The New Pieces from Watches & Wonders 2021 (Part 1)

Watches and Wonders hasn’t fully wrapped up yet with a few more days to go, but already we’ve seen tons of new watches from many great brands. Because this article would be both prohibitively long and not be able to cover the watches that are yet to come out in the following days, I’m breaking this one into a two-parter. In Part 1 I’ll be covering the latest watches from Zenith, IWC, and TAG, and next week, in Part 2, I’ll cover Vacheron, Nomos, Oris, Ressence, and whatever else came out after Part 1. In the meantime, please click here to go to our Watches & Wonders pre-order page where you can reserve almost any of these new models directly!

We’ll start with Zenith, one of my personal favorite brands, and also fresh off their mega-hit Chronomaster Sport. It seems that the themes of extra large bezels and aggressive design haven’t quite lost the interest of the avant garde Swiss brand, because they released this, the new Defy Extreme.

As a longtime Zenith fan, I was as surprised as anyone (likely more so) that they had the hutzpah to bring back this rather controversial name. The Defy Extreme was not so long ago the riskiest design Zenith had ever released, and the results were, shall we say, divisive. It seems that Zenith is intent on on resuscitating the old Extreme, but perhaps now is the time. In this massive Genta revival, where bold, flat bezels, hard angles, and integrated bracelets, on top of the great success of the Defy and Defy 21 already, maybe this is the moment.

Extreme might be a word that is most closely associated with the 1990s (i.e. the best decade), but I can’t fault Zenith for using it here; it’s just a natural descriptor. If you wanted an extreme version of the Defy, here it is. Everything is sharper, more angular, and bolder. Some parts of the design remind me of the of the F-117 Nighthawk, whereas other parts seem to be almost gem cut, like the guards around the chronograph pushers.

Then, of course, there’s the dial, or lack thereof. Zenith is understandably very proud of its El Primero 21 movement, arguably the most advanced chronograph available today, so they are in quite a hurry to show it off through their various semi-skeleton designs. It always felt a bit much, however, on the Defy 21, and I found myself preferring the solid dial on that model. Here, on the other hand, the semi-skeleton design matches the insanity of the rest of the watch quite nicely. Of particular note are the also-skeletonized hands, bigger and bolder than ever.

The cases are, as you would anticipate, very large, at 45mm, but they are as tough as they look, with 200 meters of water resistance. The materials used are fitting, with two of the watches being simply titanium, and this one combining titanium and rose gold, a very unusual combination indeed. I’m sure many, if not most, will find these new Extremes too bold, and I do get that. For those there’s the Defy, or the Defy 21, but I have to admit that one of the reasons I love Zenith is for the chances they take. It’s easy to forget that even the original ’69 El Primeros, with their famous tri-color dials, were pretty extreme for the standards of their day.

Predictably, this brushed titanium with blued accents model is my favorite of the three. It and the black case (also titanium) models are $18,000, while the two-tone is $22,000. This means they’re quite a step up in price from the similar (but far more low key) Defy 21 models, so if you decide to pursue one, you should make sure to check out the Defy 21 in addition to the Defy Extreme before you order.

Whereas Zenith decided to push the limits of aggressive design, IWC returned to its greatest strength, pilot’s watches. IWC is likely the single most renowned watch brand in the world when it comes to pilot’s watches, and for this year’s Watches & Wonders, it’s literally all they did. Here we see one of my favorites from IWC this year, their new Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Mojave Desert.

The desert element, of course, comes from its sand-colored ceramic case, which should also make it extremely scratch resistant. This Big Pilot’s Watch is from the old guard, and is thus, well, very big, at 46mm. We’ll look at some new less-big Big Pilot’s Watches later, but before we do, let’s take a glance at the other new Mojave Desert model, a Perpetual Calendar.

I’ll admit, I’m struggling to understand when, precisely, a fighter pilot is going to need a perpetual calendar, or if the ultra-complex dial is actually counterproductive, but I suppose that’s all besides the point, because practical or not, the watch just looks awesome. This one’s even a tad larger at 46.5mm, so only those with larger wrists need apply. This perpetual calendar comes in at $35,000, while the more traditional comes in at a far more accessible $14,800. Personally, as admittedly cool as a perpetual calendar is, I prefer the simplicity of the Big Pilot’s Watch with just the power reserve, especially where pilot’s watches are concerned.

Oddly, that’s not even the only new perpetual calendar Big Pilot’s Watch this year. For quite a bit less than the Mojave Desert version (“just” $29,900) you can have this, the aptly-named Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar, a full-production version. It’s not quite as large, with a 46.2mm case, and thanks to that rather lovely blue dial, reminiscent of the Le Petit Prince models, it’s relatively (and I emphasize the word relatively) everyday wearable. I really like that IWC makes a lot of crazy complications available in steel. Normally when you’re dealing with top-tier ultra-complex movements, you can only get them in gold or platinum, which makes the price stratospheric, but that’s not (at least not always) the case with IWC.

In my opinion, the most important announcement from IWC was the Big Pilot’s Watch 43, or as I like to call it, the Moderately Large Pilot’s Watch. Now people with ordinary-sized wrists can enjoy the truly iconic Big Pilot’s Watch, perhaps even everyday since, enormous crown aside, it’s actually a fairly restrained and highly-functional design.

Not only is it smaller, but it’s also more utilitarian. Gone is the large off-centered power reserve subdial and unnecessary date complications, so all you get with the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is the time, and that’s really the way this watch ought to be.

It’s not all upsides, however. While you do get a very nice 82100 movement, the power reserve is reduced to a merely impressive 60 hours, down from the amazing 168 of its big brother. On the other hand, the price is relatively accessible, at $9,350 on bracelet or $8,400 on strap. I’d probably save the money and get it on strap, myself. It’s really the way a Big Pilot is meant to be worn, and the nearly $1,000 off isn’t bad either.

IWC’s most popular release today may very well be this new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41. The comparatively moderate 41mm case size, I think, will appeal to a lot of fans (myself included) as a great all-around size.

But I think the more remarkable cause for its inevitable popularity is this gorgeous green dial. The blue dial is lovely too, of course, as it always is on IWC pilot’s watches, but this rich, dark green, which I would suggest is something akin to a forest green, is really going to be sought after. The new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 is $6,500 on strap, or $7,200 on bracelet. Because the price jump isn’t that enormous here, I think they’re roughly equally worth your attention, although I’d probably still stick with the leather myself.

By far the most exciting new release from IWC is the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL. This is a really radical new model that’s built entirely around shock protection. Interestingly, IWC has placed the whole movement within a shock absorber that they’re unfortunately calling the “SPRIN-g PROTECT” system. The name might not be great, but the technology is much more impressive than it might at first seem. Apparently, the springs are made from an advanced “Bulk Metallic Glass” material, which allows the metal to be much more elastic than ordinary metals. For these reasons and numerous others, Cambridge tested this watch and it apparently could survive forces in excess of 30,000g, which is absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, IWC says that they’re only making ten of this watch a year, and no price is listed, so I’m expecting this one to be quite difficult to get.

TAG Heuer followed IWC’s approach for this year’s Watches & Wonders, focusing entirely on a single line of watches, in this case their Aquaracer line of dive watches.

TAG made several changes to the new models, resulting in an Aquaracer that remains instantly recognizable, yet has more subtle refinements throughout than you at first notice. For instance, the hands, hour markers, and location of the date have been changed in these new models.

My favorite new Aquaracer is definitely this one, the Aquaracer Professional 300 (WBP208B.BF0631). I love the green color, but I especially love the sandblasted titanium case.

Now up close, we can see the new 6:00 date placement and the octagonal hour markers that are found on these updated Aquaracers. This one, like many of the new Aquaracers today, is 43mm, so fairly large but not comically so. It is on the pricier side of this release, at $4,200, probably due to the titanium case and bracelet.

Slightly more expensive yet is this new limited edition WBP208C.FT6201 at $4,350, although it’s also titanium. This model is an homage to the first dive watch from Heuer in ’78, the Reference 844. The color of the lume, of course, has a vintage touch to it, and a very clear nod to the 844 can be found in the red numerals on the inside of the dial, a very unusual feature.

Otherwise, the new LE is quite a bit more modern, so it’s fair to say that this is inspired by the 844, as opposed to a sort of reissue of it. This one will be limited to 844 pieces, which is a pretty small run for a TAG Heuer, so you might want to pre-order this one early if you’re interested.

The next three models will form the basis of the revised Aquaracer line. They’re each 43mm, like the two above, but now they’re steel with a ceramic bezel. This keeps the price a lot lower at $3,000, but otherwise you get all of the other aesthetic refinements like the new hour markers, the relocated date, and the sword hands.

Lastly, we find three smaller Aquaracers, each 36mm and in steel. Each of the smaller models has an interesting textured dial, reminiscent of waves. Note that the blue dial is (at least currently) exclusively available with diamond hour markers. As a result, there’s a small increase in price to $3,350, but the other two models are $2,800.

Thus concludes Part 1 of our Watches & Wonders coverage. Of the watches we discussed today, I’d say the smaller 43mm Big Pilot is probably the most important, although I’m sure the Mojave Desert model will be quite popular. TAG’s new Aquaracer line is a nice refinement over their existing models, although the changes are fairly modest, so I think these are unlikely to cause a big stir. What will, however, is the return of the Defy Extreme, for which I expect a “love it or hate it” response from the fans.

Make sure to return next week when we’ll discuss every new Vacheron Constantin, Ressence, Oris, and Nomos, plus whatever new models came out between then and now. In the meantime, please click here to go to our Watches & Wonders pre-order page where you can reserve any of these watches (including models that I didn’t cover in Part 1) today!

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