Cover Photo: Courtesy of Breitling

Some of the hottest, most collectible new watches launching in 2021 are in steel. This everyday material can sometimes represent a better investment than precious metals

Gold and platinum might be far more expensive, but some of the costliest watches ever sold have been cased in standard stainless steel.

Steel watches from Patek Philippe set the pace. A one-off steel-cased Grandmaster Chime became the most expensive timepiece ever auctioned when it fetched US$31 million in 2019. A 1950s stainless steel Patek Perpetual Calendar chronograph reaped US$11 million in 2016, and a steel 1949 Perpetual Calendar went under the hammer for a few dollars shy of US$4 million in 2008.

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This year, Patek announced that it would no longer produce the endlessly popular Nautilus ref 5711 in steel. This watch, with a waiting list of more than eight years, retails for about US$30,000 but is often bought for twice that sum or more on the secondary market by impatient collectors. As a parting gesture, the company unveiled a steel Nautilus with an olive green dial, which instantly became rabidly in-demand and, for those who view watches from a pecuniary perspective, a surefire investment winner.

Rolex is, of course, another house whose steel watches are objects of intense desire among collectors. The brand introduced new iterations of the Explorer I and II this year. The new Explorer I in steel, once again downsized to the traditional case diameter of 36mm, is a beauty. But the steely news that got many aficionados most excited was the return of the option for a sporty three-link oyster bracelet on the steel GMT-Master II—an aesthetic choice that, for the past few years, has only been available to purchasers of the much costlier gold versions.

The more accessible sibling brand to Rolex, Tudor has premiered a new edition of the Black Bay Chronograph. Slimmer than its husky ancestors, which were launched in 2017, its retro-styled dial is offered in a choice of black on white (“panda”) or white on black (“reverse panda”, which sounds like an exotic bedroom move but is in fact a watch nerd term, and thus anything but erotic). Clearly inspired by vintage Rolex Daytona chronographs, the Black Bay Chrono is a great deal more affordable, retailing at about HK$41,000 on a steel bracelet, and far more practical day to day, boasting 200m water resistance.

With an even more throwback look, inspired by the company’s aviators’ watches of the Second World War period, Breitling’s steel-cased Premier Heritage B09 Chronograph catches the eye with a unique pistachio-green dial. Green dials are a popular trend in 2021, seen from brands including Patek Philippe, Piaget, Tag Heuer, Rolex and Panerai. However, Breitling’s choice of an almost pastel tone really sets this piece apart from the myriad emerald, forest and olive greens.

See also: Watches & Wonders 2021: Is Green The Most Underrated Colour in Watches?

The new Cartier Tank Must is another colourful character. The brand launched an array of variations on this updated disco-era icon this year, inspired by the line that has been credited with saving Cartier’s watch business during the Quartz Crisis that threatened Swiss horology with extinction in the 1970s and Eighties. It’s the most minimalist models that have received the lion’s share of critical acclaim: a trio of simple, rectangular steel-cased, two-hand, monochrome watches in green, blue and burgundy that do nothing but tell the time—and look incredibly cool.

If you’re looking for something equally angular and classically chic, but substantially more horologically sophisticated than the quartz-powered Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre has unveiled the latest in its Reverso Tribute franchise. With both dial and strap in an appealing deep green, this new iteration of JLC’s seminal reversible-case sports watch—which was developed in the 1930s for polo players—is pure art deco elegance. Its case might be steel, but without question, the Reverso’s style is sterling.

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