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The Biggest Watch Moments of 2023

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Platinum 126506

Another year in the watch industry has come to a close and oh goodness it has been a turbulent one. From the highs of Rolex’s first ever open caseback – not to mention their first new collection in years – to the lows of Only Watch’s unaccounted-for millions, there’s a lot to reflect on in 2023. Here are ten of the biggest watch moments of 2023.

Blancpain’s Three Act Celebration

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 2 Tech Gombessa

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 2 Tech Gombessa

Anniversaries are such a common occurrence in the watch industry that you have to do something pretty exceptional for one to be called one of the biggest watch moments of the year. However, Blancpain have managed to do just that with their three-act celebration for the Fifty Fathom’s 70th Anniversary.

Act 1 came right at the start of the year with the launch of the aptly named Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 1. It’s a classy reinterpretation of the original Fifty Fathoms from 1953 with the characteristic unidirectional rotating bezel, and signature black and white colourway. A few months later Blancpain released the Act 2: the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3

If the Act 1 is an ode to the original Fifty Fathoms, the Tech Gombessa is a celebration of all the scientific research that Blancpain have helped to fund/collaborate on over the decades. As such, the watch is focused on being a practical, professional diving watch for marine research. Act 3 was launched in the autumn and is a tribute to Blancpain’s military heritage, it’s the MIL-SPEC Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Act 3.

The signature feature of this watch is the moisture indicator, a two-part disc at six o’clock that shows whether water is getting into your timepiece. It means that you can cut your losses and get out of the water before you run into trouble.

Fake Omega Sold for CHF 3 million (approx. £2,700,700)

Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow Ref. 2915-1 Phillips Auction Fake

One of the biggest watch moments of the year has to be the revelation that an Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 sold at auction in 2021 for CHF 3 million (approx. £2,700,700) was in fact a fake. The story broke over the summer as part of a plot more befitting of a Hollywood heist film rather than something that could actually happen in the real world. Omega have filed a criminal complaint over these events, so it’s important to specify that the following proceedings are alleged or speculative (the story was originally broken by Bloomberg and included statements from Omega).

Here are the facts: the fake watch was consigned to Phillips auction house under the guise of being an Omega Ref. 2915-1 from 1957. The watch was fabricated from multiple authentic Omega parts, which led to it being described as a Frankenstein watch. The watch was bought by the Omega Museum for CHF 3,115,500.

Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow Ref. 2915-1 Phillips Auction Fake

The Omega Museum paid CHF 3,115,500 for a 1957 Speedmaster that turned out to be a Frankenstein watch

At least one of the alleged fraudsters involved is said to have been a former employee of the Omega Museum – this much has been confirmed by Omega. To give the story its Ocean’s 11 style spin, what appears to have happened is that said employee used their access to the brand heritage department to source authentic watch parts to fabricate a realistic fake, put it up for auction and used their position at the museum to authenticate it and convince the museum to buy it for an extortionate amount of money. A truly exceptional crime.

Rolex Open Their Caseback for the First Time

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Platinum 126506

Open casebacks (aka exhibition casebacks) are a pretty common feature of luxury watchmaking these days. The use of transparent sapphire crystal instead of an opaque metal allows collectors to admire the intricate mechanisms and finishing of a watch’s movement. However, despite being the poster brand for the entire watch industry, Rolex have never produced an exhibition caseback, keeping their movements tightly secured behind Oystersteel, gold or platinum. That is, until 2023 when they released their first ever open casebacks.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona Platinum 126506

The two watches that received these much anticipated casebacks are the Rolex Daytona Ref. 126506 in platinum and the Rolex Perpetual 1908 – a watch that almost deserves its own position in this article for being the first new Rolex collection in years and a replacement to the now discontinued Cellini. Looking through the sapphire shows that the movements are laced with Rolex’s own spin on Côtes de Genève and a cut-out rotor.

They’re gorgeous, in a clean, precise way. Of course, 2023 has been an exciting year for Rolex for more reasons than just their watch launches, but we’ll get to what that means in just a moment.

Rolex Buys Bucherer

Rolex Bucherer

Late in the summer, Rolex announced their intention to buy the iconic watch retailer Bucherer. The news came after Jörg Bucherer declared that he would be selling his company as he has no descendants to pass the company on to. Rolex already have close ties to the retailer and so are in a natural position to acquire the brand. Pending competition approval, Bucherer will become part of the Rolex group, operating as an independent entity under its existing management.

What this means for the watch retail landscape in the long term is unclear at the moment. However, initial fears among interested parties upon hearing the announcement included the idea that Rolex watches might be withdrawn from other retailers due to a potential exclusivity deal with Bucherer.

This idea has been completely debunked but at the time it led to a 200 point drop in less than 24-hours in the Watches of Switzerland group on the London Stock Exchange. Following the drop, Watches of Switzerland reaffirmed their own connections to Rolex by expanding their use of the Rolex Pre-Owned authentication programme to their boutiques in the UK. Showing that the watch with the crown has no intentions to leave other retailers behind.

Omega Seamaster at Every Level

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 'Blue Summer' 75th Anniversary

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra ‘Blue Summer’ 75th Anniversary Collection

One of the biggest watch moments of the year as a watch journalist came when Omega decided to release eight watches on the same day. Although I may have misinterpreted “biggest” as “busiest”. Jokes aside, the Omega Seamaster 75th Anniversary collection is pretty spectacular, consisting of a special edition in each of the Seamaster’s core ranges from the 150m water resistant Aqua Terra to the 6,000m Planet Ocean Ultra Deep.

It’s this that led the collection’s tagline to be Precision at Every Level. The eight watches in the collection include the Aqua Terra 38mm, Aqua Terra 41mm, Aqua Terra GMT Worldtimer, Seamaster 300, Diver 300m, Planet Ocean 600, Ploprof, and Planet Ocean Ultra Deep. It really is a comprehensive look at the Seamaster range, all sharing a blue colouration known as Summer Blue.

Omega Seamaster Ultra Deep 6000m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 75th Anniversary Summer Blue

Omega Seamaster Ultra Deep 6000m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 75th Anniversary

The highlight has to be the Ultra Deep due to the detail and intricacy of its dial. It depicts an accurate map of the ocean floor around the Mariana trench with a cheeky hidden Easter egg. When the watch is held in low light conditions for the lume to shine it reveals the inscription Omega Was Here.

Only Watch… Didn’t Happen

Only Watch 2021

If you’re a regular reader here at Oracle Time then you’ve probably caught our coverage of the 2023 Only Watch Auction throughout the year, hyping up the impending charity auction. Except that… well… Only Watch 2023 never happened. A few weeks before the much anticipated event was due to take place in November, rumours began to circulate online that the auction was perhaps not as charitable as it claimed to be.

H Moser and Cie x MBandF Streamliner Pandamonium Only Watch 2023

H. Moser & Cie x MB&F Streamliner Pandamonium for Only Watch 2023

At the time Only Watch addressed the rumours by releasing some financial information that mollified some quarters, until further digging into the numbers revealed that maybe there were indeed some issues. The final hammer blow came when Audemars Piguet withdrew their watch, sparking widespread concern about the integrity of the auction. Shortly after this, Only Watch themselves declared that the 10th edition of the auction was to be postponed until 2024 while a large scale restructuring of the organisation took place.

In essence, no one anticipated the huge success of Only Watch at its inception and the management hadn’t scaled in proportion to the event. While it’s one of the sourest notes from the year, hopefully it will provide an opportunity for growth and the Only Watch auction will return in 2024 even stronger. It would be such a shame to lose one of the most inventive and creative events in the watch industry calendar.

EveryWatch… Did Happen

Fears Brunswick Ice

Fears Brunswick Ice for EveryWatch

However, one thing that the collapse of Only Watch did highlight was the immense success of the EveryWatch auction. A UK-based charity auction inspired by the concept of Only Watch that saw British and French watchmakers come together to create unique pieces to raise money for Maggie’s Centres.

The event was organised by the Scottish Watches Podcast in August, with the watches passing under the hammer for a total of more than £55,000. Highlights include the Fears Brunswick Ice reaching a stellar £14,000 and the Studio Underd0g 1/1 Blueberry Chronograph achieving an astonishing £16,000.

Studio Underd0g Blueberry Chronograph EveryWatch

Studio Underd0g Blueberry Chronograph for EveryWatch

Considering that the standard model the Blueberry is based on has a retail price of just £500, that’s an awe inspiring amount of money and a 3100% increase in value. Seeing the UK come together in support of charitable projects and inclusivity is heartwarming in the extreme. Definitely a highlight from the year and here’s hoping that after the success of the first edition, Scottish Watches are inspired to keep the event running for years to come.

Celebrities Invest in the Watch Industry

Chrono24 Cristiano Ronaldo Shareholder

This year has seen a number of high profile acting and sport stars invest in the watch industry, bringing watches to the attention of the wider world. We’re all familiar with the concept of a brand ambassador who is contractually obliged to support a brand, it’s another thing entirely when a famous face becomes an investor and throws the full support of their wallet and image behind a brand.

The first of these big celebrity investments came in the summer when Cristiano Ronaldo became an investor in Chrono 24. As one of the largest and most popular online watch retail platforms, Chrono 24 has seen incredible growth since 2021. In fact, they recently passed $1 Billion in value, earning them Unicorn status, a term used to describe a start-up business now worth over a billion dollars. Another notable investment comes from Leonardo DiCaprio, who is now a proud investor in ID Genève.

Leonardo DiCaprio ID Geneve Circular S

Leonardo DiCaprio pictured wearing ID Geneve’s Circular S Sun watch has invested CHF 2 million to the sustainable watch company.

Frankly, it’s a pretty unexpected investment considering that ID Genève are a pretty niche brand without a huge following. However, their goals of developing sustainable watchmaking align with DiCaprio’s own environmental advocacy. One thing’s for certain, the involvement of Leo will draw huge amounts of attention to this brand that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. A very happy partnership on all sides.

Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice for Swatch

Swatch X Blancpain Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms

This time last year, a lot us in the watch world, both journalists and collectors, were still all aboard the Swatch x Omega MoonSwatch hype train. However, over the first half of the year Swatch slowly started to bleed that hype dry with endless monthly re-issues featuring fairly unimaginative alterations to the seconds hand.

Unfortunately, what that meant is that when they came to launch the Swatch x Blancpain Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms, a lot of the excitement was gone. In short, they weren’t able to repeat the success of the initial MoonSwatch release. In the interest of keeping a balanced review, I don’t think there’s a problem with the Scuba Fifty Fathoms itself. Ultimately, it’s a plastic replica of an iconic watch for £340, a fun, colourful collection that lets people who can’t afford the £10k plus real deal get in on the action.

Swatch X Blancpain Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms Indian Ocean SO35I100

It does what it’s supposed to do. I wonder if Swatch had released the original MoonSwatch and then left it well alone until the Scuba Fifty Fathoms, the excitement might still have been there? As opposed to the world we live in where we’ve been overexposed to Swatch’s many collaborations.

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About the author

Michael Sonsino

As Digital Editor for Oracle Time, Michael needs an eye for detail, which makes it a good thing that his twin joys in life are miniatures and watches. He's a lifelong fan of fine timepieces, especially those of a more historic nature - if it has a twist of Art Deco, all the better. Recent purchase: Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation. Grail watch: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921.