Discover the top 10 watch stories from 2021, as picked by Wallpaper* watches & jewellery editor Hannah Silver. From new releases to technical accomplishments, from the adventurous to the simply chic, here are some of the year’s best watch stories and reveals (in no particular order).
Top 10 watch stories of the year
01. Rolex’s latest watch is designed for life’s explorers
Rolex’s history of creating tool watches can be traced back to the 1930s, when the timepieces it provided to explorers became an integral part of an expedition’s kit. In 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest, it was with their white Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches. Building on this success, Rolex released the first Explorer watch later the same year. The new Oyster Perpetual Explorer nods to this adventurous history.
02. Patek Philippe Calatrava draws upon 1930s watch design
Patek Philippe released the first Calatrava model in 1932. With simple legibility at the forefront of its design, it encapsulated the Bauhaus principles of function determining the form of an object. Simple hour markers and a sparse dial, now familiar components of watch design, were then unexpected, and in direct contrast to the ornate art deco designs that preceded the Calatrava. We explore the latest models, 6119G and the 6119R, which stay true to the original 1930s design.
03. Tudor unveils new watch developed with the French Navy
Tudor draws on its diving watch history for the Pelagos FXD model, a new Tudor watch created in partnership with a specialist unit of the French Navy. Tudor, which launched the first modern professional divers’ watch in the 1950s, regularly supplied the French Navy with watches through to the 1980s, a history now revived. ‘For Tudor to be able to reconnect with this heritage, to officially design a watch to unique specs with active duty combat swimmers and tell the “then and now” story, together with the French Navy, is very special,’ the brand tells us.
04. Richard Mille’s nautical new watch doubles as a compass
Richard Mille’s support for Les Voiles de St Barth regatta stretches back to its debut in 2010. The event now attracts around 80 crews annually from all over the world. With both the 2020 and 2021 regattas cancelled due to the pandemic, Richard Mille was keen to continue its support regardless. So this year, the brand created the RM 60-01 Automatic Flyback Chronograph Les Voiles de St Barth, a sporty watch in a limited edition of 80 pieces. Cast in the regatta’s colours, it is equipped with all the complications sea voyagers could need.
05. Bell & Ross’ new Red Radar tells the time in an original way
Bell & Ross unveiled its latest horological ode to aviation, the BR 03 Red Radar Ceramic. Marking the tenth anniversary of the original Red Radar, launched in 2011, this technically advanced new watch design is housed in a tough black matte ceramic case. ‘The original piece was a phenomenal success and remained one of the brand’s best-sellers for a long time,’ says creative director and co-founder of Bell & Ross, Bruno Belamich. ‘Its design – very similar to an aircraft radar – was surprising and spectacular in equal measure. Its graphics reproduced the scanning motion of the light beam on a radar screen with stunning realism.’
06. Cartier’s new watch pays tribute to the original 1920s bell-shaped design
For Cartier, the Privé collection is a chance to revisit classic watch design and unusual models from the past. Now, the Cartier Privé Cloche de Cartier joins the Tank Asymétrique, Crash, Cintrée and Tonneau as a collection to be given a contemporary rethink. Unveiled alongside the Tank Must, Pasha and Ballon Bleu as part of Cartier’s 2021 watch launches, it blends the classic and contemporary in one subversive design. First appearing in 1920, it was originally designed as a watch to be worn on the lapel as a brooch, its unusual silhouette reminiscent of a service bell when placed horizontally.
07. Gucci’s new watch is a technical triumph
Gucci intertwines its Italian heritage with contemporary design codes in the release of its first in-house calibre. The Gucci 25H watch marks the centenary of the luxury fashion brand, encompassing both its rich history and a forward-thinking technicality to bring a sporty elegance to industrial design. The name of the watch riffs off creative director Alessandro Michele’s fondness for his lucky number, 25; frequently woven throughout his collections, here it represents the sharp technical accomplishment which characterises this new timepiece.
08. Audemars Piguet unveils new Royal Oak watches for women
Audemars Piguet has released eight new women’s Royal Oak models in a range of colours and materials. The new editions rework the iconic design codes of the original model, which was first released in 1972, a luxury steel watch before the concept existed. Gerald Genta put a sporty luxury at the heart of his design, his geometric silhouette and integrated bracelet creating a fluid and enduring piece. Now, this new collection trips down the colour spectrum, beginning on the dark side with the Royal Oak Selfwinding in black ceramic. By juxtaposing materials and colours – slick ceramic against the textured tapestry of the guilloché dial, and inky black against rose gold accents – it brings a contemporary reinterpretation to the use of ceramic, first debuted in the Royal Oak in the 1980s.
09. Rado launches minimalist watch to help us slow down
Rado partnered with Dutch trend researcher Li Edelkoort to create a watch that reflects our current desire for a slower pace of life. Edelkoort noticed a shift in how we find meaning; the enforced breaks from shopping, caused by the series of lockdowns, is leading to a potentially long-term change in behaviour. ‘The industry will respond to this, slimming down designs and producing responsible products that last,’ predicts Edelkoort. ‘But that doesn’t mean we will stop making beautiful things – on the contrary. The focus will be on less and better, reduced and exceptional, sustainable and intuitive.’
10. Rave on with Chanel’s electric new watches collection
Chanel is anticipating a bit of post-pandemic decadence with a new watch collection that zings with neon hues. Director of watchmaking, Arnaud Chastaingt, has infused collections including the J12, the Première and the Code Coco with lighting bolts of neon. ‘I wanted to create an immersive capsule collection inspired by electronic music culture,’ Chastaingt said upon introducing the models. He was inspired by the rave culture of the 1990s for the rainbow of bright hues. ‘The musical movement created a radical new visual universe that was a reflection of the night life and its atmosphere,’ he adds. ‘Electronic music transcended the frontiers of music and created an aesthetic culture.’ The new collection borrows these vibrant codes, juxtaposing the bright pops of the rainbow with deep black for a graphic contrast.
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Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.
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