Reviewing watches, and particularly comparing them, has always been an exercise based on opinions. This triviality becomes particularly noticeable when talking to people not involved in the hobby where worlds clash and you struggle to explain what exactly the appeal of a tourbillion is beyond the fact that it just looks so damn cool. It is with this in mind that while I say these are the best watches, it inevitably is an opinion and I would be glad to hear yours in the comments.
2018 has been a weird year. Politics and economics aside, there still has been a general sense of instability and social change that we can see reflected in the watch industry. The biggest change can be seen in the demise of Baselworld. More and more brands, most noticeably the swatch group, have decided that they no longer need the yearly fair in Switzerland that has been the Mecca of watchmaking for over a century. Beyond that, there has been downward pressure on retail watch prices while those of vintage pieces continue to soar in value. And lets not even get started on how fashion brands like Daniel Wellington have peaked in popularity. With that in mind, let’s look back at 2018 and what it offered in terms of horology.
Best Watches in 2018
Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi
This one is a no-brainer. So much so that a point could be made for this being the least creative and most predictable choice in this list. While a boring choice it is arguably the most deserving, and it would be unfair to not include it. On paper, this release isn’t particularly revolutionary. The bezel we already had on a white gold model, and the bracelet was already used on some of the dress watches. Nevertheless, it makes for without a doubt the hottest watch available right now which has answered the calls of many (myself included) begging for the return of the Pepsi.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
It would not be provocative to say that the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is the ultimate version of the already iconic Black Bay collection. Rolex in my eyes really deserves credit for the revival of the brand. At the forefront of saïd brand stands the Black Bay, which on the one hands offers the quality we expect from Rolex and on the offer is approachable in a way that really distinguishes Tudor from its parent company. With an in-house movement and a slim case measuring 39mm in diameter and 12mm in thickness, it offers a lot of value for less than half the price of a new Submariner. Thanks to the big crown without guards and the gold touches on the dial this watch carries all the charm of a vintage submariner without breaking your bank.
While no one doubts Breguet in terms of its accomplishments, they still fail to capture the mainstream appeal in the way that Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe does. Breguet hopes to change this with the new Marine which visually detaches itself from the rather conservative image we are used to. It manages to do so by implementing rather adventurous lugs and an integrated bracelet. More than just a cool design though the new Marine manages to back it up through the mechanical prowess that is responsible for the legacy of the brand. If marketed correctly, I could see this watch competing with the likes of the Patek Nautilus or the AP Royal Oak.
Omega Seamaster 1948 Small Seconds
A running critique I have with Omega is their use of the shotgun approach. What I mean with that is that instead of trying to focus on producing meaningful or rather significant timepieces they prefer to just offer hundreds of models in all kinds of variations in the hope that something sticks. As much as I dislike this convoluted approach there is no denying though that it does produce results. The best of these can be found within the Omega Seamaster 1948 Small Seconds. The watch is filled to the brim with a love of details that really shows it was made by a group of passionate enthusiasts. What I love most about this watch though is that I bet you that as soon as it has accumulated some wear and tear it would fool anyone into believing this watch really was made in 1948.
Patek Philippe Golden Eclipse
I am going to be honest with you, I did not like the new watches Patek brought out in 2018. I know that because of all their new models that were released in 2018, the golden eclipse was the only one that stuck in my mind. It nevertheless deserves a place in this list as when looking at it more closely it offers a lot of value through a sense of simplicity and layered depth that strike a unique harmony that is unique to Patek in the watch world. The design is based on the golden ratio, and I have no illusions of this watch becoming a future classic, but ´this kind of classical dress watch has unfortunately become much too rare in the times where people love to flex’.
Rolex Rainbow Daytona in Everose Gold
This watch is not like the others on this list. That is because unlike literally every other watch that I have mentioned here I cannot envision a single scenario in which I would buy myself a Rolex Rainbow Daytona Everose. So why did I put it here anyway? Because of the reaction that there was to this watch, and what it stands for in the bigger context of the Rolex collection. This is a watch for the brave, for the dreamers who frankly don’t care what their neighbor will say about their new piece of wrist candy. This watch remains in my eyes the most honest Rolex you can buy because it is so very self-aware of its nature: an excessive piece of jewelry from a brand that has managed to grow into a position where they no longer need to justify themselves, to anyone.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo extra thin in titanium and platinum
The Royal Oak is at an interesting time in its product cycle. Once holding the position of being the new kid on the block, it sent shock-waves on a dust-covered industry and revolutionized our idea of what a luxury watch can be. The thing is though, that kid is almost half a century old now. This makes it somewhat inevitable that every worthwhile adaptation of the Royal Oak has already been created, or at least so I thought until the Jumbo extra thin titanium and platinum was released. Bringing two tone back with my favorite choice of metals this watch is the ultimate sleeper, well as much as that is possible for an AP royal oak anyway.
IWC Tribute to Pallweber 150 years
Mechanical watches portraying the time in a digital manner are unfortunately much too rare an occurrence in the watch world. Looking back at their history and paying tribute to their roots this watch has a huge amount of dial real estate with a 45 mm diameter and yet decides to only use a fraction of it. More of a watch for church day, this timepiece offers a level of sophistication that can spark hours of conversation among enthusiasts. Next to A. Lange & Söhne this is without a doubt the best mechanical watch with digital time.
A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split
Mechanically speaking this is the most complicated watch released this year. Allowing for the timing of two concurrent events up to twelve hours long this is a true statement piece. Too big and too expensive for daily wear, this is a watch made for the inside of a safe and only brought out for events like your daughter’s wedding. A watch completely in a class of its own, I believe the Lange Triple Split may be the ticket that bears entrance to the holy trinity for the brand from Glashütte.
Ressence e-crown concept
Alright, so this one technically doesn’t really count. After all, as the name suggests, this is just a concept and it is unlikely we will ever be able to buy this watch or at least this version of it. Nevertheless, I feel Ressence deserves a mention simply for their continuous creativity that does not cease to amaze me. A brand that in my eyes really shows the possibilities of timepieces like no other, the e-crown has managed to give us a futuristic glimpse of what still remains to be discovered in horology.
So those where the best watches of 2018, but as you may have noticed my own laziness has resulted in this blog being posted a bit late for a throwback. And as SIHH has already happened we thought this would be as good a opportunity as any to also look at how 2019 is starting to play out.
AP Royal Oak 15202BC Salmon White Gold & Code 11.59
Audemars Piguet had a weird start into the year, releasing at SIHH in my eyes both the best and the worst watch of the fair. Let’s start with the good: the Royal Oak 15202 BC Salmon in white gold. Just like with the two-tone model mentioned earlier the way in which AP continues to fine-tune the Royal Oak are nothing short of incredible. Pulling one banger after another out of the same hat the new Royal Oak has made it clear that Salmon Dials will be the trend for 2019. Although at this point it should be mentioned that in my eyes saying this watch has a salmon dial is a bit inaccurate, as the photos suggest it is rather a golden hue with touches of brown and pink.
Made completely in white gold, this watch is priced at $55,400, yet you could consider yourself very lucky to get it at that price as this watch is limited to 75 units worldwide, and therefore you can basically already consider it sold out. Why is this watch limited to such a low production run? I don’t know, and it really baffles me particularly when considering that it wasn’t the only release that made the news from AP this year.
Center stage took the Code 11.59, and let me just start this by saying that this has to be one of the most idiotic names I ever heard for a watch collection. AP themselves said that this is the biggest release for the brand since the Royal Oak in 1972, and then they decide to give it a name that rolls of the tongue and inspires luxury about as much run-over rat. Adding insult to injury we are getting 2000 pieces of this collection in 2019 alone.
What makes the Code 11.59 exactly such a disappointment though? This reaches down to the sad truth of this collection, its untapped potential. I actually believe AP when they say that they made a genuine effort with this watch as can be spotted from the movement or certain design details like the double curved sapphire glass. What bothers me however is that I believe AP has lost their way and forgot what actually made the Royal oak so good in its first place, that it was daring to break the rules just as the company slogan goes. But the Code 11.59 instead decides to play it safe with what already has to be one of the most boring dials of the year. Then again what can you expect when the CEO who introduces the watch in an exclusive Hodinkee feature video and doesn’t even wear the watch himself.
Richard Mille Bon Bon Collection
I have to be honest, I am not one hundred percent certain whether Richard Mille is really taking this year’s SIHH seriously, after all, it is no secret that this will be their last year at the fair and the brand has already mentioned that there will be more to come from them in 2019. What they decided to produce this year is arguably the purest form of wrist candy, making a collection inspired by the various temptations for those with a sweet tooth. My favorite has to be the Marshmallow which is a ladies watch with what looks like a mini rope on the dial.
I really appreciate the pop in the colors of all these pieces, and I think it once again goes to show just how far Richard Mille is ahead of the game in terms of their material science. Available in around the Spring/Summer time of this year these 10 pieces divided into the fruit and sweets line I am sure will find buyers willing to pay full retail for these watches. While I really do appreciate almost all the RM watches and the balls that they have, I still have to ask myself whether these watches will be remembered 10 years from now. I am doubtful of that, and I believe that even the owners will someday forget them in their safe. But that is okay, after all, these watches are meant to be short lasting treats, just like the sweets they represent.
Ressence type 2
There is not much to say about this watch, but that is a good thing. I have already talked about the concept watch previously, and the thing is that hardly much has changed since the prototype we were introduced to previously. What Ressence has mainly done with this idea over the last year is smooth out the usual bugs and hiccups a new form of technology inevitably brings along with it. With a 45mm case it surely is a large watch and at $48,800 it isn’t a cheap one either. What you do get for that kind of money though is something truly one of a kind, and the solar flaps give this watch the same vibes that you get from hypercars where the spoilers adjust as you ride.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
While I was sure that the Ressence type 2 would be hard to top feature wise that was only until I found out about the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar. Sure, the name is quite a mouthful, but behind it reveals itself a complication so clever you wonder why it wasn’t around sooner. The idea itself is not necessarily brand new, the F.P. Journe Eleganté, for example, uses a sort of hibernation mode to preserve power when you are not using it so you don’t have to reset the time every time you change up your wrist game.
What is brand new is the implementation of this idea. The Vacheron offers the possibility to manually change the frequency between an active mode (5hz) and a low-frequency standby mode (1.2Hz) which when the watch is fully wound up allows for an astonishing 65-day power reserve. What makes this even smarter is the fact that it works in great harmony with the perpetual calendar complication. Vacheron is aware of the fact that this is not a daily watch, and so the twin beat system spares you the pain of constantly having to reset your wristwatch. One final qualm I have with this watch is its color palette, but given the unique character of the movement, I am sure we will see it in more iterations to come.
F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical
To say that F. P. Journe has a dedicated fanbase would be a major understatement to the most loyal horde the watch world has probably ever seen. A big part of that is due to the fact that Journe not only knows exactly what his customers want, but that he also serves them exactly that on a silver platter. Imagine the response then when Journe decided to stray from the beaten path a little bit: a bunch of desktop experts exclaim they would never buy this watch regardless of their annual income never allowing for it in the first place. And what is all this fuss about? Well, the Sourverain Vertical is bigger than his standard models by 2 mm in diameter and 3.7 mm in thickness.
There is a reason though for this increase in size as it allows Journe to fit in a vertical tourbillon. Rotating every 30 seconds it truly is an interesting sight to see a tourbillon vertical, the effect is only magnified through two mirrored rings. The deadbeat complication really adds to the charm of this piece, but it doesn’t help answer the question of why havingn a tourbillon vertical in the first place either. Now I am sure that there are some watch geeks who will happily resort to physics to offer me a myriad of explanations of why exactly it makes sense to have a vertical tourbillon. I am going to cut all this short though and call BS on any logical explanation for this watch and satisfy myself with the comfort of just how great it looks. If there was one qualm I had with this watch it would have to be the extensive amount of text all over this piece, but this is me cherry-picking. Somehow though I still feel that despite the quarter of a million price tag there will be no struggles for Journe to sell this piece.
Montblanc Heritage Spirit Pulsograph
Let me be frank, when Montblanc announced their intentions to step up their watch game I did not take them very seriously. I presumed that much like Gucci and other fashion brands the whole horology thing would be more of a hobby for the famous fountain-pen manufacturer. All of this scepsis has been tossed out though as through a series of seriously impressive timepieces they really have managed to win me other, and become an enthusiasts darling in the meantime.
The Heritage Spirit Pulsograph with its stunning salmon dial impresses both inside and out. Let’s start on the outside. Both the case and the dial managing to be styled very classically without appearing to be uptight or reserved to pensioners. Featuring a monopusher Minerva movement the sapphire caseback is a real treat for the eyes and with its level of finishing can hang around the big boys. Then again, at €28,000 it is also priced like a big boy. And did I mention it is in steel? While usually a good thing as it makes it more available it is a bit of a let down with a price tag like that. The Montblanc Heritage Spirit Pulsograph is a bit of a mixed bag then. It has all the tools to inspire a new generation of collectors with a truly impressive package but I fear it is priced too exclusively to really live up to its potential.
Looking at this list for SIHH you may have noticed that it was lacking any Rolex pieces. That is because Rolex doesn’t present its new releases in Geneva, but instead at Baselworld on the 22nd of March. Knowing already now however that we will be given at least one watch of the year we thought now would be a good as time as any to ponder about what new watches we could expect from Rolex at Baselworld 2019.
Baselworld 2019 Predictions
Predicting what Rolex, and Tudor by de facto, are going to release at Baselworld has become an annual tradition at this point where enthusiasts from all corners of the world come together to day-dream up their ultimate fantasy watch. The interesting thing here is that the word prediction is actually really not fit to describe what this is about. No one really cares for the most accurate prediction (let’s be honest, Rolex does tend to underwhelm a bit) but everyone is excited about the most outlandish ones. With that being said let’s jump straight into what we here at Watch & Bullion are lusting for at Baselworld 2019
Tudor Pelagos in Green
While not technically a Rolex Tudor manages to sneak into our list by virtue of its family connections. While last year stood in the focus of the Black-Bay I believe this year the Pelagos will be getting some much-deserved attention. In my eyes, the Pelagos has managed to become the most authentic tool watch in both the Rolex and Tudor line-up, and I hope that in acknowledgment of that it will be granted a green edition with a matching rubber bracelet.
Updated Explorer 2 with Oysterflex bracelet
The Explorer 2 is in my eyes a bit like the unloved middle child of Rolex. Unloved though may be a bad description of what is going on here, as on paper this watch offers a lot and yet it fails to sell appropriately next to its more popular siblings. In order to change this, I hope that Rolex will give the Explorer 2 a much needed new coat of paint in form of an Oysterflex bracelet, and updated movement and maybe a redesign the dial and bezel.
Stainless steel Yacht-Master with ceramic bezel
If you have been following the releases of Rolex for a while you would know that there is a common trend as to how Rolex releases new features on their collections. First, they make them exclusive to the more expensive solid gold models (see the white gold Pepsi ceramic bezel) before being released for the masses in a more mainstream-friendly steel piece (see the 2018 GMT). Following that line of thinking then it would only make sense for us to see a Stainless steel version of the Yacht-Master with the matte ceramic bezel insert and the Oysterflex bracelet.
Sea-Dweller with Pelagos Clasp
The Sea-Dweller has gone through many different iterations, however, few of them have been truly substantial in nature. While changes to the dial are always appreciated by the hardcore crowd they fail to capture the interest of the public as they do not create a real selling point for an upgrade. If we were to believe Rolex however that this piece is not just an homage to the brands own history but a real tool watch then it would only make sense for Rolex to add something that actually brings practicality to the piece. In my eyes, the most logical evolution for the Sea-Dweller with that line of thinking would be an updated and more highly finished version of the incredible clasp that we already got to see on the Pelagos. Praised by many as one of the best clasps in the watch industry this could mark a pivotal point where a Tudor inspires a Rolex, and not the other way round.
No-Date 38mm Submariner with Jubilee Bracelet
This one isn’t so much a Baselworld prediction but rather my personal perfect submariner. First of all, I would just ever so slightly shrink the case, to somewhere around 38mm, as well as make it slimmer bringing it more in line with the much-acclaimed Black Bay Fifty-Eight. Befitting of a more slender body I would also change the lugs so that they look more like those found on the Daytona. This would, of course, have to be a no-date sub, as while I am not particularly invested into the whole date window debate I do feel that at least in the Submariner it offers a much cleaner dial design. What could really elevate this watch though would be a Jubilee bracelet. The reason we haven’t seen this already in my eyes is that the modern Jubilee has no safety clasp mechanic which you would reasonably expect to see on a dive watch which costs you 7 grand. Then again, Rolex wouldn’t be Rolex if they couldn’t figure out a smart way to make the Jubilee work on the Submariner, and I am sure I would not be the only person who would be thankful for them doing so.
And with that, we conclude our Rolex predictions and also this blog. Looking back I feel that an updated Explorer 2 and a new steel Yacht-Master are among the most likely of our choices, and I noticed how many more pieces I would like to see with the Oysterflex bracelet. If I have to be honest though I am not expecting too much from Rolex this year as after the release of the Pepsi I feel like they may take a year off from releasing anything major. For a full review of what did actually happen come back here to Watch & Bullion as we will review the new Rolex watches towards the end of March. We hope you enjoyed this kind of blog, and let us know in the comments if you want to see more of these super-long pieces.