Watches and Wonders 2021: Make it colourful and personal

There was an abundance of hopeful, cheerful colours among the high-end timepieces launched at Watches and Wonders Geneva this year. The world’s most prestigious watch fair was held virtually for the second year as a consequence of restrictions imposed by the pandemic. By Debbie Hathway

The palm motif on the Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 by Rolex is a firm favourite this year.
TREND = GREEN: The palm motif on the Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 by Rolex is a firm favourite this year.

The organisers recorded close to 110,000 unique users on watchesandwonders.com and over 12,000 visitors at the West Bund Art Centre in Shanghai, where a smaller physical event followed the online reveals of the new pieces. The fair is estimated to have reached about 500 million people, with close to 360,000 social media posts featuring the hashtag #watchesandwonders2021. That’s on the back of 38 brands organising more than 1,000 presentations and meetings in over 20 languages during the 10-day event.

The Swiss watchmakers who showcased their latest designs went bold and bright, offering a kaleidoscope of dial colours and decorations with straps to match. This formed a theme for one of the Watches and Wonders Morning Show sessions presented by Sky News anchor Belle Donati on what makes a trend. Different brands launching the same colour at the same time doesn’t necessarily establish a trend, although consumers may see it that way. And then there’s the mystery of how this happens at all. Neither design- ers nor manufacturers share details about their creations during the lengthy production cycles before they are revealed.


Colour is a great way to refresh a product. Blue is always popular and a go-to shade for tool and dress watches that pops up regularly. But bronze cases and green dials have been bubbling up for some time and are now being seen across brands. Gianfranco Ritschel, watchmaking expert and master trainer at the Fondation Haute Horlogerie Academy, says some watchmakers were incorporating green in the 1960s. “When it makes a comeback, is it because a big brand takes this colour or an icon takes this colour? It’s very personal,” he says.

Taupe is a less obvious option, but gorgeous on the TUDOR Black Bay Fifty-Eight, one of the pieces that also highlighted a swing back to a smarter look with precious-metal case options in 18ct gold and silver. Similarly, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer was singled out for its glitzier feel and sharper detail. The use of gemstones, especially sapphires, on jewellery timepieces contributed to the colourful display, with several manufacturers going for rainbow decorations.

TAG Heuer’s go-anywhere Aquaracer Professional 300 timepieces
are bright and bold but they are also about elegance, refinement
and high performance.

The personalisation of watches is another key trend. Options have moved beyond the traditional engraving of a name or message on the case back and some manufacturers are offering a configurator programme that enables buyers to select their own material, dial and strap. Some customers may go for something as simple as orange en- amel on Roman numeral hour markers; others may select a bronze watch that will develop a unique patina over time. Then there are those who will fall for a watch with a hard stone dial that features one-of-a-kind patterns or markings. Today, an increasing number of mainstream manufacturers are offering interchangeability of straps so clients may customise their watch to suit both mood and occasion. “Brands offer different types of bracelets, which you can change yourself to really adapt the watch to the purpose. Today it’s a huge trend – nearly a must,” says Gianfranco. “I’m old-fashioned. I wear a diving watch on holiday and I love an ultrathin watch with a suit. To- day, people want a watch that does both.”


A watch is an expression of identity and style. Customers are looking to iconic pieces, often from heritage lines, that pack a big punch. Women in particular want something they can wear for any occasion. They also want the option to wear an oversized watch and shop where they like. Online retail opportunities mean goodbye to the automatic guide to the ladies’ section of a physical store. By contrast, some men prefer smaller models. And in response, some manufacturers have chosen to produce gender-neutral watches. Independent watch brands such as Purnell differentiate themselves as designers of unisex watches singled out for their tourbillon movements. “The genderless element is very much within day-wear watches. The high- jewellery offering will always be there and is just as valid for its beautiful artist- ry and craftsmanship that have to be preserved and continued,” says Charlie Boyd, fine jewellery and watch editor at Net-A-Porter.

Chopard’s sporty yet elegant Happy Ocean is water-resistant to 300m.
Bulgari’s Allegra pink gold cocktail watch has brilliant coloured gems orbiting a mother-of-pearl dial.

Looking ahead, sustainability in watchmaking is being seen as more than a trend. Indeed, it is what watchmaking should be about for the foreseeable future and several brands have shown a willingness to engage by looking at supply chains and the sustainable sourcing of raw materials, gold and gemstones, among others. For example, Ulysse Nardin’s sustainability progress is partly underlined by the criteria specified in the Kering Standards for Raw Materials and Manufacturing Processes. Developments in blockchain technology are transforming what the brand can offer in terms of warranty. Blockchain allows them to keep track of the authenticity of a watch and ultimately pass that warranty on to the next owner. The technology is tamper-proof and provides the customer with secure verification of authenticity, a maintenance record and validity of ownership.

What can be more sustainable than buying a top-quality watch designed to last forever and be passed down through generations? Nowadays, watch fans are not just looking at category when they buy. They want to engage with brands that are authentic, that manage sourcing and production with the planet in mind and that create memorable stories alongside unforgettable experiences. These, after all, will stand the test of time.