The Best of Watches and Wonders For LessBy Felix Scholz
There’s a natural inclination at fairs like Watches and Wonders to fete the outliers — the most complicated, the thinnest, the most expensive. While there’s no denying these outliers are incredible examples of what watches are capable of being, they’re still outliers. In the field of luxury watches, which is already the purview of the one percent, these pieces are the horological version of Jeff Bezos commuting in his New Shepard rocket.
So I’m for the middle of the bell curve: watches which — while still having thousand-dollar price tags — are attainable and, importantly in this era of badly skewed supply and demand, available.
Luckily, there were plenty of these watches on show in Geneva, too. For every multi-million-franc hyperwatch, there was a more pedestrian equivalent. In many ways, these watches have to work harder for attention, and they’re the better for it. After all, it’s easy for a watch with unlimited scope and budget to wow us, but a highly commercial, high-volume piece with tighter margins, that’s a different story. If a watch like that stands out from the pack, it feels so much more deserved.
At Geneva, we saw several such worthy watches. For me, the standouts were from TAG Heuer and Oris — no stranger to this price point — as well as Cartier, who sees the value in having a range of solid offerings across the board.
First of all, Oris. The Hölstein-based brand is beloved by many precisely because of its sterling reputation for value and quality. And for the last few years, the main driver of the brand seems to have been the nostalgic Divers Sixty-Five. But the winds might be shifting, as a few recent developments, like the very-solidly-specced caliber 400 and the contemporary take on the aviators watch, the ProPilot X, indicate.
With the ProPilot X Calibre 400, we’re not just seeing these two elements coming together, but we’re seeing a glimpse of what Oris’s future focus might look like. Much has already been said about the caliber 400 and we don’t need to go into the details again — five days’ reserve, 10 years’ warranty, and all the rest ensure it is competitive with the best of the workhorse autos on the market right now. And in this watch, it does that job. What I’m really excited about is this evolution of the ProPilot X. With its modern facets and angles and outstanding bracelet, the titanium design was an exciting move for the brand, and the openworked dial wasn’t for everyone. That isn’t the case here. With a 39mm case and solid dials in a range of attractive colors (with more in the pipeline, surely), this is a watch made for broad commercial appeal, and I see absolutely nothing unappealing in it, especially for CHF 3,900.
Over in the decorous halls of Cartier, the maison doubled down on the incredible success of its triple threat of colorful Musts — quartz-powered Tanks that revisited the iconic ’70s design and paired them with a stripped back dial, devoid of all those classic Cartier hallmarks (the blued hands, the gullioché, the Roman numerals). Well, this year, they’ve applied that same formula to two new models: Tanks Musts with Large and Small steel cases, and black alligator straps with a compelling onyx black dial devoid of everything except hands and the Cartier name. It might not be Vantablack, but the result is sexy. This is a watch that will suit everyone, and that everyone — men, women, fashion-focused or horological purists — will want. And it won’t break the bank.
TAG Heuer had an incredibly diverse collection this year. The brand released a half-million-dollar diamond-studded Carrera, and a solar-powered Aquaracer in practically the same breath, and both have something significant to say about TAG Heuer’s future, as well as the future direction of watchmaking.
The Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph is made to be worn: it’s 40mm across, with a slim profile and a hardwearing DLC-coated steel case on a rubber strap; add to this the accessible price point, and it’s perfectly suited to actual sports. The marbled bezel with luminous inclusions adds edge and attitude, but the real talking point is the movement. A solar module sits on top of the quartz caliber and is the first-ever Swiss implementation of Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology. This is possible thanks to a partnership with La Joux-Perret, a well-regarded movement manufacturer that is part of the Citizen group’s portfolio. This tech is proven, convenient and good for the environment. To me, though, it’s also another sign that we’re entering a new phase of quartz appreciation. In the recent past, solar-powered watches have been marketed as overly clunky, tech-packed adventure watches, but with major Swiss players like TAG Heuer and Cartier embracing the convenience and creating stylish solar-powered watches, I’m hoping we see a lot more accessible, sunlit watches in years to come.