12/27/2019
 5 minutes

The Watch Industry in 2019: A Retrospective

By Tom Mulraney
rueckblick-uhrenbranche-2019-2zu1

The Watch Industry in 2019: A Retrospective

This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for watch lovers. It started off slow, with the major trade shows at the beginning of the year (SIHH and Baselworld) failing to generate any real buzz. In fact, the brands announcing their withdrawal from future shows garnered more attention than new watch releases. You could put that down to a lot of the major players choosing to play it safe this year, with genuinely daring and interesting new releases few and far between. For example, the most talked-about new watch from Rolex was a two-tone Sea-Dweller. Overall, the general focus seemed to be on rehashing history, with the trend of reissuing vintage models showing no signs of stopping.

 

Rolex Sea-Dweller
Rolex Sea-Dweller

 

There were a few shining lights, of course, such as the exceptionally complex Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar and the impossibly thin Bulgari Octo Chronograph GMT. And while Patek Philippe largely focused on introducing new dial colors and other variations on existing models, the brand also managed a welcome surprise in the form of the retro Calatrava Weekly Calendar 5212A. More recently, German watch brand A. Lange & Söhne introduced its first-ever steel watch for series production, curiously named Odysseus. Pitched as an everyday Lange you could wear to all occasions, it initially received mixed reviews. However, collectors seem to have warmed up to it now.

 

Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar
Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar

 

Credit should also be given to Audemars Piguet for having the courage to introduce its first new collection in a very, very long time. Unfortunately, the new Code 11.59 did not quite receive the positive response they were hoping for, but at least it stood out as something different. Likewise, Tudor surprised the market with its Black Bay P01, based on a concept watch the brand designed for the US Navy back in the late 1960s. It has proven to be quite polarizing, particularly because a lot of disappointed Tudor fans had been hoping for a more conventional Submariner reissue. 

Another key trend is the market’s insatiable desire for luxury steel sports watches; most notably those from Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Rolex. Unsurprisingly, several other brands have thrown their hats into the ring in a bid to capitalize on this red-hot craze. Bell & Ross debuted its new BR05 collection, describing it as thetime-measuring instrument for urban explorers. A successor of sorts to the square BR03 aviation-inspired family, the steel case features a more octagonal base that widens towards the watch’s partially protected crown. It’s water-resistant to 100 m (328 ft) and is, of course, worn on a polished and brushed integrated steel bracelet.

 

Bell&Ross BR05
Bell & Ross BR05

 

Chopard unveiled its modern reinterpretation of the St. Moritz from 1980, the first watch created by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who is now co-president of Chopard. Inspired by the spirit of the Alps, the case of the Alpine Eagle is crafted from an exclusive, ultra-resistant and light-reflecting metal called Lucent Steel A223. An integrated steel bracelet and a Chopard chronometer-certified movement complete the timepiece. Most unexpected, however, was the launch of the new Urban Jürgensen ONE collection. Best known for its fine dress watches crafted in precious metals, the brand has zero history in the luxury sports watch category, but that didn’t stop them from creating a truly superb timepiece. Water-resistant to 120 m (394 ft), you won’t find a single straight line on the 7-piece case made entirely from medical grade 1.4441 stainless steel. With a beautifully finished dial and high-quality automatic movement, it’s definitely one of the best-looking additions to the genre.

The third trend of 2019 seemed to be the celebration of major milestones – although this is arguably less of a trend and more just the reality of time passing. 1969 was a busy year, and not just for the watch industry. Most notably, it marked the first successful landing on the Moon, which, among other things, gave birth to the legendary Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. To commemorate this momentous achievement, Omega created a special Omega Speedmaster reference in full gold and limited to 1,014 pieces (including two offered to President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew). Five decades later, the brand recreated this iconic model to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, with several notable updates, of course.

 

Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition
Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition

 

Another notable 50thanniversary that was celebrated this year was the debut of the automatic chronograph movement. In fact, three brands introduced their own take on this (then) ground-breaking movement in 1969. First was Zenith with the El Primero chronograph movement that was created completely from scratch. This was followed by a consortium uniting Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton-Büren, and chronograph specialist Dubois Dépraz, which produced the Chrono-Matic/Calibre 11. Seiko was also in the running and released their caliber 6139 that same year. Not surprisingly, all three have created limited editions of the watches in which these movements debuted. Zenith embarked on a year-long, global celebration, unveiling multiple variations of the A384 series, as well as several collaborations. Likewise, TAG Heuer proposed five different Monaco watches, one for each decade. Seiko, meanwhile, contented themselves with one vintage reissue in the form of the Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2019 was the incredible success of the Only Watch charity auction, which raises money for Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. A unique stainless steel Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime created exclusively for the 2019 edition sold for a mind-boggling $31 million, making it the most expensive watch ever sold at auction by a substantial margin. Keep in mind, there is no buyer’s premium at the Only Watch auction, meaning that like-for-like, this piece sold for almost double that of the Paul Newman Daytona. That seems about right, considering it houses 20 complications, including a grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, minute repeater, and perpetual calendar; not to mention the more than 100,000 man-hours it took to develop. Plus, it features an en vogue salmon dial complete with the words “The Only One.”

So, what will 2020 hold? Perhaps the major players are saving their exciting and innovative releases for next year. Alternatively, we could get more of the same, meaning more vintage reissues, more luxury steel sports watches, and a few hidden gems here and there. Not that I’m complaining. After all, there have still been plenty of interesting developments in the watch industry this year if you’re willing to look hard enough.

Read more

Our Favorite 2019 Special Editions

The Top Watch Trends of 2019

Baselworld Video 2019: Which watches stood out to you?


About the Author

Tom Mulraney

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, there wasn’t much of a watch scene. There was only one authorized retailer of high-end watches in the city I lived in …

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