Paradoxically, 2019 may be remembered as a year of dramatic change and cautious consolidation. Dramatic change is coming from the way watches are sold and promoted. Baselworld is a diminished force as businesses communicate directly with retail partners through digital extranets and their own events, while consumers are shown watches at the same time as the traditional press with announcements via brands’ social media channels. While this disruption is all around us, there is a steady-as-she-goes approach to watch design. Gone are the over-sized, incredibly complicated and ostentatious pieces that made billions as China’s millionaires mushroomed. In their place are conservative classics that anybody could wear as WatchPro’s Rob Corder describes in this 2019 trend report.
Diversity in the choice of metals has been one of the great steps forward for modern watchmaking with gold and steel now sold alongside titanium, carbon, ceramic and many others. With so many choices, it is notable that bronze has cut through in so many collections.
Pioneer Panerai continues to use the alloy in 2019; Tudor expanded its offering with a new Black Bay Bronze with a slate grey dial, Bell & Ross combined bronze with an olive green dial for its BR03-92-Diver, one of my favourite models of the full Autavia line released by TAG Heuer was in bronze and Meistersinger released three of its top-selling models in the metal.
There have been many false dawns for watchmakers believing they can double the number of expensive mechanical watches they can sell by persuading women that kinetic energy is the way to power their timepieces.
The proportion of mechanicals made for ladies increased only slightly this year, but there is evidence that production may be trailing demand as more and more automatics and hand wound pieces are being worn by women.
Some are wearing men’s watches, even 40mm or larger models, others are opting for mid-sizes of around 36-38mm. In common with men, it appears women want authenticity and tradition in an era of fast, throwaway fashion.
Hublot took a bold step this year with around half of the models it presented made for ladies.
A full collection of Spirit of Big Bang models in pink, powder blue, black with diamonds and a range with full pave diamond dials were stunners. Gucci has expanded its range of G-Timeless Automatics featuring its iconic bees, while Bulova has made affordable automatics.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE
America and Britain have obvious affinity for the red, white and blue of their flags, and should be target markets for a minor trend for watches using all three colours.
Zenith used the combination for its biggest launch of the year, a collection of El Primero models celebrating 50 years since the automatic El Primero chronograph movement was introduced in 1969.
Graham went even further with the trend for its Chronofighter Vintage UK, a reminder of its historic link to London clockmaker George Graham, who worked in the early-18th century.
Ice-Watch made its new ICEsteel timepieces in almost every style, but its Pepsi-style homage was the most eye-catching.
Citizen, as part of its deal with Disney Corporation, is using the colours of the American flag in its Captain America watch launched alongside the Marvel movie.
STREET ART & TATTOOS
Another micro trend we are noticing is a fashion for collaborating with less mainstream artists from the tattoo and graffiti disciplines.
Hublot has been out in front with the style for a number of years, and had a couple of new watches for 2019 for the genre. Tattoo artist Maxime Plescia-Buchi worked with the watchmaker to design the Big Bang Sang Bleu II (the second watch from a collaboration that began in 2016), while street sculptor Richard Orlinski and Hublot continued their work together with the creation of the multi-faceted Classic Fusion Orlinski.
TAG Heuer has also been aligning itself with graffiti in the form of its TAG Heuer Formula 1 Alec Monopoly and TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 Alec Monopoly, which launched earlier this year. G-Shock has also been on this trend for some time, working with New York street artist Stash since 2016.
It is possible to create a trend article on almost any colour of the rainbow, but we keep an eye out for those that are seen more often and those that are seen less.
Green is most certainly on the rise, although retailers would probably prefer to keep seeing blue, white and black pieces as they are guaranteed to keep selling well.
Rolex has never shied away from using various hues of green over the years, most notably for Submariners that its enthusiasts have named the Hulk and the Kermit.
This year it has produced a 36mm Day-Date with a diamond-studded dial with a vivid ivy colour at its centre graduating to almost black at its circumference.
Another beauty was from Bell & Ross, which adopts an olive green dial for its 2019 Diver timepiece that works beautifully with a square bronze case. As the bronze darkens over time, I expect the olive colour to appear lighter in contrast.
Chronoswiss, which specialises in regulator watches, presented its signature style in a range of different colours, but its bright green and black model was among the most memorable.
And since returning from Baselworld, more striking green pieces have caught our eye from March LA.B, Certina and Michel Herbelin.
There is nothing new about watches with links to the military. The entire pilot/flieger watch concept with oversized crowns and large, legible hands and numerals is built around the needs of airborne fighters while watch collectors have long lusted after the “Dirty Dozen” World War II watches and contemporary pieces inspired by their designs.
This year both Bremont with its Armed Forces Collection and Casio have signed licensing deals with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to produce watches that carry the insignia of Britain’s army, airforce and navy.
Elliot Brown managed to get its Holton Professional, first unveiled in 2018, approved by NATO and given its own NATO stock number. That means armed forces can be issued with it as part of their military kit alongside weapons and protective gear.
STRENGTH OF CARBON
There has been no shortage of carbon fibre used for cases and even movement parts in the past two years, and the lightweight and rugged material is becoming more popular and mainstream.
Victorinox, which positions itself as a supplier of tools on which lives can depend, has been a fan. After all, reliability, strength and every gram counts when it comes to packing a rucksack for a mountaineering or diving mission. For 2019, its I.N.O.X Carbon collection was extended with some stylish new dials including the pictured green on blue combination.
Luminox is from the same heritage as Victorinox and has created its own carbon-based material for its 3600 series that makes the watch light, hypoallergenic and extremely durable and resistant.
The watch has been officially licensed by American navy and has been designed in consultation with the Navy Seals.
Zenith’s Defy El Primero 21 family has been extended with a new Carbon edition and G-Shock premium Gravitymaster GWR-B1000X for 2019 has a new Carbon Core Guard structure for shock resistance, carbon composite material is used in the case and a carbon-fibre insert band gives improved tensile strength.
MINIMALISM TO SPORT
Sportier watches is probably the trend driving the great value of sales right now with Rolex, Omega and TAG Heuer profiting from the right models at the right time.
TAG Heuer’s Autavia was the brand’s big launch at Baselworld, with a watch that was revived as a limited edition two years ago developed into a full collection for 2019.
Other watch businesses are dabbling in sports watches for the first time. Ice-Watch, featured in the Red, White & Blue category of this report, was built on minimalist silicon watches, but has created a full family of sporty styles in steel for people who want the Rolex look but without the price tag.
Grand Seiko is an even more surprising convert to sports watches with gold and titanium limited editions of both chronograph and three-handed models.
Better known for its classical and dress watches, the addition of something more active as part of the company’s 20th anniversary Spring Drive celebrations is timely and welcome.
PASSION FOR PLATINUM
The spot price for an ounce of gold right now is around $1300 while platinum costs less than $850. It is surprising, therefore, that so few watches are currently using the latter, most likely because steel is used so commonly by even the most luxurious of watch brand and is indistinguishable from platinum to the untrained eye.
I, for one, was happy to see a slight uptick in the use of platinum, not least because it feels somewhat fraudulent that steel watches are selling for five figure sums. It is similar in density to gold, which means platinum watches have a pleasing weight that many will associate with luxury.
Two of the best examples of platinum watches at Baselworld were from Grand Seiko and Bulgari. Grand Seiko marks the 20th anniversary of its Spring Drive movement this year, and has marked the year with a small family of exquisitely thin dress watches in platinum.
Bulgari’s tribute to its Gérald Genta, who set up his eponymous manufacture 50 years ago in 1969, was also forged in Platinum, and appropriate choice for a watchmaker synonymous for luxury during his time working for Universal Genève, Patek Philippe, Omega and IWC.
This is a tricky category to illustrate, because it is more of a consumer-driven trend that is seeing more and more women wearing larger watches typically categorised as men’s.
But a few watches jumped out as styles that fit the description and were spoken by brand representatives as made for either gender.
Bell & Ross showed a watch that will not be public until September, so cannot be pictured here, but as a heads-up it is worth noting that a style that should appeal to ladies is on the way.
Meistersinger watches may only have one hand to show the time, but they appeal to everybody; male or female. The German company’s big launch this year was the Vintago, a highly wearable 38mm made in opaline silver, ivory, blue, and black variations that everybody on the planet could wear.
Maurice Lacroix’s 2019 Aikon Date is the sort of watch that defies pidgeon-holing by gender. It the sort of classic sporty design that today’s active women are starting to wear and, at 35mm, is large enough for many men. The company revealed its new watches in January this year, having withdrawn from Baselworld, so the Aikons are already on sale.
Baselworld is a blur of hundreds of watches, but two stuck in my mind that have to sit together as seventies-inspired pieces in this trend report.
Bulova seems to be channelling Doctor Who’s robotic canine companion K9 (first appearance in 1977) with its Computron, a watch with a digital display that lights up at the touch of a button. It is pure kitsch, and should do well as people search for something simpler than an iPhone for the wrist.
Equally fun is the Gucci Grip, which spokespeople say is inspired by the golden era of skateboarding. The association is not obvious, but the watches are visually impactful with their gold or silver coloured metal faces that show hours, minutes and the date in three small windows.
It is the sort of jolting idea that might have been trialed with a soft launch, but Gucci devoted an entire second stand at Baselworld to the creation, which suggests it will be a big PR piece this year.
Many brands have come to the sustainability party in the past couple of years, but Oris has been living it for much longer and has now made it a way of life that affects everything from the coffee cups used by employees to watches that raise awareness and money for ocean clean up campaigns.
Its Oris Great Barrier Reef III is not just another ‘good cause’ watch, the 2000 piece limited edition will directly benefit Australia’s Reef Restoration Foundation on a project that is planting replacement coral in the world’s most iconic reef.
Mondaine has also been moving towards a more sustainable future, and unveiled a number of innovations this year that limit the environmental impact of its watchmaking.
Straps for its latest Classic collection are made from recycled PET bottles. They join the Essence range launched last year that use materials including castor oil, natural rubber and recycled plastic.