Elizabeth’s Top 10 Watches Of 2021: A Few You Might Expect And A Few Surprises
I’m the last one of our team to pick a listing of my top ten from 2021. And even though I’d been thinking about such a list for most of the year – seeing as a relatively significant portion of it was spent in lockdown – I still had a hard time in the end narrowing it down to just ten pieces.
So please forgive me that we are already a month into 2022 as I post this . . . hopefully this very subjective list will inspire us all to look forward to what this new year will bring us horologically.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadryptique
In a year of superlative releases for the traditional maker, Jaeger-LeCoultre has shown itself unafraid to pull out all the stops for the 90th anniversary of its most famous watch, the Reverso.
And they did! JLC blesses the watch world with a masterpiece featuring four sides of creative astronomical horology, some functions of which had not yet been incorporated into a wristwatch. And it’s one thing to make an ultra-complicated watch, but to make such a watch in such a compact package is a complication by itself: at just over 15 mm high, the Reverso Calibre 185 is ultra thin for such an ultra complication.
For more, see Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 Quadriptyque: 11 Complications (Plus Flying Tourbillon) Are Impressive, But The Fact That It’s So Wearable Is The Real Magic.
Quick Facts Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185
Case: 51.2 x 31 x 15.15 mm, white gold, 30-meter water resistance
Movement: manually wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 185 with one-minute flying tourbillon, 50-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Face 1: hours, minutes, seconds (on flying tourbillon), instantaneous perpetual calendar with day, date, month, leap year, day/night indication
Face 2: jumping digital hours, minutes, minute repeater (with system avoiding dead time)
Face 3: Northern Hemisphere moon phase, draconic lunar cycle, anomalistic lunar cycle (apogee and perigee), month, year
Face 4: Southern Hemisphere moon phase
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: €1,350,000 (approx. $1,600,000)
A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moon Phase with aventurine dial
The Lange 1 is one of the watch industry’s treasures, a wristwatch symbolizing both hope and resurrection and featuring a design that was close to shocking at the time of its introduction in 1994.
This variation is an extraterrestrial ensemble featuring an aventurine dial that is in my eyes nothing short of genius, coming off like a cloudless night sky under best visibility conditions, but leaving the best of the Lange 1’s technical genius on show.
For more information, please visit alange-soehne.com/en/timepieces/little-lange-1-moon-phase.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 Moon Phase
Case: 36.8 x 10 mm, white gold or white gold with bezel set with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds (1.2 ct)
Movement: manually wound Caliber L121.2, untreated German silver plates and bridges, hand-engraved balance cock, 411 movement components (8 of which are chatons and 44 of which are jewels), 72-hour power reserve, in-house balance spring, 3 Hz/21,600 vph, swan-neck fine adjustment
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; large date, power reserve indicator, moon phase
Price: €42,800; €53,900 with diamond-set bezel
A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst
While the Lange 1 is for me the number one watch that A. Lange & Söhne makes – I have said it before: this watch contains everything you’ll ever need to know about this company – there is no doubt that the historical brand’s limited masterpieces are also treasures.
The rectangular Cabaret arrived in A. Lange & Söhne’s collection in 1997, and the Cabaret Tourbillon was introduced in 2008, but neither of them have been part of the regular A. Lange & Söhne collection for a while now. The Cabaret Tourbillon was discontinued in 2013.
However, as it now looks, we may see limited variations of this flamboyant timepiece now and then, which I think is a stellar way to keep these masterpieces alive. And to make this variation part of the textured Handwerkskunst limited editions is just genius.
I could look at this watch all day and still find new details. This is what makes it one of the best of 2021.
For much more, please see Watch Wardrobing The WIS Way With The A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst
Case: 29.5 x 39.2 x 10.3 mm, platinum
Dial: 18-karat white gold with hand-engraved lozenge pattern, semi-transparent enamel
Movement: hand-wound Caliber L042.1 with patented hacking one-minute tourbillon, assembled twice, three-quarter plate in German silver, 120-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, Lange balance spring; two diamond endstones, 9 screw-mounted gold chatons
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; large date, power reserve indication
Limitation: 30 pieces with engraved number of limitation
Zenith Chronomaster Original
During the 2021 Swiss Open in Gstaad, I had the chance to extensively handle the new Chronomaster and Chronomaster Original watches and fell in love with the latter, which marks the first time a close tribute to Zenith’s original Reference A386 of 1969 has entered Zenith’s permanent collection in a stainless steel case.
While I loudly lauded this timepiece so close in looks to its iconic predecessor for the way that it fits this moment in time and the tastes of contemporary watch lovers as hardly another watch currently does, when Zenith’s representatives pulled out a then still-embargoed variation in response to my obvious delight, I knew this was one of the best watches I would see during the year.
Even though I am not usually one for diamonds, I admit to loving the 38 mm timepiece even more with the addition of a mother-of-pearl dial and splash of sparkle on the lugs, which oddly does not take away from the sporty, daily-wear quality of this watch, only enhancing its beauty.
For more, please visit zenith-watches.com/int/brand/chronomaster-original.
Quick Facts Zenith Chronomaster Original
Case: 38 x 12.6 mm, stainless steel set with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds on the lugs (0.22 ct)
Dial: mother-of-pearl in four colors, nine brilliant-cut diamond hour markers
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 3600, 60-hour power reserve, 36,000 vph/5 Hz frequency, column wheel control of chronograph, lateral clutch
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds; date, chronograph with 1/10th of a second display
Strap: calfskin leather strap with stainless steel triple-folding clasp
Price: CHF 12,900
Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119
Dress watches receive less love today than sports watches, so Patek Phillipe’s modern take on its classic Calatrava was important to get just right. And bullseye! It hits every contemporary note perfectly without sacrificing anything of what makes this watch such an icon.
An important introduction by one of today’s most important brands, perfectly hitting every detail.
And thank heavens they still included that gorgeous clous de Paris bezel!
For more, please see 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
MB&F x Bulgari Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra
This could be the watch of the year for me, a beauty so loaded with technical mastery and exquisitely sourced and cut gems that it seems a shame to put it on the wrist rather than in an art gallery.
But that’s the beauty of this piece: it lives. It pulses. It breathes.
And what do I like best about it (aside from its looks and technology)? The fact that it’s an enthusiastic collaboration between an independent watchmaker and a well-established big brand. And that it simply takes my breath away every time I see it.
For more information, please visit mbandf.com/en/machines/performance-art/lmflyingtallegra-mbandf-bulgari.
Quick Facts MB&F x Bulgari Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra
Case: 39 x 20 mm, white or red gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds
Gem setting: diamonds, tsavorites, topaz, amethyst, tanzanite, and tourmaline (white gold version) or diamonds, tsavorites, rubellite, amethyst, tanzanite, and tourmaline (red gold version)
Movement: automatic caliber with three-dimensional vertical architecture, central flying 60-second tourbillon, four-day power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 160,000
Arnold & Son Luna Magna
Like Joshua, I’m a fan of fun moon phase displays. And like Joshua, I nominated the Luna Magna for my list of 2021’s best because of its outstanding moon: a massive ball made of aventurine and white marble that measures a stellar 12 mm in diameter.
The designers at Arnold & Son allowed the moon to completely take over the visuals of the Luna Magna’s dial, which is what gives this watch its charm. That outstanding aventurine dial doesn’t hurt, either.
For more information, please visit Arnold & Son Luna Magna And Luna Magna Ultimate 1: Marbles, Moons, And Magnificence.
Quick Facts Arnold & Son Luna Magna
Case: 44 x 15.9 mm, red gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber A&S1021, 90-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; moon phase
Limitation: 28 pieces
Price: CHF 43,900
Armin Strom Tribute 1
If anyone is wondering what direction contemporary watchmaking may be heading in, a glance at the Armin Strom Tribute 1 may provide some answers to the question. What a superb example of a modern dress watch expressing the beauty of traditional mechanics and the dedication to refinement in the best sense of quality, craft, and ingenuity!
With case dimensions of 38 x 9 millimeters, it effortlessly fulfills the sizing a dress watch requires. However, it still shows presence on the wrist, slipping easily and comfortably under the cuff. Its dial simultaneously displays craftsmanship and avant-garde design, with the most obvious element being the visible spring barrel in the lower right part of the dial, overlapping with the off-centered time indication.
The entire dial could be a reference for a sophisticated color study in grey, shining with exceptional hand-finishing and detail to create an interplay of light and shadow on the wrist. While most of the dial side has a finely grained surface with an industrial-like touch, the offset dial to the upper left showcases a filigreed concentric pattern. What texture!
With all that great design it’s too easy to forget the mechanical powerhouse within. This is why I’m here to remind us.
For more, see Tribute 1 By Armin Strom: Redefining The Contemporary Dress Watch.
Quick Facts Armin Strom Tribute 1
Case: 38 x 9.38 mm, stainless steel, 50-meter water resistance
Movement: manual winding Caliber AMW21, 25,200 vph/3.5 Hz frequency, 100-hour power reserve, white gold barrel cock
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 25 pieces (with white gold barrel bridge)
Price: 13,900 Swiss francs
Remark: 10-year warranty, double the standard offered by Armin Strom
La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
The strictly limited nature of this expressive watch coupled with its irresistibly attractive price and collaboration with iconic designer Alain Silberstein makes it the watch to have right now.
And it references Silberstein’s own work – one of the best of his little inventions – with its “smileday” function in which the days do not have names but are symbolized by playful smiley faces. One’s mood is instantly lifted by looking at this dial.
For more, see Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein x Manuel Emch x A Cast Of Guest Artists = Amazing (And Affordable) Watches
Quick Facts La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein
Case: 40 x 11.6 mm, microblasted grade 2 titanium and polished grade 5 titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2836-2, 38-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, smileday function
Limitation: 178 pieces (sold out)
Price: CHF 3,500
Remark: three-year warranty and quick-change strap function
AnOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
I think it is important not to forget reasonably priced watches in lists like this, especially if we think they merit the honor. And I do feel some way about much of what anOrdain makes – but most particularly the Model 1 Fumé series. Rarely have 38 millimeters of stainless steel offered so much charm.
The main attraction of anOrdain’s Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé is, without a doubt, the dial, which is an entirely new enameling technique that the Glasgow-based firm invented and perfected. It consists of a slightly domed silver disk whose surface is hand-treated to give it a unique, grainy texture. As the dial is slightly domed, the thickness of the enamel layers varies, creating the incredibly desirable, unique, and attractive fumé effect.
Newer, younger brands spicing things up is important to pay attention to, and we are thankfully seeing lots of them in recent years. Aside from that, this is simply one hell of a watch for the money.
For more, please see anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé: 50 Shades Of Grey Never Looked So Tempting.
Quick Facts anOrdain Model 1 Payne’s Grey Fumé
Case: 38 x 11 mm, stainless steel
Dial: high-fire gradient enamel on a hand-hammered silver disk with pad-printed markings
Movement: automatic ETA Caliber 2824-2, 42-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 2,350 Swiss francs
Remark: 5-year warranty
You may also enjoy:
Joshua’s Top 10 Watches Of 2021: 5 Mechanical Marvels + 5 Daily Wearers
Martin’s Top 5 Watches Of 2021
Ian’s Top 10 Watches Of 2021 Plus 2 Honorable Mentions (Spoiler Alert: No Rolexes, But A Couple Of Fun Watches)
Sabine’s Top 5 Watches Of 2021: A. Lange & Söhne, Cartier, Breitling, Omega, And Tudor
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All very nice choices!
This is a great list. 😊
anOrdain might not be quite the extraordinary value it was a couple years ago, but they are gorgeous.
I wonder if they’ll follow Ming, and move upscale with their movements…if possible. Because at this point, I think they’ve got an “unbalanced” product, where the movement is lagging too far behind the case and dial. We’re seeing brands like Oris go to in-house movements with a significant premium. anOrdain can’t go that far, but could they go to a Vaucher or Schwarz Etienne?
Good points you bring up here, no clue what Lewis has in mind for the future.
As for the movement, I personally do not see what going to Vaucher or Schwarz Etienne could possibly bring to this watch that it does not already have. Using the most reliable movement in the industry, one that is all but guaranteed never to give anyone any trouble, not only serves the consumer but it also keeps cost down. Using VMF or SE can only make the watches more expensive … One of the great charms of this watch is its very reasonable price.
Smart and honest. Thanks ! Wish this site had a stronger comment section ,mainly to have you keep us honest ! In case I don’t see you , Happy Valentine’s !
Thanks and happy Valentine’s Day to you too!
They have already followed Ming (well, not entirely, as Schwarz-Etienne make the *complete* watch for Ming, dial and all; or at least they used to – watch Tim Mosso’s recent interview with Schwarz-Etienne’s CEO) as anOrdain are now using proprietary La Joux-Perret calibres in the Model 1 line starting this year, and aim to phase out the Sellitas. A modest increase in price as a consequence.
Thought this was common knowledge. *shrugs*
No, not necessarily. I was supposed to spend some time with Lewis in December but that got Covid-canceled unfortunately. I probably would have heard that then. If it’s already out on another media, I won’t necessarily have seen it because I don’t read the others very often (I try to keep myself from inadvertently picking things up from others in order to keep my thoughts as original as possible). Thanks for letting me know, that’s an interesting development. I look forward to catching up with Lewis in the spring.
Ah, gotcha, understandable. I think it’s a very good move, away from off-the-shelf towards proprietary as standard – coupled with their dialmaking it makes them stand out as very special at the ‘entry’ luxury level.
Doesn’t that always increase the price and not bring anything to the table but maybe bragging rights ? “Oh, I see you have one of the older ones with the *cough* off the shelf movement ? “LOL
I’m all for any list that includes a Silberstein piece.
Wow, some real “dream list” watches there.
Yes, well, the assignment was to choose the “best” watches I saw in 2021! 🙂 And thanks for sharing my Silberstein passion. For me, this new piece embodies everything that was great about Silberstein’s own brand and puts it into very modern and very practical context. I am in love with this watch.
This list from Elizabeth Doerr is well done! I did enjoy reading her suggestions. Funny how the most expensive on this list are my favorites with the exception of the anOrdain Model 1. Unfortunately the anOrdain is equally unobtainable since it is not orderable from its website.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! Yes, that is the unfortunate side effect of success when you are a small producer: you have to limit. But rest assured this is in no way artificial. anOrdain is simply being overrun.