There’s no getting away from the sports watch. Built to go anywhere, engineered to tackle any terrain, it is the “pièce de resistance” that is taking over the watchmaking world. As though checking the time had become a high-risk activity. The trend isn’t new. Coming on the back of the resurgence in tool watches, which rode the hugely popular vintage wave, interest first grew in sport-luxe watches as a stylish alternative.
Common sense tells us that anyone who wears a gold dive watch on their wrist doesn’t need a couple of oxygen tanks on their back to prove they can hang out with the manta rays on home turf. This same common sense is guiding new cohorts of watch lovers towards timepieces that put practicality and functionality first, though not without style and a certain flair.
It’s a direction taken by many of the brands exhibiting at Watches and Wonders Geneva. Whether an aviator watch, such as the Big Pilot 43mm from IWC, a dive watch such as the Street Diver from Louis Vuitton, or an observation watch, the likes of Montblanc’s Geosphere in honour of mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner, robust and reliable watches cut out for everyday adventure are legion.
Many of the new releases are interpreting this mindset with slickly designed models that will take any amount of knocks. The Riviera is one, Baume & Mercier’s reissue of a 1970s model. The Pioneer Centre Seconds Mega Cool from H. Moser & Cie. is another, as is the Hermès H08. Not forgetting the old favourites, refreshed and revived. TAG Heuer’s Aquaracer, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer, the Patek Philippe Nautilus reference 5711 and Tudor’s Black Bay have all been given a fresh new look.
All these watches have in common the “simplicity” of their mechanisms. A watch that only gives the time, possibly the date, is less likely to develop a weak spot and therefore better equipped for use in all circumstances. These are watches that will never skip a beat. Literally. When complications are brought into the mix, this will almost always be a chronograph, such as Carl F. Bucherer’s Heritage BiCompax Annual. Zenith describes its Defy Extreme as being “carved like a boulder in a storm”. A year after introducing the updated Pasha as a time-only model, Cartier has added the ability to measure short intervals. Panerai, meanwhile, has put the chrono at the centre of its Luminor range.
Some brands have gone a step further and are presenting chronographs intended as a showcase for their expertise, but in highly exclusive form. At Vacheron Constantin, the Traditionnelle Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Thin Collection Excellence Platine in platinum is a limited edition of 15 pieces. Montblanc will make just 18 of its 1858 Split Second Chronograph in lime gold.
Performance accounts for a large part of the sports watch’s appeal, which is where lightweight materials come into play. While titanium has a lot to offer in this department – see, for example, the ReVolt Chrono by Rebellion – other alloys are making their contribution to this sporting life. Ulysse Nardin uses Carbonium, a carbon fibre composite, for the new Diver X Skeleton. Another composite, this time with graphene, brings ultra-light robustness to the case of the Hermès H08.
The prize for cutting-edge goes nonetheless to the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL in Ceratanium, IWC’s proprietary titanium alloy. This concept watch is the first to be fitted with the brand’s patented shock-absorbing system that was eight years in gestation. At the heart of the system is a cantilever spring in amorphous Bulk Metallic Glass that cushions the movement inside the case in the event of a shock. Thus protected, the movement can survive accelerations in excess of 30,000 g or 100 times the impact of a fist hitting a table. Just the ticket when flying your private jet to the office…