HERO: Cartier Santos Skeleton Green WHSA0028

Op-Ed: Are Square Watches Making a Comeback?

Strange times are upon us, and I’m not even referring to the upcoming election cycle. After a fairly stable period — when trends in watches were mostly a game of colors and who could use the term “in-house” the most incorrectly — the tides, they are a turning. It started with a move to smaller cases with enthusiasts clamoring for a return to 40mm and even 36mm case diameters from all of their favorite brands. Hell, we’ve even seen the likes of Panerai give in with the Luminor Due coming in 38mm and 40mm offerings. Panerai! A brand that used to cater to the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of the world.

Panerai Luminor Due Luna Ref. PAM01180

The thing is, that was just the tip of the iceberg. After years of “heritage” releases that were designed to pay homage to watches from the ‘50s and ‘60s, we’ve skipped over the disco era entirely and jumped right to the excess of the ‘80s and its cocaine-fueled consumerism. We’ve seen a huge resurgence in yellow gold, of Breitling-style rouleau bracelet links, and a lot of what some would call excessive design. I’m looking at you, Piaget Polo 79…

It’s clear that there’s a call for something new, something that’s not the same old onslaught of a new dial here or a slimmed case size there. Which leads us to the topic at hand — I’m calling it now, square cases are coming back hard and fast! This is arguably one of the biggest market shifts that we have seen in quite a while. I lost count long ago of how many brand reps told me “yeah they look great, but they never sell” when looking at their square or tonneau cased watches.

TAG Heuer Monaco CBL2180

There was a time when the IWC Da Vinci had a tonneau case, but the brand opted to throw that out the window to bring back its original case design from 1969. Again, the argument was equally split between the facts that reissues were hot and square doesn’t sell. Meanwhile, over at Bell & Ross, the BR05 — a compact square-cased reference with an integrated bracelet — was thoroughly panned by watch journalists, only to become a very hot seller at retail points across North America.

So who’s to thank (or blame) for this impending shift in product direction and design? There are a couple of factors at play outside of market fatigue, and as with a lot of watch trends, it all points back at the Patek Philippe Nautilus (albeit indirectly). I’m not drawing a direct line here, but allow me to paint you all a picture. This has nothing to do with the shape of the Nautilus itself, but rather the way the market has reacted to its success.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5811/1G

If you look at historical buying trends in the luxury watch market, especially within the auction world, the phenomenon of the “next best thing” theory is hard to ignore. As the Nautilus moved ever further out of reach for most collectors, the Royal Oak followed suit, tailed not long after by the Vacheron Overseas. Before long even the Girard-Perregaux Laureato started to receive more attention than it ever had in its decades long history. The same can be said for the short-lived boom in the vintage Heuer market as Daytonas made their way into the six-figure segment,

It was during this period that collectors — and in particular “investor” collectors — started looking elsewhere, speculating on what else of similar pedigree could become the next big thing. Many landed on Cartier, which in turn made the brand’s watches more sought after and valuable than ever. It has also garnered them more press in watch circles and in broader fashion and lifestyle publications as well.

Cartier Santos Skeleton Green WHSA0028

This is where we come full circle. With Cartier cooler than cool and a catalog of watches that skews heavily towards square (or rectangular) cases, suddenly walking in and snagging a steel or gold Santos isn’t always a click-to-buy sort of experience. Buyers have an increased desire for all things square and brands with an ear to the ground are definitely taking notice. It’s time for square designs to make a comeback. We’re starting to see it already with a reboot of the Rado Anatom, and Baume et Mercier’s edgy new Hampton Polyptyque Edition. I know this isn’t Rolex or Patek going all-in on square designs, but let’s just say I won’t be surprised when the trend starts buzzing through the halls of Watches & Wonders next month, or at Geneva Watch Days in the fall. When it does, just remember, you heard it here first!

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