RJ’s Top 10 Watches Of 2021 — The Best Releases This Year Including Omega, Rolex, Grand Seiko, Blancpain, And More
In the past, watch brands presented their new watches during the two major shows. One of them doesn’t exist anymore (Baselworld) and this year, the other one was done digitally (Watches & Wonders, previously known as SIHH). I think I speak for the entire team and all my media colleagues when I write that we miss these shows a lot. However, we also noticed that brands are quite flexible and decided to release their watches throughout 2021, not only limiting them to one of these big events.
It has been tough to travel this year due to the never-ending pandemic, but luckily, brands adapted and often sent us watches under embargo or made individual appointments with us to show the watches in the flesh.
RJ’s Top 10 Watches Of 2021
As it is nearly the end of 2021, I think it’s time to make up the balance. What were my top 10 watches of 2021? It wasn’t an easy task, but in the end, I managed to come up with a list of watches I either wouldn’t mind owning myself or simply watches I admire for what they are.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Master Chronometer
This list would not be complete without mentioning the new Moonwatch. It’s an important watch, as for the first time in nearly 25 years, Omega introduced a fully updated version. A new case, a new dial, new hands, a new movement, and finally, a new bracelet. As I wrote before in this hands-on review, I think this new Moonwatch Master Chronometer combines the best from two worlds — vintage and modern. The design of the case, hands, and dial, reminds us of the Moonwatch from the 1960s, whereas the movement includes Omega’s state-of-the-art technology when it comes to precision.
This watch comes in several variations and materials. The steel version is available with sapphire crystals on the front and back, and the Hesalite (Plexiglass) crystal version has the stainless steel case back with the historical NASA inscription. Then, there’s a (Canopus) white gold version and a (Sedna) rose gold version, both available with/without bracelet in corresponding metal. Prices start at €5,900. Your collection isn’t complete without one.
Rolex Explorer 36
Although we moan and complain a lot about the lack of availability and staggering market value of Rolex watches, there’s little wrong with the watches themselves. One of my all-time favorites is the 36mm Rolex Explorer. The Explorer reference 124270 in a 36mm case is one of the cleanest-looking (sports) Rolex watches, and if the size fits you, there’s hardly any alternative. The Explorer 36 comes on the Oyster bracelet with easy adjustment in the clasp, giving you 5mm of flexibility. The biggest news was probably the introduction of an additional Explorer 36 in two-tone, reference 124273.
At first, I wasn’t too impressed, but after seeing it in the flesh and having had some time to get used to it, I’m starting to like it more and more. The price of the steel Explorer is €6,100 / $6,450 and the two-tone version has a retail price of €10,300 / $10,800. Let’s say some magic happens and you can actually try and purchase this watch at an authorized dealer. In that case, you’ll get yourself one of the nicest Rolex sports models in the collection, in my opinion.
Laventure Marine II
I am late to the game when it comes to Laventure and especially when it comes to this beautiful Marine II with solid gold dial that was introduced on June 21st. Laventure only made 99 pieces, and they sold out in a flash. Now that I see them being delivered to the customers, I regret not being faster. What a stunning watch, especially with the brushed finish on the solid gold dial.
The case has some familiar shapes, but I happen to like it, so that is definitely not something I perceive as negative. An interesting detail is the Plexiglass crystal, something I’d not expect on a watch like this. But I don’t mind it either; to me, it looks cool. Inside is a Sellita SW200-1 caliber, modified to have the date “click” removed. The Laventure Marine II retailed for CHF 3,850 (excluding VAT) but that’s not relevant anymore anyway.
Louis Moinet Astronef
An independent Haute Horlogerie brand I truly respect is Louis Moinet. I consider CEO Jean-Marie Schaller one of the friendliest people in the industry, and he started Louis Moinet as a project roughly 20 years ago. This year, he showed us the Louis Moinet Astronef timepiece, which is similar to the Space Revolution Watch that Lex wrote about here. In the Astronef, the space theme has been replaced by a more traditional appearance.
A look at the dial of the Astronef might leave you puzzled at first. The twin tourbillons fly over the beautiful dial, crossing paths every three minutes and twenty seconds. That’s 18 times every hour. It’s a true spectacle, based on a genius movement consisting of no less than 471 components. The price? No idea. I didn’t dare to ask. But I expect a price between $350,000 and $400,000, based on the Space Revolution Watch.
NOMOS Zürich Weltzeit Fratello
I am not sure if it is cheating by mentioning a watch that we did together with NOMOS on this list. For over two decades, I’ve been eyeballing NOMOS, but due to my wrist size, it hasn’t been an easy journey. I’ve tried many, but I often found them too small for me. When NOMOS introduced the Weltzeit watch about a decade ago, I immediately knew that this was the perfect NOMOS for me. I never got around to pulling the trigger somehow. I felt I could always get a white or a dark blue dial, so there was no rush. Fast forward to 2021, and suddenly we’re in the process of creating a collaboration piece together with NOMOS.
The choice for an off-white/creamy panda dial is perfect, including the little orange details. As we only had discussed and decided upon a quantity of 25 pieces, I felt a little bit bad for getting one myself, but I just had to. I had no idea it would sell out in 30 seconds anyway; it is hard to predict and imagine a time frame like that when you’re discussing a project like this with brands. But don’t you worry, we’ll be back! The retail price of the NOMOS x Fratello Weltzeit watch was €4,620.
Grand Seiko SBGY007 “Omiwatari”
I had set my mind on the White Birch (SLGH005) when it was introduced earlier this year. It’s an incredibly nice-looking watch with the latest beautiful Grand Seiko Hi-Beat movement. However, when it arrived, the dial was a bit too silver-ish for me, instead of the white I expected. But, not much later, Grand Seiko came with its SBGY007 “Omiwatari” with a hand-wound Spring Drive movement. It’s a proper dress watch, with no date and a nice alligator leather strap. As always, the dial is one of the main attractions, and this blue textured beauty is no exception.
Just like the other watches in the SBGY series, it also lacks the power reserve indicator on the dial. Instead, you’ll find it on the backside of the watch, on the 9R31 movement. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly hard to find a nice dress watch these days. This SBGY007, however, surely ticks a lot of my boxes. Retail price is €8,600 / $8,300 USD.
Gérald Genta Arena Retrograde Smiling Mickey Mouse
I know many don’t like an animated character on their watches, but there are probably just as many who do enjoy them. Although you’ll find Disney’s characters on watches from Ingersoll to Swatch, you also find them on high-end pieces like this Gérald Genta. This brand, owned by Bvlgari, surprised us in 2021 with a Mickey Mouse watch with retrograde minutes. Limited to 150 pieces only, it sold out in a flash, despite the serious price tag of CHF 16,500.
The Gérald Genta Arena Retrograde Smiling Mickey Mouse, as the watch is called in full, has Bvlgari’s BVL 262 movement inside. It is not the first time that Genta used Mickey Mouse in one of his watches. In fact, he has been using Mickey and some other Disney friends since 1984. In previous editions, we’ve seen Mickey as a golf player, car racer, etc. On the dial of the Arena Retrograde Smiling Mickey Mouse, he is indeed just a smiling, happy mouse. It’s a watch for those who don’t take themselves too seriously, which I applaud.
Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms No Rad
In March of this year, I wrote a review on this limited edition Blancpain Tribute To Fifty Fathoms No Rad. It’s a modestly sized 40.3mm diameter dive watch on a rubber strap, powered by the Blancpain caliber 1151. This “No Radiations” hearkens back to Blancpain’s heritage of the 1960s, but the Fifty Fathoms goes back even further in time. In 1953, Blancpain introduced the Fifty Fathoms, and today, we consider it the first modern dive watch. I’ve enjoyed my short time with this Fifty Fathoms No Rad a lot, and to be honest, the Fifty Fathoms is a watch I perhaps forgot about.
Until we received this beautiful, limited edition in our office, as it impressed me from the moment I got it out of the box. It wears incredibly comfortably on the wrist, and it could easily be a daily watch for sure. It came on this tropic-style rubber strap, but I can also imagine wearing it on NATO, or even a nice leather strap if you want to dress up. The retail price of this watch is €13,290. Or, it was, as the watch sold out immediately. And I can imagine why, because if I’d had the funds at that moment, I would have pulled the trigger on one for sure.
Louis Erard × Alain Silberstein “Le Triptyque” Le Régulateur II
It was in the summer of 2001, when I visited Paris with my then-girlfriend, and stumbled upon the Alain Silberstein boutique in Quartier Latin by accident. It was before I started Fratello, and I had not met Alain Silberstein himself yet, but I was fully aware of his watches and use of primary colors and shapes. In the boutique, they seemed to be surprised at the time that a young Dutch couple came in to ask about their creations. Back then, the Lemania 5100 movement was still in production, and it was used in several of Silberstein’s pieces. Those were (and I guess they still are) my favorite Alain Silberstein watches.
Fast forward 20 years, and that Paris boutique is long gone, along with the brand itself. However, Louis Erard decided to team up with Alain Silberstein himself and came up with a beautiful set of watches, the Louis Erard × Alain Silberstein “Le Triptyque”. It’s a trio of watches that carries the Silberstein legacy very clearly and have beautifully designed cases as well. They were available as a set (retail price CHF 11,111), but also separately. My favorite, the “Le Régulateur” retailed for CHF 3,500, limited to 178 pieces. It is powered by a Sellita SW266-1 movement, housed in a 40mm titanium case.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph 5990/1R-001
Patek Philippe introduced two complicated watches this year — reference 5374G-001 with a minute repeater and perpetual calendar, and the “Advanced Research” reference 5750 with a minute repeater. And although I very much enjoyed the press conferences and explanations about these complicated watches, they’re not for me, even if I did have the financial resources. But there also was another introduction this year from Patek Philippe, and it was one that I wouldn’t mind wearing — if I had the funds to buy one, that is. It’s a Nautilus, and I know that model name doesn’t sit well with everyone anymore these days, but I can hardly blame the watch itself for that.
The Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph 5990/1R is powered by caliber CH 28-520 C FUS, offering the chronograph and extra timezone complications in one single watch. I used to be all in favor of the most basic Nautilus model, reference 5711/1A, but I guess my days of being a purist are over, and I wouldn’t mind owning a Nautilus variation instead. The Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph combines two of my favorite complications in a case design that goes back Genta’s finest days. The retail price of this watch is $106,452. The going price, however, is four times as much.
The list is too short
Picking only 10 watches (and some colleagues even only selected five) is not an easy task. The year 2021 was an interesting one when it came to watch releases. It was a continuous flow of new watches, not only limited to two of three specific moments in the year, as we had before 2020. Let’s see what 2022 will bring us. If physical events do take place again, which anniversaries will the industry celebrate? Will we see some exciting new future icons? January will immediately kick off with some new watch introductions, I am sure.