Watches

The 12 Best Watches of 2020

Twelve horological highlights from a year in which the best watch brands embraced the chaos.
IMAGE Patek Philippe/ Longines
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It's been a weird year for watches (well, it's been a weird year full stop). Trade shows were canceled, releases were bumped to 2021, and the idea of what's 'luxury' really means changed shape as we were all trapped inside. But despite the headwinds, it was still a banner year for horology. The best brands tackled those challenges head on, embracing change and exploring new ways to speak to their customers. Which meant a glut of innovative, beautifully designed new watches, and less of the by-numbers chaff that makes it so hard to find the good stuff. These, then, are our 12 favorite watches of 2021, in no particular order

Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321

Photo by Omega.

You could fill a book with all the different versions of the iconic Speedmaster Omega has released – indeed, people have – but this was the one fans have been waiting for. A stainless steel Speedy packing the 321 movement – the same movement in the original ‘Moonwatch’ that accompanied six Apollo missions. Reconstructed from a 3D scan of astronaut Gene Cernan's own Omega, this is a close as you’re going to come to the real thing. Sure, it’s three times the cost of a regular Speedmaster, but it's at least three times as cool. omegawatches.com

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Limited Duoface

Photo by SULLY BALMASSIERE.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has dubbed 2021 “the year of Reverso” in honor of the flippable watch’s 90th anniversary. To tee-up a bunch of upcoming launches, they've released this beautiful burgundy Reverso Tribute Limited Duoface. One side shows the time with "dauphine" hour and minute hands, a small seconds and sword-tipped baton hour markers. The reverse has a second time zone with day/night indicator, and features a hobnail “Clous De Paris” guilloché finish. jaeger-lecoultre.com

Unimatic Modello Uni U1-F

Photo by Unimatic.
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Dialed-back dive watch from the young, Milan-based industrial design duo, Unimatic, who are obsessed with matt black and limited editions. Taking inspiration from some of the archetypal divers from the 1950s from the likes of Blancpain, Rolex, and Omega, Unimatic add an aesthetic twist entirely of their own. Missed this one? The will doubtless have something equally covetable along soon. unimaticwatches.com

Tag Heuer Aquarcer x Bamford

Photo by Tag Heuer.

We could have picked any of luxury watch customizers Bamford Watch Department’s releases this year – its GMT Peanuts "Snoopy" was particularly tasty – but for sheer design balls we’ve gone for its collaboration with Tag Heuer, on this Aquaracer. Reimagined in a thoroughly modern palate of textures and colors – sand-blasted titanium case, black concentrically grooved face, and bright orange accents – it felt contemporary and cool. One of the nicest Aquaracers in ages. tagheuer.com

Breitling Endurance Pro

Photo by Breitling.
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Athleisure, wearables, and fitness trackers were already a booming market – then 2020 focused our minds on daily exercise like never before. It was also the year Breitling jumped into the athleisure market with its Endurance Pro sports watch. While most sports chronometers are hefty, stainless steel and mechanical – and never really intended to go near a running track – the Endurance Pro was fit for purpose. Colorful, lightweight and sporty it’s built to take a proper beating. A winning combination of fitness device and ‘proper’ Swiss watch. breitling.com

Rolex Submariner (2020)

Photo by Rolex.

You don’t go to Rolex for new new watches – its most recent original launch was the Yachtmaster, back in 1992. Instead, you get incremental upgrades to a portfolio of classics. A new case here, a different size there. Even so, its headline release for 2020 felt particularly audacious – a new version of its benchmark product, the Submariner with – wait for it – 1mm extra added to the case. And yet… (A) that fact obscured a number of even more subtle tweaks, the first upgrades in 12 years: a wider bracelet, thinner lugs and Rolex’s most up-to-date calibre and (B) it's the nicest Submariner yet. Now, good luck trying to get hold of one.

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rolex.com

Seiko Pressage SJE081J1

Photo by Seiko.

Admire it for the handcrafted "Shippo" enamel dial evoking “the colors of the Japanese ocean”. Admire it for the way the pattern echoes “the continuous motion of the waves that break on the Japanese islands”. Admire it for the exquisite polishing technique “developed in Japan in the 17th century” and transferred to a 1mm dial. Or just admire it for being a really handsome dress watch – the like of which Seiko does so well. seikowatches.com

Patek Philippe Ref. 7234G-001 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time

Photo by Patek Philippe.
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One of Patek’s sportiest creations, this mid-sized take on its dual-time zone pilot’s watch is intended for both men and women. That casual attitude to marketing extends to the look and feel of the watch, where classical aeronautical stylings are complimented by a deep navy dial and the calfskin strap. Less casual is the fact is the case material is white gold – not for Patek the more typical pilot’s watch material of stainless steel. The outsized pushers and quirky numerals might not be to everyone’s taste but we're sold. patek.com

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight “Navy”

Photo by Tudor.

Anyone with three grand to spare and a soft spot for dive watches was spoilt for choice in 2020. From Breilting’s Superocean Heritage ’57 to Omega’s Seamaster Diver 300m Co-Axial there were some great releases. Tudor’s Black Bay 58 – the Submariner-a-like diver from Rolex’s sibling brand – has been hugely popular since it launched two years ago. This 2020 version doubled down on the vintage styling by referencing the blue dial and blue bezel found on the “Blue Snowflake” Tudor watches made in the Seventies. tudorwatch.com

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Timex x Nigel Cabourn Navel Officers Watch

Photo by Timex.

Cult menswear designer Nigel Cabourn knows his military vintage. His ongoing collab with Timex had already produced the Nam, a take on the former’s MK1 army-issue watch, the Timex x Nigel Cabourn Survival Watch in hi-vis yellow and a tribute to Scunthorpe United (Cabourn grew up there). They are all great, but the most recent joint project, the Navel Officers Watch, which takes its cue from the watches worn during the Arctic convoys of World War 2, is the best. And for £159 an actual steal. timex.co.uk

Oris Aquis Date Calibre 400

Photo by Oris.
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Already the leaders in sensibly priced luxury, this year Oris left the competition still further behind by launching its own in-house movement – minus the significant price hike that usually accompanies. The Calibre 400 offered a substantial five-day power reserve, automatic winding, and anti-magnetic design comprised of 30 specialized parts. The first watch to benefit was this Aquis Date, one of Oris’ excellent steel dive watches. Another win for the small, independent watchmaker that puts watch fans at the forefront of everything it does. oris.ch

Longines Spirit Collection

Photo by Longines.

The original aviation pioneers wore Longines watches, as Longines' marketing department has been keen to point out this year – though if your patrons included Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Howard Hughes, that seems fair enough. This year’s Spirit Collection comprised time-and-date and chronograph models in three different dial colors with two case sizes. Classic pilot watches with genuine pedigree. longines.com

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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