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The new classics: 5 men's watches from 2020 that will never go out of style

In a post-pandemic world, flashy is out and sobriety is in. But conservatism doesn’t have to mean boring. In fact, these future classic timepieces won’t look out of place 20 years on.

The new classics: 5 men's watches from 2020 that will never go out of style

Zenith's Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition recreates a prototype dial that’s never been used before. (Photo: Zenith)

Given the current climate, it’s natural for one’s tastes to veer toward the conservative. Those crazy complications and blinged-out wrist candy may have to wait for less tumultuous times, but this is the perfect opportunity to appreciate how far a classic, future-proof design can take you.

This doesn’t mean we’re asking you to load your winders with austere dress watches that, while suitably modest, aren’t terribly exciting. We’re talking about watches that won’t look out of place 20 years ago or 20 years on.

Whether it’s carefully tweaking a successful formula a la IWC’s Portugieser and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Control, or straight up plucking a design from the past, Zenith style, they all share a common goal: Timelessness.

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(Photo: Baume & Mercier)

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso and Cartier’s Tank seem to dominate the rectangular dress watch category, pushing less marketed options out of customers’ minds. A pity, really, when there are models like this year’s refreshed Hampton collection from Baume & Mercier that also do a stand-up job of distilling the essence of the Art Deco movement into a modern wristwatch. And at S$3,400 for the basic time-only model, it’s a steal compared to its more established peers.

That model, the Ref. 10522, is the smallest with dimensions measuring 43mm x 27.5mm, but the two larger ones (48mm x 31mm) make good use of the extra room. The Ref. 10528 features a small seconds counter and date, while the Ref. 10523 gets a dual time zone and day/night indicators.

Like previous Hampton watches, these have domed sapphire crystals and a gently curved shape. But the new combination of grained opaline dials, replacement of Arabic numerals with riveted indexes, and black ruthenium sword-shaped hands makes these 2020 novelties the sleekest Hampton references yet.

The Ref. 10522 and Ref. 10528 use ETA movements while the dual-time Ref. 10523 uses one from Soprod, and all three feature Geneva stripes on the rotor, and can be seen through an exhibition case back.


(Photo: Cartier)

The Cartier Santos is possibly the first men’s wristwatch ever made, and the fact that new iterations haven’t stopped popping up for the last century cements its status as a watchmaking icon. So what more could Cartier do with it? Go back to its roots, by the looks of its recent additions.

The main Santos de Cartier collection took the emblematic square case and exposed screws and ran with it in more contemporary and robust case styles. The Santos-Dumont line on the other hand, stayed more faithful to the original, more refined watch worn by the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, and were often limited editions. After re-introducing the latter last year with an array of attractive quartz options, the maison now presents hand-wound editions for the mechanically obsessed.

The Santos-Dumont XL is available in steel, two-tone steel and pink gold, and full pink gold. Compared to the regular Santos de Cartier, here the bezel is noticeably skinnier and the crown is beaded and topped with a pointed blue cabochon. There’s only one size – 46.6mm x 33.9mm – but an ultra-thin calibre (based on the Piaget 430P) keeps it comfortably slim with a overall height of just 7.5mm. Those who worry that this too will become as mainstream as the popular Santos de Cartier can look to the four limited editions, each dedicated to one of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s aircrafts.

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(Photo: IWC)

Watch designs have evolved into some pretty crazy shapes and sizes to accommodate the innovation within, but there’s something to be said for a simple, round case. After all, IWC’s Portugieser has been a hit for over 80 years.

“So to relaunch a collection everyone knows and has a very clear understanding of is not so easy,” quipped the brand’s creative director, Christian Knoop. “Even today it’s still a very modern design and while it’s not perceived as a classic, traditional watch, it has a certain crispness and purity that is very much what IWC is about.”

The collection introduces a number of new models and sizes, but the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42 is perhaps the best example of evolution done right.

“It probably took the longest, too,” added Knoop. “Because we didn’t just want a small copy of the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 44. We wanted a more wearable product, not just in terms of size but also in terms of design because now it sits nicely between the Automatic Ref. 5007 and the larger perpetual calendar.”

Knoop is referring to how the new perpetual calendar has three sub dials instead of the usual four, and is a step up from the two-sub dial design of the 42mm automatic models.

This pared down dial and case size goes perfectly with a new, slimmer movement (the calibre 82650) which gives the case a height of 13.8mm. To make it even more accessible, it’s also available in stainless steel – a first for a non-limited Portugieser perpetual calendar.

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(Photo: Jaeger-LeCoultre)

Nowhere near as awe-inspiring as the Master Grande Tradition nor as sleek as the Master Ultra Thin, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Control sits in the happy middle of being utterly inoffensive yet pleasingly effective. Now with four new models that show off a refreshed case and look, the Master Control can also claim vintage flavour as its draw.

The cases have been enlarged slightly to 40mm, compared to the 37mm cases of the older models, the bezels trimmed and the movements updated with new tech including silicon escapements and larger mainspring barrels. There’s even a completely new configuration of complications: The Master Control Chronograph Calendar is the first to combine a chronograph, triple calendar and moon phase.

But for overall balance and elegance, it’s the Master Control Calendar that comes out on top. The silver moon and stars (formerly gold) blend seamlessly into the silver dial, and the red logo-tipped date hand has the charming feature of jumping across the entire moon phase display from 15 to 16 so as not to obscure the view. It is available in stainless steel or the brand’s Le Grand Rose Gold – a palladium-tinged rose gold alloy that will never lose its colour.


(Photo: Zenith)

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Zenith’s El Primero-powered chronographs are already a classic, having deviated very little from the original design 50 years ago. What makes this Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition special though, is its story.

When quartz watches were putting mechanical watchmakers out of business in the mid-1970s, Zenith was sold to an American company that wanted to scrap production of all mechanical movements.

Thanks to one Charles Vermot, a rebellious employee who (rightfully) believed that there will be demand for such movements in the future, all the equipment and tooling were hidden behind a sealed wall in the attic of the Zenith manufacture.

Vintage components were hidden behind a sealed wall in the attic of the Zenith manufacture. (Photo: Zenith)

Its contents have since been discovered and safeguarded, leading to inspirations for limited editions like last year’s trio of Revival chronographs. This year’s novelty however, recreates a prototype dial that’s never been used before, featuring the tri-compax design in different shades of blue. It also follows the exact dimensions of the original Ref. A386 and, unlike the 2019 Revival watches, is cased in stainless steel and is not a limited edition. This will also be the last recreation of the A386 case.

The Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition was meant to be available exclusively to visitors of the Zenith Manufacture in Le Locle. But in light of current travel restrictions, the watch will be available through the brand’s e-commerce site in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US.

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Source: CNA/ds