The end of 2017 is upon us and with it comes a time for reflection. I asked myself the question: “Looking back at the year, which high-end watches surprised me the most?”
Surprising watches are those that stand out from a design or technical perspective. This isn’t about value-propositions or novelty, but rather something compelling or innovative in a way that us watch lovers tend to deeply respect or take notice of. Below are six of the most compelling and surprising high-end watches of 2017.
Rolex Cellini Moon Phase
Strictly speaking, there is nothing novel about a dress watch with a moon phase indicator, unless it is a Rolex. Moon phase complications tend to be the type of feature that Rolex has let other brands focus on – it last made moon phase watches in the 1950s – preferring instead to build watches of daily practicality. Moon phases displays are considered a more “romantic complication,” especially in a dress watch – so it was very interesting to see Rolex ever so elegantly design one into a Cellini collection, equipped with an enamel and meteorite moon phase display no less.
Zenith Defy Lab
2017 saw Zenith debut just a few production pieces for the Defy Lab, which features the world’s most accurate production mechanical movement. Next year will see the important collection expand even further, with an emphasis on affordability, priced at the about the same as a steel Zenith El Primero chronograph. Two things are noteworthy in the Defy Lab. First is the impressive use of modern technology – a large silicon oscillator – to make a mechanical timepiece movement perform better for daily wear. That means consumers who invest in a timepiece such as this can actually claim to have novel functional value. Second is the design of the Defy Lab, which heralds in a new era of cultural relevance for Zenith, with an angular, masculine design the pulls the heritage brand into modern times.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic
If anything Italian jeweller Bulgari can be credited with making the modern dress watch sexy and interesting. The Octo Finissimo is the brand’s ultra-thin version of the famed and popular Octo case. The Octo Finissimo Automatic includes a new in-house automatic movement which Bulgari decided to offer it first in an ultra-thin, sand-blasted titanium case (matched with a ultra-thin bracelet), that makes the Octo Finissimo Automatic that much morememorable. Bulgari has does an excellent job of combining style, mechanical expertise, and a thoroughly refined sense of design to the world of high-end daily-wear men’s watch that you simply don’t see in too many other brands.
Hublot Big Bang Mecha-10
New versions of the interesting Meca-10 watch from Hublot help highlight what is really impressive in a watch like that. The Meca-10 is noteworthy because of the artistic movement, inspired by Meccano construction kits. While not aiming to excel from a performance perspective in any one particular area, the Meca-10 is an in-house movement that is all about artfully rendering a time telling machine. Armed with the knowledge that their customers love viewing the mechanical of mechanical movements, and that artistic views make the best views, Hublot develops movements like the Meca-10 in order to highlight and celebrate why people enjoy mechanical timepiece in the first place. It takes a trained eye and some education, but the stories contained in the Big Bang Meca-10 watches are certainly memorable and interesting.
MB&F HM7 Aquapod
The first marine-themed Horological Machine from MB&F is the Aquapod, and it has been on my mind since I first saw images of it almost a year ago. As the Horological Machine No. 7, the Aquapod is all about being able to take a wild idea and successfully transform it into a wearable, functioning product. That probably helps define what makes MB&F product so good, is that they are made to look and perform well (not just one or the other). It helps that MB&F hates the idea of coming out with anything that even remotely resembles what another brand is doing.
Featuring a flying tourbillon sitting under a huge sapphire crystal dome, and looking like a mixture between a traditional diving watch and a mechanical jellyfish, the MB&F Aquapod is a haute horology dream because it combines so many things collector’s appreciate about the truly well-done and avant-garde in the wrist watch universe.
Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie
The movement was so good that it was co-developed for Vacheron Constantin, which also introduced a watch with a related movement. Greubel-Forsey’s Grande Sonnerie is the mega high-end Swiss brand’s first foray into chiming watches. It also happens to be an automatic (partially) and is designed to sound fantastic. What else do you expect from a watch that costs close to a million dollars? It actually isn’t very surprising that Greubel Forsey came out with a class-leading minute repeating grand sonnerie timepiece. What is more surprising is how much knowing that it exists can deflate one’s appetite for lesser, albeit very high-end minute repeater timepieces. If you like chiming watches, you should certainly hear this one in action.
Panerai LAB-ID Luminor 1950
The least surprising element of most new Panerai watches is the design. Panerai is steadfastly dedicated to preserving a particular look and feel for its product collection, which puts a strain on its ability to innovate in terms of design. The LAB-ID Luminor 1950 is an exception to the norm. My first reaction to this watch was “Wow, this is what a modern Panerai watch should look like.”
Perhaps it isn’t at a price most consumers can stomach, but it is an excellent product for those who can afford it. Panerai didn’t just stop at design (the incredibly black Vantablack dial is a real highlight), but also the movement, which is packed with high-tech features that allow it to run without lubrication. With that Panerai offers a 50-year warranty with each of the limited edition LAB-ID Luminor 1950 watches sold. That’s just 1,000 Euros a year if you don’t include the value of the watch!
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Ariel Adams – United States
Ariel Adams started writing about watches in 2007, almost immediately after finishing law school. Since then he’s never looked back – combining his business skills with an enduring passion for timepieces and all things “well-made”. In addition to running the world’s highest-traffic online watch magazine, Adams also wrote a book, The World’s Most Expensive Watches, and also lends his voice to leading watch and thought publications around the world.