Jorg’s Top 5 Watches Of 2021 — The Best Releases This Year Including Zenith, Vacheron Constantin, Laventure, And More
Despite all the things happening in the world that are holding us back, the last two months of the year flew by. So when our Managing Editor Nacho asked me to come up with my Top 5 Watches of 2021, I was surprisingly caught off guard. But looking back at the year behind us, I can only say it has been a very long year with plenty of great releases. It’s been so long that it’s hard to believe that some of these watches were actually released in 2021. That made it quite tough to come up with a top-5 list of my favorites.
A fair question would be if I can ignore the watches we as a Fratello team have released in collaboration with the different brands. Of course, I cannot ignore them, but they will be part of my honorable mentions. As a team, we are very proud of the Minase, the NOMOS, and the Czapek that we have released. I have a special bond with the Czapek Antarqtique Terre Adèlie as it is the watch that won our March Madness contest. I had the pleasure of being victorious with it as it was my pick. So seeing Fratello’s version of the Antarqtique was truly something special.
Other honorable mentions come in the form of the Tissot PRX, the H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Perpetual Calendar, the Serica 5303, the Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer, and the Sinn 103 Classic 12 Reverse Panda Chronograph. But there is only room for five of my favorites on this list. So without rambling on any further, this is my Top 5 Watches of 2021.
5. Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Excellence Platine
This is a pick that probably not many people would have expected, myself included until I saw the watch for the first time. To celebrate the centennial of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921, the brand released three new models of this iconic timepiece. Supposedly the original watch was developed in 1921 on special request as a driver’s watch. With the dial and the movement rotated 45 degrees, you were able to keep your hand on the steering wheel and still easily read the time. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Vacheron Constantin released two white gold in 36.5mm and 40mm, respectively. While they are a great nod to the past, they also look a bit too retro for my taste. The third was a 40mm platinum version, produced in a limited number of 100 pieces, that takes the design of the Historiques American 1921 to another level.
It’s a design exercise that results in an almost humble presence. But it is executed to perfection with the most exclusive materials, leading to spectacular results. The 8.06mm, slim platinum case is the perfect canvas for the striking platinum dial with its grainy presence. The dial features polished platinum numerals and platinum hands. As Robert-Jan explained, the contrast might look problematic, but the dial is very easy to read. A little hint of color comes in the form of the small seconds with its blue hand. Combined with the blue leather strap, it completes the stunning presence of the Historiques American 1921 Excellence Platine. Turn the slim watch around, and you will see Vacheron’s amazing in-house caliber 4400 AS. This manual-winding movement is just 2.8mm thick, resulting in a very slim profile. This Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Excellence Platine perfectly shows why the brand is considered watchmaking royalty.
4. Grand Seiko SBGA413
The one Grand Seiko release that stood out for me this year was the SBGA413. The watch is part of a series of four special editions released to commemorate Japan’s twenty-four sekki, the periods that mark nature’s ever-changing seasons. Initially, the series was only released in the United States in 2019. This year, however, the brand released the same series worldwide. While all four models are unique and stunning in their own way, the SBGA413 stood out immediately for me because of its stunning dial. The story of the dial is inspired by the Japanese spring season when the pink cherry blossoms fall on the water and become hanaikada, or “flower rafts.”
While I have never been to Japan to witness the cherry blossoms fall, I have witnessed the phenomenon in Washington DC. Back in the spring of 2011, I made a six-week road trip along the east coast of the United States. During that trip, I visited Washington DC and discovered the cherry trees planted all around the Tidal Basin. They were gifted by Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki in 1912. Witnessing the cherry blossoms fall was a magical experience, and seeing that come alive in a watch dial is stunning. While the 40mm sculpted titanium case and bracelet are great, and the Spring Drive Caliber 9R65 is technically impressive, the watch’s story is all about the dial for me. It’s the dial that makes me want to own this beautiful Grand Seiko SBGA413.
3. Laventure Marine II
Last year, one of my watch regrets was missing out on the opportunity to buy the Laventure Transatlantique GMT when it was released. As the production numbers were very low with 50 pieces of each color, you had to be quick. But it was nowhere near as crazy as what happened this year when the new Marine II with a stunning gold dial was released. Our own Rob is a fan of the brand and owns two Laventure watches. He has a Marine and Sous-Marine, and after he brought them to our offices last year, I was impressed by what Laventure owner Clément Gaud pulled off. But it was only a first taste of what he had in mind with the Marine II. We got a different movement, dial, crystal, handset, bracelet, and case back compared to the first Marine model.
On top of that, Gaud decided to introduce a stunning 18-karat yellow gold dial that has been vertically grained, pad printed with bi-color markings, and laser engraved with three special hallmarks. The final product was stunning, and as a result, the 99 pieces were gone in a matter of seconds. But in his review, Rob touched upon something very relevant. The Marine II looks spectacular and comes with a beautiful bracelet, a nicely designed case back, and a brilliant dial. But inside the case, you will find a modified Sellita SW200-1 caliber. While I have nothing against the movement itself, the price of CHF 3,850 before taxes raises questions about where it goes next for the brand? I can’t wait to find out. But as long as Laventure keeps releasing stunners like the Marine II, I want one. Hopefully, one day soon. For now, the Marine II is on my Top 5 Watches of 2021
2. Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817
Moving on to the number 2 on my list. As some of you will know, I love the original Zenith El Primero trio of watches from 1969. My favorite out of the three is the El Primero A384 with its boxy case, Gay Frères ladder bracelet, and great El Primero movement. Seeing the A384 return to its former glory in 2019 was a great move by the brand. After that, we have seen quite a few releases with the same case, including a re-issue of the El Primero A385 and the Chronomaster Revival Safari. But I have always been a fan of the original looks of the El Primero A384. Its panda dial and red central chronograph hand work perfectly with the case shape and the unique bracelet.
That is until the Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817 landed on my desk. This modern version of the original watch from 1971 combines the iconic dial of the A386 with the case of the A384. As I explained in my review of the A3817, I am usually not a big fan of combining two unique design ideas. That’s why I was skeptical. But there is something about that dial that makes the A3817 feel very crisp and relevant. The 37mm square case, the white dial with the black “shark tooth” markings, the tri-color registers, and the red central chronograph hand… It all just works very well together. Add the brilliant Zenith Calibre EP400, and you end up with something truly special. It makes a choice between a Revival A384 and this A3817 incredibly tough. One thing is certain: I need one of the two.
1. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Master Chronometer
The number 1 of my Top 5 Watches of 2021 should not come as a surprise. You know the newest generation Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” will be on quite a few year-end lists of the Fratello team. Omega did a hell of a job updating its biggest icon. I was in the lucky position to get an early peek and experience it from up close. In all honesty, I was completely amazed by how many things Omega updated so phenomenally — the new 42mm case is based on the fourth-iteration case, the beautiful step dial, the Dot-Over-Ninety bezel, and the chronograph hand with its short-end “teardrop” shape. They’re great updates that hint back at the great Speedmaster Moonwatch legacy.
While they are all great updates, the two major updates impressed me the most. First off, the new Caliber 3861 is a seriously impressive one. It’s the first Co-Axial Moonwatch movement, Master Chronometer certified by METAS, that can withstand magnetic forces up to 15,000 gauss. On top of that, it’s a joy to see in action. Equally impressive is the updated bracelet. If there is one thing about the previous Moonwatch that I wasn’t a fan of, it was the bracelet. Omega updated the bracelet and made it even better than I could have imagined. The refinement of the links, the elegant taper from 20m to 15mm, and the stylish clasp are all done so well.
I could go on for a bit, but Robert-Jan perfectly explained why this is such a brilliant update of the Moonwatch. It is not just the number 1 in my Top 5 Watches of 2021. The Hesalite version is also on the top of my list of watches to add to my collection.
There you have it! My Top 5 Watches of 2021. It’s been a long year full of great releases. I’m already looking forward to an even better 2022. Besides all the great releases that will undoubtedly come our way, I can’t wait to go out and visit watch shows, talk to people in person and hopefully meet you, our readers, at one of the events. For now, I hope you will have a great holidays season, and I wish you all the best for 2022!
Please let me know what your favorite releases of 2021 were in the comments section below.
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