Timely Pursuits: Men’s Watch Trends for 2016

Lot 54, Jaeger-LeCoultre Grand Reverso 976, Auctionata US, January 20, 2016

Status timepieces have, quite simply, calmed down in the last couple of years — in size, styling, and features, that is. Watchmakers’ passion for creating oversized pieces stuffed with complications seems to be scaling back, replaced by smaller cases, more traditional styling, and a decidedly measured approach to essential elements.

This trend is partly driven by the growing vintage market. At the highest end, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, Antiquorum and Bonhams continue to break sales records each year. And last November, Phillips set a record for the highest-priced watch ever sold at auction. At the same time, online retailers are trying to meet the demand for luxury pre-owned watches aimed more toward the everyday consumer.

The bonus is that these quintessential watches are more likely to hold their value and, in some cases, increase markedly over their original asking price. Is it any wonder, then, that so many releases at BaselWorld 2015, Switzerland’s annual watch fair, seem rooted in “forever” pieces?

Below are four current trends for vintage lovers seeking to build out their watch wardrobe with an eye toward enduring style.

Smaller Cases

Not so long ago, 47-, 50- and even 52-millimeter debuts were spawning “How big can we go?” conversations. The market has recently corrected, with cases coming back down to more wearable sizes. Rolex never really leaped into the bigger-is-better fray: the vast majority of the iconic brand’s case sizes have always hovered between 36 and 40 millimeters. This accent on wearability is undoubtedly among the reasons Rolex retains it investment-friendly label.

Among our favorites, a Datejust in 18-karat gold, accented with diamonds on the indices, crafted with a 36-millimeter case on the brand’s renowned President bracelet. The size and styling virtually announce “classic men’s Rolex,” while it also satisfies the growing market of female collectors seeking to wear a men’s piece that feels just a tad more substantial.

Lot 107, Rolex Datejust (2013), Auctionata AG, October 2015

Minimalist Dress Watches

Anyone whose first purchase is a sporty pilot or racing style realizes he or she needs something cleaner to go with a suit, tux, or dress. And lately, the supremely clean face of a dress watch looks very fresh. Breguet, which is celebrating its 240th anniversary this year, is a favorite among collectors for its clean, ageless styling, especially for the highly elegant “moon-tip” hands, first introduced by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1783.

Lot 2568, Bruguet Classic Wristwatch, Power Reserve (1990s), Koller Auctions, December 2015

Another favorite among collectors: Patek Philippe’s Calatrava, originally launched in 1932. This 1955 piece pictured below exemplifies the sleek simplicity of the Calatrava, and is a great example of a watch that will, quite simply, never go out of style.

Lot 2554, Patek Philippe Calatrava (1955), Koller Auctions, December 2015

Skeleton Styling

Chances are you love watches for reasons beyond exterior beauty: the exquisite craftsmanship discovered in the depths of their gold or stainless steel cases. The skeleton watch was born to display the wheels and gears that provide the heartbeat of a timepiece, which are nothing less than mesmerizing.

Lot 134, Richard Mille Tourbillion RM 027, Antiquorum, September 2015

The growing appreciation for upscale watches in recent years has spawned an increasing desire for skeletons. While the skeleton actually dates back to roughly 1760, every major watch label currently offers at least one in its arsenal to showcase its own unique handcraft. There’s an added advantage, of course: few watches inspire conversations like the intricate detailing found in a skeleton.

Square Cases

Because round faces vastly outnumber square and rectangular faces by roughly a 3-to-1 ratio, wearing a square or rectangular face instantly makes a statement that you don’t necessarily follow the pack. The shape is also steeped in history.

Louis Cartier was the first designer to break from the round pocket-watch style when he customized a square-faced, easy-to-read wristwatch for his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1904. Cartier christened the design the Santos-Dumont, and you’ll still find it in the collection. The famed Paris-based house offers a variety of round faces, but the square face personifies iconic Cartier style. This Cartier Tank dates to 2007, though it’s clear the look has changed little from Louis Cartier’s original design.

The same can be said for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s famed Reverso, which the Swiss watchmaker created in 1931 after observing how British officers damaged the crystals on their watches while playing polo. The Reverso flips so the crystal sits against the skin, protecting it during play.

Lot 474, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tourbillion (No. 465/500), Auktionshaus Eppli, December 2015

The above piece in 18-karat rose gold, complete with a model number on the back, demonstrates not only how that tradition continues, but also how its Art Deco styling is, in a word, timeless.