In our second segment of a three-part report on Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022, we shine the spotlight on updates of iconic models.
These include a historical timepiece reissue and rare artistic handcrafts.
The Swiss manufacture surprised many with three of its five new releases at the fair. These included an update of one of Rolex’s most underrated models, the Air King; a left-handed GMT-Master II; and three iterations of the Datejust 31 adorned with charming floral dials. We take a closer look at the novelties here.
Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31
With enduring aesthetics that make it so distinctive, the Datejust is the archetype of a classic timepiece that transcends time. Introduced in 1945, it was the first self-winding waterproof chronometer wristwatch to display the date in a window at 3 o’clock, while encompassing all the major innovations that Rolex had contributed to the modern wristwatch until then.
Following last year’s launch of the Datejust 36 with an unexpected green palm-motif dial, this new trio of Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31 models feature a striking floral motif that springs to life with a splash of colour and shimmer. Reminiscent of wild summer meadows, the feminine design of 24 blooms exudes a burst with energy and a sense of renewal. Every flower stands out distinctly, courtesy of their individual finishes in sunray, matte or grained. The delightful blooms also appear to be lit from within, as each one boasts a dazzling diamond at its heart.
The eye-catching dials are offered in three colour options. The first showcases the floral-motif dial in azzurro blue on white Rolesor, which combines Oystersteel and white gold, and is fitted with a fluted bezel and Oyster bracelet. Crafted in yellow gold, the second model boasts an olive-green dial, while the third reference is adorned with a silver dial on Everose Rolesor that is a combination of Oystersteel and Everose gold.
The bezels on the latter two variants are set with 46 brilliant-cut diamonds each and are equipped with a President bracelet and a Jubilee bracelet respectively. A concealed attachment system on all three watches ensures seamless visual continuity between the bracelet and case.
The latest Datejust 31 references are equipped with the calibre 2236. Fitted with the patented Syloxi hairspring produced by Rolex, the self-winding movement with Superlative Chronometer certification offers a power reserve of 55 hours.
Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II
First launched in 1955, the GMT-Master has been part of some of aeronautical history’s greatest moments – from the first intercontinental flights to world speed records and Concorde testing. The “tool watch” evolved continually to offer increasing technical performance. Then, in 1982, Rolex presented the GMT-Master II with a movement that allowed the hour hand to be set independently of the other hands.
With traditional hour, minute and seconds hands, as well as a triangle-tipped 24-hour hand, the watch displays the time in two time zones simultaneously, with the date synchronised alongside the local time. Much to the delight of collectors, its unique and distinctive bidirectional rotatable bezel with a 24-hour graduated Cerachrom insert has been made available in various dual-colour combinations – the lower half representing daytime and the upper, night-time – and in single-colour versions as well.
This year, the traveller’s watch of choice takes on an unexpected guise with a new version made to be worn on the right wrist. The winding crown and crown guard have been moved to the left side of its 40mm case, while the dateaperture and Cyclops lens are now positioned at 9 o’clock. In addition to modifying the date disc, the new adjustments required changes to be made to the precision testing process for some of the final controls carried out for the Superlative Chronometer certification.
The GMT-Master II, with its timeless contemporary and versatile appeal, is always up to date in terms of looks. Fitted with an Oyster bracelet, the 2022 version in Oystersteel features a dual-colour monobloc Cerachrom bezel insert in an all-new colour combination exclusive to the model – green and black.
The moulded, recessed graduations and numerals of the bezel insert are coated with platinum via PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition). A knurled edge offers excellent grip, allowing the wearer to turn the bezel with ease. The new GMT-Master II is powered by the calibre 3285, a self-winding movement with a 70-hour power reserve.
Oyster Perpetual Air-King
The Air-King celebrates the pilots of the 1930s and the watch’s role in their epic story. It was an exciting period when great progress in aircraft performance expanded humanity’s capacity to conquer the skies, which ultimately led to the introduction of long-distance flights.
Several pilots set records while wearing an Oyster. Others used a Rolex watch as an on-board chronometer – such as Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller, who, in 1934, co-piloted a return flight from London to Melbourne in record time in a twin-engine De Havilland Comet.
The name “Air-King” has been featured on the dial in the instantly recognisable font since the watch launched in 1958. Since 2016, the timepiece has sported a resolutely professional appearance with its distinctive black dial. Inspired by aircraft instruments, it features large 3, 6 and 9 numerals marking the hours and a prominent minutes scale for optimal navigational time readings. A green seconds hand echoes the Rolex’s trademark colour.
The new-generation Oyster Perpetual Air-King flaunts a completely redesigned 40mm case with a crown guard and straight sides like most of the models in Rolex’s Professional category. The proportions of its Oyster bracelet have also been updated, in which the centre link has been broadened. The model is now equipped with an Oysterlock safety clasp – a first for the Air-King.
Its display has also been refreshed with an easier-to-read dial that is more harmoniously balanced, thanks to the addition of a “0” before the “5” on the minutes scale. In addition, the 2022 model benefits from an optimised Chromalight display that guarantees maximum legibility in dark conditions. The hands and triangular hour marker at 12 o’clock are filled or coated with a new Rolex-exclusive luminescent material, which provides a longer-lasting intense glow. Previously cast in full white gold, the signature 3, 6 and 9 numerals are now also visible in the dark as well, thanks to the innovative material.
The timepiece is equipped with a movement entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex that was released in 2020 – the self-winding calibre 3230 with a power reserve of 70 hours. Like all Rolex watches, the Oyster Perpetual Air-King carries the Superlative Chronometer certification, which ensures excellent performance on the wrist.
The maison demonstrates its expertise in celestial complications by reinterpreting its Grande Complication Calibre 945 in two magnificent 45mm interpretations: the Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Galaxia in pink gold and Master Hybris Artistica Calibre 945 Atomium in white gold. Each offered in a limited edition of five pieces, the creations showcase La Grande Maison’s artistic creativity, mastery of the decorative crafts and its prowess in technical ingenuity.
Originally created in 2010, Calibre 945 unites a sky chart with a celestial vault, zodiacal calendar and minute repeater. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Cosmotourbillon, a celestial flying tourbillon, further enhances each timepiece. Highlighting the astronomical aspect of time measurement, the maison’s watchmakers developed a mechanism that displays the passing of sidereal time based on the stars. Set in the dial’s centre, the celestial vault maps the Northern Hemisphere night sky as seen from the 46th parallel – the latitude of the manufacture’s home in the Vallée de Joux, tracking the position of the constellations in real time.
The Cosmotourbillon is elevated beyond its technical function as a regulating mechanism, measuring the passing of time as it makes a complete, anti-clockwise circuit of the dial in one sidereal day. With a duration of precisely 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds, a sidereal day is defined by Earth’s rotation that is measured in relation to more distant fixed stars, while the 24-hour solar day (or civil time) is measured by Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
Hand-decorated by the artisans in the maison’s Métiers Rares atelier, the Master Hybris Artistica Galaxia and Master Hybris Artistica Atomium bring fresh artistic expression to this marriage of complications. Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced grisaille enamel to its repertoire for the first time to realise the star map. The 16th-century French painterly technique is unique in creating a chiaroscuro effect, with an illusion of three-dimensionality created by half-tones and shading.
The dials are constructed on multiple levels with a domed structure that also wraps around the Cosmotourbillon. Visible around this dome’s edge and beneath the tourbillon, the deepest level of the dial is a midnight blue or black disc (for the white and pink gold cases respectively), decorated with translucent lacquer over opaline with transferred white inscriptions for the names of the months and the tourbillon seconds.
The dome comprises two sections. On the Galaxia’s black dial, both the dome’s outer section and the inner celestial disc are made of gold, with grisaille enamel depicting the planets, star map and names of the constellations over the enamel. The Atomium gets its name from the delicate filigree of silvered metal that forms the outer section of the dome, its shape mirroring the lines that link the stars to form constellations.
Three concentric rings with solar time indices encircle the dials of the Galaxia and Atomium. The inner ring, for 24 hours, and outer ring, displaying minutes, are finished in opaline, while the hour ring in between is decorated with enamel over a hand-guilloche base with applied indexes.
The Master Grande Tradition case is a perfect complement to the artistic dials and mechanical sophistication of these timepieces. Comprising over 80 parts, its convex bezel is accentuated by broad bevels on the lugs, while hollowed-out lug sides add dynamic tension.
The exceptional timepieces take Jaeger-LeCoultre’s expertise in chiming watches to new heights by uniting the astronomical complications with a minute repeater, bringing a certain magic that adds to the romance of celestial timekeeping.
The manufacture’s contemporary re-edition of the legendary 222 from 1977, nicknamed Jumbo, was one of the hottest launches of the exhibition. Enriching the Historiques collection, the 222’s reissue also commemorates the maison’s 222nd anniversary. Designed by renowned watch designer Jorg Hysek, the original model is significant in Vacheron Constantin’s history as it marked the manufacture’s first foray into the new arena of sports watches.
While luxury watches occupied the “dressy” timepiece segment in the decades before the 1970s, sports timepieces at the time were specifically designed for active people, notably with professional models for use by pilots or divers. It was only in the ’70s – a period marked by increasing competition from quartz watches – that timepieces melding the worlds of sport and luxury were created.
The 222 was the result of Vacheron Constantin combining this new approach with the mechanical watch, marking a break in the maison’s stylistic evolution. With its monobloc flat-based tonneau-shaped case topped by a fluted bezel, the timepiece with an integrated bracelet displayed a robust, functional and sporty spirit combined with the elegance of its pure lines and the finesse of its curves. Among the existing 222 references, the model chosen to mark the return of the legend was the reference 44018 in yellow gold. The re-edition is faithful to the original model, albeit with a few adjustments for improved comfort and enhanced reliability.
Adorned with a Maltese cross emblem at 5 o’clock, the case also boasts a transparent back, which reveals the new-generation in-house Calibre 2455/2 with an oscillating weight redesigned for the updated model. Compared to its predecessor, the date window has also been significantly off set from the outer rim of the dial to enhance legibility, thanks to the slightly smaller diameter of the calibre.
Other aesthetic codes of the initial 222 model have been respected, including a gold-toned dial with straight hour-markers and baton-type hands, whose luminescence takes on a lime green hue at night. This is in reference to the green glow of the tritium used on the original 222.
And while the original design of distinctive, hexagonal links on the bracelet remains, its articulation has been redesigned to hide the visible pins and ensure a more comfortable fit on the wrist. Lastly, here’s an interesting nugget for the avid collector: The dial features the vintage font of the “Automatic” inscription at 6 o’clock.
(Main and featured image: Rolex)
This story first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore.