This is an interesting time for watch brands. Having faced-down a flattening of sales in recent years they're now faced with a fresh challenge, imagining the watch of the future. It's not a challenge for the faint-hearted and while it's been taken up by some brave brands, often smaller independents, many are still counting on ancient favourites to keep things ticking.
There's no doubt these have proved popular – think Omega's Speedmaster re-incarnations, Tag Heuer's recent Autavia and Monaco models, Tudor's sixties influenced Heritage Black Bays, Jaeger LeCoultre's Polaris and countless other 'heritage' re-editions. But it might also suggest brands haven't yet worked out what's next in the evolution of timepieces.
This seems a plausible conclusion if you look at automobiles or even smart watches: we can guess, picture even, the direction they're headed in. Auto more swoopy, cossetting, dramatic and efficient. Smart watches more capable of a host of functions we never knew needed measuring let alone required at hand on the wrist.
What to watch
But mechanical watches? It could be argued there are very few modern timepieces that couldn't have been designed decades ago. Bulgari's Octo Finissimo, Hublot's Big Bangs and Richard Mille's machines come to mind along with efforts from Ressence, a brand worth googling if you haven't heard of them.
Even so, if these designs seemingly – and cleverly – came from nowhere, they offer little overall clue as to what's next. In living memory we've had complicated watches with all manner of displays and functions, often superfluous to any daily need; we've had all-black watches; we've had huge watches thanks to the likes of Panerai at one end of the dollar scale, TW Steel at the other. And we've had watches pared back to expose every last element of their desirable innards. Then in the past two years, we've seen retro as the predominant theme – and not just from the aforementioned names, but brand after brand reviving some of their golden oldies.
As for now, brands mightn't be in lockstep regarding future direction, but in the interim there are discernable trends, and they've resulted in some desirable wrist-wear. The pre-dominant ones? A move to smaller watches, dials to die for and more colour all round.
Less is more
Chances are your favourite brand has something smaller for you this year, the reverse of a trend that's seen watches growing to the size of dinner plates, well, 47mm and more. You know that things are changing when one-time leader of the pack Panerai go smaller, and their new 'mid-size' model is just one of a raft of newcomers that have caught our eye this year.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Fifty-Eight
Smaller (down to 39mm from 41mm), and thinner (from 14.75mm to 11.9mm) this new addition to the Black Bay squad is our favourite variant of the diver, perfectly proportioned, water-resistant to 200m and boasting 70 hours power reserve.
Panerai Luminor Due 38
Like the Panerai look but not the over-sizing? This is the watch for you, with all the cachet of the original without the bulk. Think of it as a "dress" Panerai, one that at 38mm would look good on any wrist, male or female.
Girard Perregaux Laureato Ceramic 38
The benefits of ceramic – scratchproof, great to the touch – and the silky looks of brushed and polished surfaces distinguish the sporty Laureato which is now available in a black or white 38mm case with a diamond-set bezel.
Over the top
Of course restraint isn't for everyone. If horological modesty is not your thing, or you're still wedded to the idea of using your forearm as a canvas for timekeeping creativity, there's always Franck Muller or perhaps something truly left-field. Hautlence, specialists in six-figure horological machinery, has the Vortex Gamma Magna, a watch you're not going to encounter on every other wrist.
It features chain-driven hours and twin barrels housed in a case involving six three-dimensional sapphire crystals with composite parts "borrowed" from the aerospace industry and finished in orange "the colour of lava."
Should the Hautlence prove too colourful – for your pocket or eyes – dazzling dials can be found at all price points, this year's favourties with enthusiasts ranging from H.Moser & Cie's pared back models with enamel dials in various colours priced around $20-30,000, to Glashutte Original's green enamel limited edition Vintage 1960s models for half that.
This year's star though has to be an under $3000 model in Seiko's Pressage range, the do-called Shippo Enamel Limited edition rendered in vibrant blue and available in a three-hand watch with date and one with power-reserve and calendar displays. Shippo is a type of enamel that was developed in Japan in the 17th century and the dials are made by Ando Cloisonne, a specialist manufacturer in Nagoya with over 100 years of history.
The Seiko in fact ticks a number of boxes – at 40mm for the three-hander, 40.6mm for its sibling, it's not too large; the blue dial scores for both it's workmanship and on-point colouring; and it comes at a price that's actually affordable. Like the other watches here, that might be enough to take the sting out of waiting for the next big thing.
Check out the gallery above to see six of the best watches for men who value their time.
Bani McSpedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review.