Watchonista: A Year In Review

Watchonista: A Year In Review

Despite the ever-growing list of challenges the watch industry has faced in recent years, it still managed to make a roaring success of 2021. So, today, we look back at some of the highlights of this past year in watchmaking.

By Steven Rogers

The watch industry can now breathe a collective sigh of relief and even raise a glass of champagne or two. That is because, in the end, 2021 turned out to be an extremely positive year for the sector, with interest in and demand for watches booming, possibly more than ever.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 brought unprecedented challenges for the watch industry and the entire world, and no one in the horological world quite knew how the following months and years would pan out. But in the early days of 2021, as vaccine roll-outs began to pick up steam, there was cautious optimism and quiet excitement around the thought that a corner had (finally) been turned.

Hopes & Dreams

At the beginning of 2021, nine months of lockdowns and social distancing had seen the watch industry embrace digital like never before. From using WhatsApp to communicate with customers to holding press conferences over Zoom to live-streaming events, by January 2021, brands had learned to excel at online engagement. Meanwhile, more than ever, enthusiasts were flocking to platforms like Instagram and sites like Watchonista to work out what their next horological purchase would be. In turn, brands’ and retailers’ e-commerce sites saw significant upticks in traffic as a result.

With so much switching to online, it was no surprise to learn that many in the industry – from top watch CEOs to members of our Watchonista team – were most looking forward to a return to face-to-face interactions.

“Face-to-face conversations, relationships, shared experiences, travel, finding inspiration, exchanging ideas – that is the foundation of creativity and emotion, vital to our world of watchmaking,” IWC Schaffhausen CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr told Watchonista.

Our chairman and executive publisher Marco Gabella could only concur, saying: “After all, humankind is a social animal who needs others.”

LMVH Watch Week

Despite this unanimous wish to reunite with the watch community in person, the first major watch event of 2021, January’s LVMH Watch Week, remained an online-only affair.

During the virtual fair, Bulgari released three stunning new Octo Finissimos, and Hublot launched a flurry of pieces in ceramic, colored sapphire, and carbon white. Moreover, Zenith unveiled a fresh Chronomaster Sport, Chronomaster Revival A385, and DEFY 21 Urban Jungle.

eBay x Watchonista

In March, we revealed the exciting news that Watchonista had started a partnership with eBay, one of the largest luxury watch marketplaces in the world. The Silicon Valley firm turned to us to leverage our expertise, credibility, and content creation talents to further cement eBay’s watches category in the minds of luxury watch shoppers.

Nearly three decades since its founding, eBay has evolved immeasurably and has now taken its watches category to impressive new heights with its Luxury Watches program and Authenticity Guarantee. The latter is a no-cost service available on timepieces over $2,000 that ensures the watch for sale is authentic and fully as described.

Watches & Wonders

Almost a month later, things began to open up a little as Watches & Wonders held its prestige watch fair that began in Geneva with an all-digital gathering of 38 big-group and independent brands, followed by a five-day, 12-brand physical show in Shanghai.

The salon marked the rise of green-dialed watches, quick-release straps, and sustainable practices. And while some brands focused on refining the dimensions of their popular models or dressing them up in new, intriguing materials, others focused on complications, with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque perhaps the pick of the bunch.


In summer, COUTURE returned to the Wynn Las Vegas for the first big in-person watch show held in North America since the pandemic began. The event gave enthusiasts and retailers from across the pond the chance to go hands-on with new launches from big names like G-SHOCK, Grand Seiko, and Frederique Constant, as well as discover the collections of niche watchmakers including MEERSON Watches, Eberhard & Co., Reservoir, and U-BOAT.

Watchonista: Volume 01

However, more importantly for us, in addition to being the physical get-together we had all been craving, COUTURE will live long in the memory of Team Watchonista as the place where we officially launched Watchonista: Volume 01, our first foray into the world of print.

Filled with fantastic original photographs and stories presented in a rich, luxurious format, this exclusive biannual magazine isn’t sold in bookstores, on our website, or anywhere else for that matter, because Watchonista: Volume 01 is NOT FOR SALE!

To get your hands on a copy of “The Watch Magazine You Can’t Buy,” head over to our dedicated page and locate your nearest retailer or brand boutique carrying the magazine. Currently, we have over 50 points of distribution all over the globe.

Geneva Watch Days

A few days after COUTURE, all eyes turned to Switzerland, where the second edition of Geneva Watch Days took place. Its self-managed, decentralized format saw 25 diverse brands present new releases and host socially distanced events all around the Swiss city, including at manufactures, boutiques, and hotels.

Attended by 350 retailers, more than 300 journalists, and numerous global collectors, the show was a resounding success. Being out and about in the summer air and catching up in person with the watch fam for the first time in a long time made for a real feel-good occasion.

What’s more, this is one of the few major watch fairs where visitors can discover – and take shots of – new watch releases in abundant, natural daylight, and Team Watchonista took full advantage.

WatchTime New York and the Wind-Up Watch fair

In the fall, more in-person watch shows returned to the US. Or, more specifically, New York City, with WatchTime taking place at Gotham Hall and the Windup Watch Fair held at Chelsea Market.

Watchonista’s very own Kat Shoulders and JJ Owens were in attendance, and both agreed the pair of events were more than just a chance to hang out with fellow enthusiasts; they reminded us how great it is to see new timepieces in the metal.

Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève

After the previous year’s cautiously held ceremony of limited guest numbers, mask-wearing, and social distancing, the 2021 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) – the Oscars of watchmaking – saw a return to the banks of Lake Geneva for something akin to normality.

As a result, in early November, more than 1,300 industry personalities filled the Théâtre du Léman to discover the names of the 15 timepieces selected to take home a coveted statuette, with the Best-in-Show prize, the “Aiguille d’Or,” going to the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar.

Only Watch & Geneva Watch Auction Week

The GPHG was a neat prelude to Geneva’s watch auction week, during which the Only Watch charity auction celebrated another stand-out edition, raising CHF 30 million.

While, once again, Patek Philippe topped the lots with its Complicated Desk Clock Ref. 27001M selling for CHF 9.5 million, all 54 participating brands played their part. Indeed, four other lots – F.P.Journe, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, and De Bethune x Voutilainen –fetched over a million Swiss francs each, and another 20 one-of-a-kind watches went for over CHF 100,000.

Meanwhile, the Geneva Watch Auction: XIV, which is held by Phillips, in Association with Bacs & Russo, set a new world record for a watch auction, with its carefully curated 248 lots bringing in an incredible CHF 68.2 million, almost doubling the previous record for a watch auction total.

Top of the lots was a Philippe Dufour Grande & Petite Sonnerie, which sold for CHF 4.75 million, setting a new auction world record for an independent watchmaker and making it impossible to ignore the continued rise of independents, many of whom have thrived during the pandemic.

Dubai Watch Week

Fittingly, the year ended on a high note and in the welcome warmth of the United Arab Emirates, where the fifth edition of Dubai Watch Week, organized by Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, took place at the end of November.

Our very own Ash Longet was there to take it in. As well as enjoying the exhibition side of the event, with many of the 40-plus participating brands unveiling exclusive limited editions – Ash was most impressed by the fair’s continued efforts to promote horological education and knowledge sharing through its Horology Forum, Collector’s Lounge, Creative Hub, and Masterclasses.

“One thing that is important to understand about the success of the fair is that the focus is 100 percent centered on transferring knowledge of craftsmanship, not sales, making it, by far, the most audacious and inspiring industry event on the calendar,” she reflected afterward.

More Good Times Ahead?

And that, as they say, is a wrap. If 2021 showed us anything, it was that the watch industry is very much alive and well, displaying a steely resilience and ability to adapt and evolve while managing to fuel the passion of enthusiasts and collectors to soaring new levels.

Will it continue to flourish in 2022? If so, how will it happen? You’ll just have to watch this space.

(Photography by Watchonista)

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