The turmoil of 2020 may have bled into 2021 with respect to supply chain issues, partially restricted travel and lingering health risks, but it certainly didn’t hamper the watch world — entirely new in-house calibers, special limited editions, complicated mechanical marvels and more were all the rage. A wide range of timepieces, from affordable to ultra-luxurious, made their way into the GP100 this year, and we think it’s safe to say that 2021 was as exciting horologically as any recent collection of 365 days can be. From the newest Omega Speedmaster to an affordable Cartier Tank and a wildly complicated Bulgari, these are the best watches of 2021.
Game Changer: Bremont ENG300 Movement
Available Configurations: 18
Power Reserve: 65 hours
Currently Available Models: The Longitude Collection
Two brothers, appropriately of the nationality and surname English, have wanted to make a truly and fully British watch since founding their own watch company, Bremont, in 2002. Though they’ve produced their own impossibly tough cases for years, making the intricate mechanical movements to fit into them posed another degree of challenge. In fact, it’s such a daunting and expensive undertaking that no company has produced watch movements to scale in Britain since the 1970s.
Bremont considers itself the inheritors of Britain’s legacy as the center of watchmaking in centuries past. The islands boast world-changing innovations such as John Harrison’s marine chronometer — which allowed sailors to find longitude and navigate at sea — but also quieter inventions, from the balance spring like those that still regulate mechanical watches today to automatic winding. In modern times, however, it hasn’t been among the few nations (Switzerland, Germany, Japan and China) with the resources to industrially produce complete watches.
All that changed in 2021, when Bremont announced they’d finally done it: sparkly new manufacturing facilities outside of London were churning out significant parts of the brand’s own movement, called the ENG300 and developed in collaboration with a Swiss team. Debuting in watches with Bremont’s own cases, the brand finally had a watch it could reasonably call “Made in England.”
Bremont has received closer scrutiny regarding its language and manufacturing capacity than most companies following a PR debacle in 2014. In response, it’s made an effort toward transparency about the extent to which it produces these new movements itself. The ENG300 certainly qualifies as “in-house” by the standards of many Swiss brands using the term. The success of high-quality mechanical movements made outside Switzerland has the potential to take the independent watchmaking scene to another level — and feels like the beginning of British watchmaking’s return more than simply the culmination of Bremont’s own saga.
Patek Philippe 5905/1A
Movement: Patek Philippe cal. CH 28‑520 QA 24H automatic
Water Resistance: 30 meters
Patek Philippe doesn’t do steel very often — it’s only about 30% of the company’s output — so when they dropped the 5905 annual calendar in stainless with an eye-catching green dial, the watch world took note. This is an impressive watch to begin with — it’s an annual calendar plus a flyback chronograph, meaning the Caliber CH 28‑520 QA 24H automatic movement ticking away inside is doing a ton of complicated work — but add to that a matching steel bracelet, and you get something approaching a tool watch (if you can call a nearly-$60,000 watch a tool). Just don’t take this one in the pool if you can help it, as it’s only water-resistant to 30m.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Co-Axial Master Chronometer
Movement: Omega cal. 3861 hand-wound
Water Resistance: 50 meters
Price: $5,950+ (Hesalite on fabric strap)
Without a doubt, some of the biggest news in early 2021 — well, in all of 2021, really — was Omega’s announcement of an upgrade to their production-model Speedmaster. The caliber 3861, previously released within limited-edition Speedies, is a serious upgrade form the previous cal. 1861 family: With hacking seconds (the watch stops completely while you set the time); a silicon hairspring; Master Chronometer certification; and resistance to magnetic field of up to 15,000 gauss, it’s a heavy hitter of a movement and provides shocking value in a watch situated firmly in the sub-$10,000 price range.
But that’s not all. The new Speedy also features a gorgeous “step” dial reminiscent of that of vintage models from the 1960s and ’70s, plus one of the best bracelets we’ve ever felt. The last iteration of the Speedy bracelet was, well, fine. But the new version is a dream — comfortable, handsome, and easy to wear. Best of all, it’s available in two versions: depending on whether you choose the Hesalite (plastic) crystal-equipped version or the sapphire, the bracelet will feature either brushed or polished center links, respectively.
And Omega seems bent on offering a Speedy for every type of customer: In addition to the two crystal options, you can opt for one on a bracelet, a fabric strap or a leather strap. (You can also get one in pinkish Sedna gold or white Canopus gold, should you so desire. But these are decidedly not sub-$10k watches.) In short, if you’ve been contemplating a Speedy purchase but haven’t been able to find the watch for you, well — you have no more excuses, as far as we’re concerned.
Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Movement: Zenith El Primero 3600
Water Resistance: 100m
Among Zenith’s mostly retro-styled and retro-sized (i.e., relatively small) Chronomaster watches, the 2021 Sport model feels fresh and forward-looking. It maintains many of the series’ distinctive design cues, but with a couple of notable changes that make a big difference: It measures a larger 41mm and adds a prominent black bezel with a tachymeter scale. It’s that bezel, although a common watch design trait, that’s inevitably going to draw comparison to another iconic chronograph: the Rolex Daytona. Coming from a storied brand and fitted with an excellent movement, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport is surely more than just an attainable alternative to the Daytona — but it’s also that.
Massena Lab Uni-Racer
Movement: Sellita SW510 Elaboré hand-wound
Water Resistance: 50 meters
There’s no doubt that we’re in full “vintage reissue” mode. The watches of 2021 look, in many cases, like the watches of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. But there’s a sort of “continuum” of reissue, rather than a fixed definition. In the case of the Massena Lab Uni-Racer, founder William Massena has done a very particular thing very, very well: He’s taken a watch that hasn’t been produced in 50 years — and will likely never be produced again — and recreated it, nearly note-for-note, for the modern consumer. Only in this case, his version costs under $4,000, rather than $40,000 for a vintage model.
The Uni-Racer is a modern version of the famed Universal Genève Uni-Compax “Big Eye,” a reference produced in perhaps fewer than 100 known examples. Because of its rarity — the original didn’t sell well — vintage models are astronomically expensive. William Massena loves these watches but couldn’t justify the price tag for himself. Luckily for the watch community, he and his brand were perfectly poised to make a loving tribute in the form of the Uni-Racer. And though the original was only available in white or black dials, his “Holiday Collection” versions come in colorways never before seen on a Universal Genève.
Of course, certain purists aren’t on board with the idea of an “homage” watch simply out of principle. But for those of us who love the original and would gladly spend the $40k on one were a “spare $40k” a phrase that could be uttered without laughing, the Uni-Racer is a godsend. With its smooth-feeling hand-wound movement, handsome dial options, perfect proportions and supple straps, it’s a watch that’s perfect for the die-hard vintage watch fan — or, simply anybody who’s in need of a good timepiece, period.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
Movement: Bulgari cal. BVL305 automatic
Water Resistance: 30 meters
How about a mechanical calendar watch that you won’t have to adjust until February of the year 2100. (Reminder — you will be dead by then, but still.) Do we have your attention now? We should: this is the watch that won the Grand Prix at the GPHG this year.
Such watches are incredible mechanical marvels on their own, but Bulgari, let’s not forget, sits on the cutting edge of industrial design — their perpetual calendars take classically-inspired horological tropes and turn them on their heads. Their Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, for example, looks nothing like those of yesterday, but rather like a timepiece from the future. It’s stunningly thin at just 5.8mm in depth — in fact, it’s the slimmest QP (quantieme perpetuale) on the market, a world record. (The seventh world record Bulgari has been awarded for unfathomably thin watches in a row, by the way.)
The in-house cal. BVL305 powers a dial displaying hours, minutes, seconds, retrograde date, day, month and retrograde leap years, all of which is controlled by the crown and three small correctors built into the watch case. Speaking of the case, it’s available in two distinct case materials: titanium (with a matching bracelet) and platinum (on a blue alligator leather strap.) The octagonal shape and integrated nature of said bracelet make for a distinctly modern look, and one that you’d be hard pressed to find in many other QPs. Even in many other watches, full stop.
Don’t take our word for it, however: Slap one on your wrist and try to tell us this isn’t the coolest modern complicated watch on the market. We betcha can’t do it.
Grand Seiko SBGW275
Movement: Seiko 9S64 hand-wound
Water Resistance: 30m
Sometimes, one of the coolest watches of the year isn’t technologically or culturally groundbreaking, but rather stands out for the way it combines solid watchmaking with a dash of aesthetic inspiration. A trio from Grand Seiko in its Elegance collection makes the point effortlessly: The SBGW’s dressy 37.3mm steel case and manually wound, in-house movement both display the brand’s famous quality and finishing, of course, but it’s the dials that take these watches to another level of special. The brand wants to tell you about the Japanese valley they’re meant to evoke, but their beauty stands on its own, with artfully executed dial textures and rich hues of green.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time Everest
Movement: Vacheron Constantin cal. 5110 DT/2 automatic
Water Resistance: 150m
The idea of the “tool watch” is ingrained the minds of many a watch enthusiast — the capable, all-purpose (or dedicated-purpose) paragon of robustness and accuracy that accompanies an alpinist to new heights, a submariner to new depths, or a soldier through the rigors of combat. That marvel of mechanical beauty whose aesthetic virtue is derived, ironically, from a brief insisting upon legibility…
That’s right. Today, for the most part, soldiers and tough guys and gals the world over strap on an $80 quartz watch when they need to get their hands dirty, because it’s often the best tool for the job. But Vacheron Constantin isn’t in the business of building throwaway products. In the Overseas Dual Time “Everest,” they built a special, one-off titanium dual-time meant for Cory Richards — real-life explorer and photographer — to take up Mt. Everest. A piece of art, really.
But in releasing a production model, complete with titanium/tantalum case and a Ventile cotton strap, the maison took a step out of its precious metal comfort zone to offer the horological community a true return to form. With its complex, in-house movement offering a second time zone plus AM/PM indicator and date, it’s a true explorer’s watch — a true tool, dare we say — and it looks the part, too. At a price of $31,300 and limited to 150 pieces, we can’t claim that it’s a commonly available tool in the same way that, say, a Swiss Army Knife is, but let’s face it: even the Submariner and Explorer are priced firmly in luxury territory.
Regardless of positioning, there’s no doubt in our minds that the Overseas Dual Time Everest is the coolest watch Vacheron released in 2021 — and one of the best new watches of the year, full stop. Now where did I stash that extra $31,300 I keep on hand for rainy days…
Yema Navygraf Marine Nationale
Movement: Yema cal. YEMA2000 automatic
Water Resistance: 300m
A dive watch made in partnership with the French Navy and based on French watchmaker Yema’s Superman collection might have been largely overlooked among 2021’s releases — but you don’t want to miss this sleeper hit. It’s got the cool factor of a modern military connection but also evokes the brand’s longer history of making watches for the armed forces. With an automatic movement developed and assembled by the brand itself, its got a contemporary design that offers a refreshing break from the endless parade of vintage-inspired watches. It comes in automatic GMT as well as quartz versions, and it makes for a hell of a handsome and value-driven daily driver.
Cartier Tank Must
Movement: Cartier SolarBeat; high-autonomy quartz; 1847 MC automatic
Water Resistance: 30m
Diameter: 22mm; 25.5mm; 31mm
When it debuted this year, nobody had anticipated the revival of the Cartier Must. Just like its namesake created in the 1970s (the “Must de Cartier”), the renewed collection is intended as an approachable and relatively affordable entry to the prestigious brand’s watches, taking the form of the Tank Must and replacing the Tank Solo. It’s the price point and design refinements that got people’s attention — but also an unexpected move from the otherwise traditional brand: the debut of solar-charging quartz models.
Developed in-house, the solar technology is incorporated in a way that doesn’t compromise its classical looks: photovoltaic cells absorb light through invisible perforations in the black Roman numerals. Called SolarBeat, these movements help give the sometimes Old-World-feeling brand a more contemporary image, but they’re only part of what makes the Tank Must collection exciting.
Although the SolarBeat models currently only come in what Cartier designates “small,” the Tank Must collection comprises several of sizes, colors and options for bracelets and straps — as well as other movement types. There are “extra-large” Tanks with in-house automatic movements that start under $4,000 as well as “large” models with quartz movements (without solar charging).
Whatever your preferred flavor of Tank Must, the new collection brings refined design traits that were previously available only for significantly more dough. Most notably, they have softly rounded edges like the upscale Tank Louis Cartier instead of the relatively blocky look of the outgoing Tank Solo models, and this makes all the difference. Tank fans who couldn’t afford a gold watch with a high-end movement inside now have options that are nearly as elegant.