This past year has been a big year, and with news about the future coming in daily (such as the fact that ETA might not be making deliveries of movements in 2020), I thought it might be good to go back over the year and see some of the launches that defined 2019 and its trajectory along the way.
Here are the watches, an indicative trend, and the biggest highlights that for me demonstrated what 2019 was all about.
19: A. Lange & Söhne’s 25th anniversary pieces
This year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the modern iteration of A. Lange & Söhne, and throughout the year the German brand released anniversary editions of various Lange 1 models as a way to highlight the enduring success of the brand since 1994.
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Alongside other new collection pieces that came out over the year – like the Zeitwerk, celebrating its 10-year anniversary – the twenty-fifth anniversary pieces were meant to commemorate the passing of Walter Lange, one of the modern founders of the brand.
18: Ulysse Nardin Freak X and UN Freak NeXt
As for many years now, Ulysse Nardin released new versions of the iconic Freak watch in 2019, one exhibiting dramatic developments in oscillator technology, the other making the Freak available for a wider range of collectors.
The Freak NeXt is the pinnacle of the Freak story this year, demonstrating a new multi-layered silicon oscillator design that eliminates hairsprings and pivot shafts for a nearly frictionless assembly.
The Freak X is a pared-down version of the Freak as an entry-level model that adds a crown and eliminates the winding bezel. It also includes simplified mechanics while keeping the essence of the wandering balance. The two represent continued passion by Ulysse Nardin to develop the Freak concept into the future.
17: Voutilainen 28ti
The Voutilainen 28ti represents watchmakers giving the public what it wants, listening to requests that might have seemed risky for a one-off. But after years of hearing the same thing, it’s obvious that there is a demand.
Kari Voutilainen finally did what many collectors have wanted and made an inverse movement, and the crowd was pleased.
16: Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One
This watch represented a new route for Bovet as it a platform for new ideas, perhaps even wild ideas that still fit within the aesthetic of the brand.
It also makes clear that Bovet is still not planning to rest on what it already has done and is open to trying new things. It includes some cool ideas that Bovet hadn’t explored before, so hopefully it continues to be a test bed for designers and engineers to find interesting solutions and unique designs.
15: Genus GNS1.2
The Genus GNS1.2 represents surprises, which 2019 has had many of (for more, check out my article on Top 10 Surprises of 2019).
The launch of the Genus GNS1.2 was not something I expected, and I had heard no rumblings from other journalists. I saw it pop up on social media shortly before it became a pre-selected entry for the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, and from the first moment I was stunned.
Stunned, because the brand launched just with this watch, and it was already among some of the best timepieces of the year. It reminds me that no matter how long I’ve been doing this, there are always opportunities to be taken by surprise and fall in love in an instant.
14: Hautlence HL Sphere
The Hautlence HL Sphere was a reassuring watch – I was becoming a bit worried about Hautlence since it seemed the attention of the MELB Holding (the parent group) was going fully to sibling brand H. Moser & Cie., and Hautlence seemed a bit adrift.
The HL Sphere proved that Hautlence is still its own company, and one that is interested in innovation and playfulness, something it had proved in the past with its Playground Pinball and Labyrinth wrist games.
The HL Sphere is a serious piece of horological engineering and deserves to be taken very seriously.
13: Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon 5
The Gyrotourbillon 5 is a bit of a unicorn for me after NOT seeing it at SIHH 2019. The piece was not available for our appointment, and aside from one in a case, I was never able to hold it and get a good look.
And for someone that absolutely loves the Gyrotourbillon pieces (probably my favorite JLC watches alongside the Duomètre watches, which occasionally overlap) I was decidedly disappointed not to have had any time with it.
Also, in the run up to the SIHH I hadn’t seen any press releases so I was only made aware of its existence during the show, only to have it snatched out from under me due to its apparent scarcity. It’s awesome, and still a mystery from 2019.
12: Armin Strom Resonance Minute Repeater and Gravity Equal Force
Armin Strom has released a couple huge pieces this year, first the Resonance Minute Repeater (the first chiming resonance watch) and then reinventing its entry level with the Gravity Equal Force.
I have always loved what Armin Strom is doing and have felt that it is making solid strides to be a go-to in the lower end of the high-end market. These pieces reiterate how much Armin Strom looks to grow and innovate now and in the future.
11: Greubel Forsey GMT Sport
The GMT Sport came out of left field and yet wasn’t very surprising. Given the extreme popularity of Richard Mille’s sporty casual yet high-end timepieces and the focus of the collectors market on steel sport watches from other high-end brands, Greubel Forsey decided on a titanium case based on the very popular GMT, but completely redesigned and engineered to be a sportier version.
The online response was very positive (unlike for some other brands that have launched new pieces this year), and it looks like Greubel Forsey might have found a new avenue to expand into!
10: F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical
The F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Vertical drew a lot of discussion from watchmakers, collectors, and journalists alike. Many talked about how Journe usually makes “practical” decisions for watch movements or focuses on his best work.
But some were a bit confused by the claims of the vertical tourbillon and worried this might be indication of influence from corporate partners. I’m not convinced either way, but such uncertainty was not new in the industry in 2019.
9: TAG Heuer Carrera Tourbillon Nanograph
When a brand quietly releases an entirely new hairspring material and reveals plans that include changing the entirety of its production during a show that it technically isn’t a part of, that’s what I would call a bold move.
TAG Heuer and parent company LVMH launched the carbon composite hairspring during SIHH 2019 at another location in Geneva. I had heard during the fair week that the brand had some new tech, but what we got when we visited was an actual groundbreaking introduction encased in a watch called the Heuer Carrera Tourbillon Nanograph.
Guy Sémon, CEO of the TAG Heuer Institute, also discussed plans to replace the Nivarox hairsprings in all its movements – eventually – a big choice that could help it gain more independence from competitor and main hairspring manufacturer Swatch Group.
No concrete word on those plans as of yet, but the release was a clear indicator of the continued research into materials and horological theory.
8: Zenith Defy Inventor
The Defy Inventor is the first production watch to eliminate the standard balance and hairspring assembly, run at 18 Hz, and not be a limited edition. That is a lot of firsts, and this is a big deal.
Like TAG Heuer, Ulysse Nardin, Armin Strom, and others previously mentioned, this shows that research and development is alive and well within the watch industry.
We should continue to expect engineers and brands to explore concepts once considered completely niche or impossible but are now feasible as technology advances and brands revisit the fringe.
7: Urwerk AMC
The Urwerk AMC has been in development for some time now: we first saw the prototypes and concepts before 2019, but this year it was finally ready to be officially released.
And, boy, is it cool. It also represents one of the extremely few Sympathique-style timepieces in existence, and probably the only wristwatch version.
It is of course entirely superfluous, but it is also is entirely incredible. Regulated by a supremely precise atomic clock, the AMC is a clear reason why the independents are often the place to find the best efforts to create the insane.
6: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat QP
When Vacheron Constantin launched the Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar, it solved a problem that many have tried to address to varying degrees of success: how to keep your perpetual calendar watch wound if you don’t wear it all the time (or put it in a vault for a month or two).
Having two oscillation systems that the user can switch between is new for this purpose, and with the energy-efficient 1.2 Hz of the slower system the power reserve can be extended up to 65 days with a single barrel.
The watch won the Innovation Prize at 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, and that is fitting. Vacheron Constantin expertly displayed why it is still one of the holy trinity of watchmakers by taking a true problem and developing a fantastic solution.
This timepiece would have made historic watchmakers like Breguet, Tompion, and Harrison very proud that legit horological innovation is still underway in the year 2019.
5: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 collection
It is impossible to talk about 2019 without mentioning one of the biggest launches of the year, the one that sparked a strange outrage from a few over-edited press photos.
When Audemars Piguet launched the Code 11.59 after teasing images for weeks. With rumors running rampant for a while about a wholly new collection in the works, the public expectations were at an all-time high. People were expecting a collection with a Royal Oak level of perfection and icon status riding in on a magic unicorn of brand DNA.
What they got was something new, perhaps not iconic, and testing out some different ideas while taking a few cues from Audemars Piguet’s past.
It wasn’t bad, but small issues with the launch and some quality concerns with the dials led to a backlash that is only ever usually seen when someone insists that Beyoncé is overrated.
But given how divisive the world has been in 2019, it seems like the reaction to the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 was a microcosm of the world as a whole: pretty good overall but some issues that people angrily obsess over.
4: MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT and Thunderdome
The launch of the MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT was an indicator of growth for the women’s market segment of serious horology and a point of optimism about the future of both the brand and the industry at large.
To invest a lot of time and energy in developing a watch specifically for women is logically sound, yet many would claim it is bold and risky. But since women make up half of the population, it’s definitely a smart idea to expand the offerings for that market segment.
The subsequent launch of the Thunderdome was incredible from an engineering standpoint, but it also showed that, since it is clearly a sibling to the FlyingT, MB&F is willing to lead with the feminine and let it ride.
If the duo had been released simultaneously, or the Thunderdome was first instead of almost a year later, many would have claimed the FlyingT was a stripped-down version that lacked oomph.
We may never know if the FlyingT was conceived first or not, but letting it stand on its own for a while was a highlight for the year 2019, MB&F as a brand, and me as a human.
3: Resurgence of unique moon phase and astronomical watches
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune, Sarpaneva Lunations, Girard-Perregaux Cosmos, Ulysse Nardin Marine Mega Yacht, Ferdinand Berthoud Far Side Of The Moon . . .
For me, this group of watches represented some true highlights of 2019 as a variety of brands invested time and creativity into developing clearly unique offerings for moon phase and astronomical complications.
The differences are dramatic (no simple tiny disk moon phases here) and show that the moon phase (and other astronomical complications) are not limited to the boring, basic indications of the past.
What’s more, every brand (aside from, arguably, Girard-Perregaux) is not among the mainstream brands that focus on broad appeal and market volume above creativity. Given that these are some of my absolute favorite emotional complications, I was thrilled to see such representation in 2019.
2: A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
The watch style that nearly every brand has in its collection is exactly the one that I didn’t expect A. Lange & Söhne to create. Not because the German engineers couldn’t do it or it didn’t fit with the brand, but mainly because it has been stated that in the Lange ideal of fine watchmaking only precious metals are good enough for an A. Lange & Söhne watch.
That is why only one-off editions, prototypes, or “service watches” were ever made in stainless steel. And so a stainless-steel watch for Lange has always been a bit like a unicorn.
That, and it was assumed the sport style wouldn’t really work for A. Lange & Söhne given the design language it uses.
But, lo and behold, A. Lange & Söhne released the Odysseus and joined the ranks of high-end watchmakers with a blue dialed stainless-steel sport watch.
Lange being Lange, a brand-new movement was developed for the watch (the rule is new watch, new movement) that included a new date and weekday indication that works similarly to the brand’s now-iconic large date.
Predictably, the collector community was split, and while many slapped down deposits in the first minutes after launch others took to their keyboards to voice displeasure with the decisions from the German brand.
Basically, the internet reacted exactly as it so often does, which shows that the watch industry is finally fully immersed in the online world and it only took a few decades to get there.
1: Only Watch 2019: Urwerk/De Bethune Moon Satellite, F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue, Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
The Only Watch auction that took place shortly after the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is probably the thing that most defines 2019 for me because it saw the release of some awesome unique pieces and shattered records for a variety of watches, brands, and the title of most expensive watch ever (sold at auction or otherwise).
There were many fantastic highlights for the unique pieces auctioned off that day, but three stand out to me above the rest (and that is saying something).
The Urwerk/De Bethune Moon Satellite crossover watch was a collaboration that I have been waiting years for. Urwerk and MB&F had already worked together (on the Nitro project), and Urwerk and Laurent Ferrier have collaborated, but never De Bethune and Urwerk, two brands that seem perfect for each other.
I am glad the two came together for such a good cause, but I also hope that this isn’t a one-time thing!
F.P. Journe sort of stunned people by releasing an entirely new watch that is the first Journe to feature astronomical indications, and it did not disappoint. The Only Watch offering was a prototype movement jam-packed with a minute repeater, tourbillon with remontoir d’égalité, dead beat seconds, second time zone, sidereal time, sunrise and sunset, moon phase, day/night indication, annual calendar, equation of time display, and power reserve.
It was basically a grand complication Journe style and without doubt a highlight for F.P. Journe, for Only Watch, and everyone else.
But the star of the show was Patek Philippe, who donated a stainless steel-encased version of the extremely limited Grandmaster Chime that came with an auction estimate double the original retail price of CHF 1.5 million for this watch.
It ended up setting a record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction (or anywhere else for that matter), fetching a hammer price of CHF 31 million.
Even better, the insane amount of money paid for this watch didn’t go to a wealthy collector or the coffers of Patek Philippe, but instead went entirely to funding research into cures and treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Since Only Watch has become THE place to flex wealth for a good cause while getting cool watches in return (and a place for brands to show off while also doing something good), I think that the Only Watch auction and these watches are the truest definition of 2019 that I could hope for.
It’s a combination of incredible engineering and creative horology that finds a way to use astonishing wealth for a good purpose. If there were more stories like the successes of Only Watch, the world would be an even better place.