Original materials, incredible colors, and spectacular artistry give these notable watches a unique appeal—the more distinctive a timepiece, the more compelling the magic. Where will your imagination take you?
The motto of H. Moser & Cie, which makes only about 1500 watches per year, is “Very Rare.” And the Streamliner, Moser’s first chronograph, comprises just 100 examples of that production run—each one already sold.
Behind such exclusivity, however, is a watershed moment for the brand. Its CEO, Edouard Meylan, has taken up the defense of Swiss watchmaking because, he figured, somebody had to. And from a watchmaker as audacious, cult-like, and technically impressive as Moser, the first of anything is going to make an impact.
It took Moser five years to develop the Streamliner. At 42.3mm in diameter, it is a hefty boy, yet the cushion case wears comfortably, with intricate metal-shaping on both sides. Four exposed screws on the back add a rugged dimension to the caseback, which exposes the automatic chronograph movement that doesn’t look at all like an automatic and is possibly the most advanced in production today. (More on that later.) This case is attached to a beautifully finished bracelet that’s sectored like a lobster’s tail, incredibly comfortable and form-fitting even to my (and Meylan’s) small wrists. Some might say it resembles the most forgettable, mired in ‘90s-excess designs that have not withstood the test of time: resembling the Ikepod, Meylan’s favorite, or the Ebel Sport Classic, two watches you’ve probably just had to Google.
But the design works—because it hides its revelations well. Here is a chronograph that doesn’t resemble a chronograph at all: other than checkered-flag markings, and the slightly superfluous tachymeter bezel, there is nothing that denotes timing function. No sub-dials, no small-seconds, nothing in the way of the brushed semi-matte look, which turns from gray to black to brown under the light. “I like the idea that it’s not a watch that has a chronograph function,” said Meylan, “but it’s a chronograph that gives the time.” It makes its presence felt with its mighty heft, like a knight’s sword, reminding you of some fundamental destiny you must fulfill. It imbues a feeling of power to its wearer, absurd and meaningful all at once.
That aforementioned movement hails from Agephor—another independent Swiss brand, founded by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, working deep in the shadows of the Swiss watchmaking empire. The HMC 902 movement is derived from Agephor’s signature AgenGraphe movement, which previously appeared in the Fabergé Visionnaire and the Singer Track 1, so Moser is in rarefied company. When Meylan discovered the AgenGraphe two years ago, he fell in love: “Wow, this is the dream movement,” he told Watch Journal. “This is what I could spend millions of years on developing, and this watchmaker—independent as well—has done it. I believe this is the best chronograph in the world.”
Here, Moser upgraded it to a flyback chronograph. The dual slender hands on the dial—the seconds hand tipped in red—tick the seconds and minutes with precision, and they have a nice little flicker when the flyback action is reset. All of the hands are on a central axis, and its rotor lies against the dial. The chronograph functions are integrated neatly into the central plate, at the same level as the escapement and balance, which makes for a high level of technological function, as well as a slew of tiny parts.
“It’s a very complex watch, with a lot of details, elements,” said Meylan. “We need people to understand it.”
Is this the age of the sports watch? Well, this seems to be the year where every watchmaker rolled out an integrated-bracelet sports watch that can go from yacht to cocktail bar, so to speak. Alongside the Moser, two more unusual sports watches debuted this year. “Time for sports!” Nomos says in a cheery press release, denoting the Tangente Sport and Club Sport, while Hublot’s first-ever Big Bang with an integrated bracelet is called, appropriately, the Integral.
Both of these two companies took different approaches. Nomos has taken their popular Tangente and Club models—both 42mm in diameter, both with the watchmaker’s DUW 6101 in-house movement, and both with minimalist numbering and small-seconds subdials—and added a solid-link stainless-steel bracelet with a matte finish and rectangular links. The individually delineated shapes of these links are reminiscent of the Streamliner, whose lines also run horizontally to the length of its bracelet. Meanwhile, Hublot, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Big Bang, opted for an entirely new model to incorporate its integrated bracelet. The Big Bang Integral, available in three variations, features a handsome segmented bracelet with the same depth and contrast as the sides of the case—which is echoed in the meticulously machined, with both brushed and polished sides, of the Streamliner.
Nomo’s integration is very straightforward and deceptively simple, keeping in step with the brand’s aesthetic. Hublot, meanwhile, reshaped the case and pushers of the Big Bang to fit its intricate, three-dimensional bracelet. And, of course, Moser had to introduce a new watch.
The Streamliner is the first of a series, said Meylan. “There will be more chronographs, more complications. It’s the beginning of a new line. It was so important to use such an amazing movement to make a statement.”
This will be a departure from Moser’s dress lineup, a dramatic expansion of its lineup, and different from its exclusive in-house movements. There’s a good foundation, thankfully. Moser’s handsome, profoundly understated lineup—with their astonishing in-house movements and their colorful, gradient-like fumé dials, minimally decorated, which has carved out its niche among a motley crew of understated innovators and haute-horology independents. Just 55 people work in its atelier; there is room for experimentation. For what it’s worth, 95 percent of its watches get sold internationally. “We’re either the biggest independent or the smallest of the established brands,” said Meylan. “I prefer the latter.”
When it comes to brands, James Bond can be as fickle as he is with women. Over his 56-year tenure as 007, the legendary super-spy has changed everything from cars and tailors to vodka and caviar.
His watch allegiance, however, has been a bit more steadfast. At least since Pierce Brosnan first donned an Omega Seamaster for 1995’s Goldeneye. Before that, there were Rolexes and even (gasp!) a digital Seiko, but in the last quarter-century, Bond hasn’t gone into action (nor set foot in a casino, luxury hotel, private jet, or sports car) without the iconic dial of Omega’s most famous diving watch strapped to his wrist. When Daniel Craig hits the big screen this spring in No Time to Die for his final outing as Bond—wearing a Seamaster Diver 300M with a “tropical” aluminum dial evoking the aged brown hue of vintage timepieces—it’ll mark the ninth film in which the character has relied on Omega to keep him punctual.
“The materials and mechanics of our watches are truly innovative, just like Q’s lab,” says Omega president and CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. “And of course, an Omega is simply a beautiful timepiece to own. 007 likes to look his best on assignment, and he has therefore chosen a truly appropriate watch.”
Marketing speak aside, all this should come as no surprise to watch aficionados and collectors. Bond is, after all, the type of guy who would wear a handsome timepiece, one that’s both masculine and debonaire without ever being too flashy. Ian Fleming, Bond’s literary creator, was a Rolex man himself, and when it came time to put 007 up on the silver screen, it was producer Cubby Broccoli who—according to Bond lore—lent Sean Connery his Submariner while on the set of 1962’s Dr. No.
These days, things are done a bit more officially, with Bond becoming a poster boy for product placement. Tomorrow Never Dies had so many corporate partners, in fact, that its entire production budget was covered well before anyone yelled “action,” and the Craig-era films have kept ticking thanks to a slew of lucrative tie-ins, from Sony to Heineken.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the case when it comes to Omega. Rather than pay for play, as it were, the Swiss watch brand’s relationship with the Bond series is much more organic; one that’s deeply rooted in the rugged character of 007. However, if it wasn’t for the keen insight of a costume designer, Bond might never have clasped a Seamaster to his wrist to begin with.
Back in the early 1990s, the Bond producers had reached an impasse. The previous film, 1989’s License to Kill, had been clobbered at the box-office (everything from Batman to Fletch Lives beat it), the Cold War had finally ended, and Timothy Dalton relinquished the reins to the role. For the first time in the series’ storied history, the Bond brass faced a scary question: Had audiences outgrown the character? The answer, thankfully, was no. All it would take was the casting of Brosnan, then a slick-looking Irishman known for his role on TV’s Remington Steele, and a slightly updated, more P.C.-image to revive the series. Gone were Bond’s beloved cigarettes, in was a female boss (one that called him a “misogynistic dinosaur”), and Q Branch rolled out a German car made in America. But while the producers fussed with the 007 formula to keep their character current, it was costume designer Lindy Hemming who looked backward when determining Bond’s new watch of choice.
“[Lindy] knew about Omega’s real military history and decided that it was the most realistic watch for a stylish commander to wear,” says Aeschlimann, referring to the fact that Fleming had made his most famous creation a veteran of the Royal Naval Reserve. “Just look at history! Omega was the biggest supplier of Swiss watches to the allied forces during World War II. We have also been chosen by numerous military units around the world. So, if Commander James Bond was a real character, then Omega is the watch he most probably would have been issued.”
That’s all well and good, but why specifically the Seamaster? After all, Omega has outfitted numerous men of action, from Elvis Presley to JFK to Buzz Aldrin, all of whom wore other models.
“The Seamaster was the evolution of those early military watches,” Aeschlimann continues. “It’s robust, it’s reliable, it’s a divers’, and it performs just as beautifully in a casino as at the bottom of the ocean.”
Indeed it does. For all four of his outings as 007, Brosnan wore his Seamaster everywhere, from the baccarat tables of Monte Carlo to the depths of the South China Sea to the off-piste ski slopes of Azerbaijan.
By the time Daniel Craig slipped into the tux, the world had changed yet again, and once more 007 needed to be reinvented. In contrast to Brosnan’s glib take, as well as the over-bloated action of the films in which he starred, Craig’s time as 007 has been marked by a grittier, darker sensibility. It’s one that adheres more closely to Fleming’s original vision, in which Bond can—at times—be a coldhearted killer.
Over the past 14 years, the style of 007’s Seamaster has been adjusted accordingly to the new films’ stripped-down aesthetic.
“When Daniel Craig stepped into the role, he definitely wanted his “own” Omega to define the character,” says Aeschlimann. “Like the character, the watches have become darker, often including materials such as black ceramic. We’ve also diversified what [Bond] wears. For example, a Planet Ocean for the adventurous side, and an Aqua Terra for the sophisticated, charming side. And, of course, we’ve made the watches grittier and tougher for a military man, incorporating NATO straps and, in the latest watch, the use of tough titanium and a titanium mesh bracelet.”
The work of a close collaboration with Craig (a man who’s known to tinker with Bond scripts, and even recruit punch-up writers like Emmy-award winning Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the latest Seamaster is a stunning, slimmed-down 42 mm timepiece that’s as stylish as it is lightweight. And while it doesn’t feature a detonator or a laser, it is imbued with a sense of Bond history.
“[Daniel is] also a vintage watch collector and has a real passion for classic watches, so we integrated a few touches from history into the design,” says Aeschlimann. “Really, it was about sharing ideas and having discussions, and everyone is so pleased with the result. The producers…are great friends to Omega and after 25 years together, the conversations flow so naturally.”
I don’t know what a true-to-form, ultra-high-end Frank Gehry watch might look like, but it can’t be comfortable. Swooping titanium biting into your trapezium? I’d rather fly the 14 hours to Bilbao and encounter the man’s genius full-scale.
Still, the prospect of a Pritzker-winning architect-designed watch is compelling, especially—and this is to take nothing away from the joys of the Renzo Piano Swatch—when executed at a high level of craftsmanship.
Great architects have collaborated with watchmakers, but too often you get the sense that their only presence in the design studio was an email. Take the Richard Meier for Project Watches: an under-designed piece that relies on a famous signature for wallop, kind of a horological equivalent to the 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V by Givenchy.
Or, ponder the admittedly gorgeous Hublot Aero Bang 44mm Oscar Niemeyer from 2011, presented to the 104-year-old architect in testament to his career. The face is chunky, nearly sparking with the citrus yellow and green of the Brazilian flag, the country for which Niemeyer designed a series of iconic federal buildings—including the Brazilian National Congress rendered on the case back. Niemeyer’s contributions to the design of the 2011 Aero Bang 44mm ended around 1960, when the building was inaugurated.
Luckily, every so often petty demands—Pritzker-level flair that goes with a suit! Cross-industry collabs! Obelisk-scale spectacle for the wrist!—are not only heard, but answered.
Yes, picked up by the ether above North America and deposited as far away as Japan, where they tickle the ears of none other than Tadao Ando, architect, legend, and casanova of concrete. In response, Ando—crassly, Pritzker class ‘95—has worked with Bulgari to create something special: a new expression of the Octo Finissimo series, with dials designed by the architect. Finally! A certified Ando design that weighs less than a million pounds.
To appreciate the mini-monumentality of the Bulgari/Ando collaboration, it’s important to know something of the architect’s work. Born in Osaka during World War II, Ando initially trained as a boxer. During a trip to Tokyo, he was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and two years later took up architecture, which he learned through a combination of self-study, correspondence courses, and travels to see the work of greats like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.
His studio, founded in his hometown in 1968, is known for using concrete as if it were mahogany, or gold. Ando’s buildings are almost exclusively made of a proprietary blend, as creamy and luscious as Earl Gray soft-serve. Besides this trademark dot pattern—made by the meticulous wooden formwork into which concrete is poured—Ando is known for a slavish devotion to natural light, use of existing landscapes, and framing perfect views. It’s almost a challenge: What if you treated the rougher materials of your life with enough care to render them beautiful?
While made of a more traditional titanium, the Octo Finissimo Automatique echoes Ando’s structures in its color, simplicity, and graphic solidity. For the face, the architect designed a spiral that begins at the seconds hand, spooling lazily outward like ripples in one of Ando’s reflecting pools (after a drunk museum patroness tosses in one of her Manolos). The lacquer-painted design, per Ando, “…unravels from minutes to seconds, until it cannot be seen.” With this watch, you can frivolously check the time or confront the world’s march towards oblivion. Your choice!
(Less dramatically, the octagonal, crisply built case stands in for Ando’s buildings, while the concentric circles represent their integration with elements of nature, like water and wind.)
Now, for the thrill of specification and the minor tragedy of availability. The Automatique is 40mm wide and just 5.15mm thick—waifish. Bulgari’s BVL 138 and its platinum mini-motor keep things humming, with up to 60 hours of power reserve. The clear sapphire case back allows a tidy view of the watch’s inner workings, with Ando’s signature obscuring only minor aspects of the mechanism. The whole piece, including titanium bracelet, is waterproof to 30 meters should you valiantly dive into the aforementioned reflecting pool to save that woman’s shoe.
On sale since December, the Tadao Ando x BVLGARI Octo Finissimo is available only in Japan, for around $18,000, depending on conversion rates. Only 200 will be made.
Rarity and distance will be obstacles for many pursuing this piece of Tado Ando design. Still, 200 watches means 199 more chances to buy than any other Ando masterpiece.
(The folks at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth remain closed to even generous offers.)
What if you could, in a single moment, sweep away your entire past—your history, your foibles, your failures, and your successes? What would you gain, and what would you lose? You’d presumably lose some hard-earned lessons and prestige, with the tradeoff of acquiring a certain blissful ignorance, a happy naivete in terms of How Things Are. You might go about rebuilding something steeped in tradition, aware of what came before, and yet different. Better even.
That, anyway, is the proposition put forth by horologer Ming, a relatively new player on the scene that approaches luxury watchmaking from the perspective of a startup. This means watches crafted with an Old World mindset—using the best parts to make the best whole, with designs that nod to time-honored notions of elegance—but made and sold using 21st-century methods, bypassing retail entirely to sell the watches online, directly to consumers. Oh, and they’re based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“The reality is, we’re in the wrong part of the world,” says Ming Thein, the brand’s co-founder and lead designer. “There is no watchmaking ecosystem in Malaysia. There never will be. There’s no demand for it. Basically [that means] we don’t have baggage. We can look at things from a modern business standpoint. We [the founders] have run our own businesses. I look at what works in today’s economy and look at what the best way to apply that to the watch business is. It’s not a passion project—we have to operate as a modern business does.”
For a brand so young, success has come with astonishing speed. Ming took home the Horological Revelation prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last year, awarded for the brand’s 17.06 Copper, one of three iterations of the brand’s refined yet modern entry-level watch. (All three have already sold out.) “For me personally, the names you read about when you start collecting and gathering knowledge, it’s gone from what you read about those people and you see those watches and you see what the fuss is about, and you meet them as a collector or through friends, and then you’re on stage with them,” Thein says of taking home the award. “It’s so surreal. I had pinch-me moments, imposter syndrome, all as I was standing there giving a speech. It was a huge moment for us.”
In addition, the brand’s watches often sell out quickly, and the few on the resale market often go for no less than what they went for originally, and typically much more than that, a fact Thien justifiably points out with pride. “We don’t discount. You’re paying more now. But in the long run, you’re losing less if you choose to sell it,” he says. He notes that, at its peak, Ming’s debut timepiece, the 17.01, was trading at $3,000 to $5,000. (It retailed for $900.) “Honestly I look at that and think no way is that offering intrinsic value,” Thein says. “But I’m flattered.”
But though this has led some to label Ming an overnight success, the reality is that these accomplishments were the result of years of hard work and development. Indeed, you could trace the brand’s development to when Thien was in his teens and got into Seikos and Swatches before graduating to an Omega Dynamic chronograph. He also fell in love with photography, a passion he later pursued full-time after a corporate career. (He eventually spent time as a brand strategist at Hasselblad.) “The world tends to pigeonhole you,” Thein says. “For me, both are creative openings. The gear is an enabler. Photography’s an enabler to translate an idea into an image. Watchmaking is an enabler to translate an idea into an object. It’s similar, but not. A watch is not something you can produce on your own.” (He still accepts the occasional commissioned work.)
By the time he co-founded Ming in 2017, he (and the five other members of the collective) had refined his design tastes through years of collecting and impassioned conversations online. This included a design language that Thein aptly describes as art deco meets Tron. “We take the classical bits and make them modern again, but not in a retro revival way,” Thein says. “I won’t do ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake. There are a few things we do on every piece—a ‘0’ instead of a ‘12.’ Flared lugs. Radial symmetry. Curved straps that harmonize with the case. We won’t do anything that isn’t round. We don’t do subdials or anything that’s asymmetric.”
All of which brings us to 2020, which may prove to be the most pivotal year yet for the young brand. Ming will be introducing not one but three new watches, all featuring what Thein calls the brand’s second-generation design language. (A third iteration is already in development.) The triad includes a diver, an ultra-thin watch, and the flagship, a chronograph, which will retail for under $30,000. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” Thein says.
Beyond that, Thein is already thinking at least five years ahead—both a habit and a necessity, given the timeframe of designing, developing and then testing a new design. (The brand’s timepieces are designed in Malaysia, made in Switzerland using Swiss movements, then packaged in leather pouches made by hand in Kuala Lumpur—a handsome and charming finishing touch.) “We are still very new,” Thein says. “We’re finding our way in terms of operations, design, identity, and everything else. I think that we have a lot more runway in front of us. There’s a lot we can’t predict. It’s an unconventional operation. But for people to give us that level of trust and share the dream with us, it’s very special.”