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20th Anniversary
20 Years of Watchmaking - Some things remain the same: Part 1

20 Years of Watchmaking Some things remain the same: Part 1

The two decades also saw the advent of Gen Z, the first iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, satnavs, and the first picture of something invisible – a black hole. It was a score of years characterised by an acceleration in technological breakthroughs, and in their impact. These changes extended to the world of watchmaking, but the latter nevertheless retained a number of its icons and institutions*

Patek Philippe and Rolex: the perennial winning duo

While the two brands are different, they also have much in common. Both are independent; both are Swiss. Both have kept many of the same models down through the years. For both firms, annual demand often outstrips supply. They are the two most searched-for brands on the internet – and in both cases, purchasing one of their timepieces is usually an investment that’s set to increase in value with the passing years.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

Cosmograph Daytona © Rolex

Patek Philippe and Rolex are textbook cases, albeit each in their own way – and on rather different scales. Patek Philippe makes around 60,000 watches a year; Rolex produces almost a million. Their iconic pieces have names like Nautilus and Cosmograph Daytona. They defy time: the appeal of these timepieces, whether new or pre-owned, continues unabated.

AHCI: the independents’ parade ground

Founded in 1985, the Watchmaking Academy of Independent Creators (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants) has stood the test of time, too. Founded by Vincent Calabrese, it demonstrated remarkable vitality between 2000 and 2020, with Calabrese still at the helm. Together with his committee, this energetic visionary has helped many independents to get their foot on the ladder. Ludovic Ballouard, Konstantin Chaykin, Beat Haldimann, David Candaux, Vianney Halter, and Kari Voutilainen are now its most widely-recognised Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, and the next generation is coming along well, too: Cyril Brivet-Naudot, John-Mikael Flaux, and Stefan Kudoke are just some of those set to secure the AHCI’s future in 2020 and beyond.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

Vincent Calabrese co-founder © AHCI

Reverso: a bright young thing of 80

In 2011, a small, sporty, rectangular watch turned 80: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso. This noteworthy anniversary was celebrated in Paris, reminding us all that a watch doesn’t have to be round, with a movement shaped to match, have two faces, and be made of steel to have a long-term impact – more atypical ones can too. The exquisitely-proportioned, well-balanced Reverso, equipped with one of the last remaining rectangular calibers in watchmaking, is quietly making its way towards its centenary – and looking as youthful as ever.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

Reverso © Jaeger-LeCoultre

Royal Oak: immutable

“A work’s true value can only be appraised over the long term, by its ability to withstand the test of time.” So said Jasmine Audemars in 2012, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak. This icon of fine watchmaking has never once strayed from its roots. With the same design, the same materials, and the merest of stylistic adjustments, the Royal Oak is still bang on target. The current models jostle for a place in the top five must-have watches, while prices for the brand’s period watches have gone through the roof, especially so since the death in 2011 of their brilliant designer, Gérald Genta, at the age of 80.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin © Audemars Piguet

Breguet Classique: living up to its name

With its guilloché dial, hollow-tip hands, fluted case, individual numbering, and elegance down through the ages, the Breguet Classique’s quintessential style was established in 1775 – and is still resplendent today. The two-handed watch, for which a whole range of complications is constantly being offered, is indeed still a classic.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

Classique 5157 BB/11/9V6 © Breguet

Richard Mille: genius Baby Boomer

The brand came into existence in 2001. Twenty years later, nothing’s needed changing. Richard Mille broke the mould once and for all in terms of technology, styling, and even pricing. The first advertising campaigns displayed the RM 001 – and just underneath it, the price, quite the opposite of what was typically done in top luxury. Nothing was hidden, not even the movements (usually skeletonised), even less so Mille’s personal friendships. Rafael Nadal, Jean Todt, Alain Prost, and Michelle Yeoh were his friends well before they became his ambassadors. Nadal helped take the tourbillon to the level of the virtually unbreakable all-terrain complication. In 2020, Richard Mille turned 69, and is starting to enjoy a well-earned retirement – whilst still keeping a watchful eye on everything that comes out of his Les Breuleux Manufacture.

Twenty years on, some things remain the same

RM 001 © Richard Mille

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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