TIME WILL TELL
Looking back at the best design-led timepieces from 2017
Relative austerity has inspired a trend for trawling back catalogues for designs to revive
As the year’s end approaches, we look back at the changes and trends in the watch world, before giving credit to those that really stood out.
From an industry perspective, Swiss watch exports rose steadily over the summer, and the Chinese market was resurgent, up more than 20 per cent year-on-year. Closer to home, the falling pound has made London one of the most attractive places to buy luxury watches; no Brexit woes for the likes of Watches of Switzerland or Selfridges’ Wonder Room (now run by European retail giant Bucherer).
Caution has been the name of the game for many watch brands in 2017; the result of cutbacks over the past two years was that this year’s crop of watches focused on aesthetics rather than technical developments, as well as lower prices. The cause may be uninspiring but the watches have been refreshingly simple – maybe the market had become bloated from complicated watch making.
This relative austerity has helped create the dominant trend for trawling the back catalogues for designs to revive. This has only intensified, bringing with it standout watches such as Blancpain’s Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, as well as less well-known reissues.
The bulk of new watches may have little that’s new inside them, but instead of the kind of“innovation”we were used to when business was booming (evermore intricate and arcane whirligigs for oligarchs) we are seeing a handful of brands modernising the basics of a mechanical movement. Panerai’s Lab-ID is one such project, boasting groundbreaking reliability, and there have been similar efforts from Zenith with its Defy Lab. A little commercial pressure is no bad thing.
1 TAG HEUER AUTAVIA JACK HEUER SPECIAL EDITION
All-action sports chronographs were everywhere this year, from Tudor’s Heritage Black Bay Chrono to Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe. But my pick is the TAG Heuer Autavia – specifically, here in a guise created to commemorate legendary former CEO and honorary chairman Jack Heuer’s 85th birthday. It swaps the normal bezel, all easy-to-read numerals, for a slightly more techy steel one and, as a result, looks better on a steel bracelet. Reviving the Autavia was a stroke of marketing genius on TAG’s part (if not an overly risky decision) but it has been executed with a sure hand. £4,150; tagheuer.com
2 IWC INGENIEUR AUTOMATIC
Making a watch that you could wear day in, day out and have no complaints sounds like such a simple prospect – indeed, it’s what most people look for. But simplicity is a hard thing to get right; this year, IWC has nailed it with the Ingenieur Automatic, which sees the model return to a round case after an oversized, chunky phase. £3,900; iwc.com
3 JUNGHANS FORM A
Even the most seasoned watch collectors start somewhere, and if you’re taking your first step into mechanical watches this year, you could do a lot worse than the Junghans Form A: an automatic movement, handsome looks rooted in midcentury design at an approachable price, and, as an added bonus, it’s unlikely all of your friends will have one. £830; junghans.de
4 HUBLOT CLASSIC FUSION ITALIA INDEPENDENT
By now we shouldn’t be surprised at anything Hublot does, but putting a houndstooth cloth across the dial of a Classic Fusion, and continuing the same material into the strap? Like wearing double denim, it absolutely shouldn’t work – yet in this case, it absolutely does. The ceramic chronograph is my unexpected hit of the year. £13,300; hublot.com
Above: Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Left: Panerai Lab-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech