Whew! There were a lot of watches released this month.
We're talking hundreds of novelties from dozens of brands at the industry's major event of the year, Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022. Now that it's officially in the rearview mirror (and we've all had a full night's sleep), we can finally step back from the hype of individual releases and look for some perspective.
So what trends and forces did we see in watches this year? Rolex released a left-handed watch, Grand Seiko had a skeletonized tourbillon...what does it all mean? On one hand, there was plenty of healthy risk-taking, variety and creativity on display. On the other hand, watchmakers still seem to be searching for what a modern watch should be.
Here are some broad takeaways from this year's Watches & Wonders show.
Neo-vintage is getting old
If one trend has dominated watchmaking for several years, it's been neo-vintage. That encompasses reissues, homages and generally retro inspired watches — and we can't really complain since we're often fans of these pieces too. But while consumers have generally lapped them up, there's also been a backlash: many watch fans have expressed fatigue with designs from decades ago and have accused watch brands of laziness and creative bankruptcy.
That's why, in 2022, one trend stood out in particular. Or, rather, it was the moderate abatement of that trend: neo-vintage is waning.
But it's not going away. There were still plenty of plays on nostalgia — and some pretty compelling ones. Notably, Vacheron Constantin's recreation of its 222 watch, the Tudor Black Bay Pro (seemingly based on the Rolex Explorer II reference 1655 from 1971) and Patek Philippe's new Calatrava watches with some strong vintage vibes. But whereas in past years releases of this sort seemed to come from every brand, that wasn't the case in 2022.
Plenty of brands focused on updating their modern lines, and many seemed to even have an experimental leaning. Take, for instance, TAG Heuer's solar powered Aquaracer or its totally weird diamond-centric tourbillon chronograph. Grand Seiko put out a rather expensive and out-of-character tourbillon watch. The most basic form of vintage inspiration takes the form of aged-looking, beige-colored lume, and even that wasn't as common — fresh, stark colors were favored, as in IWC's Pilot's Watch Top Gun "Lake Tahoe" with a black dial and white ceramic case.
Luxury sport watches are spurring modern design
If you don't know what we mean by "luxury sport watches" yet... Have you not been reading Gear Patrol's watch content?! High-end watches like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus are in the zeitgeist, big time, and brands of every stripe are offering their own interpretation of this genre with some combination of features like integrated bracelets, polygonal motifs, exposed screws and a generally contemporary, fashion-oriented look.
Consumers have gobbled up this kind of watch, and that shows that there's also an appetite for generally modern design. This has led more brands to offer such watches at more price points, including some smaller brands that make the once high-end look more affordable. The best part: the very fact that this genre of watch lacks a clear definition lets designers get creative and interpretive. Candidly, some of them are kind of fugly and pointless, in our humble opinion, but there are some great examples too, such as Zenith's Defy Skyline.
As a trend, the "luxury sport watch" is a totally different animal than something like green dials (another recent trend). Whereas the latter often requires little additional effort on the watchmaker's part, watches that fall into the category of the Royal Oak and Nautilus often have complicated cases and bracelets that need to be designed from the ground up. The case finishing is also expected to be a significant part of their appeal. All this is relatively difficult and expensive, and we like to see watch companies taking on challenges.
The new watch flavor du jour is...titanium?
It's not all about above said "luxury sport watches." Brands seemed in an experimental mood this year, not really landing on a unified theme. All the trends we've noted in recent years still have a presence: there's still vintage style, green is still popular, bronze is still around... So what's "the new black?"
There are hints that titanium is rising in prominence, and that's a trend we can predict will further pick up over the next year. It's not a new material in watchmaking, but it's perhaps gaining popularity with more brands than ever getting into it — this year there were A. Lange & Söhne's Odysseus, Oris's Pro Pilot X and Ressence's Type 8, for example, among others. But there's surely also some pull from rumors that it'll be the material of Patek Philippe's next generation of Nautilus and the fact that Rolex tested a titanium Yacht Master last year, leading to expectations of an eventual production model. We're all for more titanium watches.
In spite of all the turbulence in the world, the watch industry has done extremely well with record profits in the last couple of years. Watchmakers are feeling confident, and the energy of this year's Watches & Wonders seemed to point to a new era — one of more balance between vintage influence and fresh ideas. It feels like yet more interesting watches are on the way.