It’s that time of year again; when the inevitable ‘Watches of the Year’ lists are unveiled. The overarching theme of this year seems to be ‘fun’. Switzerland has swapped its stuffy suit for party pants, and it’s made for some surprising launches.
This is by no means a definitive list, or an exhaustive one, but it hopefully gives a flavour of what 2023 has been like in the watch world – a mix of coloured dials, crazy complications and quietly innovative designs.
We’re sure you’ll disagree with some of the inclusions and wonder why your favourite isn’t on here; as always, complaints on a postcard please. And now, without further ado, here’s our top 10 (and a special mention).
Oris Propilot x Kermit Edition
Yes, Oris did drop a rather stunning laser-etched Propilot at Dubai Watch Week but it’s this green-dialled monster that turned heads earlier in the year at Watches and Wonders.
There are so many reasons to love it. The wit of teaming up with a muppet, using the Propilot – a slice of sleek, 1970s-inspired steel – as the vehicle for this collaboration, and finally, the little Kermit face that appears on the date window on the first day of every month.
It’s genius, combines tongue-in-cheek humour with incredible mechanics (it’s powered by Oris’s in-house Calibre 400 with a five-day power reserve and 10-year warranty) and looks great on. No brand would even come up with this idea let alone execute it with such flair, but Oris makes being green look very easy indeed.
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Minute Rattrapante
Another witty little edition to the watch world is this from newly invigorated Parmigiani Fleurier, the eponymous brand of one of Switzerland’s most accomplished watchmakers and restorers.
In a world first, it has managed to build on last year’s GMT Rattrapante, which had a secret hand that emerged from behind the hour hand when the second time zone was needed. Now the rattrapante function has been pushed into use as a chronograph.
Taking the literal meaning of ‘rattrapante’ (to catch again), here the secret hand emerges when the wearer wants to set a reminder of when to do, or finish, something. The rose-gold hand moves at five- or one-minute increments and when the regular rhodium-plated hand conceals it once more, your time is up.
It’s an elegantly clever watch that wears its maker’s intelligence lightly.
Code 11:59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel
The Marvel collaborations and team-ups with dubious music industry characters (we’re looking at you Travis Scott) may garner column inches and attention but they do detract from the fact that Audemars Piguet is adept at creative mechanics.
This addition to the Code 11:59 collection is a resurrection of the wandering hours complication that was popular in the 17th century. Audemars Piguet revived this unusual complication in 1991, before turning its R&D team’s attention to other things. It has now added it to its more experimental Code 11:59 family.
To display the time, the discs represent the hours, while the retrograde track the minutes from 10 to two. The hour indication moves along the minutes throughout the hour and, once it reaches the end of the track, it spins off allowing the next hour marker to take its place.
With the aventurine dial background, it is an alluring combination of magic and mechanics that showcases the best of what Audemars Piguet can do.
Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200m Summer Blue 75th Anniversary
This year marked the 75th anniversary of (arguably) Omega’s second most famous watch – the Speedie takes the number one spot for obvious reasons. To celebrate, it unveiled a suite of Seamasters each with a blue dial whose darkness corresponded to the depth of its water resistance.
The Ploprof was definitely the highlight. It has a monobloc case that was a feature of the original and is now made from Omega’s proprietary steel – O-Megasteel – which is stripped of its nickel and boosted with manganese and nitrogen to make it harder than traditional steel and more resistant to corrosion.
In keeping with its depth, the dial graduates from dark blue to black, with the glow at the centre reminiscent of a dirigible’s headlights in dark ocean. It’s good to a technically useless 1,200m – unless, of course, you’re a saturation diver for whom this watch was designed.
At 55mm it is a substantial wrist presence but if you can carry it off, you’re guaranteed to make waves.
Longines Legend Diver 39mm
The Longines Legend Diver is the timepiece responsible for the trend of watch brands rummaging around in their archives to see what vintage models they could reissue. It has had various iterations, including a controversial one that had a date, and now it’s back in 39mm form, which is more faithful to the 1959 original.
On this modernised version of a super compressor – a diving watch where the water pressure itself serves to tighten its seals – the lume has been improved and the date window is gone. It still has the inner rotating bezel, which can be set by using the crown at two o’clock, and for the first time it is available on a ‘grain of rice’ stainless steel bracelet option with fitted end links.
However, some purists would like to see the mesh bracelet back. Because what’s better than a perfectly designed watch? An almost-perfect watch with some little details you can gripe over.
Grand Seiko ‘Mount Iwate Autumn Dusk’ SBGW303
The forests surrounding the Shizukuishi manufacture where Grand Seikos are assembled are a rich verdant green; deep, lush, almost unreal in their colour. From the floor-to-ceiling windows, the Takumi (artisan) watchmakers observe the changing of the seasons, as well as the daily passage of the sun and the play of light and shadow as it shifts through the trees and illuminates Mt Iwate, watchful in the distance.
In autumn, Mt Iwate’s slopes become illuminated by the setting sun turning the forests a strange dark grey-green, the moon is also transformed going from white to a dazzling gold. The autumnal forest has inspired the colour of this dial, while the moon is represented by the rich gold of the Grand Seiko logo in a typically Japanese appreciation of the autumn moon.
The smooth mirror-like surface of the case is achieved through Grand Seiko’s signature Zaratsu polishing and the multifaceted indices emphasise how this culture views light and shade as coexistence not contrast.
In a rare twist, it’s a European limited edition, which makes us on this side of the world feel a little more loved by this Japanese watchmaking powerhouse.
TAG Heuer Carrera Date
It was a match made in PR heaven. Ryan Gosling, aka Ken, on the Barbie pink carpet in a powder blue suit with a TAG Heuer, featuring a bold fuchsia dial, on his wrist.
It’s possible that TAG Heuer knew what its ambassador was up to before images of Gosling as Toy Town’s most famous boyfriend were leaked in 2022, but watch launches are normally discussed way in advance so it is possible that this was just kismet.
Either way, it was the second watch that had men debating whether they could pull off a pink dial (Oris’s Cotton Candy being the first). Added to that the audacity to ‘shrink and pink’ a man’s watch – the dial was also reduced to 36mm – especially one named after a life-claiming Pan American car race, and you have a watch that gets everyone talking.
As fashion moments go, it was one of 2023’s boldest.
Bremont Supermarine S302 GMT
In May, Bremont announced that Davide Cerrato, the man most famous for unleashing the Tudor Black Bay on an unsuspecting public, would be joining the company as CEO. Given his past success, everyone was keen to see what he would do. And this updated Supermarine is the first answer.
It’s a new take on Bremont classic. The retro syringe-style hour and minute hands remain as does the orange-outlined GMT hand. What’s instantly noticeable as new is the two-tone bezel in blue and green replacing the monotone brown it had been previously. It also had a 24-hour scale on it rather than numerals in increments of 10.
This is now, with the day/night demarcation (green for day, blue for night), a proper GMT. Or rather, a caller GMT, to give it its correct name, which means the GMT hand can only move forward in hour increments as opposed to a traveller GMT where the local hour hand can be moved forwards and backwards. The power reserve has been upped to 50 hours, it has a 300m water resistance and now the option of a rubber strap.
As Cerrato’s calling card, it’s a clever move – an update of an existing timepiece that is sensitive to the original with enough flair to give a sense of what might come next. 2024 Bremont could prove to be very exciting indeed.
Girard-Perregaux Laureato 38mm Green Ceramic Aston Martin Edition
Watch/car collaborations can be so run-of-the-mill, with the same old motifs trotted out again and again. Not this beautiful slice of green ceramic from Girard-Perregaux, which eschews all the usual car/watch design touchpoints in favour of keeping things simple.
Aside from the small detail of the dial texture being reminiscent of the Aston Martin front grill and its logo on the sapphire case back, this version of G-P’s iconic 1970s Laureato is all about the colour. British racing green to be exact. To ensure the colour match of the bracelet and the case, Girard-Perregaux used a spectrophotometer – an instrument that measures colour by shining a beam of light at an object that is reflected back, or transmitted through, to quantify colour.
There is a 42mm version, however there is an elegance in the 38mm that makes it the more desirable of the two. With just 188 pieces, it’s probably easier to get your hands on an Aston but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream.
Rolex Day-Date 36 Emoji Puzzle
You can roll your eyes at this, but it has a place on this list because it was the watch no one expected Rolex to make. Rolex is known for coming to the annual Watches and Wonders with launches that are subtle improvements on existing models – a new hairspring here, a change of material there. That everyone went wild when it launched the Destro last year, a left-handed version of its GMT-Master II that merely involved the movement of the crown and date from one side of the case to the other, illustrates the point perfectly.
Rolex does not do gimmicky. Until this year. Rolex has taken its Day-Date, a watch that has graced the wrists of presidents, and given it a ‘lolz’ makeover. Instead of the day, the 12 o’clock window displays affirmations such as ‘happy’, ‘gratitude’ and ‘eternity’. The dates have gone and been replaced with 31 different emojis.
Because this is Rolex, everything is done to the highest standard. The colourful puzzle dial is champleve enamel, the hour markers are baguette-cut sapphires, and the movement is Rolex’s in-house Calibre 3255.
In a year that has been challenging to say the least, this joyfully vibrant watch is the wrist candy we all need. If only we could afford it.
Special mention: Swatch and The Simpsons
Yes, we could have mentioned that other Swatch collaboration, but really enough has been said about that already and we can all agree it’s no MoonSwatch. Instead, here’s a fun-filled bit of wrist candy we can all get a taste of.
In November, Swatch unveiled its Seconds of Sweetness, which took Homer’s famous pink doughnut and stuck it on a watch dial. A bite had been taken out of it at 12 o’clock and its pink, sprinkle-flecked frosting adorned the strap with a background in the famous Simpsons’ shade of yellow.
For the festive season, it has launched two more conventional holiday specials but it’s the doughnut version that embodies the anarchic, witty sensibilities of the series. It’s quartz, the case is made from bio-sourced material, and it has a 300m water resistance, ideal for wearing with a towel. Just make sure to speak up.