Martin’s Top 5 Watches Of 2021
by Martin Green
Well, 2021 was certainly an interesting year in watches. While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to cause havoc, in some ways it seemed like business as usual for the watch brands. Most, but not all, fairs were canceled, but there was still a steady flow of timepiece releases.
In winemaking, the weather chiefly determines how good a year will be. In watchmaking, it can best be judged by the overall quality of the new releases. Looking back, I conclude that it was, to quote Frank Sinatra, “a very good year.”
It appears as if the pandemic has caused many brands to take good looks at themselves and from their inner strengths they have made some of their best new watches.
Unfortunately, that does not make picking my personal favorites of 2021 any easier. There is a wide variety of criteria that I can apply to make such a list, but I have chosen to follow the most important one: whether when I first saw the watch it brought a rush of excitement to me and continues to do so every time I see it.
It is that feeling that got me sucked into the world of watches over two decades ago and it is that feeling that I think everybody should feel when deciding on a purchase.
So in no particular order, here are my top five of 2021.
Parmigiani Tonda PF Micro Rotor
Parmigiani has always been a brand able to capture – and hold – my attention, but the new Tonda PF Micro Rotor has done this in an even more vivid way. It could very well be a creation from a jewelry watch brand when you consider the way the bracelet folds around the wrist, but it is not.
The knurled platinum bezel sets the stage for a dial that looks larger than it actually is. Parmigiani achieved that by making the hour markers and flange relatively small. Refraining from putting anything on the dial but a modest logo and the words “Swiss Made” gives the watch character. It is so balanced that even the date – a feature I normally happily go without – becomes an essential part of the design rather than a necessary compromise. The barleycorn guilloche refines the dial (and therefore the watch), in particular because Parmigiani selected the perfect shade of grey.
The Tonda PF Micro Rotor is a mere 7.8 mm in height, which connoisseurs will recognize as slim enough to acknowledge that the watch is powered either by a quartz or a refined mechanical movement. For Parmigiani, naturally, it is the latter: an automatic caliber featuring a platinum micro rotor that goes about its business in between four elegantly shaped bridges. Parmigiani kept the decorations of the movement relatively sober, excelling in the quality of those its craftspeople chose to apply.
The only question that remains is whether I prefer the stainless steel version over the pink gold one. While each has its own appeal, and I am a huge fan of gold watches, the stainless steel version stole my heart. Its sense of understatement makes the Tonda PF Micro Rotor a timepiece that simply begs to go on a wide variety of different adventures with me.
For more information, please see All-New Parmigiani Tonda PF Collection: Elegant Simplicity, Even When Complicated.
Quick Facts Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Micro-Rotor
Case: 40 x 7.8 mm, stainless steel with a platinum bezel or pink gold; 100 m water resistance
Dial and hands: grey dial with hand-applied barleycorn guilloché; pink gold or rhodium-plated applied indices; delta-shaped hands
Movement: automatic Caliber PF703 with platinum micro rotor; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency; power reserve 48 hours
Functions: hours, minutes; date
Price: $22,900 (stainless steel with platinum bezel); $53,900 (pink gold)
Longines Avigation BigEye Titanium
When you pick the name petroleum for a dial color, you certainly have my attention. As an avid petrol head, I simply needed to know more – and upon seeing the Longines Avigation BigEye Titanium, I fell in love at first sight.
While I already consider the Longines Avigation BigEye Titanium’s stainless steel sibling a very well-executed watch, the titanium version goes beyond it, and much of this appeal is the dial, whose hue runs from petrol-blue at the center to nearly black around the perimeter. The color of the natural titanium adds ever so subtly to this appeal. Call me old-fashioned, but I even like it that Longines hides its automatic column-wheel chronograph movement behind a closed case back, just like in the good old days.
One could say that Longines is on a roll, especially in the last few years, but looking further down the line, allows you to see that the brand is perpetuating what it has always done: it seems to be in line with every era of its history and does it so subtly that even decades later many of the brand’s creations haven’t lost their sense of style.
To that extent, I also consider the Avigation BigEye Titanium a timeless creation. Grounded in heritage, it seems to exist in a void where the passing of days, months, and even years doesn’t touch it. I so want that void to be on my wrist – so that at least one thing about me will age with grace.
For more information, please visit www.longines.com/en-us/watch-the-longines-avigation-bigeye.
Quick Facts Longines Avigation BigEye Titanium
Case: 41 x 14.5 mm, titanium, 30 m water resistance
Movement: automatic Caliber L688 with 66-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, column wheel with vertical clutch-operated chronograph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
That being precise can look awfully good was proven in 2021 by the Central Impulse Chronometer from Bernhard Lederer. Yes, just like my esteemed colleague Ian, I know that this watch was technically launched in 2020, but this exquisite timepiece’s final version is from 2021.
The updated visuals have made it even more impressive as the design is now restrained and outgoing at the same time. The front is very understated and could have even been a tad boring if it wasn’t for the two cutouts on the left side of the dial that provide a hint of the mechanically complex movement underneath. These peepholes are almost like driving a 1990s Maserati Quattroporte, yet the only inkling people have of this is when you casually toss your keys (on a Maserati keychain, of course) on the table at a restaurant.
As Lederer intertwined the cutout subdials, the whole look becomes even more dynamic. To me, this is watch design at its best.
Because of its rather symmetrical layout, the movement is one of the most stunning that I have ever seen. Is form following function or is it the other way around? Who cares! Just look at all this mechanical goodness.
For once, all the mechanical goodness even has a purpose as Lederer truly committed this work to the quest for superb accuracy. In case its looks hadn’t already dazzled you, how about a dual gear train with twin ten-second remontoirs and natural escapements? I know, ’nuff said!
For more, see Joshua Munchow’s 2020 post: Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer*: A Superlative Watch But Is It Really A Chronometer?
Quick Facts Bernhard Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer
Case: 44 x 12.2 mm, 5N red gold or white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 9012 with dual gear train with dual 10-second remontoirs and natural escapements, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 50 pieces in each metal
Price: CHF 138,700
Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Zenith is another brand that has been on quite a roll in recent years. It is also one of the few brands from which I can tolerate a relatively large number of limited editions coming out each year. This is because Zenith really puts in the effort to make it something special without diluting the brand’s “DNA.”
That aside, I am a firm believer that limited editions are whipped cream with a cherry on top, but that a brand needs to be able to float on its regular collection. No worries for Zenith in that area either, especially not with the introduction of the Chronomaster Sport. Normally I am not really into this type of watch, probably also being the only person in the world having sold my Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch after one year of ownership because we weren’t a match. The Chronomaster Sport will most likely be different as it was love at first sight for me.
The Chronomaster Sport combines a lot of aspects from Zenith’s history into a modern-day package. Let me also address the elephant in the room, which includes the fact that the brand supplied Rolex with El Primero movements for the Daytona in the past. Some say that it is a lookalike, and when you sell me a new stainless steel Daytona from the current collection at retail, I will tell you that you are right. I don’t see it that way as the watch differs in more ways than one from the Daytona than not.
One of the things that appeal to me the most is the way that Zenith made the dial, playing in a subtle way with different colors and levels. It makes the watch look good but it doesn’t cry out for attention. It also makes it so that I cannot take my eyes off my wrist when wearing one. Unfortunately, that makes the Chronomaster Sport NSTDW for me: Not Safe To Drive With.
For more information, please see Zenith Chronomaster Sport: A Chronograph That Reinvigorates The Senses.
Quick Facts Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Case: 41 x 13.6 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 3600, 60-hour power reserve, 36,000 vph/5 Hz frequency, column wheel control of chronograph, lateral clutch, officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds; date, chronograph with 1/10th of a second display
Strap: integrated steel bracelet or rubber strap with Cordura fabric texture
Price: $9,500 (rubber strap); $10,000 (integrated steel bracelet)
Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119
The Calatrava is one of the benchmarks when it comes to dress watches. It is a collection that turns 90 this year, and I hope that Patek Philippe is planning the party to end all parties to celebrate. If we can count Reference 6119 as the warmup, I predict it will be a blast.
To me, this latest addition to the Calatrava collection shows how sexy a dress watch can be. For years (read: the last three decades), dress watches were mainly considered the watch of choice of your grandfather (and he probably wouldn’t wear them). Quite a few brands significantly toned down their offerings in this genre, but Patek Philippe stayed loyal to its bread and butter. That said, Patek Philippe had the luxury of remaining loyal because the brand truly understands this type of watch and recognizes it as being an essential part of its “DNA.”
That shows, and Reference 6119 looks like a well-cut suit. It is timeless, elegant, and oozes power and wealth. While the white gold version is a stroke of brilliance and might tempt people for whom a Nautilus or an Aquanaut is the daily wearer, I would go all in for the pink gold variation.
This model exudes more of a classic touch, in particular in combination with the traditional clous de Paris bezel, which surprisingly lends the white gold version more a look as if it should be ensconced in the dashboard of a Bentley. The combination of pink gold case and opaline dial makes this timepiece the quintessential dress watch for me, proving that even going on 90 it is still the benchmark.
For more information, please visit Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119: Dressed For Success.
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119
Case: 39 x 8.43 mm, white (6119G-001) or pink gold (6119R-001), 30 m water resistance
Movement: manually wound Caliber 30-255 PS with 65-hour power reserve, 2.55 in height, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, Gyromax balance with Spiromax balance spring, Patek Philippe Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds