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22 exceptional luxury watches of 2018 (Part I/III)

Part I of III of the 22 most exceptional watches for 2018, featuring timepieces from the likes of A. Lange & Sohne, Audemars Piguet, and Cartier.

With signs of recovery everywhere, following a dismal economic slowdown, brands are – understandably – playing it safe when it comes to launches. At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and Baselworld earlier this year, brands largely unveiled pieces designed to sell. Think updated versions of tried-and-tested icons, timepieces with functional complications, value-added features such as chronometer certification or anti-magnetism, lower-priced ranges, or simply blue-dialled watches (a popular colour with many buyers). While a brand can make a statement in many ways, some (we are glad to say) do it the good ol’ old-fashioned way – with timepieces that impress with their mechanical prowess, like A. Lange & Sohne’s one-of-a-kind Triple Split. Here is a selection of our highlights of 2018.

(RELATED: The 5 luxury watch trends defining haute horlogerie in 2018 and 2019)

 

Right on track

A. LANGE & SOHNE

Triple Split, 1815 Chronograph

  • Triple split

Many of its watches might look conservative but, technically, A. Lange & Sohne is as forward-looking as they come. Easily one of the standout releases at a time when most brands are choosing to play it safe, the brand’s blockbuster of the year is the Triple Split – a split-seconds chronograph that allows for comparative time measurements of up to 12 hours. Housed in a white gold case 43.2mm across and 15.7mm thick, the Triple Split is the only mechanical chronograph of its kind. The Triple Split’s closest competitor? The brand’s own Double Split, a 2004 debut that can measure comparative timings of up to 30 minutes (a feat that no other brand has yet to equal).

For those who prefer simpler chronographs meant for more frequent wear, the new 1815 Chronographs are handsome choices. Launched in white gold with a black dial last year, the 2018 versions come in 39.5mm pink gold cases, with a black or silver dial.

A pulsometer – a scale originally designed for doctors to calculate a patient’s pulse easily – gives this hand-wound flyback chronograph a dose of vintage charm.

(RELATED: 22 exceptional luxury watches of 2018 (Part II/III))

Marking a milestone

AUDEMARS PIGUET

Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph

  • Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph

Things move so quickly these digitally driven days. Even before the SIHH rolled around in January, much had already been said about the 25th anniversary of Audemars Piguet’s sporty model, the Royal Oak Offshore. Having earlier unveiled commemorative pieces such as the reissue of the original 1993 Royal Oak Offshore and the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph, the brand chose to focus on models with new colours and finishes at SIHH.

A like-it-or-hate-it highlight among the new additions to the Royal Oak Offshore catalogue is the Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph, with a deep-green ceramic bezel and beige dial, complete with camouflage rubber strap. We’re fans of the way the beige dial and inner bezel contrast with the deep green (AP’s official term for the shade is “khaki”) of the brushed ceramic bezel, pushers and screw-locked crown.

And, if you’re among those who have no love for the camo strap, you might feel more at ease knowing that the 44mm steel watch comes with an additional khaki (deep green) rubber strap.

(RELATED: How Audemars Piguet continues to succeed as an independent watch brand)

 

Fuelled by function

BAUME & MERCIER

Clifton Baumatic

  • Clifton Baumatic

In a press release last year, Baume & Mercier proudly declared that it was “positioned as closely as possible to the reality of the market”. This year, the brand demonstrates that this philosophy does not merely translate to affordable luxury, but also to real innovations that are relevant to a wider swathe of buyers.

For less than $5,000, the Clifton Baumatic offers an impressive number of features. Developed with parent company Richemont Group’s R&D team and the group’s movement-maker Val Fleurier, the Baumatic has an exclusive movement that offers a solid five-day power reserve, as well as anti-magnetism thanks to components like a silicon hairspring.

Baume & Mercier is the first brand in the Richemont Group to  offer silicon hairsprings, and the Baumatic is one of its first watches to do so.

There are different variants of this steel timepiece but, to us, the obvious pick is this white-dialled version. Distinguished by a porcelain-like white dial with crosshairs, it is also a COSC-certified chronometer.

(RELATED: SIHH 2018: Baume & Mercier’s first in-house movement, plus more from Vacheron Constantin, JLC and Hermes)

 

Take flight

BLANCPAIN

Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Retrograde

  • Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Retrograde

In 1989, Blancpain became the first brand to present a flying tourbillon – a tourbillon without an upper bridge, so it looks like it’s freely suspended – in a wristwatch. At Baselworld 2018, it again presented a flying tourbillon in what is one of our favourite novelties of the year – the Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Retrograde, which comes in a 42mm red gold or platinum case. Its long French name explains its combination of features: a flying tourbillon, jumping hour and retrograde minutes.

This is the first time that Blancpain is using either the jumping hour or retrograde minutes, and we enjoy the way these two unusual features have been laid out together in a way that ensures easy readability.

The white grand feu enamel dial provides a backdrop that’s luxuriously glossy yet undistracting – perfectly pairing with the lightness of the flying tourbillon, which is mounted on a clear sapphire disc instead of on a lower bridge.

 

Simply special

BREGUET

Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367

  • Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367

In haute horlogerie, tourbillon-and-time-only watches are not uncommon, and with such timepieces, the tourbillon is typically positioned at a cutout at six o’clock.

Breguet’s Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat, an ultra-thin tourbillon model, has skewed that formula to winning effect since it was introduced in 2013. The chapter ring (the circle comprising the hour numerals and minute markers) is slightly off-centre, and this is balanced by a tourbillon that is positioned at five o’clock and held in place by a hand-bevelled bridge. It’s a look that’s classical yet just offbeat enough to be interesting.

This year’s update, the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367 (available either in rose gold or platinum), features a restrained, yet warm, white grand feu enamel dial that lets the dial details and tourbillon stand out even more.

One of the skinniest automatic tourbillon watches on the market today, it has an impressive thickness of just 7.45mm, while still possessing a reassuring solidity.

 

Building a mystery

CARTIER

Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon

  • Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon

Again affirming how many brands have been moving away from super-complicated, pricier pieces in recent years, Cartier is focusing heavily on its revamped, mid-range Santos line for 2018 (and indeed, pieces from the collection are featured elsewhere in this supplement).

However, alongside this bread-and-butter line, Cartier also unveiled several creations this year that demonstrate it is still tops when it comes to whimsical statements.

The Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon and the Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Day & Night are its latest novelties to feature a mechanism inspired by the house’s mystery clocks from the early 20th century. Suspended on transparent discs driven by hidden gears, mechanisms such as the hands appear to be floating freely in mid-air.

An open-worked version of a timepiece first launched in 2013, the Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon features a flying tourbillon at six o’clock – this entire escapement rotates on its own axis every minute and makes a revolution around the space every five minutes.

 

Smooth sailing

FRANCK MULLER

Vanguard Yachting Gravity Skeleton

With its outsized tourbillon – its cage is a relatively massive 21.2mm wide – and architectural, elliptical bridges, the Franck Muller Vanguard Gravity is a timepiece that’s hard to miss. The next step in the evolution of this model is the Gravity Skeleton, which gives the statement timepiece a welcome airiness that helps to reduce its sense of heft. Holding much of the manually wound movement in place – and in striking fashion – are the watch’s elliptical X-shaped bridges, which are precisely milled from single blocks of aluminium.

One of the line’s latest iterations, the Vanguard Yachting Gravity Skeleton, takes things a step further with nautical-inspired details, such as a turbine-shaped tourbillon cage in blue anodised aluminium.

Housed in a white gold case measuring a sizeable 53.7mm (length) by 44mm (width) by 12.65mm (thickness), the watch is powered by an in-house manually wound movement with a five-day power reserve – enough to last through those short trips out to sea.

(RELATED: 22 exceptional luxury watches of 2018 (Part III/III))