2019 Watch Trends

This article was first published on Fifthwrist in January 2020.

So here are the watch trends of 2019. Well, my take on some of the watch trends. I should start this article with a caveat, I haven’t done any kind of statistical analysis in terms of the number of releases or sales, this article is purely based on my observations from the the articles I’ve read, the blogs I’ve seen, the podcasts I’ve listened to and the social media I’ve been bombarded with. There is probably a much more scientific way of assessing the trends, but where would be the fun in that.

One of the biggest trends of the year has been steel sports watches. So what do I mean by a sports watch? I tend to think of a tool watch as being a watch with an extra function or complication that allows it to serve a particular function such as a dive bezel, a chronograph or the ability to tell a second (and third) time zone. A sports watch is a go anywhere, do anything kind of watch which is more robust than a dress watch but in its most basic form doesn’t have the additional functionality of a tool watch. Generally a sports watch will be a three handed watch, with a reasonable level of water resistance and a date. Often it will come with an integrated bracelet. It is the kind of watch you can wear in the office or the bar or at a pool party without worrying about it. It is a watch that bridges the gap between dress and tool, and that can work in any situation. Now, on paper that could seem like a compromise but to my mind it is the ideal one watch collection. The relative simplicity of the formula also encourages creative design. The watch needs to be interesting enough that it is desirable but it shouldn’t stand out too much. There are a couple of classic examples of sports watches, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. To my mind, these really set the benchmark when it comes to sports watches. I know what you’re thinking, these watches also come in precious metals and with complications, would that make them dress watches or tool watches? I don’t think so, I think a family of watches needs to be judged by its most basic model, that is the baseline and it helps to define the category that the watch lives in. Saying that, there aren’t any hard and fast rules, this is just the approach that I adopt, hopefully it is helpful in terms of setting some context for this article.

The Nautilus and Royal Oak are popular models, they are expensive (in the grand scheme of watches) but they are also desirable. The basic steel versions often have waiting lists and nearly new second hand models can go for considerably more than the RRP of new models. If you were a watch company looking at the market and thinking about what might sell well then the steel sports watch sector would certainly look appealing. Having listened to a number of interviews with watch executives it seems to take in the region of 1-5 years to develop a watch from a basic concept to a product that can be taken to market. So in some ways there is an element of a coincidence that so many steel sports watches came to the market this year. The pieces that stood out for me were the Bell and Ross BR05, the Chopard Alpine Eagle and the A Lange and Sohne Odysseus all for slightly different reasons. On the one hand they are all similar in that they are steel sports watches on integrated steel bracelets with a mixture of polished and brushed finishes, blue dial options and date complications. On the other hand they are all very distinctive and different. The BR05 with its almost square case and round dial is very clearly a Bell and Ross. I tend to think of Bell and Ross watches as being more fun, playful weekend watches. The BR05 feels like a more grown up piece, it is certainly a healthy chunk of steel with a nice mix of brushed and polished surfaces. It has all the hallmarks of a sports watch but with an injection of Bell and Ross DNA.

The Chopard Alpine Eagle is a slightly different prospect but it is still firmly rooted in the sports watch camp. It is also not Chopard’s first venture into this arena, in the 1980s they released the St Moritz which was designed to be a modern watch for active sporty people of St Moritz. The Alpine Eagle is very much a reimagining of this earlier watch, it draws on a number of the design elements, in fact the lineage is quite apparent but the modern Alpine Eagle feels a lot more refined and together. I guess the advances in design, technology and machining over the last 40 years are apparent. The thing that really stands out for me is the textured dial, which is designed to look like the iris of an eagle. It is one of those subtle elements that add to the appeal of a sports watch.

Then there’s the A Lange and Sohne Odysseus, their first foray into sports watches. They have taken a typically A Lange and Sohne approach to creating their sports watch, it is certainly at the more elegant end of the sports watch scale with its beautifully symmetrical day date dial but it still has a lot of the sports watch traits; stainless steel case, integrated bracelet, 120m water resistance. It also has some desirable features such as the buckle that allows the bracelet to be adjusted up to 7mm without opening the buckle, I think it would be great if all bracelets had this kind of feature. It makes wearing one watch so much easier. The exhibition case back will allow you to view movement, I am not a movement expert but I think it looks fantastic. There’s no denying this is an expensive steel watch, yet it is also something very special.

Another big trend of the year has been two-tone. I don’t know if it’s been driven by the lack of availability of popular steel models or not, but two-tone has definitely been more prominent this year. I think two-tone watches can look great although I’m not sure when and where I’d wear them. There is a slight oddity as well when a tool watch adds some gold details, in my view it moves it away from its tool watch roots and into more of a luxury accessory arena. Would you really dive with a two-tone watch, that’s the question. The watches that stood out for me for various reasons were the Oris Divers Sixty-Five in bronze and steel, the Tudor Black Bay Chrono S&G, and the Rolex Sea-Dweller in Oystersteel and yellow gold.

The Oris Divers Sixty-Five is the most affordable off the two-tone watches I’ve listed and in many ways one of the most interesting. I like bronze watches, I own a Tudor Black Bay Bronze, the way they develop a patina and tell a story is great. They are not necessarily the most practical options day to day though, they often look more casual and the muted tones can be more difficult to pair with some outfits. I think combining bronze with steel is a best of both worlds approach. When the watch is new and the bronze still has its shine, it will look similar to a steel and gold watch. As the bronze ages and darkens in hue the watch will become more understated. The combination with the steel helps the watch to retain a smarter look while also showing off the character that has been developed depending on when and where the watch has been worn. I think the choice of the blue dial helps to keep the watch consistent and it ties together the bronze and steel. I don’t think a black dial would work as well, there would be the potential for it to clash with the bronze as the tone changes.

The Tudor Black Bay Chrono S&G (steel and gold) is quite a different prospect with some interesting features. The all steel chronograph was released at Baselworld in 2017. The movement was developed in collaboration with Breitling. It was an interesting addition to the Black Bay range, being a chronograph. Tudor has produced some chronographs in the past so it says something about the popularity and marketing power of the Black Bay range that they chose to release this chronograph under the Black Bay banner. The all steel Rolex Daytona has been a very popular and exclusive watch in recent years, many people prefer the steel bezel version to the more modern ceramic bezel versions. The all steel Tudor Chrono made absolute sense for the first Black Bay Chronograph as it is a more affordable and available chronograph. Like the Daytona there’s a lot of scope to play with the finishes and colours of the Tudor Black Bay Chrono. A classic example of a Daytona is the “John Player Special” colour way, the Black Bay Chrono S&G captures this classic vintage look at a fraction of the cost. Okay, it’s gold capped steel not solid gold, but that’s okay at this price point. It’s a good looking watch and as it’s a chronograph the two-tone feels more appropriate than with other tool watches.

The third two-tone watch that stood out to me this year was the Rolex Sea-Dweller in Oystersteel and yellow gold, and not in a good way. The Sea-Dweller has always been Rolex’s more robust tool watch with an enhanced water resistance compared to its sibling the Submariner and, more latterly, a larger case. The lack of cyclops has also made it distinctly different from its stable mate. For years the Sea-Dweller has been the choice of professionals while the Submariner has been the everyman fashion tool watch, available in two-tone or solid gold. Releasing the Sea-Dweller in two-tone feels unnecessary and it blurs the line between the two dive watch offerings. If it was a special release or a limited edition celebrating an anniversary then maybe there would be a case for it but in my opinion it does not make sense. I am a Rolex fan and a dive watch fan but this one is not for me.

Another trend of 2019 has been green dialled watches. I’ll be honest, I was initially on the fence about green dialled watches but UNDONE watches sent me their green dialled Basecamp Cali and I have really come to appreciate green dialled watches. In a sea of black and blue dialled watches green stands out but not too much. It can be very understated and it is a colour that goes well with silver or gold tones.

The three watches that stand out for me are the Seiko 5, the Glashütte Original Seventies Panorama Date and the Patek Philippe Jumbo Aquanaut. I briefly considered including the Breitling Superocean Automatic 44 Outerknown in my list of green watches, it is certainly a handsome looking dive, but I think the variety of options in the new Seiko 5 range make it my first pick of the green watches. I’m sure someone will call me out for picking a range rather than an individual watch but I think it’s appropriate because the watches are essentially variations on a theme. There’s a very dedicated watch subculture that has built up around modding Seiko watches, especially the SKX007. There are some fantastic mods out there, such as steel twelve hour bezels and PVD coatings, and there are some pretty awful mods too. I think Seiko have seen how people like to play with their watches, own multiple watches, match their watches to their outfits and the trends for different coloured watches. They have observed all of this and have purposely created a range of watches which will appeal to a variety of people and that work in a number of scenarios. The SRPD61K1 and SRPD63K1 are at the more classic dive watch end of the spectrum with their three link bracelets. The 61 is more of a turquoise green whereas the 63 is more of a dark holly green. The SRPD75K1 in the suits range is a much more muted khaki green and the SRPD77K1 in the sense range is dark teal with a textured dial. They are all the same and yet all quite different. I think it is quite telling that four of the twenty seven watches in the range are green.

Next up we have the Glashütte Original Seventies Panorama Date. This is the most complicated of the watches I’ve picked for this article and it would be easy to venture down a rabbit hole of flyback chronographs with power reserves and 100m water resistance, I’ll save that for another article. The thing that really stands out is the varnished green and black dial with dégrandé effect, sunray decoration. It is a shimmering vibrant emerald green dial that, based on the photos I’ve seen online, can look almost entirely black or brilliantly green depending on the lighting. A perfect fumé style dial. Combined with the complications, the symmetry of the dial and the fact that this is a limited edition of 100 pieces, there is a lot to like about this watch.

Finally in the green dialled watches category we have one of my favourite releases of the year, the Patek Philippe Jumbo Aquanaut reference 5168G-010. This “Jumbo” Aquanaut in white gold is a watch that absolutely makes sense to me. The Aquanaut is often considered to be Patek Philippe’s other sports watch, personally I prefer the look of it to the Nautilus, the less bulbous case is more understated and I like the mixture of brushes and polished finishes. This isn’t the first jumbo Aquanaut (jumbo being 42.2 vs a standard 40mm), but it is the first model in khaki green. For me, the green is perfectly understated yet still interesting when compared with the blue, black and brown offerings. The embossed pattern on the green dial ties in perfectly with the green composite strap. It is such a coherent look and a perfect example of when the green
watch trend works. The white gold case adds to the stealth wealth, understated look. I think this is the kind of watch that has a lot of interesting features and details but it doesn’t stand out too much. It doesn’t scream rob me like a yellow gold watch with multiple complications might, it is something that the owner could wear and enjoy every day. I think that it is largely thanks to the khaki green dial and strap.

So there you have it, my take on the trends of 2019. It will be interesting to see what trends continue in 2020 and what new trends emerge. Will we see an explosion of green dials and sports watches? Will salmon dials become mainstream or will there be a new colour trend? Will watches continue to get smaller? Will there be an abundance of reissues and faux patina? I guess only time will tell. Let me know what your favourite trends of 2019 were and your predictions for 2020 in the comments.

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