Though 2021 wasn’t quite the “back to normal” we were hoping for this time last year, it doesn’t seem like the watch industry let that get it down too much. In fact, when I was scrolling through all the releases this year, I was surprised at just how much new or improved product was rolled out, and not just by the major brands. 2021 was a banner year for independent brands like Czapek, Parmigiani, and Konstantin Chaykin, whose releases at the in-person Geneva Watch Days and Dubai Watch Week became watch nerd fodder as potent as anything from Rolex or Patek. And while Watches & Wonders was still purely digital, pieces like the smaller IWC Pilot’s Watch in 43mm and the Hermès H08 garnered a lot of buzz and attention.
While it’s impossible to be comprehensive, here are our favorite new watch releases of 2021, as selected by the aBlogtoWatch team. And, of course, we want to hear what your favorites are from this year, so leave it in the comments — and here’s to 2022.
I’ll second Ariel’s sentiment with regard to choosing favorites, so I’ll give you a list instead – strictly speaking for myself here. The most beautiful watch in 2021? The Grand Seiko SBGJ249 Shosho. The most spectacular and awesome watch in 2021? The Hublot Sang Bleu II Chronograph in ceramic. The best retro-inspired watch? The Zenith El Primero A386 for finally getting a Striking 10th movement! And the best affordable watch? It’s got to be the Timex Giorgio Galli S1 in 38mm. Proof that 2021 has yielded some fantastic watches and done so in a remarkable range of styles, eras, price segments, and technical complexity. The watch world is on fire – let’s not take that for granted.
What a year it’s been for chronographs! I’ve been fortunate enough to sample some truly extraordinary chronograph watches over the past 12 months, but there are two that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first of these is the Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H. By simplifying its existing vintage chronograph design, removing the automatic rotor, and injecting the watch with an undeniable all-American muscle car charm, Hamilton has developed the single best purist hand-wound chronograph option on the market without venturing into the Omega Speedmaster’s loftier price range. The Intra-Matic Chronograph H democratizes vintage sports chronograph style in the best way possible, without compromising on either historical accuracy or quality.
On the more premium side of the market, the clear winner to me this year was the limited edition TAG Heuer Monaco Titan. Despite being a vintage chronograph fanatic, particularly for the Heuer Calibre 11, the Monaco line had always struck me as a design that never gracefully transitioned out of the ‘60s and into the modern world – until now. The Monaco Titan feels like a genuinely modern and heavy-hitting chronograph design, and it recontextualizes this familiar look with only a few minor changes. The finishing on both the matte titanium case and the heavily grained sunburst dial is exquisitely done, and the use of black “panda” subdials and blazing red accents gives this monochrome look a sense of aggression without going too far. Besides, if it’s good enough to be the timepiece of choice for newly-crowned Formula 1 World Driver’s Champion Max Verstappen, it’s good enough to make my personal shortlist.
I have to list two here since I just couldn’t choose between them. First, in what was both a new release and a farewell to a fairly divisive tongue-in-cheek collection is the H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Final Upgrade. The smartwatch-spoofing Swiss Alp’s sense of humor is balanced by impeccable finishings and a movement that will make the snobbiest jaw hit the floor. In an inspired move, this “Final Upgrade” has the spinning loading icon play the role of seconds sub-dial which you can see in action if you scroll down to the gif in the hands-on article I link to. A fitting farewell to a truly witty work of horology.
My second pick is the new Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, which stands as the only pure perpetual calendar in the brand’s lineup. It’s absolute perfection housed in a Lange 1 case but there are some standout aspects (which really need to be special to stand out here) like the ingenious dual-disc moon phase which doubles as a day/night indicator.
The watch that I like most this year is the Grand Seiko SBGY007. To start, it looks awesome. The white textured dial is really becoming a Grand Seiko signature, and then there is that blued seconds hand that moves so elegantly thanks to its Spring Drive movement. This, I think, is a combination that fans really love. It’s hand-wound, too. Another reason I like it is that it has Grand Seiko’s new dress series case which is the perfect size – just 38.5mm-wide and 10.2mm-thick. And finally, I appreciate how Grand Seiko has decided to make this a regular production piece so that fans of the brand can enjoy it.
Easy — my favorite watch this year is the Grand Seiko SBGM247. It’s a 41mm automatic GMT with a stainless-steel bezel, captivating sunburst green dial, and bright orange GMT hand. There have certainly been flashier releases, even from Grand Seiko, but none have tugged at my heartstrings in quite the same way as the SBGM247. Sure, it has the most ubiquitous new dial color of 2021, and sure, you could argue that it’s not terribly original, with more than a passing resemblance to the Rolex Explorer II, but that’s not why I love it. I love it because it shows that Grand Seiko is finally listening and giving watch enthusiasts what they want. How many people have looked at the sibling 9F quartz GMT SBGN00X models and said, “I love it, but I just wish it was an automatic.”
Well, Grand Seiko delivered but did so with an unexpectedly cool color-shifting green dial that I’m more than a little enamored with. Now, will that translate to some new, modestly sized Spring Drive divers? Who knows, but coupled with Grand Seiko’s introduction of the caliber 9R01 Spring Drive movement that places the power reserve indicator on the back of the movement, I can’t help but think that the zaratsu masters are listening to the watch community. Don’t get me wrong, more than anything, I want to see Grand Seiko keep doing what it does best, quietly producing beautifully executed watches that appeal to their own unique design sensibilities. That said, it’s certainly nice to get exactly what we’ve been clamoring for from time to time.