The best rectangular watches of 2021 from Jaeger-LeCoultre to Fears with a dash of colourThor Svaboe
Some people (yes, me) have a mental block, and just can’t being themselves to put on a rectangular watch. While I love the often Art Deco-inspired panache of rectangular watches, I have more than 20 watches to my name and they’re all ROUND, a sad state of affairs perhaps?
But this year I think I might have to reconsider. With some pretty awesome reworkings and high complications within existing big name rectangles, I am writing this to psyche myself up. I am actually going to try on a Tank, Reverso or maybe the new Fears Watches Archival 1930. Will I become enlightened, or scared back into my all circular and very safe world of wristwear?
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute to Small Seconds
This actually inspired me to take a second look, leading to this story, as I keep googling pictures and YouTube films of the blue, burgundy red and green dial version of the grand-daddy (along with Cartier) of all that’s rectangularly beautiful. My image of a silvery white dial small Reverso on a shiny brown alligator strap makes me feel a bit old, but their Tribute series has made me revisit the very notion of rectangular wristwear. A good 60 per cent of the reason is the bold choice of the Casa Fagliano strap in tough Argentinian leather, colourmatched to the watch. With its pilot-esque and quite tough looking fold-over stitched top section by the lugs it changed my perception. It simply makes the Reverso play a raffish game rather than old hat, and for me it was love at first sight.
This year Jaeger-LeCoultre were on the ball, releasing an ever so tempting version in the lush colour du jour, a deep green. Just as I lusted after the burgundy version and the flash of blue from a couple of years back, this deep sun-ray dial only reminded me of my secret desire for rectangles. With the just right size for me of 45.6 x 27.4mm, the 8.4mm thick case is as smoothly curved for the wrist, as it perfectly frames the deep dial colour. Once again the Fagliano strap makes it a somewhat more contemporary offering, with the polished indices and sword hands standing out much more on a dark dial.
Available for $8,750 USD , with the oval JLC caliber 822/2, a 45 hour power reserve and the possibility of an engraving on the crystal-protecting back.
Fears Watches Archival 1930
It takes a certain amount of cojones for a small independent to release a rectangular dress watch, as the market is noticeably smaller. But to be honest, with the design nous of Nicholas Bowman Scargill as head of the Fears Watch Company, this was always going to deliver the goods. This offers rakish ’30s charm embodied in a delicate rectangle, with the unusual touch of a large crown, bringing an unexpected sporty touch. Alongside this is a parchment coloured dial, blue perfection heat-treated hands and a small but crisp rendition of a small seconds register at 6. With its rebuilt vintage ETA movement and curved caseback, I can’t help but be entirely subjective here. Even if I know the movements might not be COSC-perfect, the mere notion of a small brand like Fears going out on a historical limb garners nothing but huge respect. And that 18K gold frame inboard of the minute track is simply delicious. Art Deco splendour in a brushed and polished numbered case, at 40x22mm with a sub 10mm thickness, this is as perfect as it is British in every sense. A vintage love affair at £3,950 (£3,500 for the two-hand version).
Cartier Tank Must
Do I have a newfound thing for colour-matched watch-strap combinations? Apparently so, as I keep thinking about this year’s new clutch of coloured Tanks from the house of rectangles, Cartier. The minimalist Cartier Tank Must is perhaps Cartier taking themselves a bit less seriously, and with three bright colours I’d take the slender and rich red for my own. A statement piece at an affordable price, this superb example of what Cartier is best at, namely French jewellery for the wrist is only $4,150 AUD with a solid quartz movement. Quartz? Seriously, I though we were past that snobbery, try one of these 34 x 25mm super slim beauties on and dress up for God’s sake, pandemic-trackies are so 2020.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 (Quadriptyque)
Simply The Boss of all rectangular watches, and a good reason to include not one, but two JLC’s in this list. Try to say the entire name without drawing breath and you will get an understanding of the vast complexity within. The new Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 (Quadriptyque) – a limited edition of 10 pieces is the first watch ever to have four dials, and is the most complicated Reverso ever made. The watch packs an astounding 11 complications into a white-gold case 31mm in diameter, 15.15mm thick, and 51.2mm lug-to-lug across the wrist.
You might be getting slightly over-awed with the uber complexity within the JLC RHMC 185Q (not easier is it?), and while it is thicker than your average Reverso, considering the level of complications and number of dials within, you’ll find it slender. It is still very much a classic Reverso, with a polished squared case and sloping form that makes it smooth on the wrist. Slide and flip the case cradle over to reveal the second dial, here telling the time, but in a different format then the front. Here time is displayed on a jumping digital hour, with a peripheral red arrow minute indicator that rotates around the outer circumference of the sub-dial plate. Take a breath. Dial two also puts the minute repeater on full display. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 (Quadriptyque) is a limited edition of 10 pieces, and paired with a blue alligator strap that matches the blue tone of the third and fourth dial. The white gold deployant clasp is not your ordinary deployant, it actually has two discs that can be rotated with your finger that allow fine tuning of the fit down to the millimetre. Price: €1.35 million
Bring it back! The 18K white gold Rolex Cellini Prince ref.5441 and 5443
The Rolex rectangle, remember that? The case is a chunk of Art Deco charm, reminding me of the golden age of streamlining, from cars to steam engines. The white gold, rectangular long-lugged case is smooth, rounded with a bold architectural striped relief on each end following the width of the strap. The artful dial of the Cellini Rolex Prince has a hypnotic snailed surface centering on an upper two hand dial with bold indexes alternating with roman numerals. At the base of the dial a crisp white small seconds register cuts into the main dial creating a charming upside down figure-eight shape unlike, well, anything. One can only wonder how this bold, 42x27mm hand-wound beauty got past the Rolex design committee so long before unfortunately being discontinued. And it is perhaps the best value, cheekily unusual white gold Rolex money can buy, starting around $10,000 USD on Chrono24. And that’s not all. Turn it around and you’ll find an Easter Egg of a small movement under a sapphire caseback, replete with the same psychedelic pattern as the dial.
Do I sense a renaissance? Come on Rolex, bring back the Prince, we (well, me) will welcome it with open arms.