The warmer weather of this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie paired well with the bold, bright colorways that emerged as one of show’s biggest trends. But there was so much more to consider in 2019, from The Incredible Shrinking Case Size to a focus on military heritage (yes, again) to multiple engineering feats of preposterous complication that picking our 12 Best of this year’s SIHH turned into a feat of its own.
As usual, our coverage focuses on premium watches and fine watchmaking technology that’s outside the budget for most — but every model here represents some new bar in engineering or materials innovation, the stuff that finds its way into more affordable pieces down the line. We’ve also selected watches we would spend our own hard-earned money on: models with solid engineering, enduring design, and unquestionable value at a reasonable (if premium) price.
Next year, things will be even more complicated, as SIHH comes together with the world’s other most influential luxury watch show, Baselworld, as a sort of Super Bowl of watches — a fortnight of non-stop, back-to-back horology coverage spanning late April to early May. Until then, we bring you the 12 Best Watches of SIHH 2019, the most significant new releases as decided by a week’s worth of discussion, debate, and hands-on evaluation here in Geneva.
See you at Baselworld, watch nerds.
A Note On Affordability: While the term “affordable” varies widely, it’s important to consider context. Watches at SIHH often exceed five and even six-figure price points. We consider both the overall price and a “typical” price for a particular maison (brand) when we consider what’s affordable. It’s not a perfect science, but we feel this method best caters to you, the Gear Patrol reader, and your interests.
Additional contribution by Eric Yang.
Table of Contents
What is SIHH?
The Best SIHH Watch Releases from Previous Years
- Best Watches of SIHH 2018
- Best Watches of SIHH 2017
- Best Watches of SIHH 2016
- Best Watches of SIHH 2015
- Best Watches of SIHH 2014
- Best Watches of SIHH 2013
- Best Watches of SIHH 2012
- Best New Watch: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar
- Best Affordable Watch: IWC Automatic Spitfire
- Best Ultrathin Watch: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel
- Best Take on a Classic Design: Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar School Piece
- Best Sports Watch: Panerai Submersible 42mm
- Best Innovative Watch Design: A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date
- Best Vintage-Inspired Watch: Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph
- Best Affordable Complicated Watch: Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic Perpetual Calendar
- Best Tool Watch: IWC Timezoner “The Longest Flight”
- Best Overall Watch Design: Parmigiani Fleurier Perpetual Calendar
- Best High Complication Watch: Vacheron Constantin Twin-Beat Traditionnelle
- Best Forward-Thinking Watch Design: Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain
The Best Watches of SIHH 2019
Best New Watch: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar
Why It Matters: Audemars Piguet’s new Code 11.59 line has been nothing thus far if not polarizing, but there does seem to be some consensus that the perpetual calendar is particularly striking, and pretty damn attractive. With its incredible Aventurine dial and hexagonal case architecture, it’s clear that A.P. was looking to create something distinct from all its other models, and in this, it’s certainly succeeded.
Who It’s For: Well, we’ll tell you who this perpetual calendar is not for, and that’s the casual watch buyer. With a price tag of $74,500, this model (and indeed, every model in the Code 11.59 collection) is geared toward the serious watch buyer, or the seasoned A.P. collector.
Insight: While certain other pieces in the Code 11.59 collection have been accused of bearing a resemblance to inexpensive fashion watches (an interesting argument given that many of these fashion watches have their aesthetic basis in old mechanical watches, but a legitimate argument nonetheless), the perpetual calendar’s starry dial is so damn cool that it seems to stand on its own. With a new in-house movement and a new case design, the perpetual is pure A.P. in terms of both fit and finish, and in terms of forward-thinking design.
Key Specs: $74,500; 41mm thick; 10.9mm tall
Best Affordable Watch: IWC Automatic Spitfire
Why It Matters: There have been myriad pilot’s watches in the “Mark” series based on the iconic Mk. XI pilot’s watch issued to RAF pilots, but most of the recent iterations have used ETA movements. The Spitfire Automatic brings the watch construction completely in-house with the addition of the IWC manufacture calibre 32110.
Who It’s For: Anyone who likes the aesthetics of a pilot’s watch but wants the added value of an in-house movement will appreciate the new Automatic Spitfire. Someone after his or her first tool watch or who would like a bronze timepiece would also be a good candidate for this offering.
Insight: A new in-house movement and several vintage-inspired dial updates mean that this new IWC is a clear winner that takes cues from the company’s roots. At $4,350 in steel, this is certainly not an inexpensive watch, but for a great timepiece at a perfect size with a manufacture movement, you’re getting a pretty good bang for your buck.
Key Specs: $4,350 (steel); $4,900 (bronze); 39mm wide; 10.6-10.8mm tall
Best Ultrathin Watch: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel
Why It Matters: A moon phase, as its simplest, is a complication that shows the wearer the phase of the moon, and though the engineering that goes into this particular type of display is indeed impressive, eventually many moon phase watches begin to look the same. The new Ultra Thin Moon Enamel by JLC employs a beautiful blue hand-guilloché enamel dial that ups the elegance factor to a new level.
Who It’s For: As this is a white gold, limited edition (100 pcs.) with a stunning dial that’s incredibly difficult to engineer, this is another piece that seems perfect for the seasoned JLC collector. However, anyone who appreciates a beautiful watch or would like to add a moon phase to his or her collection could enjoy this watch just as well.
Insight: Moon phases are fascinating, semi-antiquarian relics of a bygone generation of watchmaking that have managed to persist into the modern era. Marrying this romantic complication with a textured enamel dial in a perfectly sized gold case is a recipe for a beautiful watch While there could very well be someone out there who doesn’t care for this piece, we haven’t met him yet.
Key Specs: $35,800; 39mm wide; 10.04mm tall
Best Take on a Classic Design: Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar School Piece
Why It Matters: While it might seem like a no-brainer for the former technical director of Patek Philippe to make an annual calendar watch, this one is so meticulously well made that we can’t stop thinking about it. Laurent Ferrier has produced versions of this timepiece in the past (the original won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for men’s complicated watch in 2018), but this one has been updated with a new movement and a stunning deep blue dial and strap.
Who It’s For: This is a watch that’s definitely for the kind of person who already knows who Laurent Ferrier is — and who has maybe even collected his work since the early days of his eponymous brand. People who appreciate that the watch industry, broadly speaking, moves in inches and not miles, will appreciate the restraint and refinement on display in this piece.
Insight: Laurent Ferrier is an insanely talented watchmaker — one who’s not getting the recognition he deserves from the greater watch-buying public. That probably won’t change unless he starts making more than around 100 watches a year, but it definitely doesn’t need to change for him to remain one of the best watchmakers working today. This timepiece reminded us that iterative watch designs aren’t a bad thing all the time. Sometimes, they’re just another step forward on the long and steady march toward perfection.
Key Specs: ~$50,246 (steel); ~$55,273 (red gold); 40mm wide; 12.8mm tall
Best Sports Watch: Panerai Submersible 42mm
Why It Matters: One of the first new models from the new Submersible line, this 42mm diver retains many of the Luminor trademarks while branching out on its own. The smaller case size allows non-Stallone size humans to enjoy the Panerai aesthetic without springing for a watch that looks silly on them, and the available grey dial-variant with blue bezel looks particularly badass and different.
Who It’s For: Someone who would like a smaller Panerai, really. Though there are 38mm Luminor Due models available, and there are in fact 42mm Due models available, as well, the Submersible 42mm presents a further option, which is a great thing, in our book. If you’re into design of the Luminor series but want something sportier, this could be the watch for you.
Insight: Breaking the Submersible out into its own product line is an interesting play, and seems indicative of the success of previous Luminor Submersible models. Though the aesthetics may not be for everyone, Panerai is in its original essence a tool watch manufacturer, and it’s great to see the company focusing on these types of watches, which are meant specifically and clearly for the water.
Key Specs: $9,500; 42mm thick; 300m water-resistant
Best Innovative Watch Design: A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Date
Why It Matters: Lange’s Zeitwerk Date proves that the German brand is keen redefining the watchmaking landscape with each successive release. It upgraded the Zeitwerk, a “digital” watch (meaning here that it uses numerals instead of hands to indicate the time) with a date function. And it’s a beautiful date function. Numbers on a ring around the perimeter of the dial change from white to red to indicate what day of the month it is.
Who It’s For: At almost $97,000, you’ve got to have some serious cash to own a timepiece like this. But you also have to have serious style and a love of slightly non-traditional timepieces. This one puts all of Germany’s most prized watchmaking virtues on display: originality, beauty, technical craftsmanship — the list goes on. It’s also beautiful to look at. The smooth, almost instantaneous change of the hour, minute and date is so wonderful to behold that we’re afraid we’d spend all day just watching the time go by.
Insight: Most of Lange’s other releases were iterations on their classics: smart updates to color, and fabrication, largely. But this one is technically brand new, and the thing that makes it new adds to the watch’s usefulness. It’s a brilliant marriage of form and function, and it makes us even more excited to see with Lange has in store for 2020.
Key Specs: $96,700; 44.2mm wide; 12.3mm tall
Best Vintage-Inspired Watch: Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph
Why It Matters: Montblanc is high on the list of brands that dig way, way deep into their archives for inspiration (technically Minerva’s archives, but same diff), though while the Heritage Pulsograph is based on designs from the 1940s, it looks as fresh and contemporary as, well, anything. That’s because its designers blended all the right details from the past (pin dot indices, pinkish dial, blued hands) and blended them with modern comforts (upgraded movement, 40mm case). The result is an instant heirloom.
Who It’s For: We’re sure that in some dark corners of the Internet, there’s more than one Neanderthal scratching his head in shock and wonder that a well-known and respected manufacture would release a pink men’s watch. But we also happen to love the design and found the color beautiful — it’s one of the few watches Gear Patrol’s watch team unanimously agreed upon being a gorgeous watch.
Insight: Montblanc and Minerva have a collective deep, rich history to draw upon, and we’re glad to see that while the brand is inspired by the past, it’s not beholden to it. We’ve seen other watch brands take their archives too seriously — and others seem to abandon them altogether in the pursuit of something brand new. The new Heritage collection, and the Pulsograph in particular, should serve as a lesson to every other major watch brand in the space.
Key Specs: ~$32,006; 40mm wide
Best Affordable Complicated Watch: Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic Perpetual Calendar
Why It Matters: Baume & Mercier has traditionally offered the watch-buying public significant value buys in the form of watches with advanced tech that don’t cost an arm and a leg, such as the Clifton Club COSC. Here, the company is taking the opposite tact, introducing a complicated watch that, while certainly not inexpensive, could serve as the introduction to complicated watchmaking for someone who doesn’t have six figures to spend on a timepiece from the Big Three.
Who It’s For: If you’re looking for your first perpetual calendar but aren’t prepared to spend mortgage-level money on one, this solid gold offering from Baume & Mercier could be a good candidate. While it’s doubtful that a seasoned collector with the financial means would spring for this watch over, say, an A.P. or a Patek with an in-house calibre, that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a handsome watch with a clean, legible dial.
Insight: With a silicon hairspring and 5-day power reserve, the BM13-1975AC-1 movement from the Baumatic line formed the perfect basis upon which to add a calendar model and build the Perpetual Calendar. Though not as svelte as some perpetuals out there at 42mm by 12.1, this is still a step in a new direction for Baume & Mercier, and a step the company has proven itself more than capable of taking.
Key Specs: $24,500; 42mm wide; 12.1mm tall
Best Tool Watch: IWC Timezoner “The Longest Flight”
Why It Matters: Though the travel watch is nothing new, IWC’s Timezoner “The Longest Flight” shows that there are still novel ways to display a dual-time complication (the system used here has in fact been utilized before, but paired with a chronograph). Turning the bezel allows the user to jump the hour hand and thus quickly display a second time zone whilst keeping a reference time in the 24-hour window — a perfect complication for the jet-setter.
Who It’s For: Anyone who travels often and wants to easily keep track of a second time zone will find the Timezoner “The Longest Flight” useful, though at 46mm wide, that person better have a large wrist. Someone who wants two time zones but doesn’t like the “GMT Master” method of using a fourth hand on the dial might find this system preferable.
Insight: This is a serious, purpose-built tool watch, and though we’d certainly like to see one executed in a smaller case size (like, 6mm smaller), this is one of the few new novelties at SIHH that has truly felt different. A standout from the Pilot’s Watch collection (and more specifically, from the Spitfire Collection), the Timezoner could be indicative of a new direction for complicated IWC tool watches.
Key Specs: $12,400; 46mm wide; 15.2mm tall
Best Overall Design: Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Quantieme Perpetual Retrograde
Why It Matters: Michael Parmigiani has been working the watch industry since 1976, but it wasn’t until the launch of his eponymous brand based in Fleurier, Switzerland that the world got to witness the extent of his talent. The Toric Quantieme Perpetual Retrograde combines several difficult-to-produce complications into a stunning, cohesive whole that doesn’t feel contrived.
Who It’s For: At nearly $70,000, this is a serious watch lover’s watch — indeed, unless one is a seasoned collector (or a regular Gear Patrol reader), one may not understand what half the stuff on this dial even does. That being said, if you do know what’s going on here, then you know that this is one of the most beautiful complicated watches to see the light of day in a long time.
Insight: Sometimes a Parmigiani can wear a bit big on the wrist, but despite the Toric Quantieme Perpetual Retrograde’s larger 42.5mm case, it manages to retain elegance in its proportions and wears comfortably. Also, pro tip: check this one out on our Instagram feed — the website images, unfortunately, don’t do it justice.
Key Specs: ~$69,305; 42.5mm wide; 12.1mm tall
Best High Complication Watch: Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin-Beat
Why It Matters: Set your perpetual calendar watch down for long enough without touching it, and you’re going to have a hell of a lot of displays to readjust when you pick it back up again to wear it. Looking to solve this problem, Vacheron Constantin created, from the ground up, a completely new movement with two balances, each operating at a different frequency. When you switch over to the slower frequency, the power reserve is extended to an almost inconceivable 65 days.
Who It’s For: Ironically, whomever wants one — the Twin Beat is not a limited edition, but a full production model (cue yet another “Inconceivable!” from Wallace Shaw’s Vizzini in The Princess Bride). That being said, we can expect very, very low quantities of this watch to be produced (perhaps just a handful in 2019) given the complexity of the movement and the requisite time needed to construct them.
Insight: Not only is the watchmaking that went into the Traditionelle impressive, but the simply fact that Vacheron decided to build something truly new, that wasn’t merely iterative, was a breath of fresh air at this year’s SIHH. This type of watch for this kind of money may be unobtanium for most people, but it’s playing at the fringe edges of serious watchmaking, and that’s exciting in and of itself.
Key Specs: $199,000; 42mm; 12.3mm
Best Forward-Thinking Watch Design: Greubel Forsey Balancier Contemporain
Why It Matters: Greubel Forsey is known for spending a lot of time engineering and decorating watches until they look more like sculpture than devices that tell the time. And that’s why most of them have been pretty sizable — usually with case diameters somewhere between 43mm and 49mm. For the first time, they’ve managed to get all of their signature architecture into a relatively small watch. At just 39.6mm, the Balancier Contemporain is wearable, but still looks like a Greubel Forsey piece.
Who It’s For: We’d be surprised if all 33 watches in this very limited edition haven’t all been earmarked for serious collectors yet. Even if you are a person with serious means (read: $210,000), this is not a first watch. It’s sized well enough for casual wear, so stylish billionaires could definitely carry one off at a staff meeting. But it’ll shine brightest at special events where it can do one of the many things it’s meant to do: serve as a conversation starter.
Insight: Watches, broadly speaking, are getting smaller. While Greubel Forsey isn’t the kind of brand that needs to respond to trends, it’s encouraging to see them trying out a case size under 40mm. And that’s not just because it makes the watches more wearable — it’s because the level of innovation and decoration that goes into their pieces is really, really hard to do on a small scale. This is an achievement that cannot be ignored.
Key Specs: $210,000; 39.6mm wide; 12.21mm tall