The Best Watches Of 2016
While 2016 has served up a series of unexpected events, what’s happened in the watch industry this year has been more predictable. Companies have begun a shift West as the US and European markets grow larger than those in the fast-shrinking East, making this year (and next) all about bigger, more affordable steel watches.
Jury’s still out about the impact of smartwatches on the traditional watch market, but with Apple selling millions and millions of its Watch, it can’t be ignored. Distilling these trends into a handful of watches was never going to be easy, and the outcome is of course subjective – but I thought I’d have a go anyway. Here goes.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex’s new batch this year included a controversial revival of its Air-King (the dial design split critics) and a tweaked Explorer – two significant additions to the canon.
But it was the new Daytona that hogged the headlines. Its black Cerachrom (Rolex’s ceramic) bezel and white dial with black-rimmed chronograph counters looked great (as did the black-dialled, white-rimmed counter reverse), but really, the story was all about availability. Demand for Daytonas has always been higher than supply, a point proved by waiting lists for the new model which have stayed sky high all year. One appeared on a pre-owned seller’s website recently for almost twice the list price. Now that’s brand power.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five
The ‘accessible’ watch story is new to some brands, but others have been preaching it for a long time – while others saw dollar signs during the recent industry boom, Oris stuck to its ‘sensible pricing’ strategy, winning it a new generation of fans.
It’s also been making some great watches. The Divers Sixty-Five line was launched in 2015 and was joined by this 42mm version on a roughed-up leather strap this year. It’s not a deep-sea diver’s watch, but with 100-metre water resistance, a uni-directional rotating bezel and a sturdy steel case, it’s certainly practical. Best of all, it’s a proper Swiss watch for a reasonable price – who doesn’t like retro-utilitarian-chic that doesn’t break the bank?
Apple Watch Series 2
Generally speaking, I get excited about smartwatches in the same way I get hungry when I see celery, but it can’t be denied that Apple’s second stab at a connected Watch has had a big impact on the watch industry.
Tim Cook certainly thinks so, reliably informing the world at launch that Apple is now the world’s second biggest watch brand. Series 2 is also a big improvement on the company’s first effort – built-in GPS and water resistance being the most useful advances. But the big difference with Series 2 is that Apple has stopped pretending it’s a fashion/style item (ditching the absurd rose gold Edition for a much cheaper, more practical ceramic model), deciding instead to market it as a wrist-worn activity device. In that category, it’s unbeatable.
Farer Endurance Automatic
I could have picked any one of the watch brands, many of them British, that of late have started to fill the space between £500 and £1,500 vacated by the traditional Swiss brands over the last decade. Christopher Ward and Larsson & Jennings get a well-deserved mention too, but the latest and – for me – best-looking of the new batch is the collection of automatics launched by Farer a couple of months ago.
Here we’re getting a Swiss Made watch, a considered piece of design and, to use the grim cliché, something different. Farer’s is a fairly priced mechanical watch for style-conscious early adopters, and the market needs that.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze
I’ve said before that I bought into Tudor’s original Black Bay, but this year I almost wished I’d held my breath and waited for the bronze version. One of the undoubted stars of March’s Baselworld watch fair, it’s been a critical and commercial success, picking up a gong at November’s Grand Prix Horlogerie de Genève, the self-styled Oscars of watchmaking.
One of its big selling points is that it carries Tudor’s debut in-house movement, a unit with a 70-hour power reserve (the norm is around 40 hours), but it’s the visual combination of its naturally ageing bronze case and bezel, matte brown dial and aluminium bezel insert, and fabric strap that has been so winning.
Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One
Chopard doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a watch brand, at least not in the UK (in France, it’s better known than Patek). In 1996, it began a programme of in-house fine watchmaking, naming the collection this spawned L.U.C after the company founder, Louis-Ulysse Chopard.
Twenty years and eleven movements later comes a collection of travelling watches, one of which is this bewitching platinum-cased world timer, the L.U.C Time Traveler One. Rarely are world time watches so stylish or well balanced. As the name suggests, it’s the first watch with a world time function the company has made in-house.