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The dust has finally settled from Watches & Wonders Geneva 2023, the world’s biggest watch trade show and the most important week of the year for any watch lover worth their salt.
Not only do all the world’s biggest watch brands save their most important releases for the fair, but it’s also an opportunity for us journalists to take the pulse of the watch industry and see where it’s headed.
This year’s edition of the fair was its biggest yet, with a record-breaking 48 brands exhibiting at the cavernous Palexpo convention centre… Not to mention the myriad of other brands exhibiting in hotel rooms and boutiques throughout Geneva – or the hundreds of different watches, new, rare and old, seen on the wrist of the fair’s attendees.
We’ve already shared our 5 favourite releases from the fair as well as the best watches you might have missed from the show, but we also thought we’d take stock and share the biggest watch trends we saw (and that people were talking about) on the ground at Watches & Wonders.
Smaller case sizes
After years of large case sizes being all the rage for men’s watches, with models getting bigger and bigger, we’re starting to see the first signs that a return to smaller case sizes is imminent.
Tudor’s new Black Bay 54 (which, despite the confusing name, actually has a 37mm case), which received plenty of praise, was perhaps the biggest indicator of where the industry’s headed – but other notable releases from Watches & Wonders championing a smaller form factor included the Zenith Defy Revival Shadow (also weighing in at 37mm) and the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Glassbox (which has shrunk the Carrera down to 39mm).
It’s perhaps not surprising that those three watches are all retro-inspired revival models, too. >40mm case sizes have only really been popular over the last 20-30 years: watches from the 90s and earlier didn’t used to be so big.
At the same time that men’s watches are getting smaller, women’s watches are getting bigger – or, more accurately, women wearing large watches is becoming normalised. We’re also seeing many watch brands describe new models with <39mm cases as ‘unisex’: they’re trying to split the difference.
Since the 70s, integrated bracelet luxury sports watches have been all the rage, but consumer appetite for these sorts of watches has never been higher than in 2023. Taking the pulse on the ground at Watches & Wonders, any brand that came out with a cool integrated bracelet model was front of mind – there’s never been more hype for integrated bracelets.
Partly that’s because it’s become nigh-on impossible for mere mortals to get their hands on integrated bracelet models from the ‘Holy Trinity’, namely the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and Vacheron Constantin Overseas. With waitlists for those watches stretching into decades in some cases, it’s only natural that watch fans are looking elsewhere.
The Chopard Alpine Eagle stands out as perhaps the next best candidate. An incredibly refined piece from a storied maison with a proper in-house movement, reasonable price and plenty of availability… Chopard also dropped two new variants of the Alpine Eagle at Watches & Wonders, the salmon-dialled extra-thin XPS and a new black-dial take on the high-beat titanium Cadence 8HF.
Other integrated bracelet watches getting a lot of love include the Baume & Mercier Riviera, Bell & Ross BR 05, Bremont Supernova, Girard-Perregaux Laureato, IWC Schaffhausen Ingenieur and even the Tissot PRX (even though the Tissot isn’t a luxury timepiece like the others mentioned, it’s still in the conversation).
The rise of titanium
Luxury watchmakers have traditionally eschewed titanium as a case material, but 2023 has shown that the humble yet practical material is finally having its day in the sun.
Titanium is an ideal material for a watch as it’s stronger yet significantly lighter than steel while also being resistant to rusting and corrosion. However, it has two chief downsides: firstly, it superficially scratches much easier than steel; and secondly, it’s quite difficult to machine titanium from a watchmaking perspective.
But perhaps it’s because it’s challenging to work with – and because watch fans love its practical benefits – that luxury watchmakers have embraced titanium big-time in 2023.
The biggest titanium release this year was, of course, the new Rolex Yacht-Master, which follows hot on the heels of last year’s Deepsea Challenge; Rolex’s first-ever titanium watch. The 42mm Yacht-Master is arguably bigger news than that record-breaking watch as it’s a much more wearable and practical piece than the hefty 50mm Deepsea Challenge.
But it wasn’t just Rolex flying the titanium flag. Chopard, Grand Seiko, Hermès, Hublot, IWC, Oris and Zenith’s marquee Watches & Wonders releases were all in titanium, too (just to name a few). Hell, we can even look to last year’s Watches & Wonders to see that titanium is on the up and up: think of how the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus or the Angelus Chronodate both got titanium editions or how even Vacheron Constantin has dipped its toes into titanium with the Overseas Everest back in 2021.
It’s funny because it used to be the case that titanium versions of luxury watches used to retail for less than stainless steel – whereas these days, titanium is seen as a luxury option, and commands a price premium.
Bright colours – especially orange, blue and green
After years of watch brands playing it safe with blacks and blues, especially when it comes to watch dials, it seems as if brands are starting to have a bit more fun and branch out into different colours – or, at the very least, we’re not seeing the same boring blues and hues that have dominated over the last few years.
The IWC Schaffhausen Ingenieur is a prime example of this: its aqua dial, which is not quite blue nor green, is a little bit different and therefore much more interesting than the royal blues (or overhyped Tiffany blues) that are rife right now.
Of course, green has been in for a while, and Watches & Wonders 2023 saw some pretty spectacular green watches. The Oris ProPilot X Kermit was the obvious standout, but other cool green watches included the Bell & Ross BR 05 Green Gold, the Cartier Santos de Cartier’s new dark green dial option, the dark green Montblanc 1858 Iced Sea boutique exclusive and the Panerai Radiomir California.
Orange is also really having a moment, with the Hermès H08 leading the charge on that front. Other hot orange watches include the Bell & Ross BR X5 Carbon Orange and Oris ProPilot Coulson. Even the orange highlights on the Chopard Alpine Eagle Cadence 8HF come to mind.
Actually, if we’re talking bright colours, the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual ‘Bubble Dial’ and wacky jigsaw-dial Day-Date with emotions and emojis instead of days and dates are also obvious contenders.
Funky dial patterns
We’ve also seen brands start to break the mould of sunrays and matte dials to come out with some genuinely interesting dial textures.
The new Bulgari Octo Roma with its beautiful, fine lozenge-shaped Clous de Paris dial is an obvious candidate, as is the Baume & Mercier Riviera’s wave-patterned dial, the Czapek Antarctique S ‘Sashiko’ and its lotus flower-patterned dial and the Grand Seiko Masterpiece Collection SBGZ009’s white birch dial (actually, that whole watch is patterned: it’s got a spectacular hand-engraved case that matches its dial).
Again, the IWC Schaffhausen Ingenieur is another prime example with its cool checkerboard dial. We’ve mentioned this watch a few times on this list, but that’s simply because it’s captured the zeitgeist in a way no other watch this year has: an integrated bracelet, a titanium option, an interesting dial texture with an interesting colour… It was the big winner from Watches & Wonders 2023.
It’s hard to say. I suspect we’ll continue to see watch brands double down on green dials and continue to offer a wider range of case diameters as the year goes on – it’ll be interesting to see if anyone joins in on the integrated bracelet craze. There’s definitely money to be made there.
What I’d like to see as (and reckon might be) the next big thing is travel watches. Now that the world’s opening back up post-COVID and international travel is regaining some of its glamour, hopefully, we’ll see some exciting new GMT watches and world timers from unexpected places.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a GMT watch, but we’ll see…
This article is published under license from DMARGE: the original article can be viewed here