James picks his 5 favourite new watches from 2020, including Bulgari, Omega & Grand SeikoJames Robinson
I must have written and rewritten this yarn half a dozen times. Every single moment I think I’ve cracked it, something in watch world happens that completely changes the narrative and content. First, everything got cancelled because of the pandemic we’re all sick of talking about. Then Patek and Rolex said no new watches this year. Then Baselworld became extinct. And then Watches & Wonders, which wasn’t happening, suddenly was, and a plethora of novelties were released. And now there’s a worrying nagging feeling in the back of my head that says if this story isn’t published soon, all hell will break loose again and it’ll be back to the drawing board. So, before we are hit with any more crises, here are my five favourite watches of 2020 so far:
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic in Satin Polished Steel
This list may have been in constant flux, but the number one spot has been locked in since January. This is easily my favourite new release of 2020 so far. Actually, you know what? I really don’t foresee anything else knocking this watch off the top step of my novelty podium this year. Make no mistake, the significance of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic in Satin Polished Steel cannot be understated. It represents an important step in the fairly nascent history of Bulgari’s horological efforts. Entering the fray of the luxury steel sports watch market is no mean feat and, from where I’m sitting, it eclipses all of its contemporaries in a great many different ways. It’s insanely thin, it’s got a solid platinum micro-rotor, it has the archetypal integrated Genta look and it’s going to cost around half what Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak does. I’m going to put my name down for one, and if you’re after a luxury steel sports watch that doesn’t have a waiting list that measures into the years, you should too. $19,850 AUD.
Omega Speedmaster 321
The Omega Speedmaster 321 is a long awaited new-old chrono from the Bienne-based watchmaker that is steeling the brand to step up to a vastly higher price point in steel. The value, and offering becomes clear when you flip it and behold the innards of this icon – this is the return of a movement that will move many. Yes, it may have a price tag of $21,450 AUD ($2950 more than the Rolex Daytona to give you a competitive set comparison), but for that extra cost, you’re getting a fabled and historical movement that’s crafted and assembled by one watchmaker, from start to finish.
That’s a level of bespoke craftsmanship that is more akin to high-end horology than a heavyweight high-end mass manufacturer. And it’s not like the movement is the only thing the 321 Speedmaster has going for it either – it’s stainless case is a Goldilocks zone-esque 39.7mm, hewn from hardwearing stainless steel; its ceramic and white enamel tachymetre bezel is gorgeous and highly scratch-resistant and the Speedmaster has a sapphire crystal display caseback, so owners can remain over the moon about a watch that went there. $21,450 AUD.
H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner
This is a bit of a controversial one, and it’s going to irritate my colleague Nick Kenyon no end. Why? Nick heard me state that I didn’t particularly like the Streamliner when it was unveiled earlier this year. Yes, my initial impression of this retro-futuristic chrono was less than warm, to say the least. But — and it’s a big but — I’ve backflipped harder than Matthew John Mitcham did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I’m enamoured with this watch now – I’m not sure if it’s the deeply, deeply impressive Caliber HMC 902 movement developed with Agenhor, the polarising looks or Moser’s devotion to make their first-ever chronograph unlike anything we’ve seen before. Whatever the case, I just want one … which is probably not going to happen, considering it’s limited to just 100 pieces and is worth more than my car and my HECS debt combined. A man can dream, though. $39,900 USD.
Grand Seiko SBGP007
Grand Seiko has released so many good watches this year that I could — and probably will at some stage — create a top five list with novelties just from the Japanese watchmaker. However, of the new crop, this SBGP007 has got me wanting like I never have before. The 40mm x 10.8mm proportions of this stainless steel three-hander are a combination seldom seen in Grand Seikos – if there’s one criticism to be levelled against the watchmaker, it’s the girth of their timepieces. But, at 10.8mm, this promises to be a watch unencumbered by “the thiccness”.
The lissom silhouette of this watch is, in part, down to the cleverly designed case, which harks back to the designs of some of Seiko’s earliest models. The big reason that SBGP007 is so thin, though, is the movement that’s found inside the slender case. Calibre 9F85 is a quartz-powered marvel, with an accuracy rating of ± 5 seconds per year, which is just absurd. For those of you out there who think a proper expression of horology can’t be powered by a battery, this is one of the many, many Grand Seiko models that proves you wrong. It’s the second timepiece in this list that I’m putting my name down for, and if I can get my hands on one of the 2500 examples that Grand Seiko are creating, it’s going straight into rotation on the daily. Keep the hits coming, GS — you’re on a hot streak like never before. $5700 AUD.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover
Yet another choice that will have my deskmate and colleague Nick Kenyon scratching his head. Yep, you got it – a second 180 from me. But, after now having enough time to pore over it in more detail and understand what Zenith and Land Rover have jointly been able to accomplish, I must say I really am rather taken.
Automotive collaborations with watches are, more often than not, a rushed mismatch of poor design cues and lazily placed logos. But both Zenith and Land Rover’s thoughtful and measured approach to creating a timepiece that genuinely and, more importantly, subtly pays homage to the automobile on which it’s based cannot be discounted. This is a clever, good-looking timepiece and, in my opinion, it’s easily the best iteration of the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 we’ve seen to date. If you’ve got your name down for the new Defender, do yourself a big favour: get down to the local Zenith AD, and put your name down for one of these bad boys, too. $11,400 AUD.