steel with applied black ceramic disc and black rubber strap, price on request.

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Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon

Between the 1960s and 1970s, the Piaget name became synonymous with its love for gemstones when it started creating watches with a daring use of stones like onyx and turquoise. This was partly made possible because of the manufacturer’s savoir-faire in ultra-thin watchmaking, since hard stone dials are generally thicker. This year, Maison Piaget’s love for melding watchmaking with gem-setting culminated in a new set of Altiplano watches, introduced at SIHH 2019 with a celestial twist — most significantly on the Altiplano Tourbillon, which has a blue meteorite dial. Essentially representing a slice of the galaxy, the meteorite dial, etched with markings from its blazing trail to earth, is complemented with the hallmark Piaget Altiplano baton hours and minutes hands and indices positioned at the 8 o’clock while the flying tourbillon takes its place at the 2 o’clock mark. The timepiece, crafted to a 41mm case size is finished with pink gold encircled by diamonds, underlining the true expression of the Piaget name. Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon in pink gold and diamonds with blue alligator strap, price on request. Limited to 28 pieces.

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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Double Balance Wheel Openworked

Creating original watches based on traditional skills has always been the horological savoir-faire of Audemars Piguet. This year, the maison extended its breadth of product offerings with new additions for its high jewellery collections, as well as the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore collections. Some models were introduced with expected technical advancements while others feature openwork, gem-setting, new combinations of colour finish and materials in smaller models. The one watch that encompasses these horological and decoration techniques is the new Royal Oak Frosted Gold Double Balance Wheel openworked in 37mm. This métiers d’art of a timepiece is crafted in 18-carat frosted gold and pave-set with 32 baguette-cut rainbow-coloured sapphires along the bezel. And visible through the rhodium-toned openwork dial is a double balance wheel movement oscillating in perfect synchrony, resulting in a watch that is quite a visual treat among the recent Royal Oak variations. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Double Balance Wheel Openworked in 18-carat white gold and rainbow-coloured sapphires, S$146,600.

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A.Lange and Söhne Lange 1 “25th anniversary”

It has been a quarter of a century since the resurrection of a venerable name in the German watchmaking world that is A.Lange&Söhne. On 24 October 1994, Günter Blümlein and Walter Lange unveiled four watches to usher in a new era of Saxon watchmaking. Out of which, the Lange 1 rose above the rest and became the iconic watch emblematic of the brand, thanks to the asymmetrical layout of the dial. Twenty five years later, the design remained unchanged — an off-centred hour/minute dial, small second subdial, an outsize date window and a power reserve indicator all spaced across the 38.5mm watch face. To commemorate its 25th anniversary, A.Lange & Söhne introduced its Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” piece, made in an 18k white gold case, ahead of SIHH this year. The anniversary watch features a two-tone silvery dial, contrasted by its blue numerals, hands and words, and more notably, the hunter caseback showcasing a detailed hand-engraving of the Lange headquaters, which opens to reveal the second-generation movement of the house. Lange 1 “25th anniversary” in 18k white gold and blue alligator leather strap, S$64,900. Limited to 250 pieces.

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Ulysse Nardin Submersible Automatic

As one of the first lines of watches to experiment with unconventional tourbillon components, the Freak collection plays a pivotal role in Ulysse Nardin’s come back when former owner, Rolf Schyder, took on the task to give the brand a new lease of life. Introduced as Freak X at SIHH this year, new versions of these flagship and technically interesting watches are set at a more affordable price as an entry watch to the Freak collections. These new models debuted with a new movement UN-230, which fuses the manufacture UN-118 and the Freak Vision UN-250. Now featuring a conventional crown (unlike the older models, which are usually set by turning the bezel), the size of the watch is pushed to a slightly tighter diameter of 43mm instead of 45mm. The most spectacular of this iteration is the Carbonium version, made out of a new lightweight and sustainable material used in the aeronautical sector. Although the Freak X comes in at roughly one-fifth the cost of the Freak Vision from 2018, the new watch is equally robust and disruptive. Ulysse Nardin Submersible Automatic in carbonium matte-finish and alligator leather strap, S$36,900.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin Moon Enamel

For its pre-SIHH launch this year, Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) presented the Master Ultra-Thin Moon Enamel watch that exhibits multiple facets of the brand’s in-house artisanal expertise. The ultra-thin case cradles a hand-guilloché sunray-patterned enamel dial, which is further integrated with other specialised craftsmanship — like the engraving of the date ring to show each date in relief. Finished in blue, the stunning piece of work bestows an intense depth and lustre, radiating to the likes of a very refined dress watch. And like its signature Reverso, JLC excels in creating dress watches without forgetting its chronometry counterpart, and so it is with this new timepiece that it uses an upgraded Calibre 925 movement. This means that instead of the original 40-hour power reserve, the new movement is made to last 70 hours. At 39mm, the new Master Ultra-Thin Moon Enamel stands as a testament to JLC’s mastery in melding watch- making with métiers d’art. JLC Master Ultra-Thin Moon Enamel in white gold and alligator leather strap, price on request. Limited to 100 pieces.

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Watch brands from all over the industry gather at the two most important watch exhibitions in a year — SIHH and Baselworld. Here are our top 16 picks from the crop.

Styled photographs by Ching
Set and styling by Tok Wei Lun
Other product images from the respective watch brands