This year offered a wealth of ladies watches that got high marks in my book. New movements, new designs and a new take on what women are seeking in their timepieces kept the year exciting and fresh, from start to close. So when I was asked to come up with just six favorites from the past twelve months, I wondered where to draw the line. I decided it was best to distill 2015’s many treasures into those watches I believe best epitomize the authenticity of the brand they represent from a watchmaking perspective, an aesthetic one, or both. Or maybe I just like them. Following are my picks.
The Rêve de Plume affirms Breguet’s brilliant reputation in horology as well as its allegiance to a lavish aesthetic. The white or rose gold watch features the sculpture of a feather that follows the left side of the bezel and a white mother-of-pearl engine-turned dial whose pattern emanates from 6 o’clock. More than four carats of diamonds adorn this watch, which is fitted with the self-winding caliber 586 with a silicon balance-spring. Breguet’s Plumes collection is inspired by the story of the letter-writing (hence the quill) Queen Marie-Antoinette of France, wife of Louis XVI and Breguet’s de facto ambassador for ladies’ jewelry watches.
I’ve been a fan of the Crash for as long as I can remember, so I was a little apprehensive when I first learned about its introduction as a platinum skeleton watch in 2015—particularly since skeleton watches seem such a trend of late. But I needn’t have worried: the watch, which was first introduced in 1967, retains all its Dali-esque character and is a pleasant and refreshing reprise with its manual winding mechanical movement, caliber 9618 MC. Personally, I hope this watch lives on forever, and from my sneak peak of what the new year has in store, 2016 will offer yet another skeletonized iteration, this time in pink gold.
At a time when fussy dials are all the rage, this watch is stunningly understated and may be best described as the classic little black dress of watches. But the seemingly simple embellishments of gemstones and enamel are really not simple at all. A few types of enameling—grand feu, plique à jour and paillon techniques—are employed, and the setting of the round-cut diamonds on the lugs and bezel is flawless. The inky-black dial, interrupted only by the flower at 10 o’clock and its sparkling yellow sapphire center, as well as the graceful hours and minutes hands, breathes an entirely distinctive spirit into the Rondo collection. Inside is an automatic movement.
Taking its inspiration from Peter Carl Faberge’s Peacock Egg of 1908, this compelling watch shows hours and retrograde minutes via an Agenhor-designed manual-winding retrograde movement. Hours are read at the winding crown at three o’clock via a mother-of-pearl ring that rotates counterclockwise, while the minutes are indicated by the fanning tail feathers of a peacock that move simultaneously but at different speeds. The 38mm platinum timepiece is set with 54 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel. The 18-karat gold dial is set with 127 brilliant-cut diamonds, 31 Paraiba tourmalines and 57 tsavorites.
This year’s Rendez-Vous Moon testifies to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s strong commitment to the development of new mechanical movements—including those destined for feminine wrists. While a classic moon phase shows a one-day deviation every two and a half years, the Rendez-Vous Moon, equipped with the caliber 935, is designed to remain accurate for 972 years—a virtual eternity. There are two versions: in 36mm and 39mm white gold, each gem set and featuring a large heavenly display on the dial.
Ulysse Nardin’s Jade collection, first introduced in 2013, is significant for many reasons, but perhaps most notably because it is the first ladies collection in which the company has offered an in-house movement: the UN-310 with a silicium escapement. This latest rose gold version has everything I want in a watch, from its user-friendly manufacture movement to its drop-dead looks. Each function—winding, setting the date and setting the time—is actuated by turning the crown at 4 o’clock forward or backward without any need to pull it out. Brilliant, and apparently manicure friendly. I love the unexpected dotting and swoop of diamonds on the white mother-of-pearl dial that seem to caress the small seconds without constricting them.
As we end 2015, many will say good riddance. Beyond the world news, however, we have horological debut news, which these past twelve months hasn’t been bad at all. Sales are certainly challenging in many places, but the stream of interesting, well-designed watches began in January and continued through last month when I saw the Ressence Type 5, one of the six from 2015 that I’m calling my favorites.
Including that watch, below I’ve listed in alphabetic order by brand my top six timepieces from 2015. I’m talking strictly personal favorites—watches I would wear and enjoy tomorrow. These are not chosen for their impact on the history of timepieces or for their cutting-edge technology (though a few do have some terrific new features). These are not necessarily future auction favorites nor are they strictly the pieces collectors seemed to covet most this year, though several certainly were the topic of extended horological buzz. In fact, I’m avoiding many of the much-discussed watches from early 2015. Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Montblanc, Cartier and MB&F each offered superb new collections in 2015, and iW and others have previously trumped their virtues in great depth.
No, this year-ending list features simply designs that appeal to my own taste and would look good on my wrist. I’ve restricted my choices to those I’ve actually placed on my wrist at least once, usually during a debut watch session or during a test drive on loan from the watchmaker.
This list is far too short of course. This past year I was fortunate enough to see many, many well-made, beautiful timepieces. But in effort to keep this brief, I’ve imposed some (necessary) self-editing.
Almost any watch designed by Sebastien Chaulmontet, head of movement development at Arnold & Son, hits home with me. Last year the CTB knocked me out, and this year while I enjoyed all the new Arnold & Son pieces I was struck hardest by the Golden Wheel, with its combination dead-beat seconds and wandering hours. The watch is just one of many Chaulmontet has designed in the past few years that underline this company a must-see at Baselworld. The Golden Wheel dial is a bit more complex than I typically prefer, but for this piece I’ll make an exception and submit to the learning curve. I suspect that we’ll soon see a few interesting designs from Angelus, the classic brand that Chaulmontet revived earlier this year.
Emmanuel Bouchet’s Complication One, another 2015 favorite, still confounds me – and thrills me –whenever I see one live. Which isn’t often enough. The double-wheel escapement, with inward-facing teeth no less, snaps forward every fifteen seconds? C’mon! Beating at a leisurely 18,000 bph, all of the Complication One’s intricate gear acrobatics are easy to watch, especially since Bouchet uses transparent sapphire discs for the three sub-dials (hours at 8 o’clock, minutes and tens of minutes at 4 o’clock and seconds at the top of the dial). It’s technically unusual and beautifully made by a watchmaker who first made waves for designing Harry Winston’s Opus 12.
Wearing this 39.5mm dressy, complex watch for a week earlier this year I was struck by how much better the dial looks in person than in any images. Where the spare, open font (created for Hermès by graphic designer Philippe Apeloig) is most noticeable in any online rendering, when the watch is on the wrist it exudes both modern luxury and high design—trademark Hermès traits. The blue quartz and mother-of-pearl moonphase display is especially appealing. I understand that technically this is a distinctive perpetual calendar designed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht at Agenhor atop a base movement from Vaucher. This combination would be impressive anywhere. But it took La Montre Hermès’ creative director Philippe Delhotal to create a watch that, in addition to these technical merits, is clearly all Hermès.
Resplendent on the cover of iW’s April 2015 issue, this calendar watch features a stunning meteorite dial. I’m a sucker for moonphase complications, but that second celestial touchstone, a genuine piece of something from very far away, sealed the deal. The piece of meteorite used by Jaeger-LeCoultre fell eons ago from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter onto what is now Sweden. Jaeger-LeCoultre carefully (and with great difficulty) slices each dial from the iron-heavy meteorite, creating a design individual to each watch—another impressive feature. The Master Calendar is also sized perfectly for my wrist (39mm) and it displays all I really need to know about the date and time on a typical day. Of course, I’d first need to take my eyes off the meteorite.
My visit to NOMOS earlier this year only solidified my admiration for this German maker of minimalist timepieces. The firm’s latest style, Neomatik, includes orange or red-accented examples throughout its current offerings, but I’m sold most on this dial found within the most emblematic NOMOS collection. You’ll also find the ten Neomatik designs within four other NOMOS families, including Ludwig, Metro, Minimatik and Orion. Just like all the Neomatik designs, the thin, in-house, self-winding Calibre DUW 3001, equipped with the NOMOS proprietary Swing System, drives this 35mm offering. And because NOMOS CEO Uwe Ahrendt pledges to maintain moderate pieces for his company’s offerings, it’s more likely that you’ll find this particular 2015 favorite actually on my wrist for more than a test drive.
Watching recently as designer Benoît Mintiens described – in acutely technical detail – his new Ressence Type 5 dive watch, is another 2015 highlight. His passion is evident with each detail, particularly as he insists that a technically interesting timepiece need not fit badly or look like a box. His Type 5 is the opposite of a typical dive watch, and wearing one for twenty short minutes was a thrill. Despite its large size (46mm) the Ressence Type 5 fit nicely on my wrist. With an oil-filled case, convex dial and domed sapphire crystal, no other wrist-borne timepiece is so readable underwater from so many angles. As a designer, Mintiens’ approach to timepieces differs from that of a watchmaker, which helps explain why he’s using magnetism to tell the time—and attract collectors.