A belated welcome to 2024. Now that the dust has settled and we’ve had time to reflect on last year, I wanted to look at my favorite releases from 2023. It was an excellent year for us watch collectors, at least in my opinion. I’ve heard a few people suggest that 2023 was a tamer year for new releases, but I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, last year saw brands release a slew of watches that were so good that this article practically wrote itself. I want to say it’s been tough to pick my best watches of 2023, but, to be honest, it hasn’t.

The watches on this list have genuinely blown me away. Each one left me a little weak in the knees when I saw it for the first time. Seeing these watches in hand and on the wrist only confirmed that feeling. I’ve even gone on to see most of these watches several times since the brands released them into the wild. Each time, I fell in love with them a little bit more. That speaks volumes, no? I won’t pretend they’re all in the realm of affordability or attainable, but that’s not important here. Without further ado and in no particular order, let’s look at the watches I picked as the best watches of 2023.

best watches of 2023 Czapek Antarctique Révélation

Czapek Antarctique Révélation

Let’s start with a heavy hitter, the Czapek Antarctique Révélation, and what a revelation it was. Released at Watches and Wonders, this watch made a bit of a splash when the brand finally revealed it after a week of teasers. Not everyone enjoys open-worked or skeletonized watches, but this concept just made sense. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has seen the SXH5 movement up close in real life and not been in awe of its beauty. Perhaps “beauty” is a strong word, but I stand by it. Czapek created a damn-fine caliber, and it always felt like a shame that it was hidden around the back.

Enter the Czapek Antarctique Révélation and its beautiful SXH7 movement. Here, we saw the brand flip and re-engineer the SXH5 to give it more dial-side appeal. It wasn’t just a case of removing the regular Antarctique dial, either. The brand’s watchmakers had to ensure that it looked just as impressive from both sides. They reversed the complete escapement so it could take center stage on the dial. The rotor weight now has engraving on both sides as well. Furthermore, Czapek had to redesign the entire crown mechanism, which is now visible on the dial side. This meant the seconds hand could no longer be connected with a bridge to the central hand stack. Instead, it sits in an offset sub-dial between 4 and 5 o’clock.

The final result is just superb. I feel like it’s the watch that always should have been and probably was always on the road map for the brand. But Czapek held it back to have us drooling at the prospect. Well, now that it’s here, I love it, and I want it. In my opinion, with this model, Czapek has now “completed” the Antarctique. I don’t think the brand will ever top this iteration. It does make me excited for what comes next, though.

Price: CHF 38,000

best watches of 2023 Behrens 20G

Behrens 20G

I know I said I didn’t have any particular order for this list, but if you forced me to choose a top pick, I would probably (begrudgingly) pick the 20G from Behrens. I won’t try to say it’s inherently “better” than any of the other watches on the list. It just surprised me with how impressive and ambitious it was. I was fortunate to see some early concept renders, and while they were impressive, I was skeptical that Behrens could pull it off.

Then, at Time To Watches in March last year (a show running concurrently with Watches and Wonders), I saw a prototype when Behrens formally announced the project. I was a little disappointed that the prototype was a dummy unit, but it was still incredibly cool. I can’t think of a better and more honest word than that. This watch looked like a million dollars, yet the price was relatively accessible given the watchmaking prowess on display — a 5mm-thin watch with a curved, ergonomic movement and weighing just 20 grams (excluding the strap). On the wrist, it was as light as a feather and very comfortable. How could even a non-functioning watch be this good?

Fast-forward to today, and after some slight production delays, Behrens has started delivering these watches to clients. Having a production version of this watch in hand has made me a little embarrassed about my initial hesitations. Just look at the images! The production version received a few subtle refinements from the initial prototypes, and the result is superb. Hands down, the Behrens 20G is one of the best watches available right now regarding price/value/technical specs/finishing, etc. Remember these words when I say that Behrens is a brand to watch this year. Look out for my hands-on review of this watch in the coming weeks.

Price: US$7,600

best watches of 2023 Ulysse Nardin Freak X OPS

Ulysse Nardin Freak X OPS

I’ve long had a soft spot for the Freak collection from Ulysse Nardin. For a long time, it was a little too wacky or large for my tastes, but the Freak X solved both of those concerns in one fell swoop. While 43mm in diameter, the Freak X always felt smaller on the wrist. I’d have pegged it at 41–42mm. Similarly, the Freak X also refined the Freak concept a little. I’d hate to say “simplify” as that would not be fair, but the resulting dial executions of the Freak X are just the right mix of craziness and functionality. Technically sporting no dial or hands, the Freak X is very impressive but not intimidating with its complexity, which can be an essential factor in itself.

So, the movement is great; I have established that. But why is the Freak X OPS so good? Well, it’s the combination of case material and overall color scheme. Perhaps not everyone will think it’s quite the bee’s knees as I do, and that’s OK. However, it is bold yet understated, giving it the perfect balance. The black titanium mid-case is completed by the carbon composite outer casing, which features swirls of black among green. Oddly, the brand suggests it is inspired by Damascus steel. However, it reminds me of the contour lines on old OS maps. This seems more fitting of the OPS nomenclature too, don’t you think?

best watches of 2023 Ulysse Nardin Freak X OPS

Having been a fan of the brand for a while, I think this model was my “a-ha!” moment. I finally found my go-to choice from the brand’s repertoire. It helps that green is my favorite color despite my red/green colorblindness. Since introducing the Freak X OPS, Ulysse Nardin has also released the Freak One OPS. It seems the brand has plenty more in store for the OPS sub-collection.

Price: CHF 33,200

Honorable mentions

It was tough to nail this list down to just a top three, so I have to cheat and mention two more watches that deserve recognition. They are vastly different in price and specs, but both were watches that made a significant impact on me when I first encountered them.

best watches of 2023 Arken Alterum

Arken Alterum

Arken is a young British microbrand. I hesitate to use that word because its second launch, the Alterum, goes a long way to shedding the dreaded “microbrand” moniker. How, you ask? The Alterum is a dual-time watch, so it tracks two time zones simultaneously, but it’s more than just a regular GMT watch. It utilizes a Miyota movement that Arken started to work on before Miyota announced its 9075 GMT caliber. Arken worked with a manufacturing partner to develop a proprietary module for the Miyota 9015 base caliber to accomplish its goal of tracking dual time zones with two 12-hour hands and day/night indicators. The result is an attractive and functional watch.

When a young brand like Arken goes the extra step to push the boundaries of its creative and technical vision, I think this is the point that it moves from a “microbrand” to an “independent brand.” Yes, the definition is very much open to interpretation. Still, Arken is not another one of these microbrands out there releasing cookie-cutter watches in continuously limited batches with minor color tweaks. This vision and self-belief should be celebrated and duly encouraged.

Price: £599.99

best watches of 2023 Armin Strom One Week

Armin Strom One Week

When Armin Strom presented the One Week at Geneva Watch Days in September 2023, that was the first time I had seen and held one of the brand’s watches. What a way to start, though. The new One Week is a rework of the brand’s debut in-house caliber from 2010. It’s self-explanatory thanks to the watch’s name. The ARM21 provides a week’s power reserve when fully wound; that’s 168 hours of horological goodness. But the technical prowess is only one attraction for me. I also adore how good this watch looks and how well it wears.

The 40mm case sits perfectly on the wrist, and the dial-less design allows the depth and balance of the movement to shine. My favorite part is possibly the subtle dual power reserve indicators between 7 and 8 and 10 and 11 o’clock. They use a cone system inspired by old pocket watches to offer a three-dimensional representation of the remaining power. To truly appreciate the One Week and the complexities it hides, you need to hold it and view it from all different angles as each reveals something new and beautiful about its construction. It’s truly a joy to behold (and wear)!

Price: CHF 32,000

Ulysse Nardin Freak X OPS

What about you?

So, there we have my list of the three best watches of 2023 (featuring five watches…oops!). Of course, this is a personal list, and I do not expect people to agree with my choices. That said, I am keen to hear which three watches you would choose as your best three releases of 2023. Be sure to let me know in the comments!