If there’s one thing watch brands love above all else, it’s an anniversary. Celebrating important milestones for renowned products is a sure way of reconnecting the public with a manufacture’s storied past without taking too many commercial risks. In fact, watchmakers are so excited about 2017’s anniversaries that some got the ball rolling in Q4 of 2016, such as with Piaget’s 60th anniversary Altiplano collection. But you can bet that’s just the first of many commemorative pieces we’re going to see. While I’m sure we’ll see more obscure watches come out of the woodwork to celebrate birthdays over the coming weeks and months, here we have eight seriously important models hitting nice round numbers. These are the anniversaries you truly don’t want to forget.
100 Years â The Cartier Tank (1917)
Though Cartier is a company with a rich and fascinating history from which it can draw inspiration, its own focus in recent years has been on new product lines and complications. But I would be very surprised if Cartier didn’t make a point of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Tank in some way at SIHH in a few weeks â just as it did with the Santos back in 2004. The Tank, which was built in the midst of World War One and which is modeled after French military tanks built by Renault, is one of the true icons of 20th century design, not to mention its prominent place in watchmaking history.Â
85 Years â The Patek Philippe Calatrava (1932)
Despite its small size, the reference 96 is undoubtedly one of Patek’s greatest creations because it launched the Calatrava line way back in the early 1930s, setting the tone for the manufacture’s dress watches for decades (up until today, no less). From the 96 spawned more than a few remarkable Calatrava models, such as the always excellent ref. 570 and the still underrated ref. 2526. Will Patek Philippe revisit or reissue the original reference this year? Probably not. The demand for a small (like, sub-31mm small) flat bezel Calatrava with dauphine hands just isn’t there. Besides, the current Patek catalogue already contains a similar, but larger, watch in ref. 5196G. Maybe we’ll get a movement upgrade or some kind of anniversary Calatrava, but it could be literally almost anything.
65 Years â The Breitling Navitimer (1952)
Anniversary watches should (in an ideal world) be kept to historically important models, which is precisely what the Navitimer is to Breitling. Launched in 1952 and originally powered by the Venus 178 movement, the Navitimer was developed for, and with the help of, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA). The issue here is that Breitling already has an anniversary Navitimer AOPA with the association’s logo on the dial (just like the old days), but if the company wants to spin 2017 in a positive direction after a tough year (the company is reportedly for sale) the return of a historical icon would certainly always be an asset. It will be interesting to see if we get yet another AOPA Navitimer or something different entirely.
Oh and we should mention, in the interests of accuracy, that there is a pretty strong view nowadays in the collector community that Navitimers were actually first sold in 1954, although Breitling officially gives 1952 as the date.
60 Years â The Omega Speedmaster (1957)
Commemorative watches are Omega’s strong suit, so this year should be great one for the droves of Omega enthusiasts out there. The Speedmaster is one of the world’s most important watches and it was launched 60 years ago, so you know we can expect something big from Omega. The rub is that we’ve seen countless variations of the Speedmaster over the years already, including what could be considered the definitive anniversary model in the Speedmaster ’57Â â the watch has everything you could want from a faithful re-edition bar the original movement. As an aside, also turning 60 are the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster, the other two members of the Holy Trinity of Omega sports watches brought out in 1957. Like I said, it’s going to be a good year for Omega lovers.
50 Years â The Rolex Sea-Dweller (1967)
This is a big one. This year marks the 50th anniversary of a Rolex icon, and one whose value has skyrocketed in the auction room. At the same time, Rolex has previously shown it celebrates its own achievements when and how it wants to. This year’s Daytona is the one we expected in 2013, for that model’s 50th anniversary, when we instead gotÂ this platinum modelÂ with a chestnut brown Cerachrom bezel and an ice blue dial. If we get anything (and I wouldn’t get too excited about this one), it could very well be in that vein, a highly limited wristwatch in a noble material. Another reason to dial down expectations is the relatively young shelf life of the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller 4000, which was introduced in 2014. But as I said, this is a big one, so who knows?Â
45 Years â The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972)
Audemars Piguet shocked the industry 45 years ago when it introduced (with the help of Gerald Genta) the Royal Oak, a sports watch with strong personality, an integrated bracelet, and a very high price tag for a stainless steel watch at the time â 3,300 CHF. It eventually won over the public, became something of an icon, and spawned the Offshore (itself an anniversary watch to mark the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak). You could say 45 years is an odd milestone to celebrate, and it would be, save the fact we haven’t had a new time-only Royal Oak since 2012, the watch’s 40th anniversary, and I can’t imagine collectors turning down another.
35 Years â F.P. Journe’s Very First Watch (1982)
Ben recently gave you an in-depth look at the entire lineage of F.P. Journe tourbillon watches, which, incidentally, begins with Journe’s very first watch. Not a bad way to start off, right? While independent brands aren’t in the habit of recognizing their own (comparatively shorter) histories with commemorative pieces the same way the big players are, I expect we will hear a lot from Journe (and about Journe) throughout this anniversary year. We’ve already seen the amazing T30 and T10 watches, so anything new would likely be just as cool, if not cooler.
20 Years â The Patek Philippe Aquanaut (1997)
The most anticipated anniversary of 2016 was, without a doubt, the 40th anniversary of the Nautilus, Patek Philippe’s first sports watch. We expected to see new models at Baselworld, but Patek did perhaps the most Patek thing ever and showed up without a single new Nautilus at the fair. We did get a couple of new pieces at the end of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Patek treated its other sports watch, the Aquanaut, in much the same way. Twenty years after its arrival, during which the Nautilus has gained ground in the boardroom with precious metal and complicated versions, the Aquanaut has slowly been taking over the mantel as sportiest watch in Patek’s catalog.
Bonus: Urwerk Turning 20 In 2017
Besides F.P. Journe, another small independent maker who will, this time definitely celebrate 2017, is Urwerk. The little outfit is turning 20 this year, but celebrations are already under way on the company’s website, where it is currently teasing an interactive animation of its journey. And you can be sure there will be something special come SIHH.