Watchonista Staff Picks: Watches & Wonders 2023 Edition
Despite having an entire month to digest the hundreds of novelties presented at this year’s Watches & Wonders, picking our favorite pieces was still no easy feat. Luckily, Team Watchonista is always up for a good challenge.
In the six years I have been with Watchonista, I have learned many things: What a tourbillon is, what Swatch Group and Richemont are, and what it’s like to be a budding watch collector. Of course, those are not the only things I’ve learned over the years. However, I am also the first to admit that I am still learning (for instance, I am still incapable of pronouncing “Jaeger-LeCoultre” correctly).
Still, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is the importance of trade shows. And with Watches & Wonders now reigning as the “big show,” dozens of brands, from heavy hitters like Patek Philippe to smaller independent outfits like HAUTLENCE, release a veritable avalanche of novelties in only five days.
The 2023 edition of Watches & Wonders in Geneva was no different, breaking attendance records and seeing nearly 50 watch brands release hundreds of novelties. However, this year marked the first time that I, someone who works almost exclusively behind the scenes, got to see the novelties in the metal as I wandered around Palexpo. And it was a massive change in perspective, especially when it came to choosing my favorite piece from this year’s show.
My Staff Pick
Had this year mimicked years past, and I only experienced the novelties via press releases and the superb images taken by our Senior Photographers Liam O’Donnell and Pierre Vogel, my choice would have been Chopard’s Alpine Eagle Cadence 8HF featuring a 41mm titanium case and an exquisitely textured black dial with orange highlights.
From the first moment I opened the brand’s press kit, I wanted a closer look at it. Then, when Liam posted his macro shots of the watch’s dial to the company Dropbox, I was in love.
However, after visiting the Hermès booth and seeing the Arceau Petite Lune in the metal, I found my pick for “Best in Show.” And while there are many things to love about the Arceau Petite Lune (i.e., its 38mm case designed by Henri d’Origny and made from white gold, the H1837 Manufacture self-winding movement, or its gorgeous navy-blue leather strap), what entranced me most was the piece’s only feature that did not (could not) come across in a press release: the dial.
Meant to evoke the iridescent beauty of the Northern Lights, the Arceau Petite Lune’s dial looks like it’s straight aventurine. But in actuality, the dial features an impossibly thin layer of aventurine glass set atop mother-of-pearl so that, depending on the angle you view it, the dial will resemble a night sky replete with stars or suffused with the haunting grandeur of the Northern Lights.
Throughout 2023, TAG Heuer is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its iconic Carrera timepiece. But among the slew of Carreras already released this year, only the new Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon “Glassbox” released during Watches & Wonders pays tribute to Jack Heuer’s design philosophy for the original model in a wholly unexpected way: combining a supple blue dial and a surprise tourbillon at 6 o’clock to create a tool watch that is almost empyrean in its beauty.
In truth, I never thought adding a tourbillon complication to a chronograph tool watch would do anything but overcomplicate the design and crowd the dial. But once I saw the harmony of the new Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon “Glassbox,” I must have gone into some kind of “industrial design shock” because I had trouble wrapping my brain around the new reality that I suddenly found myself inhabiting.
Every detail of the Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon “Glassbox” works perfectly, especially how the tourbillon cage takes on the size and countenance of the “missing counter” and creates a faux tri-compax dial that is, nevertheless, extremely well-balanced.
There is no doubt in my mind: The new Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon “Glassbox” is a masterpiece of design – coherent and balanced – and proof that there is no reward without risk.
While Rolex’s behemoth 50mm Deepsea Challenge made from titanium and costing $25,950 debuted in an understated manner in 2022, it was functionally something of a yeti/proof-of-concept chimera for Rolex and the brand’s new RLX titanium material.
Conversely, with its $14,050 price tag, I think we will see plenty of the RLX titanium Yacht-Master 42 models that debuted at Watches & Wonders 2023 out in the wild, once the waiting lists ease up, that is.
By all reports, RLX titanium takes to finer finishing processes better than other titanium alloys, delivering some expected finesse to the final product. However, while the Yacht-Master 42 lacks the heft we are programmed to expect from a Rolex, the new Yacht-Master’s lighter weight clearly benefits in its maritime functions. Besides, it is still unmistakably a Rolex.
The only question is: What will be Rolex’s next titanium piece?
Faithful to a vintage spirit but redesigned at its core, here is my choice from the show in Geneva: the new Black Bay 54 from Tudor.
Pro Tip: Don’t be confused by Tudor’s use of numbers following the name. While it’s true that, most of the time, watch brands use these numbers to reference the case size, here, the case is 37mm, and “54” refers to 1954 – the year Tudor’s first dive-watch (the ref. 7922) was produced.
For me, this piece’s new 37mm case size is ideal because it fits perfectly on my wrist. Plus, its design gets as close to the 1950s as it can without entering the land of kitsch. But, besides the case size, it was the watch’s details that really got my heart racing when I tried the BB54.
The bezel font (along with the dial’s golden furnishings) has been restored to more accurately reflect that of the historical piece. Moreover, the “snowflake” central seconds hand has been replaced with the ref. 7922’s lollipop-style running seconds hand. And finally, the choice between a steel bracelet or a black rubber strap with the “T-fit” clasp proves the versatility of this sporty, dressy dive watch.
Tudor nailed it at Watches & Wonders 2023!
I looked at my Watches & Wonders pick through this lens: What timepiece, though beyond my current insurance budget, needs to be celebrated just for the fact that its very existence in the world delights me?
As a result, my selection has to be the FFC Calibre 1300.3 from F.P.Journe. Presented at the brand’s book-filled headquarters in Geneva during the week of the show (and thus not technically part of Watches & Wonders), there was a sense that the third iteration of this “digital” watch was the culmination of horological history.
Since we first got a glimpse of the FFC Blue prototype made for Only Watch 2021 (it sold for CHF 4.5 million), I can’t help but find its super-complication (a hand-engraved gauntlet that uses five fingers in 12 different configurations to indicate hours while a rotating dial counts the minutes) endlessly entertaining.
Finally, after over a year of fine-tuning (like crafting the gauntlet from titanium instead of bronze as brand founder François-Paul Journe originally planned), F.P.Journe has debuted the final version, at least for now. And the result is completely unique.
At Watches & Wonders 2023, Chopard unveiled a slew of new watches. But for me, one of the most interesting was the new L.U.C 1860 ref. 68860-3003.
This new timepiece from the L.U.C collection uses a classy 36.5mm diameter case crafted in Lucent Steel (Chopard’s proprietary stainless steel blend made of 80% recycled steel). And because it’s a dress watch with a relatively small case, the L.U.C 1860 is very light and blends nicely on the wrist. Plus, the vintage vibe of its appearance is a big part of my “coup de Coeur.”
The most obvious difference between the 1860 and its L.U.C siblings is the new gold-base salmon-colored dial (a rarity in the collection). Moreover, the L.U.C 1860’s hand-guilloché dial is meant to recreate the dial finish on the first L.U.C watch. And with its inclusion of the classic cursive Chopard logo, the 1860 accomplished its goal. Lastly in regards to the dial, the choice of traditional dauphine hands rather than the brand’s notched hands is also an important step to note in the evolution of this classic Chopard model.
Chopard’s new L.U.C 1860 ($23,200) is powered by the COSC-certified, in-house, self-winding calibre L.U.C 96.40-L. It’s also received the Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève), which guarantees that a high level of finishing is carried out for all movement components, even those you never see!
I discovered the Ulysse Nardin Freak several years ago, and ever since, I’ve been intrigued and charmed by its “No dial. No hands. No crown” concept. So, when I found out that Ulysse Nardin planned to use the new Freak ONE to revisit its original design concept for the Freak, I was thrilled.
Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to discover and photograph the Ulysse Nardin Freak ONE with my good friend and Watchonista Senior Photographer Pierre Vogel at the brand’s manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds the week before Watches & Wonders, and it was an immense pleasure. Because even though the concept of the Freak was born more than two decades ago, this daring timepiece doesn’t cease to put a smile on my face and fascinate me.
The new Freak ONE, with its brutalist, minimalistic, geeky, quirky, and very mechanical vibes, embodies so many of the codes I find appealing. This watch is a true treat to wind, set, and read. Still, despite all its playful qualities, the Freak ONE’s mechanics, put proudly on display in its 44mm black DLC-coated titanium case, are as serious as it gets.
I hope Ulysse Nardin builds on the Freak ONE and continues making quirky (but no less amazing) Freak models for years to come.
As someone who has owned various OG IWC Ingenieur models over the years, I was super excited to hear that the Ingenieur Automatic 40 models introduced at Watches & Wonders 2023 would pay tribute to the SL Jumbo 1832 Ingenieur from 1976. However, before I saw any photos of it, my concern was that IWC would stray too far away from the design elements that made (what I believe to be) Gérald Genta’s most underrated creation so great.
Simply put, IWC nailed it.
While IWC is offering the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 in either titanium or stainless steel, proportions-wise, the case is perfect at 40mm in diameter by 10.5mm thick (extremely close to the OG SL Jumbo). Meanwhile, the biggest change to its design is the addition of crown guards, which, despite being controversial to purists, I don’t mind at all.
The new integrated bracelet is true to the OG in appearance. But it has the technology (like a butterfly clasp rather than a deployant one) that you’d expect in a modern watch, which I think is an improvement. Finally, available in four different colorways, the new dials, like the rest of the Ingenieur Automatic 40, stay mostly true to the original, bringing back one of the most distinctive elements of the SL Jumbo: the unique checkerboard “Grid” pattern.
Golf clap for this one, IWC!