Addressing the media in a video that had been pre-recorded at Patek Philippe’s latest production building in Geneva, company president Thierry Stern remarked, “I didn’t expect to have a TV studio here, but we have it now.” The company was among 38 brands that took part in the Watches and Wonders 2021 digital fair, a trade show that took place from April 7 to 13. Following the daily flurry of snazzy, often CEO-hosted videos introducing brands’ latest novelties, live presentations – online and offline – and Zoom interviews, here are our highlights of the fair.

01) ROLEX: Oyster Perpetual Explorer II

Every year, a handful of horological pundits show off their Photoshop skills and their understanding of how Rolex develops its collections by predicting the Genevan manufacture’s novelties for the year ahead. This being the 50th-anniversary year of the Rolex Explorer II, talk was rife that the Explorer family would be the focus of the new collection.

True enough, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer II and its predecessor, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer, take centre stage in Rolex’s new launches for the year. Both watches are rooted in Rolex’s history of building tool watches for explorers. This legacy began in the 1930s, when they began supplying Himalayan expedition teams – including the history-making Mount Everest team that Sir Edmund Hillary was part of in 1953 – with their timepieces.

Updated for the first time since 2011, the Explorer II is now powered by the new Calibre 3285 automatic movement, one of Rolex’s latest-generation movements that are more efficient and robust, and resistant to magnetic fields. As we would expect of Rolex, the outward changes are subtle, to say the least. Available with a white or black dial, the timepiece is housed in a 42mm Oystersteel case, and key aesthetic updates include a slimmer profile with more tapered lugs and bracelet, an improved polished finish that better reflects light to complement the watch’s profile, and longer-lasting Chromalight lume.

02) A. LANGE & SOHNE: Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar in pink gold

In 2001, A. Lange & Sohne introduced the Langematik Perpetual, its first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar. Thereafter, its perpetual calendar watches were mostly accompanied by other complications such as a chronograph or tourbillon. The new Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar puts the perpetual calendar front and centre. One of the watch’s unusual features is a peripheral month ring that advances at the end of every month, which enables it to maintain the Lange 1’s signature asymmetrical aesthetic and clean layout. Available in a 41.9mm case in white or pink gold, the timepiece is powered by the new self-winding movement L021.3.

03) BVLGARI: Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar in titanium

If there was a world record for the number of consecutive horological world records, Bvlgari would probably win it. This year, the brand marks its seventh thinness world record in seven years with the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, the latest addition to its ultra-thin Octo Finissimo family. With a thickness of just 5.8mm – thanks to the self-winding BVL 305 calibre that’s just 2.75mm thick – and a diameter of 40mm, the watch is the world’s thinnest perpetual calendar. Cased in titanium or platinum, the watch features retrograde date and leap-year indicators, as well as analog day and month displays.

04) CARTIER: Tank Must in steel

Reviving the name of a 1970s collection called Les Must de Cartier, which comprised relatively affordable, gold-plated silver timepieces, Cartier now launches the entry-level Tank Must family. Including various sizes, coloured lacquered dial options and even solar-powered variants, the Tank Must models, all of which are made in steel, take their design cues from the Tank Louis Cartier. This means rounded instead of flat brancards (the vertical bars at the side of each case) and more refined proportions. Most of the Tank Must models are powered by quartz movements and are guaranteed for eight years.

05) HERMES: H08 in graphene composite

Having had success with its playful and poetic complications, Hermes now launches a more straightforward model that’s also sporty and stylish. Housed in a cushion-shaped case measuring 39mm by 39mm, and water-resistant to 100m, the H08 features a new font that artistically blends lines and curves. While there are two titanium variants, we like the monochromatic, dark look of the graphene composite version. Despite being mostly black, the dial has plenty of contrast, with a black gold-coated dial, nickel-coated Arabic numerals and a satin-brushed minutes ring. It is also lightweight thanks to the use of graphene – a high-tech material that has also been used by Richard Mille.

06) HUBLOT: Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire in sapphire crystal

Having launched its new HUB6035 automatic tourbillon movement in a watch with an orange sapphire case and a rubber strap at LVMH Watch Week earlier this year, Hublot then topped itself with a new timepiece made almost entirely in sapphire crystal, right down to its integrated bracelet. With the Big Bang Tourbillon Full Sapphire, Hublot demonstrates its know-how with sapphire, a material that is difficult to machine because it is incredibly hard yet brittle. It’s a natural evolution for the brand, which launched its first sapphire watch, the Big Bang Unico Sapphire, in 2016, and has also developed a rainbow of coloured sapphire-cased timepieces since.

07) IWC: Big Pilot’s Watch 43 in steel

“We wanted to make it more wearable and ergonomic,” said IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr during the brand’s online presentation, explaining the shrinking of the Big Pilot’s Watch from 46mm to 43mm this year. Numerous prototypes were required to ensure that the bold and distinctive style of one of IWC’s signature models was retained while making it more wearable. The latest iteration of the Big Pilot’s Watch takes its minimalist, three-hand cues from a 1940s military observation timepiece. Powered by the automatic in-house 82100 calibre, the new models also feature straps and a new five-link bracelet with IWC’s new EasX-Change interchangeable strap system.

08) JAEGER-LECOULTRE: Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 in white gold

To mark the 90th birthday of the Reverso, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the 11-complication Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 – the world’s only four-sided watch and the most complex Reverso ever made. The front features a perpetual calendar with instantaneous displays and a flying tourbillon. Flip it over to view the minute repeater, which features the brand’s “crystal gongs”, which are attached to the sapphire crystal for optimal sound. The cradle of the watch features – on both sides – “the most advanced lunar complication ever created”, including displays with information such as the relative distance of the moon from the earth as it travels in an elliptical path. All this, packed into a white gold case measuring a relatively compact 51mm by 31mm by 15mm.

09) MONTBLANC: 1858 Geosphere Limited Edition 1858 in bronze

In 2004, Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner became the first person to cross the Gobi Desert solo, trekking 2,000km for five weeks in wildly fluctuating temperatures. This exploit inspired the latest version of Montblanc’s signature timepiece, the 1858 Geosphere, which is distinguished by two rotating hemisphere globes. The hues of the Gobi desert are captured in a 42mm satin-finished bronze case with a bidirectional brown ceramic bezel, and a smoked brown and beige lacquered dial. The titanium caseback features a colourful laser engraving depicting the Flaming Cliffs, located in the Gobi. The colours are the result of laser-generated oxidation on titanium, and Montblanc is the first watch brand to use this technique on such a large surface.

10) PANERAI: Submersible eLab-ID in EcoTitanium

“We believe there is no Planet B”, proclaimed ever-quotable Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroue during Panerai’s Watches and Wonders presentation. Focusing on sustainability this year, the Italian-Swiss brand unveiled its 30-piece Submersible eLab-ID, a watch containing 98.6 per cent recycled material by weight – the highest in the industry. Aside from the less surprising use of recycled EcoTitanium for its 44mm case, sandwich dial and bridges, this self-winding watch also uses the following recycled materials: The fabric for its strap, the silicon for its escapement components, the white gold for its hands, its sapphire crystal and even its Superluminova lume.

11) PATEK PHILIPPE: Ref. 5236P-001 In-line Perpetual Calendar in platinum

Participating in Watches and Wonders for the first time, Patek Philippe certainly made its presence felt. On opening day, Patek Philippe was first out the gate with a media release confirming that this would be the last year of production for its wildly popular, sporty Ref. 5711/1A steel Nautilus. Getting fans into even more of a frenzy, the manufacture unveiled two new sunburst olive-green dial versions of the Nautilus, one framed with a diamond-set bezel.

On the last day of presentations, Patek Philippe then closed Watches and Wonders by announcing more notable new releases, including an updated, slightly larger version of its Calatrava model with guilloche hobnail bezel – and its technical blockbuster of the year, the Ref. 5236P-001 In-line Perpetual Calendar.

Three patent applications have been filed for the latest addition to Patek Philippe’s storied collection of perpetual calendars. Housed in a 41.3mm platinum case, the Ref. 5236P-001 features a new linear date display where day, date and month are indicated within an elongated aperture. Similar displays have been done by Patek Philippe before: Its museum includes a 46mm pocket watch from 1972 featuring a linear date display. But it was a challenge to execute something similar in a smaller wristwatch while ensuring optimal legibility.

The solution was to use four separate, coplanar rotating discs – one for the day, one for the month, and two for the date (one for the tens and one for the units). The new calibre 31-260 PS QL includes a double ball bearing system that keeps the four discs running smoothly and an anti-double-jump feature for the units disc to ensure that the date display remains stable even if the watch is jolted or when the date is being set.

12) PIAGET: Polo Skeleton in rose gold

Following the launch of its skeletonised Polo luxury sport watches in steel earlier this year, Piaget now presents four gold and diamond-set variants of this new model. Distinguished by a cushion-shaped crystal set within a round bezel, the Piaget Polo Skeleton features the elaborately openworked 1200S1 self-winding movement, which is rendered in a brilliant blue PVD in the rose gold version shown here, as well as a white gold version with a diamond-set bezel. Two other fully diamond-set variants feature bling even on the movement itself, uncommon even in the world of high-jewellery timepieces.

13) ROGER DUBUIS: Excalibur Glow Me Up in Eon Gold

Known for its imposing and architectural timepieces, Roger Dubuis has given the Excalibur Flying Tourbillon – one of its key models – a facelift. While it retains its 42mm case size, the manual-winding model has been updated with a more linear and sleeker structure. But this certainly does not mean that the brand is toning down its aesthetic in any way. One of its new highlights is the Glow Me Up, diamond-set version of the new Excalibur Flying Tourbillon, cased in Roger Dubuis’ non-tarnishing pink gold, Eon Gold. At night, the 60 diamonds are lit up by different-coloured Superluminova that has been placed in the grooves underneath them – a world first.

14) TAG HEUER: Aquaracer Professional 300 Calibre 5 Automatic in steel

A key pillar of the brand launched in 2004, the Aquaracer dive watch family has been revamped so that it is now more refined and a tad dressier while retaining its hardy tool-watch qualities, such as 300m water resistance. Among the changes are a new ceramic bezel insert, fluting on its 12-faceted bezel for better grip, a date magnifier that is now engraved into the underside of the sapphire glass, shorter lugs and a generally slimmed-down case, bezel and bracelet. Mostly made in steel with a couple of titanium variants, the new Aquaracer is powered by Tag Heuer’s self-winding Calibre 5 and comes in 43mm or 36mm sizes.

15) TUDOR: Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 in silver

In one of the most entertaining and energetic video presentations of the fair, Tudor revealed a different side to its typically down-to-earth, rugged dive watches with new Black Bay Fifty-Eight models in silver and gold. Measuring 39mm in diameter and powered by the calibre MT5400, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K is housed in a matte, satin-finished yellow gold – “Not some flashy, show-off gold!”, as the Tudor video narrator declared – while the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 case is made from a special sterling silver that the brand says will never tarnish. Cue energetic narrator: “Not in a million years.”

16) VACHERON CONSTANTIN: Historiques American 1921 in platinum

Another top contender for best video at Watches and Wonders, thanks to its use of whimsical vintage-inspired imagery, Vacheron Constantin marks a significant milestone this year. It is the 100th anniversary of its Historiques American 1921 off-centre drive watch. To celebrate this centenary, Vacheron Constantin has created three new versions of the timepiece: Two models in white gold (in 40mm and 36.5mm case sizes), and one in a 40mm platinum case, all powered by the manufacture manual-winding Calibre 4400 AS. Limited to 100 pieces, the platinum edition subtly but surely stands out with a monochromatic aesthetic courtesy of its case, sandblasted platinum dial and applied white gold hour markers.

17) ZENITH: Defy Extreme in titanium and rose gold

“Sharper lines, more pronounced edges, and angular and more assertive design,” summed up Zenith CEO Julien Tornare, as he introduced the Defy Extreme, the latest addition to Zenith’s forward-looking Defy collection. Even as many brands go smaller in terms of case sizing, the Defy Extreme has a new larger case of 45mm, which makes its debut in three variants – full microblasted titanium, titanium with a variety of finishes and microblasted titanium with rose gold. A 12-sided ring, placed beneath the bezel, emphasises the angularity of the new model. They are powered by the El Primero 9004 automatic movement that enables Zenith Defy chronographs to time events with 1/100 of a second precision.