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Story 6
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There may be no such thing as the best watch, but 2022 was a vintage year for great new timepieces at every price point. Here are eight to take note of
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Virtually every watchmaking brand claims some breakthrough every year, but admittedly it requires a suspension of disbelief on a grand scale to accept. There is no real explanation for this constant emphasis on the new and novel, but industry legend Jean-Claude Biver had a rationale, which we will paraphrase here: if you are the first to come up with some sexy innovation or other, you will likely have success with it. Well, brands have been trying this long before Biver joined the trade, and it does not always work. Abraham-Louis Breguet tried to make automatic winding a thing in the 18th century, with the help of Abraham-Louis Perrelet. This did not go anywhere, but Breguet’s other innovations — including the tourbillon and chiming mechanisms — did, so his name lives on with great glory. Perrelet, on the other hand, is barely known outside watchmaking circles.
In the wake of the pandemic and the attendant enforced shutdowns of watchmaking sites, the industry emerged with renewed vigour, attempting to do justice to powerful forces of demand. The world was hungry for brilliant timepieces — and fortunately, 2022 was full of them.
The dive watch is one of the world’s most popular types of watches, if not the most. It celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2023, and Rolex got ahead of its competitors with the world’s ultimate dive watch, the Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge. The water resistance on this behemoth of a watch is an unprecedented — and truly mind-boggling — 11,000m, which is about as deep as you can go in the ocean without digging. While most dive watches are able to take you to depths that you would never survive, this one literally goes beyond what is possible for any man-made machine; dive watches are typically built to withstand about 20 per cent more than the rating, so if the ocean is deeper in parts than we think it is, Rolex might have us covered. For collectors, it is significant that this watch is the first to be offered in full titanium, case and bracelet, and thus may foreshadow the long-awaited introduction of this material across Rolex’s collections. Rolex says the RLX titanium used makes this 50mm tool watch roughly 30 per cent lighter than the same in steel.
Attractively-priced chronographs are hardly unusual, but immensely popular ones from hundred-year-old manufactures such as the Tissot PRX Chronograph are. After shaking up the watch world with the PRX time-only quartz models in 2020, Tissot naturally followed up with an automatic, and now a complication. The form factor gives Tissot the edge with the PRX, with the collection bringing the sports watch to more wrists than ever before. What is also different is the name Tissot, a watchmaker in business since 1853; the badge alone keeps enthusiasts interested in what is ultimately a well-designed 42mm steel chronograph that is perfectly in line with contemporary tastes. It certainly helps that the watch has better-than-expected finishing on the automatic calibre, an exhibition case back, and a relatively generous power reserve of 60 hours; none of these elements are normal in watches below $3,000.
Created by Patek Philippe in 1996, the annual calendar has since developed into a desirable complication for many brands, at a variety of price points. In 2022, Patek Philippe levelled this complication up by combining it with the dual-time function — which the Geneva brand calls Travel Time — in its signature Calatrava case. The resulting watch is the 41mm Ref. 5326G Travel Time Annual Calendar in white gold. The central innovations here are having the date mechanism tied to local time, and having all the main time functions controlled by the crown, rather than with pushers as is typical for Travel Time watches. For ease of use, one crown (with three adjustment positions) controls everything. While this combination of features should be a no-brainer, it is relatively rare. One of the problems for users here is that it is all too easy to damage the movement by adjusting the watch in ways that it should not be. Patek Philippe has taken care of this, protecting the watch from user error (and thus avoiding a very expensive repair); the manufacture says it is virtually impossible to desynchronise the hands, whether you set them forwards or backwards.
Watchmaking is filled with hyperbole, but the brands do come through sometimes — as Omega did with the 45.5mm Sedna gold Speedmaster Chrono Chime, the first watch to chime the elapsed time recorded on the chronograph. Normally, so-called repeating watches use tiny hammers and gongs to sound out the hours, quarters and minutes, or some combination of these variables; this is already considered the pinnacle of fine watchmaking, and Omega brought this mechanism to wristwatches first, in 1892. On the other hand, the chronograph records elapsed seconds, minutes and hours, displaying this information on subdials, typically; a more complex type of chronograph records more than one timing event, like two laps in a race. Both repeater and chronograph mechanisms require separate gear trains, and a variety of specialised parts. While a few brands have created repeater-chronograph multi-complications, only Omega has dared to do the unthinkable by linking the chiming mechanism with the chronograph — now you can time events in the dark!
Parmigiani Fleurier is a manufacture intent on going its own way, as demonstrated in the quirky Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante, cased in steel with a platinum bezel. It happens to be the world’s first wristwatch with a flyback second timezone indicator — pressing the pusher at 8 o’clock causes the local time hour hand (in white gold) to leap back in place above the home time hand (in pink gold). The other pusher, sitting atop the crown, advances the white gold by one-hour increments when the wearer needs to track multiple timezones. In effect, the watch only indicates two timezones on demand, and is a regular dress two-hander otherwise. The simplicity of the design and of the complication makes it hard to believe that this 40mm model is truly unique in the watch world. Perhaps harder to believe is that the manufacture cooked this watch up in less than two years, when typical development time for new features is five years.
Less a breakthrough and more like pure fanservice, the Casio G-Shock GMB2100 nevertheless will be remembered and marked as the first time ever G-Shock cased its CasiOak (a fan-created nickname; it is not used by Casio) in metal, with a metal bracelet. In other words, there is no resin to be seen here, just steel (or black or copper IP-coated steel), although the watch remains as indestructible as any other G-Shock in the Full Metal line. The real story here is in the watch’s nickname, which is a reference to the way the octagonal bezel of the CasiOak resembles a certain Gerald Genta-designed watchmaking icon. In the past, G-Shock had stuck to its guns by keeping this line entirely in its customary resin; this all changed in 2022 with the release of the GMB2100 in full metal. The 44.4mm (W) by 49.8mm (L) quartz watch is solar-powered, and comes with Bluetooth connectivity and a raft of features that fit within the brand’s tougher-than-nails ethos.
While we typically think of the displays on a watch dial as the elements that move, Cartier hit upon the idea of having its entire mechanical calibre swing about freely, as it does in the Masse Mystérieuse. Some clever watchmaker at the company must have wondered what would happen if the entire movement could fit within the winding rotor, thus allowing said movement to wind itself by the power of its own mass. No one had ever asked this question before — well, no brand had ever delivered a watch that emerged from such a question. Now a reality in a 43.5mm platinum case, the Masse Mystérieuse presents a number of questions to collectors, not the least of which is how it can possibly power the hands dial-side. You can actually see the entire movement, front and back, which only deepens the mystery. Another important question is how the rotor winds the watch, given that the whole thing moves on a shared axis.
Undoubtedly the biggest release of 2022, the Swatch MoonSwatch made the mainstream news thanks to the near-riots it caused. The central conceit here, to summarise, was to make the famous Omega Moonwatch more accessible to a wider audience — which meant making it less pricey than any Omega while still carrying the Omega badge and brand codes. The Swatch Group, which owns both Swatch and Omega, decided that Swatch would do the job, and the result is the MoonSwatch series of watches. Essentially, the MoonSwatch reimagines the Speedmaster Moonwatch as a bioceramic quartz-powered collectible in multiple colours inspired by the planets of our solar system, as well as the sun and the moon. In terms of size, style hands, bezel and subdial configuration, the MoonSwatch is just like the Speedmaster it pays tribute to, although the water resistance of 30m does not quite hold up to that of the original.