Our Favorites From The Only Watch 2021 Collection

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Only Watch returns to Monaco this November 6th in continuation of the biennial event that brings unique, one-off creations from dozens of brands to auction for the benefit of Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. It’s a great cause that has led to the creation of some seriously incredible timepieces, from this F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue to this uber Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime

The 2021 Only Watch collection features, for the first time, a watch from Baltic (which we covered here) signaling a new level of recognition for small independents operating in the sub $1,000 price range. About time, if you ask us. A further look will reveal watches from Tudor, Zenith, TAG Heuer, and even Bell & Ross, making this year potentially one of the most diverse ever. 

While we await the auction itself, here are a few selections that caught our eye right off the bat. Keep in mind that some watches have yet to be fully revealed, such as this interesting looking Czapek to what will undoubtedly be a showstopper in the De Bethune and Voutilainen collaboration. As of now, this is what we’re feeling.

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Zach Kazan – F.P. Journe X Francis Ford Coppola

Let me start by saying that I don’t know if I actually like the F.P. Journe X Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue, I just think it’s completely insane, and I’m fascinated by it in the same way I am that the guy who directed Apocalypse Now could also make Jack. Both the watch itself and the story behind it are somewhat hysterical, and the press release reads almost like something out of the Onion

It all started, apparently, at a 2012 dinner hosted by the famed filmmaker and attended by F.P. Journe. At some point, Coppola asked Journe about the possibility of creating a watch where time is told through the use of a hand. No, not a hand in the watchmaker’s sense. What you’d throw a baseball with. What you slip a glove over. What I’m typing this article with right now. 

This set Journe to work, and a mere nine years later we have this watch, a one-off being auctioned for an eminently great cause. But it makes you wonder: will F.P. Journe just make any strange watch you ask him to? Do you have to be the director of three of the greatest movies of all time (plus Jack) to have this kind of pull? What’s Journe’s favorite Coppola movie? Some questions, I think, are not meant to be answered. 

The watch is strange, yes, but being an F.P. Journe, it’s also a genuine mechanical marvel. The hand at the center of the dial is essentially an integrated automaton, with fingers that instantaneously retract and extend on the hour in a specific sequence. It’ll never flip you the bird, and the finger positions aren’t always intuitive as a means to quickly read the actual time, but it works, and there’s no doubting the ingenuity and creativity at play here. What’s even more impressive from a watchmaking perspective is that the automaton is powered solely by the mainspring in the Octa Caliber 1300, the twenty year old Journe movement powering the watch, and the one at the heart of so many of his creations over the last two decades. 

As a movie buff, this one has a strange appeal to me for the Coppola connection, which was unexpected to say the least. Hopefully the eventual owner of this watch (it won’t be me, as it’s estimate is currently in the CHF 400,000 range) imagines the unusual conversation that night over dinner between Coppola and Journe whenever they look at their wrist, and wonder what time it is when the thumb and pinky finger are extended.

Mark McArthur Christie – Breguet XX

At Bonhams iIn January this year, a 72 year old bottle of Glen Grant single malt sold for $54,000.  The buyer will, in all probability, never taste a drop of it. The highest bidder of this Breguet XX (with an estimated upper guide bid of the same price), on the other hand, will be able to enjoy their watch every day.  They’ll be able to smile quietly with satisfaction at the way the column wheel flyback chronograph starts, stops and snaps back into place.  They’ll get a kick out of putting it to their ear to listen to the 3Hz beat of the 17 jewel movement.  They’ll be able to sit and wind it every other morning (it has a 45 hour power reserve), knowing it’s unique. And, perhaps best of all, they’ll have a watch that can trace its lineage back to the man who invented pretty much every significant development in watches since 1775.

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Caleb Anderson – MB&F

I suppose we can’t all take the Baltic, right? Well, that’s okay, I guess there’s others.

I think if you’re going to have a piece unique for a charity auction, it makes sense to design a watch that actually looks unique. Nothing against my friends at Hermès, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, and so many others, but many of their contributions look less like individualized unique watches, and more like marginally alternative colorways of their regular offerings. Other brands seem to be using the auction to hint at what’s to come. Tudor notably did this in 2019, introducing its first ceramic Black Bay at the time to follow-up this year with the first serially-produced edition. This year, Tudor is introducing a Master Chronometer rated Black Bay GMT (albeit with a unique aged-looking steel case), which seems, rather similarly, a hint at what the brand has in store within the next couple years.

Enter MB&F, and furthermore the still not-yet-manufactured HM10 Panda Bear. Yes, the watch is based on the 2020-introduced HM10 Bulldog, but hear me out— it looks like a panda, and there won’t be another one. It’s playful, it’s particular, it’s a panda.

Zach Weiss – Atelier de Chronometrie AdC21

Sometimes when I’m bored or just need an horological pick-me-up, I go to Instagram, hit the search, and begin typing in Atelier de Chronometrie. There I find an oasis of sector dials with perfect proportions, sensual typography, and epically finished movements by the small and incredibly talented Spanish firm. Makers of bespoke watches, each hand-crafted in the ways of olde, their watches are the definition of understated elegance. And by bespoke, I truly mean it – they even hand make their own bracelets.

For Only Watch 2021 the brand created the AdC21 (21 because they’ve only made 21 watches), a 37mm rose gold marvel. Designed to ooze warmth as a metallic homage to the charitable efforts of the auction, the non-numerical dial is so perfectly balanced, it seems like they discovered some sort of sacred geometry. Lines and rings weave about pink metal, guiding the eye in loops. Polished gold leaf hands that appear like liquid frozen in motion point to the hour and minutes while an abruptly harsh heat-blued trapezoid ticks the seconds away, perhaps as a reminder to not stare for too long at the dial.

Flipping the watch over reveals a treasure that solely the lucky owner of this watch can enjoy. A recrafted vintage Omega cal. 283 pocket watch movements continues the gold theme, featuring incredible finishing that airs on the tasteful rather than flashy. All together, the AdC21 is a truly enviable watch that will sit on the wrist of someone out there, garnering little to no attention, save by watch enthusiasts. And while someday, I’d love to obtain such a watch for myself, in the meantime I’ll just head back to their IG feed for a salve of great design and exceptional craftsmanship.

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Brad Homes – Ludovic Ballouard Half Time “Vinyl 33 Tours”

Ballouard’s Half Time is an incredible watch in its standard form, but the thematic elements included for this Only Watch edition take that to another level. The main dial, which includes two discs that jump in opposite directions each hour, is finished with concentric grooves and a gloss PVD coating to resemble a 12 inch vinyl record. The retrograde minute hand shown in the lower half of the dial takes the form of a stylus.

The reverse of the “Vinyl 22 Tours” is impressively finished, with the in-house B02 caliber also largely coated in black with flashes of silver and orange, much like the dial. Housed in a 41mm platinum case, this unique piece from Ludovic Ballouard  is a watch that may be easy to overlook at first, but which become more entrancing the more you reflect on it.

Blake Buettner – Urwerk UR-102 “Gaïa”

I’ve long been fond of Urwerk’s creation, as regular podcasts listeners will undoubtedly be aware. Their over-the-top references, like the 210, 105 and EMC, are like comic book heroes (indeed, Robert Downey Jr. wore one as Tony Stark). However, their early work offered a sublime simplicity that left a bit more to the imagination. Watches like the 103, and the original 101 and 102 were a masterclass in subtlety with a hint of the exotic. 

I was shocked (in the best way) to see them return to the 102 for this year’s Only Watch. In the past, Urwerk has gone the collaborative route on these watches with the likes of Laurrent Ferrier and DeBethune to pretty amazing effect. The 102 returns to the brand’s roots in the late ‘90s, with a simple, round case and dial that is nearly entirely a single piece of anodized aluminum. An arched aperture at the top features a wandering hours that tracks against a minute display. 

The caseback is made of platinum and gets the Gaïa symbol filled in with a glittering blue lacquer to signify the brand’s ceaseless “resolve to reach for the stars.” The watch measures just 38mm in diameter and 12mm in thickness; there’s really no frills here to speak of. Just pure, distilled, throwback Urwerk. Estimates start at CHF35,000 making it perhaps one of the more reasonable offerings this time around, but I’m guessing it’ll fetch a fair bit north of that mark.

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Thomas Calara – Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar Tantalum 

Recently, I attended an in-person watch meet up (remember those?) in the greater San Diego area, and was lucky enough to handle some pieces I don’t come across often, but no other watch caught my eye faster than the Bulgari Octo Finissimo. The silhouette and design of that watch is just unmistakable. Now take the Octo Finissimo, add a perpetual calendar, encase it in Tantalum, one of the rarest and most durable metals in the world, and you get Bulgari’s addition to this year’s ‘Only Watch’ collection. 

Bulgari is no stranger to innovation, so wrapping the world’s thinnest perpetual calendar movement (2.75 mm) in a space age metal, is somewhat surprising, yet expected from the Italian watch brand that’s always searching for ways to challenge modern watchmaking and design. I’m a monochrome dial kind of guy, but the blue-lacquered dial on the Octo Finissimo ‘Only Watch’ edition is something I can get behind, especially since it pairs perfectly with the natural blue-gray tones from the Tantalum case. 

And for someone like me, who rarely ever has the correct date on display, the capability of a perpetual calendar keeping track of the exact date after each month, even in a leap year, makes the Octo Finissimo ‘Only Watch’ edition, a super rad watch and my pick out of the bunch.

Christoph McNeil – Girard-Perregaux Casquette Only Watch

The Only Watch collection each year offers some incredible and unique pieces, and this year is no different. There was one however, that really stood out to me, and that is the Girard Perregaux Casquette. “Wow”, that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me…eloquent right? Anyone that has read my articles or seen my IG feed knows that I’m a sucker for vintage and vintage-inspired (re: Heritage editions). The original Casquette debuted in 1976, and was futuristic at the time. It featured a rectangular case with a side-facing LED readout for time, a true “driver’s watch” style like the Bulova Computron.

For Only Watch this year, Girard Perregaux teamed up with Bamford Watch Department to make a Casquette with unique (duh!) features, starting with the forged carbon case with titanium back and pushers. The forged carbon has the wood-grain look of Damascus steel, which is pretty damn cool. The watch has a new Quartz movement with a tubular LED display. The functions include the normal hours, minutes, seconds, and date that were on the original model. For this Only Watch version, they’ve added a second time zone, a chronograph and a ‘secret date’. This lets the owner program a significant date that will display on a daily basis at whatever time they choose. While this is cool, I’m not sure how functional it is other than to display your wedding anniversary so you don’t forget…haha!

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