The final summery months of the year are fertile territory for retrospective lists. We could have gone with the best or the biggest watch releases of 2019, but we’ve opted for a more meaningful (yet no less subjective) metric – the year’s most important.
Before we dig into the details, let’s be upfront about what ‘important’ means in the context of luxury watches.
Occasionally these selections represent something genuinely significant for the industry as a whole, but more often than not we’re talking about a model that is emblematic of meaningful change within that brand. From new materials and technologies to new ways of thinking, here are six standouts.
Apple Watch Series 5
Few wrist-worn devices have been more significant, or contentious, than the Apple Watch. Some purists (many of them working for Swiss brands), refuse to acknowledge the device as a watch at all; but there’s no denying that, five generations in, the Apple Watch is hugely important if only because Apple is currently the biggest watchmaker in the world.
The Series Five (from $649) stands out for a few other reasons, such as the always-on display (impressive, given that it managed to keep day-long battery life), and the use of titanium, which is a solid combination of strength and lightness.
Why is it significant? Not only is this latest generation continuing to make hardware advances and offer innovative new functions (especially in the health space), it’s also a device that reminded a massive swathe of the population that wearing a watch was useful. And after a while, some of these Apple Watch wearers are going to step up to something high status and Swiss. The advent of smartphones had the watch industry worried, so it’s somewhat paradoxical that the world’s most famous smartphone maker is playing a significant role in its renaissance.
Oris Big Crown ProPilot X
The Big Crown ProPilot X is something unexpected from Oris – a brand known best for well-priced, solidly-styled retro divers. The titanium ProPilot X ($11,000) is a completely new look for the brand.
Sure, it fits into Oris’ modern pilot style, but the architectural, skeleton construction showing off an impressive Calibre 115 movement (which offers 10 days power off a single wind) is new, and entirely refreshing. On top of that, we’re treated to a sleek bracelet that flows seamlessly into the watch itself and is a very smart bit of design indeed.
Why is it significant? Not only is it a new look for the brand, but it demonstrates a level of design and construction sophistication that is a step up for Oris, and just what it needs to continue to thrive.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT
The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT ($25,600) is one of the year’s most talked-about watches, thanks to its distinctive, faceted aesthetics and daring design.
The first thing you notice when you strap on this watch is its lightness – the titanium case and bracelet doesn’t weigh the wrist down in any way.
Partially this is down to the alloy itself, but mostly it’s because the watch is incredibly thin – 6.9mm at its thickest point, and the mechanical movement inside is an incredible 3.3mm thin, a feat even more impressive given that the automatic winding mechanism, chronograph and second time zone functionality add significant complexity to an already complicated engineering feat.
Why is it significant? While the record-breaking slender proportions stand out, the real significance of this watch is what it means for Bvlgari. The Roman jewellery brand has a long history of innovative design, though it has mainly been focused on dazzling feminine interpretations. This latest, mature evolution of the young Octo Finissimo line proves that Bvlgari has a sporty, stylish and distinctive men’s watch on its hands, and one with mainstream appeal.
Seiko Prospex LX SNR029J1
Seiko is, without doubt, Japan’s most famous watch brand, and its Prospex line (a portmanteau of ‘professional specification’) has been making popular, hard-wearing watches for decades, mostly with a price tag in the hundreds rather than thousands.
The completely new Prospex LX line takes things up a notch, as this large 44.8mm titanium diver (reference SNR029J1) shows. Fitted with Seiko’s ingenious Spring Drive technology and boasting finishing far beyond what’s typical for the brand, it’s this higher level of quality that explains the $8,500 price tag.
Why is it significant? The price tag sets it apart from other Seiko dive watches, but the key takeaway is that Seiko has its sights set firmly upmarket, which makes sense, as they’ve got everything they need to take it to major Swiss brands.
Zenith Defy Inventor
Fundamentally, mechanical watches all work the same way. The ticking heart of the tiny machine is the escapement, within which beats a spring and balance wheel that literally sets the pace for the watch, and allows accurate timekeeping. It’s this device that gives a mechanical watch that distinctive, rapid tick-tock sound. Well, Zenith wasn’t satisfied with this tried-and-true technology.
In 2017 it launched an experimental new oscillating escapement that replaces some 30-odd components with a single, whip-thin piece of silicon. This concept watch was announced in 2017, and now a few short years later it’s seeing regular production in the appropriately futuristic Zenith Defy Inventor ($26,200), a sporty 44mm titanium watch with a bezel made from an unusual alloy called Aeronith (which does look suspiciously like an Aero bar, if you ask me).
Why is it significant? The technical innovation is all well and good – but what impressed me was just how far this new technology went from concept to regular production. The combination of the two is a potent one, and may mean that Zenith’s star is on the rise.
The American legacy brand Timex might be a household name and responsible for one of the most famous marketing slogans of all time (“It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”), but while the tagline was memorable, its more modern collections were anything but.
But this year Timex made a surprising dip into its archives and came up with the Timex Q. Based on one of the brand’s quartz designs from 1979, this sporty watch, with its woven steel band and red and blue (AKA ‘Pepsi’) GMT bezel, is a fresh look that is perfectly on-trend.
Why is it significant? The watch is well priced ($US179) and good looking, but it stands out as a marketing exercise. It was initially sold online, and each ‘drop’ of stock is gone within hours. It’s a lesson learned from the world of fashion (notably streetwear brands such as Supreme), and has paid off admirably, turning this humble quartz number into one of 2019’s coolest timepieces.