Some of our Favorite Avant-Garde Watches

Some of our Favorite Avant-Garde Watches

| 08.10.23

Avant-garde, from the French for “advanced guard,” describes an artistic movement that is aesthetically innovative and rubs against the grain of the establishment. Avant-garde watches, in particular, are an excellent way to explore the bleeding edge of horological design, and of industrial design more broadly. Through such timepieces come the opportunity to explore personal taste and expression in a way that more common watches simply don’t offer.

Coming in all shapes and sizes, from brands spanning Audemars Piguet to Zenith, these pieces are visibly different. In our book, said difference is exactly what watch collecting is all about — which is why we always keep a wealth of avant-garde watches in stock for those who we know will appreciate them, or may learn to! Here, we’re going to explore some highlights from this group of daring designs. We hope you’ll find these funky timepieces as enjoyable as we do!

Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex Color Dreams

Franck Muller Cintree Curvex Color Dreams - IN THE SHOP

Franck Muller is one of the fathers of the modern avant-garde category. From the “Crazy Hours” collection to their distinctive case shapes, Franck Muller has always provided a unique and high-quality product for collectors. As with many avant-garde watches, these timepieces are polarizing in the eyes of enthusiasts, and are often either loved completely or hated outright. But no one can deny that they’re fun as all hell. 

This Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex ‘Color Dreams’ is a great representation of much of what makes Franck Muller, well — Franck Muller. With a tonneau-shaped, sold 18k rose gold case that curves front and back and swells at the center, this watch would qualify as avant-garde before we even touch upon the dial. Once you arrive at the dial, however, all doubts are removed: Candy-colored, rainbow Arabic numerals in a playful typeface are set upon a guilloché substrate, making for a design that would be at home on the wrist of a circus clown. (And we mean that as a compliment!) Atop the guilloché, faint numbers litter the rest of the dial in a random pattern. It’s a funky design, but it’s quite attractive and of distinctly high quality. 

Longines Comet ‘Mystery Dial’

Longines Comet ‘Mystery Dial’ - IN THE SHOP

The Longines Comet ‘Mystery Dial’ is an example of a watch that is both an avant-garde design in regards its case architecture, and features an avant-garde compilation. A squared-off cushion case already designates this piece as something special, but it goes one step further by shedding a traditional handset for the ‘mystery dial’ for which this reference is named. 

The time is read via a series of rotating discs, without a traditional 'handset' visible (hence the 'Mystery' moniker): The hours hand is instead represented on the inner circle, while the minutes are indicated by a rotating ‘comet’ at the extremity of the dial. Of course, it’s no surprise that this ‘out of this world’ design was released in the late ‘60s amidst a passionate cultural fascination with space exploration. Utilizing a hand-wound movement, it remains a striking design to this day. 

Longines is highly respected for their long-lasting legacy in the watchmaking industry, and it’s wonderful to see the brand took a more playful route with some of their pieces. To put it succinctly: This is one of the coolest models in the arsenal of vintage Longines. 

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time - IN THE SHOP

Next up is a design with a cool backstory: The Zeitwerk is characterized by its massive, rotating numerals. While these are stylistically quite interesting in and of themselves, this ‘digital’ display pays homage to the five-minute clock of the Dresden Semper Opera House, a project spearheaded by Ferdinand Adolph Lange before he founded his eponymous manufacture in 1845. 

While this system provides a fascinating aesthetic, it also poses a significant mechanical challenge: Large numeral discs such as these require lots of torque to rotate. Therefore, Lange used a thick mainspring. However, this can place excessive torque on a delicate escapement. To solve this issue, the brand developed a remontoir system that splits the energy distribution between a light load of the escapement and a heavier one on the digital display — a brilliant mechanical solution. This exact timepiece, the Reference 145.032, also features a striking time chime complication, which adds sophistication to an already incredibly complex system. This is an extremely complicated wristwatch and truly exemplifies Lange’s mastery of haute horlogerie.  

Pierre Cardin Collection 

Pierre Cardin Collection - IN THE SHOP

Next is a collection of interesting pieces that satisfy the avant-garde criteria in spades. Pierre Cardin was born in 1922 in Italy, and was one of the premier designers of women's clothing and a pioneer in haute couture. In the 1970s, inspired by space exploration fascination and pop culture, Pierre Cardin introduced a series of timepieces featuring androgynous design that captured the out-of-this-world aesthetic of the era. 

Each features a relatively simple dial housed in a distinctly avant-garde housing fashioned from steel or plastic, while within are reliable, hand-wound movements from Jaeger. (Today, such fashion-forward watches would undoubtedly be quartz-powered, and thus have far less appeal to collectors.) These timepieces are also incredibly affordable — enough that one could snap up a number of them in different shapes to develop a small collection. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that, in short, is why we love them!

Breguet Tradition Reference 7097 BB

Breguet Tradition - IN THE SHOP

Another unique watch design whose star has been rising lately, the Breguet Tradition, features a distinctive, shrunken guilloché dial and openworked, cavernous movement that has captivated collectors since its debut. Mesmerizing and beautiful, it’s a wonderful example of Breguet’s legacy as one of the most innovative watchmakers in the world. 

The design of this timepiece was inspired by early pocket watches made by A.L. Breguet under his innovative ‘souscription’ business model in which patrons would pay a portion of the watch’s value up-front to help fund the timepiece’s completion. These were incredibly beautiful pocket watches whose movement layout and finishing were mimicked by the Breguet company on the contemporary Tradition. The result is a seamless integration of history and contemporary fashion within a tasteful package.


This model line has quickly become Breguet’s most successful; indeed, no other watch in its price range quite achieves the same effect. (It’s also one of the less polarizing avant-garde pieces in the list.) This particular variant, the Reference 7097 BB, features a retrograde jumping seconds hand that is quite hypnotic. In spite of its atypical aesthetics, almost everyone loves these watches —and so do we! 

Piaget Polo ‘Onyx’ Dial 

Piaget Polo 'Onyx' Dial - IN THE SHOP

Another brand that specializes in distinctive design language is Piaget. The Swiss maison has been stirring up attention recently, and more enthusiasts are looking at their vintage pieces than ever before. It’s a more fashion-forward, eccentric brand, to be sure, but this philosophy goes hand in hand with avant-garde. 

Like Cartier, Piaget specializes in jewelry design, which results in striking designs such as this entry from the 1980s in the Polo collection. With its yellow gold bracelet and block-like structure, it features a seamless design that flows from bracelet to case head uninterruptedly. Additionally, the crown is situated on the caseback rather than the flank, meaning the piece maintains its symmetry without the more typical, protruding crown. 

This particular example comes outfitted with a black onyx dial, effectively making it a one-of-one pièce unique given the irregularities of the stone. Taken as a whole, the watch is by no means a ‘quiet’ design, but then again — who cares! It looks positively insane on-wrist, and that’s why you buy it. 

Bulgari Octo Finissimo S

Bulgari Octo Finissimo S - IN THE SHOP

Finally, a watch family that has broken multiple records for thin movements, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo. Launched in 2014, the model line was designed by the brilliant Fabrizio Bonamassa, who was in turn inspired by Gerald Genta’s famous integrated bracelet luxury sport pieces. 

This example, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo S, comes with a beautiful, sunburst blue dial housed within a 40mm stainless steel case. And while this case sizing may look large, on the wrist, this piece hugs tight due to its clever architecture and thin profile. To achieve its razor-thin wrist presence, Bvlgari used an in-house, micro-rotor movement developed especially for the model. 

The S looks ostensibly like a pure fashion piece, but flipping the timekeeper over and taking a peek through the sapphire caseback, it’s clear that Bulgari outlined high standards for their in-house movements. Additionally, the integrated bracelet design is quite eye-catching, with high-quality finishing that is quite good considering the price point. Given the astronomical prices many integrated-bracelet, luxury sports watches command, the more accessible Octo Finissimo is an outlier.

Shop our entire collection of Vintage and Preowned
 Avante-Garde Watches HERE!