Rectangular Watches Are Having a Moment

by nyljaouadi1
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Close your eyes and think of a watch.

Most people picture a round shape, perhaps with sloping lugs that hold a bracelet or strap. That circular silhouette is wristwatch design’s dominant form, and has been since World War I, when soldiers first soldered wire loops to their pocket watches so they could wear them on their wrists.

There is little doubt that the result of such an unscientific exercise also is aided by Rolex’s grip on the market. Sales of its round watches account for one in every four dollars spent on luxury timepieces, according to Morgan Stanley’s most recent annual industry review.

But beyond the familiar shape of a curvilinear watch is the rectangular form, itself a storied shape and one that is enjoying a significant renaissance. So if your imagination pictured the right angles of Cartier’s Tank, the 1917 watch inspired by tank treads, or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso, created for polo enthusiasts and now in its 90th year — you are ahead of the curve, so to speak.

“Rectangular watches are more exclusive and rare,” Lionel Favre, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s product design director, wrote in an email. “And the proportions of the Reverso case reflect the golden ratio,” which is visually pleasing to most people.

Patek Philippe does not declare its revenue, but it continues to have faith in its rectangular Twenty-4 women’s bracelet watch, despite the recent introduction of a circular design carrying the same name. Patek, as much as any Swiss brand, has experience with the straight-line shape, having worked with it for more than a century, capitalizing on Art Deco influences to create collectible pieces such as the Ref. 1450, a 1940s piece that got its nickname, Top Hat, because of its visual similarity to one.

In Germany, A. Lange & Söhne recently introduced the rectangular Cabaret Tourbillon Handwerkskunst, a high-end model limited to 30 pieces that features a filigreed tourbillon weighing just a quarter of a gram (it would take 125 to weigh one ounce).

“Rectangular watches have a small but loyal following,” Anthony de Haas, A. Lange & Söhne’s director of product development, wrote in an email. “Our new watch highlights the importance we attach to this particular shape.”

Even brands that primarily show other shapes have their variations. Longines, for example, has just one rectangular watch, the 1920s Art Deco classic Dolce Vita, but it returns to the model frequently as in the colorful styles this year, available only online. “A rectangular design has such a strong identity,” Matthias Breschan, the Longines president, wrote in an email. “That makes shaped watches an ideal pick for people who want to stand out.”

And at Baume & Mercier, the brand continues to push its Hampton family, this year offering a casual women’s piece that combines a green dial and a black canvas strap.

An oblong watch is not the sole preserve of large watchmaking names — smaller, younger companies are in on the quadrilateral act, too. The line leaders in the French company March LA.B’s collection are the AM2 and the Mansart, watches with novel geometry evolved from a stretched shape with four right angles, while the revitalized Gerald Charles brand’s take on the form is the Maestro, a rippled rectangle that the brand said was first imagined by the watch design master Gerald Genta in 2006.

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