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Generally speaking, most watch consumers tend to prefer watch designs that are — for lack of a better term — approachable, the kind of style that can be worn every day without drawing an undue amount of attention. Class is often associated with being understated, after all. For most enthusiasts, design, craftsmanship, mechanical complexity, and value for dollar are all subjectively weighed in an effort to determine the most appropriate timepiece decision. Naturally, the result is that the watch industry focuses a great deal of its effort on practical designs intended to please a large percentage of the population in an ultimate effort to sell. Outliers and more novel designs are considered risky and are often left behind in the race for mass-market appeal.
But what if, some independent watchmakers ask, you’ve simply had enough of brands cutting-and-pasting each other’s designs? We’ve all noted, “That’s more or less a Rolex Submariner,” one too many times when seeing the latest "new" piece. Let's say that sometimes you may want something different and maybe even a little bit crazy. And for the sake of argument and for a more comprehensive list, let's also say you have a nice chunk of money to spend.
Sure, you could take your cash and make an informed, reasonable decision to keep on fitting in with all the other watch nerds on your Instagram feed, but this list is for enthusiasts interested in the road less traveled, searching for different, interesting, or just plain off-the-wall watch designs that are destined to stand out on your wrist and from the crowd. With all of that said, here are 25 watches that should be on your radar, if you’re looking to cast off the chains of watch convention and make a bolder statement.
Of course, not everyone wants something wild on their wrist or has this kind of money to spend, so be sure to check out some of our previous posts: The 40 Best Automatic Watches Under $500, The 25 Best Dress Watches, and 20 Best Titanium Watches for a lot more reasonable watch options that are beautiful and interesting, but not quite so far "out there."
Price: Upon Request, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 11mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual Caliber B01, Crystal: Sapphire
Similar to the "Crazy Hours" concept by Franck Muller (covered a bit further down the list), the Upside-Down by watchmaking maestro Ludovic Ballouard re-conceptualizes the way the dial displays time - winning the 2010 GPHP Special Jury Award for its technical and playful presentation. In this format, each hour marker is on an independent disc which has a normal orientation that's upside down and when the time is within a particular hour, the corresponding disc makes an instantaneous 180 degree turn rightside up. Only one hand - the minute hand - is featured on the dial, making the Upside-Down a unique and distinguished jump-hour of sorts. Unlike the aforementioned Muller though, this piece is produced in extremely limited numbers, making it one of the more desirable independently made timepieces in 2022.
Price: ~$200,000, Case Size: 46mm x 48mm, Thickness: 20mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual Caliber VH13, Crystal: Domed Sapphire
A truly "out of this world" timepiece, the Vianney Halter Deep Space Tourbillon features a highly complex and intricate triple-axis tourbillon, housed in a case that resembles an extraterrestrial craft. Shallow hooded lugs and a large domed sapphire crystal similar to that on the MB&F x Moser Endeavor Cylindrical Tourbillon (as you'll find below) make it mighty thick with an unmistakable wrist presence. Like the Upside Down, this piece is extremely limited and executed at the hands of one of the most inspiring independent watchmakers of the 21st century.
Price: $49,000, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 12mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Manual Caliber ARF16, Crystal: Sapphire
One of the most interesting modern technical pursuits over the past twenty-odd-years has been of the mechanical concept of "resonance" in a wristwatch. The mathematical and physics concept goes back centuries: it was none other than Abraham-Louis Breguet who first explored the phenomenon in pendulum clocks and later with large pocket watches that used two movements which synchronized and regulated each other. It's a much more complex process than we are going to dive into in this article, but certainly worth exploring if you're curious. Fast forward to the late 20th century and Mr. F.P. Journe introduced to the world his take on the Resonance, an iconic masterpiece that helped define his legacy. Recently, another living master watchmaker, Claude Greisler of Armin Strom, has explored this phenomenon as well, producing the Pure Resonance. It features several impressive inventions — most notably a patented clutch spring that synchronizes the independent movements for chronometric harmony.
Price: $19,500/$24,500, Case Size: 41.5mm, Thickness: 12.1mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Auto GoS03 (Schwartz-Etienne), Crystal: Sapphire
Capturing the essence of the Northern Lights in either blue or green colorways, the Norrsken by GoS is a unique combination of Damascus steel construction and high-level watchmaking that embodies Scandinavian traditions. While time telling duties are handled in a very traditional three-handed manner, powered by a customized Schwartz Etienne automatic movement, it's the presentation that's different from any other brand in existence. This model offers the option of a hand-forged Damascus dial by Johan Gustafsson, the talented bladesmith and brand co-founder, or an intricate guilloché dial (as pictured) by legendary dial maker Jochen Benzinger.
Price: $17,500, Case Size: 35mm, Thickness: 15mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Auto FM 2001, Crystal: Sapphire
Franck Muller is a brand associated with high watchmaking and interesting complications. In fact, its namesake founder is often called “the Master of Complications,” a title which must impress people at parties. At first glance a simple, classical-looking, tonneau-shaped watch, the Franck Muller Crazy Hours takes the cake for weirdness with a novel and difficult-to-pull-off complication in which the hour markers are jumbled and the hour hand jumps around the dial every sixty minutes to meet the correct albeit misplaced hour index. Mechanically, the in-house FM 2001 beating away inside the Crazy Hours is impressive, and the overall look and execution is truly something special. A unique watch that’s less extreme from a distance, thanks to a more traditional case shape, the Franck Muller Crazy Hours, available in several sizes and colors, is a solid choice.
Price: $5,200, Case Size: 48mm, Thickness: 18.5mm, Water Resistance: 500m, Movement: Auto Oris Cal. 774 (Sellita SW 500 Base), Crystal: Sapphire
Oris is an independent watch brand with a long history of producing excellent diving watches, from the Aquis series to the vintage-inspired Divers 65. While the majority of actual divers have long forgone the diver’s watch as a tool in favor of the now-ubiquitous diving computer, some might find the analog depth gauge in the Oris Aquis Depth Gauge Chronograph to be useful indeed. At 48mm, the 500- meter-rated dive watch features not only the aforementioned depth measurement but also a chronograph function for dive timing, theoretically allowing for dive-computer-free diving. With a true mechanical depth gauge activated by water pressure as well as an automatic chronograph legibly combined in the attractive, familiar Oris Aquis layout, the Aquis Depth Gauge is a very cool choice for the diver who wants to wear something a little bit different.
Price: $12,000, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 7.7mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Quartz FPJ 1210, Crystal: Sapphire
F.P. Journe has developed an impressive reputation for its feats at the highest levels of watchmaking since its relatively recent foundation in 1999. In contrast to many other high watchmaking brands, which work almost exclusively with mechanical movements, F.P. Journe also produces a unique quartz watch in the Elegante, a titanium-cased dress watch designed to save battery power by entering an idle mode after 35 minutes of inactivity. When the watch again senses motion by way of a mechanical motion detector, the hands snap to the correct time, allowing for an extended battery life (8-10 years in use and 18 years in standby mode) and more efficient movement overall. While expensive for a quartz-powered watch, the movement is still beautifully decorated, and the Elegante is like nothing else out there.
Price: $96,700, Case Size: 44.2mm, Thickness: 12.3mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual ALS L043.8, Crystal: Sapphire
A. Lange and Söhne is a German watchmaker renowned for its immaculate level of finishing and incredible savoir faire in high complications. Perhaps its most unique-looking model is the Zeitwerk Date, a manually wound watch that features a large digital display for the hour and minutes at 9 and 3 o’clock, respectively, and a small subdial at 6 o’clock for the seconds. A power-reserve indicator at 12 o'clock and a unique date wheel at the dial’s outer periphery cap off the Zeitwerk Date’s highly legible, beautifully executed dial. A watch like the Zeitwerk is just as compelling when viewed from the back, thanks to the finely finished and decorated L043.8 caliber beating under a sapphire exhibition caseback. While the Zeitwerk date is expensive by any measure, the level of execution and artistry stands out as something individual and truly special.
Price: $167,000, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 17.15mm, Water Resistance: 80m, Movement: Manual MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar, Crystal: Sapphire
When you’ve become bored with your G-Shock and have between $150-200 grand to spend, it's worth taking a look at MB&F, a brand that has unique designs at the very core of their entire concept. MB&F doesn’t even call what it makes watches, instead referring to its pieces as “horological machines.” The Legacy Machine Perpetual Evo is, in contrast to some of MB&F’s pieces, at least shaped like a watch, with a 44mm zirconium case in a relatively familiar shape. However, equipped with a skeletonized movement designed especially for this piece, perpetual calendar complication, shock absorption system, and 80 meters of water resistance thanks to a screw down crown, the MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual Evo is confidently like nothing else on the market.
Price: $216,000, Case Size: 45mm, Thickness: 12.4mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual Cartier Caliber 9465 MC, Crystal: Sapphire
As a watch that almost guarantees a double take for anyone who glances in its direction, the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon is equipped with the manufacture Caliber 9454 that enables the watch’s big move: At six o’clock, a tourbillon is seemingly suspended in mid air, floating between the sapphire dial and caseback, making a round trip every five minutes and of course also rotating about its own axis. Housed in a 45mm platinum case with a bejeweled crown and complete with a highly-finished, skeletonized dial with distorted exploding roman numerals, the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Double Tourbillon is one of the most unique offerings, and a definite statement piece from an industry icon in Cartier.
Price: $9,050, Case Size: 39.6mm, Thickness: 11.7mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Auto Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 770, Crystal: Sapphire
As a charming, pioneering watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Geophysic True Second is a gem that unfortunately did not make the cut for inclusion in JLC’s current portfolio, perhaps as a consequence of its unique and confusing complication. Viewed from a high level, the Geophysic True Second is a classically-styled stainless steel dress watch with a restrained dial and hand design and a modest case size. However, this watch is anything but ordinary, with a seconds hand on a fully mechanical automatic watch that jumps in one second increments in a manner not unlike a quartz watch. This “dead-beat” seconds complication is difficult to pull off as it requires a great deal of energy from the automatic movement, meaning JLC had to engineer every aspect of the 770 caliber for maximum efficiency in addition to building the jumping seconds complication. For the ultimate sleeper unique watch with some interesting watchmaking going on, the JLC Geophysic True Second is one to check out.
Price: $78,500, Case Size: 28.15mm, Thickness: 9.2mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual Cartier 9618 MC, Crystal: Sapphire
As a mainstay on any list of unique watches, the Cartier Crash Skeleton is one of the most striking designs in modern watchmaking, and traces its roots back to 1967 when a car-crash-damaged watch made its way back to Cartier and inspired this distorted case design. The modern Crash Skeleton is the modern high watchmaking answer to the original 1967 design. Rather than just downsizing a movement to fit in the center of this squished case shape, Cartier developed and produced a caliber to fit the unique shape, the 9618 MC, which is beautifully finished and highly skeletonized. As one of the most notable unique designs, and a highly impressive feat of watchmaking, the Cartier Crash Skeleton is exactly the kind of watch that has garnered the brand the respect in design and high watchmaking it enjoys today and has become one of the most desirable collectible Cartier references.
Price: $245,000, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 13mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Auto Stern Manufacture with Christiaan Van der Klaauw module, Crystal: Sapphire
At times, watches get so far into their unique design concept they all but cease to have any utility, or at least any practical utility. Van Cleef & Arpels, a French brand most often associated with jewelry, also produces an intriguing line of watches featuring some impressive complications, such as the Midnight Planetarium featured here. With an entire solar system beautifully executed in precious materials on its starry, aventurine dial surface, the caliber powering the Midnight Planetarium consists of 396 components and accurately displays the relative position of the planets as they are in real life, an incredible feat of watchmaking. As you’d imagine from VCA, the materials used here are exotic and precious but, refreshingly, the overall design is restrained and elegant, making this a stunning option for a unique watch as long as legibility of the actual time of day isn’t terribly high on your list of priorities.
Price: $980,000, Case Size: 44.5mm, Thickness: 16.1mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Manual Richard Mille Calibre RM50-03, Crystal: Sapphire
Richard Mille is a brand commonly associated with advanced material technology and, of course, the signature tonneau case shape, and is often seen on the wrists of famous athletes like Rafael Nadal and members of the financial elite. Dubbed the lightest split-seconds chronograph tourbillon on the market, Richard Mille’s RM 50-03, designed in collaboration with the McLaren F1 Team, weighs in at a mere 38 grams including the strap, thanks to the use of titanium, carbon, and a new material Richard Mille calls Graph TPT. With a heaping helping of motorsport-inspired design language, as well as some of the most impressive watchmaking in existence today, the RM 50-03 is a watch to wear as well as a technical achievement to celebrate, though it does cost right around one million dollars, which just might be prohibitive for some.
Price: $48,800, Case Size: 45mm, Thickness: 12mm, Water Resistance: 10m, Movement: Auto ETA 2892 Base w/ ROCS 2 Module, Crystal: Sapphire
Now and then, a watch comes along that challenges the very concept of how wristwatches should or can work at a base level. Ressence’s Type 2 e-Crown is such a piece, with a unique electro-mechanical, solar-powered mechanism that automatically adjusts the time through an app based on a reference time set mechanically with a lever on the caseback. In order to compel the watch to readjust the time when it has entered a standby mode after 12 hours of inactivity, you simply tap on the crystal, an impressive feat and a totally new way of interacting with a mechanical watch. In addition, the Type 2 e-Crown features a second time zone to make this one of the more practical and easier-to-use unique watches on this list and on the market.
Price: $21,000, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 13.5mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Auto Ulysse Nardin UN-230, Crystal: Sapphire
As one of the more approachable (relatively speaking, of course) watches on this list at a mere $21k, the Freak X is probably Ulysse Nardin’s craziest looking watch, with a visible tourbillon formed from an escapement and balance wheel, and a design concept that uses the actual movement components to show the time. With a movement bridge to track the minutes and a wheel for the hours, the Freak X takes some getting used to in terms of time telling, but is an impressive feat of avant-garde watchmaking from an established brand in Ulysse Nardin. Like other watches from the brand, the sophisticated movement and unique time presentation are housed in a sporty titanium case with 50 actual meters of water resistance, 72 hours of power reserve, a traditional crown, and an overall effect guaranteed to make a statement.
Price: $455,000, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 2mm, Water Resistance: 20m, Movement: Manual Piaget 900P-UC, Crystal: Sapphire
You know that frustrating moment when you can’t get the cuff of your shirt over your watch? Piaget has at once solved this challenging issue, and also again demonstrated its mechanical prowess in ultra-thin watches with the new Altiplano Ultimate Concept. At $455,000, or $227,500 per millimeter, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is a mechanical watch that is a staggering 2mm thick. Further, this isn’t a one-off produced for a photo shoot or media hype but rather an actual production watch (though likely highly limited) from Piaget. In a 2mm package, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is also finely finished and beautifully executed, making it a more than solid choice in the unique thin watch space.
Price: $19,500, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 10.75mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Auto Zenith Elite 670 SK, Crystal: Sapphire
Zenith’s Defy series is the brand’s more contemporary sport watch collection and the Defy Carbon is no exception, with a very modern full carbon fiber case and integrated carbon bracelet, as well as a striking skeletonized dial and movement design. This Zenith Defy Classic Carbon is notable in that it features one of the first full carbon bracelets ever produced, built from individually molded and milled carbon fiber links which create a near weightless wearing experience and unique look. In addition to the aesthetics, the manufacture Elite 670 SK movement beating within is also impressive, with 50 hours of reserve as well as the inclusion of a silicon escape wheel and lever. At $19,500, this is an expensive piece, but also a strikingly unique design from a storied Swiss house, and quite a bit less expensive compared to some other options on this list.
Price: $79,000, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 19.5mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Auto H. Moser & Cie HMC 810, Crystal: Sapphire
A winner of the GPHG prize for Audacity, a collaboration between H.Moser & Cie and MB&F gave birth to a highly technical Endeavor Cylindrical Tourbillon that not only oozes elegance but also mechanical prowess. The approach of the Endeavor Cylindrical Tourbillon was taken not only from a top down view of a watch, which is how most of us read the time, but from multiple viewing angles. Featuring a 3D standing transparent dial with hour and minute hands sitting upright against a gorgeous fume dial, the Endeavor Cylindrical Tourbillon is completed by a cylindrical tourbillon at the twelve o’clock position. Of course, given the three-dimensional design, this watch features a highly domed sapphire crystal, resulting in a rather thick watch at 19.5mm, but also one of the most unique designs on the market.
Price: $4,400, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 6.9mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Manual-wound ETA based MING 7001, Crystal: Sapphire
A successor of the well-regarded 17.01, award-winning Malaysian brand Ming has put extensive thought into the design of the 27.01. Designed from the ground up with 3D CAD, one of founder Ming Thein’s signatures, and with a design concept simply called, “design language 2”, the 27.01 is the thinnest of the watches Ming has produced. A highlight of the 27.01 is an attractive caseback, utilized so that the heavily modified ETA 7001, manufactured by Schwarz Etienne, is on full display. Paired with a leather strap from Jean Rousseau Paris, the Ming 27.01 watch showcases the beauty of the intersection between Malaysian design and Swiss watchmaking. In addition to being a unique design with a particularly interesting heritage, the 27.01 is somewhat affordable, given the high level of watchmaking and design on display.
Price: $160,000, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 6.85mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Manual Bvlgari BVL 362, Crystal: Sapphire
As another of the thinnest mechanical watches in the world, along with the aforementioned 2mm thick Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is still pretty svelte at 6.85mm of overall thickness, and also astonishingly equipped with the world’s thinnest manufacture minute repeater complication. Built in a modestly sized 40mm carbon case, the dial of this piece is actually pretty low key, especially with the black on black color scheme. But, when you flip the watch over, you are treated to the incredibly thin and impressively finished BVL 362 caliber. For a high-tech watch with one of the more charming complications you can buy, this Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is an excellent option for anyone with an extra $160,000 in their pocket.
Price: $12,100, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 14.5mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Auto El Primero 9004, Crystal: Sapphire
Like the Defy Classic Carbon also mentioned on this list, the Defy El Primero 21 utilizes a skeletonized design, but this time in a titanium case which houses an even more impressive caliber in the El Primero 9004, which is built with two separate escapements, one for timekeeping purposes, running at 36,000vph or 5 Hz, and the other for the chronograph, running at an astounding 360,000vph or 50 Hz. In action, the chronograph central seconds hand rotates fully once per second, allowing for 1/100th of a second measurement while the chronograph’s separate escapement vibrates menacingly at a blistering 50 Hz. The Defy El Primero 21 manages to be a unique and visually interesting watch, while still looking sporty and having 100 meters of water resistance.
Price: $7690, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 14mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Automatic ML225 (Sellita SW200 Base), Crystal: Sapphire
This watch from Maurice Lacroix has a complication you have never seen before unless you’re familiar with this model. Essentially, the hands on the Aikon Automatic Mercury freely spin around the dial unless the watch is held upright. When the watch is placed upright (like when you check the time), the hands snap back into place thanks to a complication which uses gravity. In person, it’s a very cool effect and something you’ll do over and over while wearing this watch. Using a Sellita SW200 as a base movement, ML then adds their in-house developed and patented time-memory module to allow for the special characteristics of the Mercury’s function.
Price: $17,600, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 15.63mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Auto JLC 956AA, Crystal: Sapphire
One of the most unique sets of skills in any tool watch on the market is presented by the JLC Polaris Mariner Memovox, a 300-meter, ISO-certified diver’s watch featuring a mechanical alarm function designed for use while diving. The original Polaris Memovox debuted back in 1968, and the modern version maintains some of the original DNA while upgrading the watch significantly with a hammer which now strikes the side of the case, as opposed to a three-layer caseback in the original model. With a highly legible diver’s dia-and-hand design and three crowns for time setting, controlling the internal elapsed time bezel, and winding and setting the alarm, the Polaris Mariner Memovox is a beautifully executed and unique watch designed for a special set of aquatic circumstances.
Price: $4,300, Case Size: 42mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Sellita-based automatic BR-CAL.302, Crystal: Sapphire
Bell & Ross staked its spot on the watchmaking landscape with the launch of the BR 01, whose high-contrast, cockpit-clock dial design and austere square case proved both iconic and trend-setting. Spinning off from the BR 01 were the even more unconventional Flight Instrument editions, which took their visual cues from other aviation dashboard devices beyond clocks. The most recent and most eye-catching is the BR 03-92 Red Radar Ceramic, whose dial reproduces the scanning motion of a light beam on an onboard radar screen. Two ultra-light, concentric disks, in place of traditional hour and minute hands, rotate under a red-tinted sapphire crystal, hosting two miniature screen-printed planes — a passenger plane on the outer disk for the hours, a fighter plane on the central disk for the minutes, while a red-painted central analog hand sweeps over both disks to follow the seconds and complete the realistic approximation of a radar screen. Inside the matte-black ceramic case is the automatic BR-CAL.302, based on the tried-and-tested Sellita SW300 and offering a 38-hour power reserve.
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