The painstaking task of selecting the favorites of 2023.
When asked to come up with a list of watches I like, I always have to be careful. And I have to say – this is a struggle that any watch journalist has to face. Should I stick strictly to my personal opinion? Should I follow the market hype to gain more readers for the article? Should I adopt a political approach and suggest the brands that I need to highlight (for various reasons, including financial gain, obligation – in the end, all of them go to some kind of benefit)? Or should I choose to highlight the brands whose people I am friends with? Some journalists are more objective, others more subjective. There are enough cases of people religiously following some “journalists” for their “hatred” towards certain brands (only to discover a “fox and the grapes” story behind). Or the love for a brand that is actually heavily monetized… But it is OK. This is how the world works, money makes the world go round and bad publicity is still publicity…
For this list I decided to go for the watches that impressed me at least twice in 2023: the first time I saw them in the metal and at least a second time afterwards. I think that’s fair… For this, I simply scrolled through my 400 GB of pictures and videos (these are just for the last two years) on my smartphone until I was, once again, impressed. There is no ranking, just wow. So let’s get started…
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet in steel
Introduced at the beginning of 2023, the six new Code 11.59 models in stainless steel amaze with their beautiful dial colors and nice straps. These sporty pieces are very wearable and designed to withstand daily wear without restraint. The dials created by Yann von Kaenel are stamped but present a complex pattern of waves that move outwards from the center. Hundreds of tiny holes play with the light creating a spectacular show. And since I am one of the few idiots to use a mechanical chronograph with a smartphone in their pockets, I chose the Ref. 26393QT.OO.A064KB.01 as my favorite of the round.
MB&F & Laurent Picciotto: the LMX Paris Edition
Shown behind closed doors during the Watches & Wonders show, this white gold lady was created in collaboration with Laurent Picciotto, a close friend of MB&F. The special feature of this watch is the stunning purple dial. For an amateur photographer like myself, this baby is difficult to capture because of the complex mechanism hidden under a huge domed crystal. As Jimi sings: Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me… The dial is so mesmerizing that you forget about yourself and the world around you, sinking deeper and deeper into the purple sun-rayed dial. The way it catches the light, it darkens and brightens with every ray of light and every shadow, metamorphosing into this wide range of unexpected shades and colors.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 TOP GUN “Oceana”
While everyone was puzzled by the new Ingenieur (which I also like, but I find this one more to my liking), I found myself time and again with the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 TOP GUN “Oceana” in my hands. I am a simple, predictable, middle-aged man – I like blue, I like denim… I like this collection, too. The name “Oceana” comes from the ceramic hue created in collaboration with IWC’s partner Pantone®. It feels great on the wrist, it is fun, and I like it.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface
Excellence is a defining attribute for the Traditionnelle line of the Maison des Connaisseurs. But there is nothing more desirable than a beautiful surprise – it combines avant-garde aesthetics with mechanical sophistication in a multi-depth watch face with a tourbillon as the highlight of the show. Launched during Watches & Wonders 2023, the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface is a statement of the Maison’s expertise: multi-layered mechanics intertwined with sapphire to create the pinnacle of haute horlogerie. It is one of the few watches that catches my eye more from the front than from the back. Not that the movement is not beautiful, but the depths and details of the dial make it… almost magical.
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 2T
Before every meeting at Ferdinand Berthoud I have to prepare myself not to gasp and fret like a horny animal or not to have my eyes like a snail molesting with its eyes the next meal just before arriving to it… The Maison offers some of the best finishes in the industry. Their machines are inspired by fantastic clocks and horological machines created by – no surprise here – Ferdinand Berthoud. I will just mention some horological porn words: tourbillon with direct-drive seconds and fusée-and-chain transmission featuring a suspended inverted fusée and sapphire bridges held on pillars. A view like no other – and I need a moment to recover.
Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon Jade
A brand not so much in the public eye but with exceptional timepieces, Arnold & Son reiterates its double tourbillon with a precious stone dial. Two independent tourbillons drive two independent dials, making it an exceptional travel wristwatch. Being completely independent, each dial can be set to the minute, thus covering quarter- or half-hour time zones. Two barrels ensure a 90-hour power reserve. A green beauty with two brains rarely seen in the wild by ordinary people.
The first ever 45mm size for the California Dial
A longtime fan of the Panerai Radiomir with a California dial but slightly intimidated by the huge 47mm version, I could not be happier to hear about the new size. A green degradé dial featuring the legendary Roman and Arabic numerals in a Brunito eSteelTM case (a brand-new finish that creates a vintage effect) immediately made me forget about everything else and sparked a desire that has yet to be quenched.
Doxa SUB 200 C-GRAPH II
Also among the more approachable watches, my encounter with the orange SUB 200 C-GRAPH II left me with dreams of summer, of having fun and of how to be bold and practical. Priced under 3000 euros price point this glorious Tri-Compax model ticks all the boxes for a tool watch: affordable, legible (and very visible), multiple strap options, easy to wear 42mm steel case and good water resistance. As a true “diver”, the watch features a unidirectional rotating steel bezel with the triangle indication highlighted with white Super-LumiNova.
De Bethune DB28xs Starry Seas
Again, as one would expect – a fantastic independent with exceptional finishes and a blue dial – a 39mm DB28 featuring blue waves at night reflecting the starry sky. The novelty, besides the reduced size, is the random guilloché pattern (a world first) that creates a blued titanium wave on the dial. The back of the watch displays a pure De Bethune style with an innovative double antishock system for the titanium balance wheel with white gold inserts and the bridge. The weapon of choice in this fantastic battle of the visual sense is titanium, found in unusual places and with amazing finishes.
Ulysse Nardin BLAST Free Wheel Marquetry
As an established fan of Ulysse Nardin, I can be accused of subjectivity – and rightly so. But the truth is undoubtedly there – an exercise in creativity and expertise: silicon as a material that is not only ultra-technical but also artistic. Several decorative finishes are combined with several technical implementations (escapement wheel, anchor and balance spring in silicon and blade technology). Hmm, I forgot to mention – the watch is blue… Blue dial, blue strap. Although the sapphire crystal may seem blue, the transparent box has no shade, the color being actually “borrowed” from the amount of blue matte and polished silicon marquetry dial.
This article does not invalidate my preferences for the pieces I mentioned in my Watches & Wonders article: Letting the heart decide – the favorite watches of Watches & Wonders, but adds new nuances and thoughts, reinforcing the idea that it is hard to decide for a small and very specific set of timepieces. You can also explore what caught my eye in 2023 in the reports What I saw and liked outside Watches & Wonders 2023 in wrist shots or Geneva Watch Days 2023.