There was a spirit of fun in the halls at Watches and Wonders 2023. No matter how luxe the brand, there seemed to be a playfully bright design or two within the collection that challenged the concept of what we think a fine timepiece should – or could – be. This sense of adventure even reached Rolex, a brand that is famously restrained when it comes to design. One of the most visually exciting models of this ilk on the Rolex stand was the Oyster Perpetual Celebration. The watch itself is a standard Oyster Perpetual, with all the Superlative Chronometer quality you would expect from the Swiss institution. What brought the Celebration element was the new dial design. A bright turquoise dial was covered in multi-colored circles of uplifting shades, which appeared to be rising like bubbles, each circled in black for sharp definition. The colors on the Celebration tell a story, as each was a bold dial color introduced back in 2020: candy pink, turquoise blue, yellow, coral red and green.
Zenith’s great claim to fame is that it is the only watch brand that can legally put the word ‘pilot’ on a dial, thanks to some incredibly intuitive foresight by its legal team back in 1904. At Watches and Wonders, the Swiss brand put on an exhibition showcasing the evolution of the watch over more than a century, taking us through to 2023’s model – the first major redesign of the Pilot in a decade. Gone are the twee vintage references; in its place is a thoroughly contemporary timepiece. The Pilot Automatic, fitted with an El Primero 3620 movement, is available in steel, but the star of the collection is a strikingly monochromatic black ceramic model. It features a brand-new rounded case design with a flat-top bezel, the opaline dial has grooves to mimic the corrugated metal sheets of vintage planes’ fuselage, and the bright-white Arabic numerals are coated with SuperLuminova for extra legibility. It is sold with two cordura-like straps, one in black rubber and the other in khaki.
Continuing the spirit of fun, Hublot used Watches and Wonders as a platform to showcase its latest collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which launched a couple of months prior. The watch world has been increasingly seeking out artists to partner with on limited edition watches, particularly with the rise of NFTs as a popular accompaniment to timepieces, and this collaboration hits both. The watch pays homage to Murakami’s iconic smiling flower motif on the dial, and brings it to life through kinetic motion. The flower head and petals are covered in a rainbow of sapphires, set against a black ceramic case for an intense contrast. The petals spin on an axis, creating a dazzling blur of color whenever the watch is tilted. Only 13 of the watches have been made, and like Hublot’s previous collaborations with Murakami – this is the fourth – each is sold with an NFT artwork, this time inspired by Japanese TV and video games from the 1970s.
Titanium was a popular metal of choice at Watches and Wonders, with brands tapping into the potential of the material that is 40% lighter than steel and delivers a weightless wow factor when picked up. Despite a similar appearance and weight, the Hermès H08 is not made from titanium – outside of the titanium clasp securing the brightly colored, textured rubber strap. Instead, the case has been cut from a single block of a braided glass fibre composite material that is then coated with aluminium and slate powder. It is a high-tech material that delivers an intriguing finish. The subtle play on textures and materials continues as we move to the satin-brushed ceramic bezel that has been angled to slope down towards the case, and then the dial which has a gritty texture created by graining and vanishing the surface. Applied Arabic numerals complemented by minutes and seconds tracks create a striking dial that has flashes of color to tie into the shade of the woven-effect rubber strap.
Away from the wild and wacky novelties of the fair, another trend permeated many collections at Watches and Wonders: rich, warm, classic nostalgia. Soft sepia dials and tinted glass on deep-brown leather straps transported onlookers back to the 1970s so effectively that you could almost imagine the curls of cigarette smoke and sloshing martini glass that might accompany them. Cartier paid homage to this decade with new Tank Louis watches decorated with gold mosaic dials that take inspiration from the maison’s Must watches of the disco era. The most complex dial, which created a gradient in different hues of gold from white through yellow to rose, is a mastery in metallurgy and goldsmithing. The rectangular dial has been stripped back to allow appreciation of the craft, with only minimal Cartier and ‘Swiss Made’ branding and no numerals or markers. It is framed within a yellow gold case with a sapphire cabochon-tipped crown, fitted on a taupe alligator strap.
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