2023 Bienne Watch of the Year: the 4 Finalists

Maybe it’s because I used to want to work in politics (before I got a taste of it), but I get really excited about this election. I love looking at the votes coming in, hour after hour, and predicting who will be the winner. I already know I’ll spend most of my weekend monitoring the results, as the vote goes live on Instagram for 24 hours, starting at 2 pm sharp Bienne time on Saturday.

Last year was very much the year of the Speedmaster. Among the 4 finalists, 3 of them were Speedies. Quite predictably, for its impact on and beyond the world of watches, the MoonSwatch won the first ever Bienne Watch of the Year award. This year, there are no Speedmasters among the finalists, but Omega still manages to have the strongest representation, with 2 out of the 4 watches. I actually think this may not play in their favor, splitting the votes among the fanbase, especially that the 2 watches are Seamasters from the 75th Anniversary “Summer Blue” collection. But while this award is still in its infancy, I’ve already been proven wrong many times.

Before we dive into the 4 finalists, let’s first do a brief recap of each of the groups from which they emerged. As a reminder, each watch was nominated by at least one of us on Instagram, and the groups were formed from a random draw. The order in which the watches are listed below corresponds to their ranking within their group from the Instagram votes. For an overview of the process and rules, you can read this post.

  • Group 1: Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer Summer Blue, Swatch x Blancpain Scuba Fifty Fathoms, Horage Lensman 1, Hamilton Expedition.
  • Group 2:  Christopher Ward C1 Moonphase, Rolex Daytona Le Mans 24, Norqain Independence Black Mother of Pearl & Black Diamond, Formex Reef Radiant Bronze for Collective Horology.
  • Group 3: Omega Seamaster 300 Summer Blue, Armin Strom One Week First Edition, Rolex 2023 Sky-Dweller, Peren Regia X.
  • Group 4: Rolex Yacht-Master RLX Titanium, Christopher Ward The Twelve, Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Dark Grey GMT, Horage Lensman 2.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer Summer Blue

This edition released for the 75th Anniversary of the Seamaster is different from the original 2020 worldtimer in a few ways. But let’s first talk about what makes the reference, in all its variants, so special. There’s the function, of course, a true worldtimer, where the inner chapter ring automatically progresses throughout the day, always giving you the right time for the 24 cities on the outer side of the dial. But there’s more: unlike most worldtimers out there, here you get 150 meters of water resistance, making it a much sportier and versatile proposition. My favorite feature, of course, as discussed with Raynald Aeschlimann himself last year, is the inclusion of Bienne, instead of Paris or Geneva, as the reference city for GMT +1 on the dial. The watch is powered by caliber 8938.

Now, let’s talk about what is different with the 75th Anniversary edition. The most noticeable aspect is the dial. I must say the “summer blue” particularly suits the laser-engraved dial, augmenting the sensation of observing the earth, and its oceans. It is also worth noting that, as we’ll see with the Seamaster 300 further below, the tone is adjusted depending on how deep the watch can go. The 300 meter models have a darker blue than this one, and the 6’000 meter-capable Ultra Deep is the darkest of them all. While the dial is the centerpiece, the changes made to the caseback are worth mentioning. Unlike the standard version with an exhibition caseback, this one is closed, bearing a lovely engraving of Poseidon being pulled by the brand’s signature seahorses. When it comes to toolwatches, no matter how good the movement inside, I personally much prefer not to see it, especially when the engraving makes it special.

The Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer retails for 9’600 CHF on bracelet and 9’400 CHF on a rubber strap.

Christopher Ward C1 Moonphase

First, you may wonder: is Christopher Ward really a Bienne brand? The short answer is: sufficiently so to be nominated here! While the HQ and design are in London, the watches are all Swiss Made and, specifically, made in Bienne. To find out more, you can read this interview on the brand’s website about the father and son who run the Christopher Ward Swiss HQ in Bienne.

Last year already, Ward took the industry by storm with its extremely impressive Bel Canto, making a high-end complication a lot more affordable, in a beautiful design. This year, the C1 Moonphase caught many people’s attention. Unlike most watches out there hosting the useless-but-delightful complication, the moonphase here is not tucked into a sub-dial. It is front and center—litterally so when the moon is full! And it is not small. The brand had already taken a step in that direction 3 years ago with the C1 Moonglow. Now, the moon is even larger, augmented by another 25%.

While the Moon is delightful, perhaps the star here, pun intended, is the lovely aventurine dial, representing the night sky. Another thing to call out is the great size of the case. At 40.5 mm, it makes the watch feel quite substantial, counter-balancing the more delicate vibes of the moon and sparkles. And yet, it’s still very contained, and elegant. A true unisex, versatile proposition. The watch is powered by caliber JJ04, a Sellita SW220 base significantly modified for the moonphase complication.

The Christopher Ward C1 Moonphase retails for 2’315 CHF on bracelet and 2’175 CHF on a leather strap.

Omega Seamaster 300 Summer Blue

For both your sake and mine, I won’t repeat what I already wrote about the 75th Anniversary Seamaster collection. The Summer Blue Seamaster 300 is a tribute to the very first iteration of the model launched in 1957, as part of the famous trilogy, alongside the Railmaster and the Speedmaster. Back then, a proper, no-frills, robust and highly reliable toolwatch for divers, way before desk-diving was invented.

Like its predecessors in the latest family of reeditions, the 75th Anniversary variant is powered by caliber 8912. But, just like on the worldtimer, it is not visible this time, hidden by Poseidon and his seahorses. I find this even more appropriate in this case (pun also intended), in true toolwatch, utilitarian spirit. As you will notice, the blue here is darker than on the Aqua Terra, signalling the watch’s ability to go twice as deep.

While, caseback aside, the changes here compared to the existing collection are only cosmetic, they give the watch a totally different feeling, departing from the highly neo-vintage aesthetics and its ever-controversial fauxtina. I actually have nothing against fauxtina, and would just refer to it as beige luminescence. But there’s no denying that the blue dial and white lumes give the 2023 Seamaster 300 an air of freshness that makes you want to go in for a splash, reminding you of what the watch was created for, 66 years ago.

The Omega Seamaster 300 Summer Blue retails for 7’000 CHF.

Rolex Yacht-Master RLX Titanium

Rolex was born in Bienne and has its largest production site here, where all the brand’s movements are made. The Yacht-Master RLX Titanium is very different than any other Rolex models, but its movement is not. Caliber 3235, introduced 8 years ago, powers many of the brand’s classics including the current Datejust, Sea-Dweller and other Yacht-Masters. In that sense, this nomination is arguably controversial. But rules are rules, and any watch made by Rolex, the number 1 employer in Bienne, is legitimately eligible for this race!

Last year, Rolex released the Deepsea Challenge. The watch, capable of going 11,000 meters (not feet!) under water, is a technical marvel but also a near-social impossibility, given its gigantic size. With a case 50 mm wide and 23 mm high, it can only reasonably be worn to hide another watch. We all knew though, when it came out, that this first contemporary release in titanium would lead the path to other, more wearable ones.

It’s quite interesting that while Titanium is the technical material for watch cases, Rolex chose for its second release the most casual of its water-oriented “professional” references. The Yacht-Master has often been considered a softer, blingy variant of the Submariner, with its lighter dials, precious materials and only 100 meter water resistance. Yet, in brushed grade 5 titanium, it takes on a whole new air, suddenly turning into a stealth, low-key and still very typical Rolex. The 42 mm case, large numerals on the bezel and broad indices on the dial may not be for everyone, but the model certainly has a lot to offer.

The Rolex Yacht-Master RLX Titanium retails for 13’400 CHF.

And now, onto the vote

The 4 finalists have been presented, hopefully with enough detail to give you the information you need but succinctly enough that you’re still reading. The winner will be revealed pretty much as soon as the vote has ended, on Sunday afternoon, Bienne time. Until then, as we say in French: que le meilleur gagne !

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[…] few hours after the vote opened at 2 pm Bienne time on Saturday, it became pretty clear that a duel emerged. The Christopher […]

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