12/30/2020
 6 minutes

The Watch Industry in 2020 and What We Expect for 2021

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
The Watch Industry in 2020 and What We Expect for 2021

As 2020 nears its end, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that it was probably the most eventful and unexpected year of our generation. It saw the watch world face plenty of challenges and take them as an opportunity to reinvent itself and get even better.

The watch world underwent many changes in 2020. Manufacturers were basically forced to rethink what they do and how. So, how did everything turn out? What pathways will we see the watch world taking in the coming months? And most importantly: What will all this mean for watch lovers like us?

Today, I don’t just want to look back on 2020 with all its big events, changes, and releases. I also want to offer a brief glimpse into the months and year ahead. What might 2021 have in store for us? How are manufacturers going to present their new timepieces in the future? What will be different than before? What watches can we look forward to in 2021? Join me as we wage a glance into the future.

The Biggest Changes in 2020

Back in the spring, Baselworld fell victim to the universal cancellation of all events with a large number of attendees. It’s truly a huge event on the watch calendar – if not the international industry event – and has been for decades. Important manufacturers and industry heavyweights including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, and Chopard have stated that they will no longer participate in Baselworld and will instead join together with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie for the Watches and Wonders event in Geneva in April 2021.

With industry shows no longer possible, watchmakers ramped up their internet presence and social media channels to stoke the hype surrounding their new releases. Everything was now entirely online, with watch enthusiasts getting a glimpse of what to expect via short teasers and trailers.

Something very noticeable here was that not all manufacturers unveiled their new releases in one fell swoop like they usually would have. Watchmakers like Omega, Tudor, and TAG Heuer presented a number of watches over the course of 2020, often as individual releases, as recently seen with Omega’s new Speedmaster Snoopy Award and Tudor’s presentation of the Black Bay 58 Blue in the summer. I, for one, was thrilled to see this change because it basically guarantees that each model will get the time in the spotlight it deserves. The problem with rolling out a bunch of models all at once is that some will garner all kinds of attention while others get overlooked and forgotten.

Another change I really liked and found very surprising was the way Rolex and Tudor handled their 2020 new releases. The very first day it came out, the Black Bay 58 Blue was on display at my favorite jeweler’s. It (unfortunately) wasn’t for sale, but it was great that I had the chance to check it out and admire it in person. This was the same with the new Rolex models that were shipped on day one of their release (or shortly thereafter) for lovers of the brand to see with their own eyes and try on.

Of course, in 2020, you couldn’t simply stroll into your favorite dealer’s shop and walk out with a Rolex on your wrist. The watches I’m talking about here are display-only models. But it’s still something special to have the chance to see these new releases up close and personal as soon as they come out (or sometime soon thereafter) instead of waiting months for them. I’d love to see this change become permanent, and I think it will be the case for 2021.

2020’s Biggest Releases

Watch manufacturers were still able to present their new watches to us despite the obstacles and challenges they had to overcome in the process. These three releases are probably the most memorable ones from 2020:

Tudor Black Bay 58 Blue

Let’s start with the Black Bay 58 in blue. It’s safe to say it felt like everyone and their brother was waiting for this watch because the buzz it generated upon its release in July was enormous. Did this maybe have something to do with the drought of new watches in the months prior? Or could it be that blue is an extremely popular color among watch lovers? Whatever the reason for the giant hype (that, by the way, has yet to cease), with this release, Tudor once again showed how in tune they are with watch fans. The famous, beautifully proportioned Black Bay 58 that created a stir in 2018 and its retro looks need no introduction. With the blue model, Tudor has won the hearts of fans, as it clearly took inspiration from the vintage Snowflake Submariner.

Rolex New Releases

September 2020 saw Rolex present its new releases, most notably the new Submariner as in both Date and classic No Date variations. Not too much has changed with these new models. The case diameter is 41 mm, it’s got narrower lugs and a 21 mm lug width, and its new caliber boasts an impressive 72-hour power reserve. And let’s be honest: Who really wants an entirely new Submariner that’s been redesigned from scratch? If, however, you do want a Rolex that packs a surprise or two, be sure to check out the new Oyster Perpetual available in a 36 or 41-mm case and seven different dial colors. These are a throwback to the rare, very sought-after 1960s Stella dials. With its release of the new Oyster Perpetual, Rolex makes clear that it’s definitely capable of being a bit bolder from time to time.

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award

With the Silver Snoopy award celebrating its 50th anniversary, the release of the new Speedmaster “Silver Snoopy Award” in October 2020 was no surprise. Omega pulled out all the stops, presenting us with one of its most spectacular watches in recent memory, a timepiece that truly is one of a kind.

This watch has a wonderfully playful feel to it and commemorates the Silver Snoopy award’s history. This award is reserved for those who contribute to getting pilots and astronauts back to Earth unscathed. The watch’s silver dial (which actually has a more white appearance) beautifully complements the blue elements on its bezel, subdials, and nylon fabric strap. However, the true highlight is found on the back of the watch, where you’ll see the dark side of the Moon and a rotating Earth. Activate the chronograph of the co-axial hand-wound caliber inside the Speedmaster Snoopy, and you’ll see the famous beagle flying across the Moon’s horizon in a Command and Service Module (CSM). It’s a breathtaking feature and a fitting tip of the hat to the award’s 50-year history. You see it everywhere on this watch: Omega truly poured its heart and soul into this timepiece.

What’s Coming Our Way in 2021?

With all kinds of change, new experiences, exciting releases, obstacles, and challenges, 2020 was a big year for the watch industry and watch lovers. So, what’s in store for 2021?

The changes we experienced in 2020 will most likely continue into 2021. Will there be in-person watch events like Watches and Wonders scheduled to showcase Rolex, Tudor, Chopard, and Patek Philippe? As of this writing, the April 2021 Geneva event is scheduled as an all-digital edition. This makes me think that we’ll see manufacturers continue to solidify and expand their online and social media presence regardless of whether we’ll be seeing each other in the flesh at events in 2021.

I also imagine we’ll see more teasers, more trailers, and more of this general promotional direction. Manufacturers will probably feature in-depth online presentations of their new releases instead of (as they’ve often done in the past) just uploading the latest models onto their websites without any further ado.

This is a fantastic opportunity for watch manufacturers to creatively present their releases with the right amount of flash and get ahead of the pack. Brief trailers and teasers are a great way to create buzz among watch fans. A quick Instagram post can set off an avalanche of discussion in the comments section about what specific watch the brand just flashed in front of the fans’ eyes.

And even if we do actually see watchmakers in person at trade shows, I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to see them do smaller, individualized releases of their new watches on a more intimate level. This draws attention to specific models, letting manufacturers shine the spotlight on their watches in the exact manner they want.

As for what watches can we look forward to in 2021? One of the most widespread rumors of 2020 was the release of a new Omega Speedmaster Professional. This did not turn out to be true, which is why I’m pretty sure we’ll see a new Speedy featuring an updated caliber, improved technology, and new strap in 2021. And the Rolex Explorer II is turning 50 in 2021. What could be a better way to celebrate this milestone than a new release of this classic?

In a nutshell: The year 2020 has given us a taste of a new era in the watch industry and has shown us how we’ll most likely be experiencing watches in 2021.

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About the Author

Donato Emilio Andrioli

With the purchase of my Tudor Black Bay 41, I discovered a passion for mechanical watches. I am particularly drawn to iconic watches with long and exciting histories.

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