[dropcap size=small]”A[/dropcap]nd, it has an interesting price.” If only we had a dollar each time a brand representative used this line to describe an exceptionally well-priced new watch at Baselworld 2017, which took place over eight days in late March; we would have enough to buy, well, definitely not a Patek, but perhaps one of those “interestingly priced” novelties.
Big brother Rolex, for instance, piqued plenty of interest by unveiling its first Sky-Dweller in steel (and a white gold bezel) at the world’s largest watch and jewellery fair. This mostly steel version of the brand’s most complicated watch, formerly available only in gold, will cost less than half the price of existing variants. Bulgari similarly introduced a lower-priced option for a popular family: the Octo Roma. Featuring a more streamlined version of the Octo’s 110-facet case, the watch is now the entry-level model in the Octo range.
The creation of lower-priced entry-level models or families continues a trend that began a couple of years ago, unsurprising considering that the Swiss watch industry has yet to show signs of picking up. Following two years of decline, global export figures of Swiss watches dropped further at the beginning of this year.
Even as it marked its 100th anniversary this year – a noteworthy milestone for any institution – the Basel fair itself was as clear an indication as any of the difficult times facing the industry. This year’s edition saw both falling participation (1,200 exhibitors compared to last year’s 1,500) and attendance (the event welcomed 106,000 buyers, a drop of 4 per cent from last year).
There is no doubt, however, that the event remains the most important event on the horology calendar. Consider, for instance, that independent brands such as MB&F continue to participate in Baselworld even after joining the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – the exclusive annual fair that takes place in Geneva in January – in recent years. But the fact is that after a century, Baselworld faces the challenge of updating itself to stay relevant, like the fine watch industry itself.
(RELATED: Relive Baselworld 2016 with the 26 best watches of last year’s fair.)
01: GRANDE SLAM
Like a number of other haute horlogerie brands, Breguet has been focusing more heavily on its women’s timepieces in recent years. But in terms of its masculine offerings, what it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality: The Marine Equation Marchante 5887 is a grand complication housing a running equation of time, tourbillon and perpetual calendar.
A relatively uncommon feature, the equation of time shows the difference between mean solar time (i.e. civil time, or time as we know it) and true solar time. While the length of a day is now tidily defined as 24 hours, true solar time varies because of the earth’s irregular orbit around the sun. While equation-of-time displays typically reflect the discrepancy between civil time and true time, Breguet kicks it up a notch with the 5887, which directly reflects both times via two separate minute hands.
02: DEPTHS OF HISTORY
One of our favourite dive watches for 2017, Blancpain’s Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec fuses elements of two of the brand’s iconic dive watches: the original Fifty Fathoms of 1953, and the military-standard Mil-Spec 1 edition of the watch from the 1950s.
The latter inspired the white and orange circle you see in the Tribute. It’s actually water-tightness indicator paper, which turns red when exposed to water – a feature present in dive watches first made for the American navy in the 1950s. It served as an indication to divers that their watch movement had been exposed to water and was in need of servicing. The Tribute is water-resistant to 300m, which means its indicator – half of which is coloured for effect – should never change.
03: POWER OF EIGHT
Time-only automatic models are generally the bread-and-butter models for most watch brands, which can make it difficult to get excited about yet another three-hand watch. This is decidedly not the case with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic – the latest record-breaking addition to the ultra-thin Octo Finissimo family.
Currently the world’s thinnest automatic timepiece with a thickness of 5.15mm, the Octo Finissimo Automatic has a sandblasted, eight-sided titanium case similar to Bulgari’s stunning Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater last year. Small seconds at eight o’clock prevent the dial from looking overly simple. Together, it makes for a strikingly modern model that would fit well into most social settings, and is anything but basic.
04: IN TOP FORM
ARNOLD & SON
In high horology, some movements are so beautifully constructed and finished, you wonder why more watchmakers don’t show them off on the front of timepieces. Arnold & Son, on the other hand, has made itself synonymous with architectural movement parts, shown to impressive effect on the dial-side of timepieces such as the Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36.
This year, the brand that takes its name from 18th-century English watchmaker John Arnold reinforces its aesthetic focus on structure and symmetry, while including design codes from the Chronometer No. 1/36, a pocket watch with superior timekeeping capabilities. While the term “chronometer” referred to any exceptionally accurate timepiece in the past, the Tourbillon Chronometer No.36 is (like other chronometer watches today) COSC-certified.
05: THE NEXT LEVEL
When Breitling made its first in-house split-seconds chronograph movement Calibre B03, it wasn’t surprising that the brand chose to house it in a Navitimer – which has become one of the most popular of aviation watches since its introduction in 1952.
What’s even more surprising about the split-seconds mechanism of the Navitimer Rattrapante (the French term for the split-seconds chronograph) is that it apparently comprises just 28 parts, and is designed to be easier to produce and disassemble for servicing. This is downright impressive, considering that the rattrapante is one of the trickiest horological mechanisms to build. Another nice touch is the new bronze-coloured dial, which adds a vintage-y look to the 45mm watch, available in either steel or red gold.
06: RAISING THE BAR
Even as brands lower their entry-level prices, they make a concerted effort to show that their most high-end models (and collectors) have not been forgotten. This year, Chopard will release lower-priced pieces such as the ultra-thin, steel L.U.C XP, while also unveiling new takes on the top models in its high-end L.U.C family.
The brand’s haute horlogerie star since its launch in 2005, the L.U.C Lunar One is for the first time presented in platinum. This perpetual-calendar watch has a blue sunray-finished dial – a handsome backdrop for displays like a large date, as well as a moonphase set against a moving blue sky disc. Its splendid movement includes features such as an engraved gold micro-rotor and a swan-neck regulator.
07: GO TO THE X-TREM
One of our all-time favourite timepieces, the X-Trem-1 by genius watchmaker Christophe Claret displays time via two tiny hollowed steel balls that move up and down the sides of the watch, thanks to magnetic fields.
And it just got even cooler. Instead of sapphire tubes, the new version features cylindrical ring-bound tubes housing the steel spheres (try to resist the temptation to poke at them through the rings). The stand-out edition is the collaborative piece with New York-based jewellery company StingHD. Housed in a black PVD titanium case, the watch features a skull on the carriage of its flying tourbillon and comes with two straps (one in stingray leather), as well as a matching bracelet.
08: NICE CURVES
In the past couple of years, Corum has developed many new iterations of its whimsical Bubble watch, which is distinguished by its exaggerated domed glass. While it continues to do so this year, in partnership with interesting creatives – such as Italian DJ Matteo Ceccarini and French-Senegalese rapper Booba – the brand also shines the spotlight on its keystone model, the Golden Bridge.
Having broken away from the model’s signature tonneau-shaped case with the circular Golden Bridge Round last year, Corum now introduces two new variations on the theme: There’s the linear Golden Bridge Rectangle and the Golden Bridge Stream, which comes in a case that’s essentially a rectangle with rounded edges. Within stands a similarly curved bridge structure, with decorations inspired by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
09: FINE PANORAMA
Having launched its robust Calibre 36 base movement last year, Glashutte Original now builds upon it with more complex new models, including the Senator Excellence Perpetual Calendar. That said, our favourite novelty from Glashutte Original is powered by a slightly older movement: Calibre 37, an integrated chronograph movement introduced in 2014.
It was first used in a classically styled Senator Chronograph Panorama Date, a model that has been given a sporty overhaul this year. And mind you, the change goes beyond replacing a platinum case with a steel one. The 2017 edition of the Senator Chronograph Panorama Date has an entirely different aesthetic, with striking light-blue lume, different hour markers and a black dial.
10: MOVIE MAGIC
In 1961, Elvis Presley sported the Hamilton Ventura in his film Blue Hawaii. This year, Hamilton celebrates the 60th anniversary of the triangular timepiece that has become a cult favourite since premiering in 1957 as the world’s first electrical, battery-powered watch.
There are three new versions, our favourite being the Ventura Classic (pictured), which is closely modelled after the original, and comes in two sizes. Granted, it might not be the stuff that haute horlogerie dreams are made of – its case is yellow gold PVD steel, and it’s powered by a quartz movement – but we’re fans of its quirky vintage style. For those who can’t abide by quartz, the new Ventura Skeleton features a Hamilton automatic movement – and horizontal dial cut-outs inspired by vintage microphones.
11: THE ALL CLEAR
If previous examples are anything to go by, what watch brands like to do after creating unusual designs in angular cases is to follow up by rounding off said hard lines and flat planes. This is exactly what Hautlence does with the Moebius, which, like its last statement model, Vortex, features a case largely composed of sapphire crystal – the difference being that the former features a curved pane instead of just flat ones.
Despite its softened lines, the Moebius is no less attention-grabbing than the Vortex. Its glass case, supported by cradle bars in red or white gold, allows for views of the HL2.02 movement. And there’s plenty to look at: Its bi-axial tourbillon gives it a dose of dynamism, while its signature hours chain turns slowly every 60 minutes.
12: JUST CAN’T WAIT
Hermes might not have the most complex timepieces, but we can always count on the house’s complications to be playful and unpredictable. This holds true for Hermes’ first chiming watch, the Slim d’Hermes L’heure Impatiente, which feature an “Impatient Hour” module built on the in-house H1912 automatic movement.
Here’s what it does: You can set the time of a keenly anticipated event, which is shown on a subdial at five o’clock. An hour before this longed-for appointment, the L’Heure Impatiente starts counting down the minutes on the scale at seven o’clock. And when the time finally arrives, this 40.5mm rose gold watch celebrates along with you with a light chime.
13: FAST AND FURIOUS
What would a horological representation of a Ferrari look like? The Hublot Techframe Ferrari 70 Years Tourbillon Chronograph, which marks Ferrari’s 70th anniversary, answers that question. While there have been other collaborative timepieces between the two brands, the Techframe – available in titanium, PEEK carbon (a material made using long carbon fibres) or King Gold – is unique in that it was designed by the Ferrari team, using the same approach they take when designing a car.
Starting from the engine – the manually wound tourbillon chronograph HUB6311 by Hublot – the designers conceptualised a “high-performance chassis”, a tough but light lattice structure. The chronograph subdials are displayed on a matte black block fixed to the sapphire glass: It holds the chronograph counters and reveals the column wheel of the movement at one o’clock. We’re betting fans of both marques are racing to it as we speak.
14: LIGHT OF THE MOON
It’s always interesting to see how Jaquet Droz maintains the defining figure-eight display of its Grande Seconde model while introducing new complications – one of its highlights last year, for instance, was a Grande Seconde dual-timer. The Grande Seconde Moon sees the family welcoming its first moonphase, a precision lunar indicator that will require adjustment only after 122 years.
Set against a choice of three dial finishes – ivory-coloured grand feu enamel (pictured), silvery opaline or onyx – the large seconds subdial at the bottom neatly hosts two other indicators at the same time: a gold star-dotted moonphase, as well as the date display.
15: TRUE PROFESSIONALS
Whether you go sailing on the weekend or spend it diving back into bed, there’s something about wearing high-performance timepieces that feels reassuring. This year, Rolex introduces updated versions of three Professional models: the Sea-Dweller, Yacht-Master II and Daytona.
Our favourite is a toss-up between two opposites: The 50th-anniversary edition of the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller is housed in a larger 43mm steel case, and features a Cyclops magnifying date window for the first time. All straightforward sturdiness, it’s powered by the newish effi cient Rolex Calibre 3235, and waterproof to a depth of 1,220m.
Available in white, yellow or Everose gold, the glitzy-not-gaudy new Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona is also compelling: Juxtaposing tough elements like black ceramic bezel and Rolex’s Oysterflex bracelet – made from rubber-like elastomer and reinforced with a flexible metal blade – with high-end features such as a middle case crafted from a single block of gold, it’s the ultimate high-performance watch for armchair adventurers.
16: BLAST OFF
It’s not just MB&F’s watches that its fans go crazy for. Its mechanical co-creations, designed with specialists like music box company Reuge and clockmaker L’Epee, also score high in desirability. Including “music machines” that look like spaceships and clocks resembling large spiders, these co-creations are what MB&F watch wearers would want to accessorise their homes with.
The latest and 10th mechanical masterpiece to join the family continues MB&F’s tradition of seeking inspiration in sci-fi: Destination Moon is a “horological rocket” that tells the time. More than 40cm in height, the rocket shows time via two revolving rings set atop a vertically oriented movement. And if you thought the onion-style crowns on certain aviation watches were large, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This clock is wound by the outsized “thruster” crown at its base – referencing the way a rocket’s energy emanates from its base.
17: STUFF OF LEGEND
This year, Omega celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Speedmaster and, to that end, it of course unveiled several new variations of the icon best known for being the first watch on the moon. But it was not just the Speedmaster that was launched in 1957; that year also saw the birth of the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster.
Limited to 557 sets, the Omega 1957 Trilogy box set comprises special anniversary editions of those three timepieces. Design-wise, they stay largely true to the originals. Each of these watches (which can also be purchased on their own) come in polished and brushed steel cases, and feature aged “tropical” dials. While the Speedmaster (38.6mm, pictured) is powered by the Calibre 1861 (the same movement that was in the watches of those astronauts), the Seamaster 300 (39mm) and Railmaster (38mm) are driven by Omega’s magnetic field-resistant Master Chronometer Calibre 8806.
18: THE LONG RUN
Two big statements mark the 20th anniversary of the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, the brand’s luxury sports watch that isn’t the Nautilus. The first new release is literally big: Measuring 42mm in diameter (from 10 o’clock to four o’clock), the Aquanaut “Jumbo” Ref. 5168G is the largest Aquanaut yet. Its case is crafted in white gold – a first for the family. The second novelty is relatively smaller at 40.8mm, but is a technical heavyweight with an open dial that’s atypical for Patek.
The fifth timepiece to emerge from the brand’s Advanced Research Programme, the Aquanaut Travel Time Ref. 5650G “Patek Philippe Advanced Research” (pictured) has two key innovations: an improved version of Patek’s Spiromax (a silicon-based material) balance spring for more consistent timekeeping, as well as the use of new flexible steel components in the dual-time watch’s local time-setting mechanism. Watch out, Nautilus.
19: REMAKING THE PAST
Sometimes, the problem with having a signature feature is that it can get a bit stale if it’s not consistently reinvented. Therefore, it’s a very good thing that Rado has been exploring a variety of avenues – via its heritage pieces, new collaborators – to breathe new life into its catalogue, which largely comprises minimalist timepieces made from high-tech ceramic.
We especially like what its archival pieces have inspired in recent years. Last year, Rado introduced the oversized cushion-shaped Hyperchrome 1616, based on its 1960s Cape Horn collection. This year, it launches another ’60s-inspired model: the Hyperchrome Captain Cook, which is based on Rado’s vintage Captain Cook dive watches. Our favourite variant is the men’s 37mm edition, which features a steel case with a rotating bezel made from steel and, of course, high-tech ceramic.
20: IN THE NOW
In watchmaking, there’s quartz. And then there’s quartz. With the Conquest VHP, Longines revives its VHP – or Very High Precision – quartz timekeeper from the ’80s. Now powered by an ETA movement made exclusively for Longines, the Conquest VHP has exceptional accuracy, even for a quartz timepiece.
With a typical accuracy of +/- 15 seconds a month, quartz movements are highly precise – a key advantage (some would say the only) they have over their mechanical counterparts. The VHP has an impressive accuracy of +/-5 seconds a year, and can automatically reset its hands, following an impact, or exposure to magnetic fields. This steel watch will be available in time-and-date or chronograph versions.
21: INTO THE DEEP
Our favourite independent brands seem to have two major preoccupations right now: tentacled sea creatures, and plenty of texture. Consider the highlight by RJ-Romain Jerome, the Deep Blue Octopus.
While MB&F’s HM7 dive watch has a form inspired by jellyfish, the octopus figures more literally on RJ-Romain Jerome’s latest release. A black DLC-coated copper octopus applique stands out against a blue textured dial that mimics the appearance of a sea urchin skeleton. The little dots on the dial are fi lled with lume and glow blue in the dark. The 47mm timepiece explores texture on the outside as well, bringing to mind the heavily engraved cases we’ve seen recently at brands like Urwerk. Containing steel from the actual Titanic, the Deep Blue Octopus’ notched bezel in black PVD steel strikingly frames the face of the timepiece.
22: BRIDGING WORLDS
Since its shake-out helmed by Jean-Claude Biver two years ago, Tag Heuer has been turning out watches that fall in either of two categories – contemporary, bold models; or vintage-inspired classic styles. Definitely falling in the latter camp is the new Autavia, based on a driver’s chronograph from 1966. Out of 16 different Autavia watches, this 1966 model was specifically chosen for revival by online voters.
But we have to be honest: What we think is really genius, with its sheer commercial potential, is the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45. The follow-up to the popular Tag Heuer Connected launched last year is ultra-customisable. There are 11 base models, which can be personalised with a variety of case finishes, straps, buckles and even lugs. The smartest part of this smartwatch? You can buy a mechanical watch head – either a Calibre 5 three-hander or a Heuer 02-T tourbillon chronograph – and swop out the smart module for a traditional timekeeper anytime.
23: DARK FORCES
In tough times, it makes sense to capitalise on your surefire crowd-pleaser. Hardly surprising, then, that this is the year of the Black Bay for Tudor. Our top pick from the brand’s 2017 collection is the Black Bay Chrono, the first chronograph in the Black Bay family.
On the outside, the 41mm steel watch has a pleasingly classic aesthetic, with accents like a satin-finished bezel with a tachymetric scale. Within lies the surprise: Its MT5813 movement was created in collaboration with Breitling, and is based on the latter’s B01 chronograph movement. It’s an excellent movement too –the column wheel-controlled chronograph with a vertical clutch features a silicon balance spring and is COSC-certified. We like that both brands are being very open about their ongoing collaboration, which isn’t always the case in this industry.
24: TO THE SWIFT
Having built up Hublot and set Tag Heuer on a dynamic new path, LVMH watch chief Jean-Claude Biver has most recently turned his attention to Zenith. The first major release under his watch is the Defy El Primero 21, and one can see his infl uence in the 44mm timepiece – note the angular edges and openworked dial, for example.
The new Defy resurrects a name used for certain Zenith sports timepieces some 10 years ago. It is driven by a new movement, the El Primero 9004. Building on the El Primero’s reputation as a stellar high-frequency chronograph movement, the new Defy can time up to a hundredth of a second. To ensure the smooth running of both the ultra-fast chronograph and the timekeeping, each function has its own transmission and escapement system.
25: MARKED BY GREATNESS
Independent watchmakers such as the guys at Urwerk take pride in being nonconformists, and in Basel, the brand presented a novelty that takes inspiration – at least in spirit – from composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is commonly described by classical music historians as a rebel and rock star of the 18th century.
Pistol engraver Florian Gullert, who last showed his skills on Urwerk’s EMC-Pistol, returns to work on the brand’s Amadeus UR-210 timepiece. Engraving not just the watch’s titanium and steel case, but also its crown protector and bracelet, Gullert gives the otherwise futuristic watch an unexpected baroque feel with etchings of swirling acanthus leaves. But as any Urwerk fan would know, the UR-210’s workings – with its satellite complication and retrograde minutes – is at the forefront of watchmaking now.
(RELATED: The 21 most impressive watches of SIHH 2017.)