The Circle Of Watch Life — Even Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Omega, And Grand Seiko Can’t Escape It
Time to bring out and dust off the Fratello crystal ball and also read the tea leaves in the Hublot mug we have at HQ. With a stream of novelties on the horizon — Watches and Wonders is just a couple of months away — some “veteran” references will have to go bye-bye. It’s the circle of watch life. And even Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Omega, and Grand Seiko can’t escape it. The crystal ball and the tea leaves predict the end of models like the Air-King and Milgauss from Rolex. It also seems the steel Aquanaut 5167A has come to the end of the line. While we’re at it, let’s have a look at a few other brands and watches that are in dire straits.
Nothing lasts forever. But some things last considerably longer than others. The Rolex Day-Date, for instance, is not a watch you will read about in a story about discontinuation on Fratello in the near future. The Air-King, however, is another story. The Air-King reference 116900 that debuted in 2016 is a polarizing watch — I’m on the “no” side when it comes to this particular model — that mixes and (mis)matches a 1940s military style with the large Arabic numerals of the Explorer. The watch is nothing like the original reference 5500 from 1957. That watch is an understated, simple, no-nonsense beauty with a functional background. For an impressive period of 37 years, that watch remained largely unchanged.
The circle of watch life — Final approach for the Rolex Air-King
The last “real” Air-King debuted in 2007. The reference 1142XX series received some serious upgrades and reworkings, but it still remained true to the original model. The series was axed in 2014, but just two years later, a completely new Air-King debuted. The watch was inspired by a pair of dash clocks Rolex made for the Bloodhound SSC, a rocket on wheels that was set to break the land-speed record. But it never did.
Project Bloodhound went into administration in late 2018, someone bought the car, renamed the project, then COVID-19 happened. The project got delayed, and in 2021, the rocket vehicle was put up for sale. Does this reflect on the watch, made to look like the instruments in the Bloodhound? Apparently not, because Rolex continued producing the Air-King.
Still, I feel that 2022 will be the end of the watch that looks like the instruments on a doomed rocket car. The 40mm Air King just doesn’t fit in. It’s too much of a mashup — a bulky and extravagant brother of the 36mm Explorer. But will there be a new Air-King in 2022? Maybe a reinterpretation of the legendary reference 5500? I don’t think so. The colorful Oyster Perpetual lineup looks too much like a vintage Air-King. As you may know, I wouldn’t mind a new Turn-O-Graph, and I do see room in the collection for that. But a reworked Air-King would sit too close to the OP, I fear. Not to mention the fact that Rolex has no capacity for pumping out a complete Air-King collection… But that’s another story.
The watch that must be completely anti-magnetic by now — the Milgauss
Since 2007, Milgauss has been the funkiest of all modern Rolex watches. There are two Milgauss models in the current Rolex lineup — the reference 116400GV-0001 with its black dial and green crystal, and reference 116400GV-0002 with a blue dial and a green crystal on top. They are crazy, funky watches with a touch of magic. But, if you ask me, the magic has worn off.
A new Milgauss that harks back to the reference 1016 or 1019 would be nice, but just like a toned-down Air-King, I also don’t see a more retro-inspired Milgauss happening. But I don’t mind surprises and would love to be struck by a new “lightning bolt” come Watches and Wonders.
The circle of watch life — Tudor Heritage Chronograph “Monte Carlo”
Not far away from the decision-makers at Rolex, choices are made regarding sister brand Tudor. Tough choices sometimes, I bet. But canceling the North Flag — the first watch to feature a Tudor in-house movement — mustn’t have been too hard. Not with the Black Bay flying high, anyway. The axing of the North Flag and my recent article that tried to find five alternatives to the Rolex Daytona led me to the Tudor Heritage Chronograph. This chronograph, housing a caliber T401 — an ETA 2892 with an added Dubois Dépraz chronograph module — debuted in 2010 on the 40th anniversary of the brand’s first chronograph, the reference 7033 “Monte Carlo”.
Tudor also has the Black Bay Chrono, equipped with the superior, chronometer-certified caliber MT5813 based on the Breitling caliber B01. Going forward, I don’t think there’s room in the collection for both. But what I can see happening is a new “Monte Carlo” with the MT5813 inside — a proper “Daytona Lite”.
The circle of watch life — Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5167A
The Nautilus 5711A is dead, long live the Aquanaut 5167A! Well, no, I don’t think so. I think Thierry Stern is convinced that steel, uncomplicated, luxurious sports watches have no place in the Patek Philippe catalog. And that means an exit for the already-unobtainable Aquanaut 5167A on a rubber strap or steel bracelet. It was designed to be the young, modern little brother of the Nautilus, but it’s now a sought-after alternative to its big brother. The Aquanaut also got more and more complicated. In other words, it grew up. Complicated and precious-metal variations of the Aquanaut can consider themselves safe.
But for the simplest of Aquanauts with its retail price of $21,650 and an actual parallel-market price of around $100,000, the curtains very well may fall. The steel Nautilus 5711A hurt Patek’s image, and now the Aquanaut 5167A is doing the same. The little brother slowly became an uncontrollable monster that has to be neutralized.
The circle of watch life — Omega Railmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer 40mm
Before we go any further, let me make something perfectly clear. I’m not talking about the Railmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer 38mm from the 1957 Trilogy. I’m talking about the 40mm €5,500 Railmaster models with their vertically brushed dials. Technically, this Railmaster is fully up-to-date. Inside the NAIAD-LOCK-equipped case beats the Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8806, which is certified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). It can also withstand magnetism of 15,000 Gauss.
You could say that the “vintage” Super-LumiNova and beige “Railmaster” text are also fully in tune with the ongoing, seemingly unslowing retro trend. But still, the Railmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer 40mm has been living a very anonymous life. It’s not as cool as the 38mm version from the 1957 Trilogy, but it’s also not as chic as a Seamaster Aquaterra. The Railmaster 40mm falls between two stools, so to speak, and this awkward situation can’t last.
And that’s why I think Omega will axe the Railmaster 40mm. The 38mm Railmaster stole the bigger Railmaster’s limelight. I honestly have no idea if there will be a new version that can claim its place in the hearts of consumers. At least not with the 1957 Trilogy watch around.
The circle of watch life — Grand Seiko Quartz GMT SBGN003 and SBGN005
In March 2019, RJ asked himself if the Grand Seiko Quartz GMT SBGN005 (€3,200) was the ultimate quartz watch. And now I’m wondering if that same, fantastic watch, and its black-dialed brother, the SBGN003 might be canceled this year. I do so because, in the Grand Seiko Sports Collection, three new quartz-equipped watches made their appearance last year. I’m referring to the Grand Seiko Quartz GMT SBGN023 Limited Edition and its two non-limited versions, the black SBGN019 and blue SBGN021. These 40mm watches show a new, edgier case design that looks more modern than the sweeping lines of the SBGN003 and SBGN005. The new GMTs are quite a bit pricier, though.
The non-limited editions cost €4,450, and the limited edition with its gold medallion on the case back has a price of €5,350. You get what some consider an upgrade in looks — more objectively, an esthetical modernization, of course — but the 9F86 GMT movement remains the same. If you desire the “old” looks, the new SBGM245 with its automatic movement might be an option. But that blue-dialed travel watch has a price of €5,700, and although you do get a lot of watch for that price, it’s also quite a leap up the pricing ladder.
No brand can escape the circle of watch life
No matter how timeless a brand’s watches may seem, all makers must bend to the forces of time. Alas, not every watch can live on forever, and new ones must take their place in the circle of watch life. Today, you’ve seen my predictions for this year. But we’re keen to hear about yours as well. What models do you think will be discontinued in 2022, and which will be followed by a worthy successor? Let us know your predictions in the comments below.
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