10 new men's watches that are designed to shine

Forget about sober dress watches, the times call for horological masterpieces that are elegantly flashy and undeniably fabulous

The Chanel J12 Electro. Photo: Chanel
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Now that we have things for which to dress, which watch will impress? Back when penguin suits were required, you’d never (and still can’t) go wrong donning a slimline two or three-hander – classics such as Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony, Patek Philippe’s Calatrava or the immortal Altiplano from undisputed king of slim, Piaget.

But from the office to the opera house, dress codes and men’s fashion have relaxed and blossomed. An open collar, T-shirt, seersucker jacket, pastel chinos or perhaps (gasp) a pair of box-fresh Stan Smiths: we are experiencing a long-overdue liberation from wardrobe incarceration.

Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune. Photo: Hermes

Being mechanical (150-plus parts crammed beneath your cuff, expected to keep perfect time regardless of any animated gesticulation), your luxury wristwatch has an impressive enough task on its hands. But short of cladding the case in diamonds and having all doubt removed, how to bring such traditional craftsmanship in line with your new-found party get-up, without overt flash or fad?

Thanks to the restless boffins of Switzerland’s Jura mountains, it’s easier than ever, with this crop of ingenious conversation starters rendering any awkward small talk null and void. Just remember to match the leather strap to your belt.

H Moser Streamliner Perpetual Calendar

H Moser Streamliner Perpetual Calendar. Photo: H Moser

This offbeat boutique manufacturer first made a name for itself back in the mid-noughties with one of the most innovative yet user-friendly takes on the perpetual calendar – coined by maestro for hire Andreas Strehler. Its flash date harnesses the energy to switch the date accurately in a fraction of a second and – in a stroke of forehead-slappingly elegant engineering – the month indication is discreetly consigned to the 12 hour indices, marked by a small arrow hand.

This new version shoots Moser’s party piece even further into the future, packaged in its super-sleek Streamliner – named after the Art Deco approach to metallic design, but resembling something closer to Flight of the Navigator. If you can bear to slide it off, the view through the caseback isn’t as much a conversation starter as it is a breath-taker.

Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges

Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges. Photo: Girard-Perregaux

After three decades of tinkering with the architecture of his pocket watches, Monsieur Constant Girard-Perregaux finally hit upon his magnum opus: the tourbillon sous Trois Ponts d’Or, in which three exquisitely polished arrowhead bridges suspended the winding barrel, hour and minute hands, and tourbillon cage.

The Esmeralda Tourbillon won a gold medal at 1889’s Universal Exhibition in Paris and by 1991, in time for the brand’s 200th anniversary, the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges became, in wristwatch form, the modern poster boy for La Chaux-de-Fonds’s venerable marque. Its Neo-Tourbillon Skeleton variant now disrupts Girard-Perregaux’s dyed-in-the-wool purism in spectacular sci-fi style – its arrowheaded pink-gold bridges agonisingly open-worked into taut, sinewy bodywork worthy of the Batmobile, and seemingly floating in sapphire crystal.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Razzle Dazzle

Ulysse Nardin Freak X Razzle Dazzle. Photo: Ulysse Nardin

No watch straddles horology’s past and future more dramatically than Ulysse Nardin’s Freak. First launched in 2001, with roots in the 19th century when a Coventry-dwelling Dane called Bahne Bonniksen first patented his orbiting “carrousel”, it not only went further by spinning the entire movement and making it the hour hand, but also single-handedly introduced anti-magnetic, self-lubricating silicon technology to the ticking escapement.

Combining three different dial-making techniques (lacquer, electroplating/galvanic treatment, laser) the monochrome decor here will captivate your fellow revellers. It’s loosely rooted in the marine-chronometry heritage of Ulysse Nardin, drawing from the “razzle dazzle” camouflage of British ships during the First World War and the Second World War – meant to confuse any enemy gunner trying to gauge speed, range or direction. If the Starship Enterprise had a casino, the roulette wheel would probably look something like this.

Breitling Super Chronomat Rouleaux in rose gold

Breitling Super Chronomat Rouleaux in rose gold. Photo: Breitling

When the Italian air force’s Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team invited watchmakers to tender for their official wristwatch in 1983, it absolutely had to be an analogue chronograph, to guarantee instant readability during tight manoeuvres – a horological format only available then in mechanical form, despite the era’s reign of electronic quartz.

Breitling’s eager new custodian, Ernest Schneider, jumped at the opportunity. By 1984, the Breitling Chronomat marked not only a 100th anniversary for the aeronautic pioneer of Swiss watchmaking, but also hope for the Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement ticking inside – a now-ubiquitous workhorse of the industry.

Reliable, precise and no-nonsense, the Chronomat first found favour with pilots, but its bold, luxurious aesthetic soon attracted the wolves of Wall Street. And now here we are, nearly 40 years on, back in love with trusty, never-obsolete, soulful mechanics; back in love with outré ‘80s details such as the Chronomat’s famed Rouleaux bar bracelet and rotating bezel with “rider tabs” protecting the crystal. Inside though? Nothing less than Breitling’s own, in-house advance on the 7750, the Caliber B01.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Nonantieme

Reverso Tribute Nonantieme. Photo: Jaeger LeCoultre

Ninety years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre created the Reverso, an ingenious solution for polo players who wished to protect their watches during matches. Its reversible rectangular case became an Art Deco staple of high society, popular among men and women for its elegant practicality but also aesthetic variations. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Reverso came endowed with complications.

The Soixentieme 60th-anniversary series resulted in six new models within the decade, from the tourbillon to the minute repeater. Now, nine decades after the Reverso was born on the polo fields of the British Raj, Jaeger-LeCoultre presents a completely new visual expression of several signature complications. Front-side, classical as ever; flip-side, however, a curious, almost Steampunk array of two round apertures, encircled by “gadroons”, with a semi-digital hour window. And lying within, the new manual winding Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 826. The Tribute Nonantieme is limited to 190 pieces.

Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture

Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic Manufacture. Photo: Frederique Constant

If big boys such as Patek Philippe and Zenith are anything to go by, compliant or flexure technology is the next big thing, breathing life into the 200-year-old mechanical principles still underpinning the industry – not to mention significantly lengthening service intervals and all-important aesthetic impact.

Given its elasticity, silicon in wafer form is being etched into compact monolithic single-piece components to replace multi-part assemblies. Frederique Constant has picked the most complex and error-prone assembly of all, using a single, jointless structure in the design of its oscillator, the mechanism that metes out the energy flowing through the hands’ geartrain – now at an astounding 288,000 vibrations per hour, 10 times faster than most mechanical watches.

All 26 components of the standard-issue “Swiss lever escapement” are condensed into a single component fitted with two regulation weights, twitching with perfect isochronism at six o’clock.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Tokyo 2020

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Tokyo 2020. Photo: Omega

Anyone transfixed by Mark Peaty’s aquatic triumphs in Tokyo this summer, or delighted by the arrival of skateboarding to the pantheon of Olympic events, will have noticed Omega’s Greek symbol in the corner of their screens. This is no particularly high-profile sponsor placement, however. A visit to Omega and Longines’ three-storey Swiss Timing joint facility in the Jura Mountains is to witness where every piece of timing and tracking equipment has been developed from scratch, for all 33 sports that competed at the Games in Japan.

Since Omega first assumed timekeeping responsibilities at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932, the 30 mechanical stopwatches used there have been superseded over the course of 28 successive Games by 400 tonnes of state-of-the-art kit, all built, shipped and operated entirely from Switzerland. Omega’s commemorative watch beautifully frames the Tokyo 2020 logo’s Unity in Diversity chequered pattern – itself in the traditional Japanese colour of indigo blue.

Bremont Hawking Limited Edition

Bremont Hawking Limited Edition. Photo: Bremont

From the HMS Victory to the Wright Brothers’ historic Spitfire Flyer, Concorde and even the floorboards beneath the feet of Bletchley Park’s Second World War codebreakers, Bremont has paid tribute to some of mankind’s greatest scientific, engineering and exploratory achievements since 2010, with limited-edition watches containing genuine fragments of their physical relics.

The superstar of Britain’s watchmaking revival has now worked closely with Professor Stephen Hawking’s family to commemorate the extraordinary life of the Cambridge university genius of theoretical physics. More than simply a “brief history of time”, the Bremont Hawking’s closed case back is inlaid with four wooden discs, taken from the desk at which Hawking contemplated the mysteries of the universe.

Each steel, white or rose gold piece also contains meteorite to symbolise the cosmos – central to the planetary discs, surrounded by an etching of stars as they’d be seen from Oxford on January 9, 1942, the place and date Hawking was born.

Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune

Slim d’Hermes Squelette Lune. Photo: Hermes

Diaphanous yet brooding, and piqued with skittish elan, this could be Hermes’s most “Audrey Tautou” timepiece yet. With clever juxtaposition of metals and polish – a bead blasted titanium case-middle topped by a precious platinum bezel and white-gold crown – satisfying coherence is lent to the mesmeric, airy skeleton architecture within.

In keeping with the whimsy typifying Paris’s most playful of luxury maisons, a cosmic double Moon, also open-worked, pirouettes beneath slender blue hands that match the stitching on the alligator leather strap. The whole constellation of celestial bodies beats to the rhythm of the ultra-thin self-winding Hermes H1953 Manufacture movement. Something to keep time on those midnight Montmartre moments.

Chanel J12 Electro

Chanel J12 Electro. Photo: Chanel

Arnaud Chastaingt – a quiet figure who has headed Chanel’s Watchmaking Creation Studio for eight years – has seemingly created the perfect capsule collection for 2021. For the new Electro line, each of Chanel’s horological superstars (once derided by purists, now recognised as the copper-bottomed Swiss-made stalwarts they are) have been given the fluoro treatment.

And the new collection comes precisely as the ‘90s are getting a long-overdue and exuberant red-lipsticked, blue-eye-shadowed revival. “I imagined this capsule collection like a DJ line-up,” explains Chastaingt. “They may have been inspired by the 1990s, the decade where the club ruled supreme and god was a DJ, but they speak to the now. To our need to feel kaleidoscopic joy.” Amen to that.

Updated: October 21, 2021, 10:19 AM