Times Have Changed: The new era of the watch

Times Have Changed: The new era of the watch

The primary function of a watch might be to track the passage of hours and minutes but Laura McCreddie-Doak discovers the timepieces ringing in a whole new era of horology

There is something very pure and aesthetically pleasing about a time-only watch; one with just two or three hands, or maybe, at a push, a sub dial. Design-wise there is nowhere to hide; everything has to be almost Golden Ratio-level perfect. If you want a visual aid, just think of Patek Philippe’s Ellipse. It is horological perfection – that compelling ‘rectangle or oval’ case shape, elegant, slim single-line indices and subtle sunburst dial. There is nothing uneasy on the eye or in any way controversial.

Feb 14th 2020
Laura McCreddie-Doak
Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo watch

But as beautiful as these designs are, sometimes you want something a little more fun than perfection – you want bells, whistles and the kitchen sink. Or rather, to put it in more horological terms, minute repeaters, tourbillons and emergency-rescue capabilities.

Luckily, watch brands are more than happy to show off their technical prowess by constantly redefining what can be contained in a 40-something millimetre case.

Consider Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra Thin – this mouthful is ironically the world’s slimmest automatic perpetual calendar on the market (although Bvlgari is reportedly already working on toppling that particular crown). This started life as a concept watch – the RD#2 – which managed to re-engineer a three-level movement into a single 2.89mm slice; a slice that Audemars Piguet managed to add to its core collection.

Boss Aero watch

If the ongoing pursuit of slimness as a complication is something that fascinates you, then Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo range must already be on your radar. And if unnecessary, though very technically fascinating, complications are also a thing, then this super-slim tourbillon is a must. This 2018 record-breaker stays supermodel-slender thanks to an efficient white gold-and-aluminium peripheral oscillating weight, positioned on the back of the movement, and a unique ball-bearing system that contributes to the reduced thickness of the flying tourbillon.

Opting for added extras needn’t be a prohibitive pastime: BOSS’s amazing Aero includes a slide-rule bezel and two logarithmic scales, which will allow you to work out how much a glass of Champagne costs anywhere in the world – but only if you know the exchange rate, oh, and how to use a slide rule.

There are timepieces out there with complications that are more pedestrian, in the sense that they actually have some relevance to one’s everyday existence. Patek Philippe launched a gorgeous, and slightly unusual, weekly calendar – the Ref. 5215A. Patek has cleverly found a way to make the days, dates and months look as though they have been handwritten, giving the piece a wonderful vintage feel.

Omega Speedmaster

Omega on the other hand is king of the chronograph, especially when it comes to the legendary Speedmaster. In 2019, its legendary status was given a significant boost thanks to the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings but also because Omega decided to bring back the iconic calibre 321 – the column-wheel chronograph that was inside Neil Armstrong’s watch when he took that famous small step – in its Moonphase.

A Speedmaster is obviously the watch of choice should you find yourself on the Moon, but if you’re headed to the depths, then Blancpain is the brand you need to make a splash. The Blancpain X Fathoms is a 55mm behemoth that contains everything you need to go and make friends with a snipe eel.

It has a mechanical depth gauge (no quartz here), two depth-indication scales, maximum-depth memory with secured reset pusher, a decompression valve, a retrograde five-minute decompression counter and some more basic things, such as seconds, minutes and hours. It won’t match, sartorially, with anything other than a wetsuit but, when you’re that deep, there’s no one but giant spider crabs to impress.

Breitling Emergency II Cobra Yellow dial watch

Blancpain is one brand that has never used that dark crystal, quartz, and has done very well sticking to its principles, but there are some things that you just can’t do with mechanics, such as connect to a GPS.

Which is where TAG Heuer’s Connected comes in very handy. Once you’ve experimented with the 4,000 ways you can personalise the dial, you’ll be able to select your plane seats, track your vital exercise stats and adjust your thermostat remotely. And, thanks to TAG Heuer’s new Golf version, with its 3D maps of more than 39,000 courses worldwide, club-selection capabilities and shot accuracy measurements, you’ll never be buying the loser’s round in the clubhouse again.

Losing is no one’s preference and neither should getting lost be either; however, if you do find yourself stuck up a mountain with no way down, then you will want the Breitling Emergency on your wrist. This is the watch with the ultimate added extra – a dual-frequency distress beacon. Simply use the oversize crown on the lug of the case to find either 121.5MHz or 406MHz and an alert will be launched as well as a guide to homing and rescue operations.

Just don’t deploy it to impress your friends after too many glasses of Ruinart. Any fake call-outs could see you slapped with a rumoured £10,000 fine – an added extra you’d rather do without. | | | | | |


Images courtesy of the brands

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