Innovation can be a rather confusing buzzword in the world of watches, an industry full of tradition and somehow playing on the “old-school” concept. Still, the Swiss watchmaking industry continues to innovate and to surprise us – and 2019 already had its lot of crazy advanced timepieces. So here are 5 developments that take mechanical watchmaking to new heights and best exemplify innovation in the old world of mechanical watches…
Note: this selection is based on a consensus among the MONOCHROME team. It reflects our preferences among watches unveiled in 2019. If there are other watches you’d love to mention, feel free to share these in the comment section at the end of this article.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT automatic
Bvlgari has just presented its 5th model in a series of record-breaking watches. The new Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic indeed becomes the thinnest mechanical chronograph movement and watch, with heights of 6.90mm for the case and 3.30mm only for the calibre. In addition, it is automatic (with a peripheral rotor) and it features a GMT indication. If the movement architecture is traditional with a column-wheel and horizontal clutch. Bvlgari has used a large diameter movement to reduce the overall thickness. The brand’s expertise in crafting ultra-thin watches and movements has done the rest. Certainly not the same kind of innovation as seen in the rest of this guide, but still one very impressive watch, to say the least.
Quick facts: 42mm x 6.90mm titanium case – water resistant to 30m – automatic calibre BVL 318 with hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph and GMT. Titanium bracelet – CHF 16,500 – www.bulgari.com
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph
Just like the Zenith Inventor, the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph is a development of the LVMH institute, under the direction of Guy Sémon. Beyond the Chronograph/tourbillon movement, the innovative part of the watch is its hairspring, its material and the way it is manufactured. This carbon-composite component (also seen in the Autavia Isograph) is manufactured internally. It allows the lightweight, low-density oscillator to be virtually unaffected by gravity, shocks and magnetic fields. Its design ensures concentric oscillations for improved performance and functionality. And unlike the previous watches, it is widely available and can be implemented on standard mechanical movements as a replacement part.
Quick facts: 45mm PVD-titanium case with carbon bezel – water resistant to 100m – automatic calibre Heuer 02T, hours, minutes, chronograph and tourbillon– calf leather and rubber strap on folding buckle – CHF 24,900 – www.tagheuer.com
Ulysse Nardin Freak NeXt
Just like the Zenith Inventor below, the Ulysse Nardin Freak NeXt is regulated by an innovative oscillator. Yet, it has been presented as a concept watch only so far; but Ulysse Nardin declared that it will be incorporated in commercial products by the end of 2019. Here again, the innovative development is based on compliant mechanisms with a tridimensional architecture featuring flexible silicon blades. The oscillator is literally suspended in mid-air. As a consequence, the pivot point is virtual which allows Ulysse Nardin drastically improving energy consumption and efficiency. It also does away with the adverse effect of gravity as there is no difference in amplitude between the horizontal and vertical positions of the watch. Naturally, such a development had to be housed in the iconic Freak watch, which was the first on the market to incorporate silicon, back in 2001.
Quick facts: 45mm platinum and titanium case – water resistant to 30m – automatic calibre UN-25X, hours and minutes– rubber or alligator strap on folding buckle – concept watch, not for sale – www.ulysse-nardin.com
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
As its name suggests, a perpetual calendar keeps track of the date perpetually… as long as the watch keeps running! Which is, obviously, not the case when your watch is stored for some time. The answer of Vacheron Constantin to this problem comes in the shape of a user-controlled, dual-frequency watch. It features two modes – active when worn, stand-by when stored – thanks to two gear trains and two separated regulators. A pusher allows switching from active mode – with a regulator ticking at 5hz and 40 hours of power reserve – to the “storage” stand-by more – with a second regulator ticking at 1.2hz, providing an impressive power reserve of 65 days. A smart solution to make a perpetual calendar user-friendly and efficient. Last but not least, the watch is simply superb.
Quick facts: 42mm platinum case – water resistant to 30m – hand-wound calibre 3610QP, hours, minutes, instantaneous perpetual calendar, power reserve and frequency mode- alligator strap on pin buckle – EUR 210,000 – www.vacheronconstantin.com
Zenith Defy Inventor
The revolutionary Zenith oscillator – presented mid-2017 with Defy Lab concept watch – now comes in a commercial version, available to the public. Presenting prototypes of a new oscillator or escapement is one thing, taking it from concept to market is another… We are dealing here with the very essence of watchmaking and chronometry, but 21st-century style. The balance spring and Swiss lever construction have been the only time basis for mechanical watches for over 250 years. Its principle has been optimized to the greatest possible extent but its overall construction remains unchanged. Zenith, however, found a brand new solution, replacing the classic regulating organ. The strategic component of the Zenith Defy Inventor is a silicon compliant mechanism replacing the 30 parts or so comprised in a standard regulator. Combining low amplitude and ultra-high frequency, it is virtually insensitive to magnetic fields, gravity and temperature change. Impressive, unprecedented and now available.
Quick facts: 41mm titanium case with Aeronith bezel – water resistant to 50m – automatic calibre 9100 with hours, minutes and seconds – alligator strap on folding buckle – CHF 17,900 – www.zenith-watches.com