Baltic Aquascaphe Dual Crown
I like Baltic. It’s a French boutique brand founded just a handful of years ago by Parisian Etienne Malec. Specialising in contemporary but vaguely vintage inspired tool watches, the brands limited runs combine elevated design with highly compelling prices. This year, the brand launched a dual-crown Compressor style diver inspired by a much-forgotten bit of innovation from the late 1950s. The Compressor style watch used a slightly flexible case back that with increasing water pressure, as you dived deeper, actually tightened the seal of the watch against its gaskets, so tightening the case against water ingress. Baltic’s version is not actually a Compressor but it takes all its design cues from those innovative divers, which includes placing the timing ring — used to keep an eye on spent oxygen in a dive — inside the watch under the glass. It removed the need for the more common chunky rotating bezel and lent Compressor watches a rather more elegant mien than their brutish cousins.
Cartier Tank Must
If you want your watch to get noticed, go big. This obvious no-brainer has sustained the flashier kind of guy – and let’s face it, many of the rest of us too – for the past three decades, since watches bust out of the 40mm barrier and soared to heights of humungousness never dreamed of before. Except the reverse is also now true. If you want your watch to get noticed there’s a far cleverer way. Buy a tank. A teeny tiny Cartier Tank that is. The diminutive Cartier Tank dates back to 1917, when its shape was inspired by an actual WW1 tank. When you see one on a regular guy’s wrist weird things happen. You peer closer to get a better look, you’re left thinking, ‘Huh, interesting.’ Because if the default for successful men in watch wearing is somewhere north of 42mm in diameter, slipping on a Tank is a definitive act of rebellion against the norm. Must de Cartier was a canny line of luxury items that launched in the 1980s that included a quartz Must Tank as an affordable way to get fashion-minded kids wearing the brand of their grandfathers. It worked. It will work again.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight quickly established itself as a pillar of the Tudor watch range since it launched in 2018. Like its bigger slightly older brother, the Black Bay, it proved instantly popular in its new 39mm size. This year, Tudor produced one of the most compelling — and beautiful — versions of the 58 yet, in .925 sterling silver, a metal that is rare as hen’s teeth in modern watchmaking, but even rarer in tool watch culture, where Tudor was born in 1946 as the accessible cousin of Rolex. Being significantly softer than steel, silver is prone to scratching, not what you might expect from a dyed-in-the-wool maker of rough, tough tool watches. Tongues wagged on the internet. A smoky taupe dial and matching bezel only added to the otherworldliness of this watch. It points if anything to the need for a little more lux in our day-to-day watches.
Rolex Explorer 36
It’s hard to think of a more iconically manly watch than the Rolex Explorer. Launched in 1953, it was derived in part from testing the steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual “bubbleback” watch worn, earlier the same year by Sir Edmund Hillary during the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Hillary didn’t own the watch; it was lent to him as part of the official sponsorship deal for the Everest team, and he returned it to Rolex after the expedition. The new Explorer which emerged had a black dial and a simple three-hand display enclosed in a robust steel case. The Explorer is significant because it became the progenitor of a highly successful run of professional grade watches that included the Submariner (1953), the Sea Dweller (1967), the Explorer II (1971) and a host of other iconic watches that still underpin the technical reputation of the brand to this day. This year, Rolex produced the Explorer in its original 1953 size – diminutive by modern standards – of 36mm. While Rolex has never been known to sway towards anything as trivial as a trend – the watch industry has been thinking smaller in the past few years – for the most storied brand in watchmaking this represents a legitimate and authentic return to its roots.
Panerai Submersible eLAB-ID
It may sound like a submarine; it kinda looks like one too, but the ELAB-ID Submersible is a watch. But it’s a watch that’s as experimental as any underwater vehicle. Panerai has a particularly rich history in making military-grade diving watches. Until the 1990s, in fact, you had to be in the Italian navy to get anywhere near one. It turned its back catalog of divers into the rock stars of watch collecting. The back story is indeed special. But what actually makes this watch special is the future. Panerai is pushing the boundaries of material science like no other brands, using its Laboratorio D’Idee (that Ideas Lab to you and me) to push into new technologies, exploring new materials that free us, potentially, from using finite materials. Made in titanium this watch is 97.4% recycled. That means not only the case but the major parts of the movement, the dial and even the luminova markings that glow in the night have been recycled. Available from next year, this watch is extremely limited and its expensive. But like all new technologies the potential trickle down is huge.