With 2020 now in the rearview mirror, we take a look back at some of our favorite new watches of the year.
There’s no better place to begin than my personal favorite of 2020, the SLGH003, due almost as much to a bold new reimagining of Grand Seiko design as to its radical new 9SA5 movement. Technically, of course, it was the all-gold SLGH002 that debuted the 9SA5, but I’m picking the SLGH003 because it was vastly more accessible, thanks to its steel case. The SLGH003 was, therefore, the first realistic way for a Grand Seiko fan to get their hands on that amazing new movement, a movement that combined some of our favorite aspects of GS design, like the 36,000 BPH rate, with approaches typically associated with high-end Swiss watches like free sprung balances.
Omega’s new 41mm Constellation was a watch that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. This revision took the Manhattan design, now overlooked in its own right, and thoroughly modernized it thanks to a larger size and Omega’s proclivity towards ceramics. The available high-contrast colors of ceramics, such as the blue bezel here with gold Roman numerals, gives the watch a bold look worthy of its New York-inspired heritage. Its hour markers are even shaped like One World Trade Center.
The Chronomaster Revival Liberty offers no such radical revisions of its fairly recent predecessor, the A384 Revival, a watch I called the chronograph of the year in 2019. That’s a good thing, because the A384 didn’t need any tampering with. What Zenith instead opted to do was to offer a variety of versions of the watch, including the all-black Shadow, and my personal favorite, this Liberty. New for this version is the gorgeous blue dial, white subdials, and red-banded chronograph seconds hand, making for one of the best-looking El Primeros ever released.
IWC released its iconic Portugieser Automatic in 40mm, a very versatile everyday size for a line of watches known to be large. It retains its classic good looks, managing to be minimalist while never straying into plainness, and it gives up nothing in its movement credentials. Powered by the excellent 82200, it features numerous components made from ceramic to resist the 24/7 friction of a mechanical watch movement. The power reserve isn’t bad either, at 60 hours, and it’s still free sprung like its larger Portugieser brethren.
My next pick, the T0, is a bit of a technicality, since it’s really just a movement, not a watch. However, I’m going to sneak it in because I actually illustrated it as a complete watch (in the article below), and because it’s one of the most important horological announcements of 2020. Grand Seiko’s first tourbillon movement, the T0 signaled the brand’s foray into haute horology, and along with its much more practical 9SA5 movement, demonstrated a willingness to expand in very new directions of movement design. The T0 is less significant for the movement itself, which you can’t even buy, and more because it’s a shot across the bow of Switzerland and Germany’s very finest brands and a hint at what we can expect in the coming years.
I would be remiss not to mention Oris’ all-new Aquis Date. While new movements like Grand Seiko’s 9SA5 are exciting, they are the creation of a brand that was founded around movement design at its very core. Oris’ new Cal. 400, however, demonstrates a renewed interest in horology for a brand known primarily for its high-quality, high-value offerings built around ETA movements. Unlike its last series of in-house movements, the Cal. 11X, this movement is intended to be more practical and will probably find itself in a much wider variety of watches in the long run. It continues the theme of long power reserves, with an impressive five days, but it’s probably more noteworthy for its 10-year service interval and matching warranty. While the watch surrounding the movement did receive some minor tweaks and updates, this new model is going to be remembered primarily for its movement, but given that the Aquis was already an attractive and popular watch, that’s not a bad thing.
TAG Heuer has done an increasingly good job of making itself relevant to hardcore watch enthusiasts and these new Carreras are only going to keep that momentum going. Their designs are quite reminiscent of the original ’63 Carrera and are surprisingly restrained for a line of watches known for its aggressive and sporty looks, at least in modernity. It’s just not a pretty face, either, with the impressive Heuer 02 movement inside.
Who can forget the popular, and fun-loving, Silver Snoopy. This watch took one of the most sober and iconic watch designs, the Speedmaster, and added some well-deserved NASA-inspired Snoopy imagery along with lovely blue accents. The best part of the Silver Snoopy has to be its incredibly unique case back, which, instead of showing the beautiful 3861 manual-wind chronograph, instead shows the even more interesting animated Command and Service Module which flies behind the moon. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
The third, and final, Grand Seiko entry here is the new trio (with a fourth member in the recent Eagle LE) of sports watches, the SBGE253, SBGE255, and SBGE257 respectively. Unlike the other Grand Seikos here, these continue to use the excellent 9R66 spring drive movement as opposed to something new. Instead, their contribution is primarily in the case and style. Grand Seiko fans have for years complained about the Japanese brand’s sports watches getting too large, and these three remedy that with a sensible 40.5mm case size. Furthermore, these each use tough ceramic bezels, as the brand increasingly adopts the new material. Finally, two of them are available in relatively fun color schemes, branching out from the extreme sobriety of popular GSes like the SBGA229 or SBGE201.
Finally, at the risk of being self-aggrandizing, we have our most recent limited edition, and our first collaboration with Zodiac, the Blackout. This watch took the color of bioluminescent waves, appreciable only at night, and attempted (succeeded, I hope) to find a balance between a fun and playful everyday watch and a relatively serious all-black tool watch design.
With 2020 now behind us, 2021 will hopefully be a strong year for watchmaking. The renaissance of movement making continues to flourish, and I think we’ll see Grand Seiko and Oris deliver new models based on 2020’s horological contributions, while more new and exciting movements are created by many other brands. Meanwhile, broader industry trends towards bolder Genta-esque watches continue, so we will probably see yet more nods to to this great watch designer while the fascination with vintage dive watch designs becomes less pronounced.