The Swiss franc may be on the rise, but that did not dampen interest in one of the country’s biggest annual events – watch and jewellery show Baselworld. A record number of members of the international press descended upon Basel for eight days in March, accounting for more than 4,300 of a total attendance of 150,000.
Packing in as much hands-on time as we could with the year’s new crop of timepieces at booth after booth, we were struck by one underlying key message. No, it’s not that smartwatches are the next big thing – but more about that in a minute.
Instead, what we gleaned was this: Despite the reported sluggishness of the Swiss watch industry, it’s a great time as any for consumers. Instead of trumpeting extremely complicated, expensive watches that make enticing headlines, many brands are focusing on bang-for-one’s-buck propositions, which include strengthening offerings at the lower-end spectrum.
Rolex, for instance, created plenty of excitement not just with stellar additions to its top-of-the-line Day-Date series, but also with a new 39mm version of its entry-level Oyster Perpetual chronometer watches – with retail prices starting at a very wallet-friendly 5,400 Swiss francs (S$7,500).
Great news for horology lovers, then, unless you were one of those fervently hoping that smartwatches would be on display at every turn. Certainly, the high-end watch industry’s major players are looking to respond to the general growing interest in smartwatches: Tag Heuer announced its upcoming collaboration with Intel and Google, and brands like Bulgari and Breitling touted their own technology-imbued concept timepieces. But it’s still early days yet. And more importantly, as our picks of Baselworld novelties on the following pages show, mechanical watches in themselves offer plenty to love – batteries not required.
One of Blancpain’s new offerings may come as a surprise to its loyalists. While the brand has its sporty models – the most obvious, of course, being its Fifty Fathoms diving watches – the L-evolution Tourbillon Carrousel has a rugged, almost aggressive appearance, uncharacteristic of the manufacture. The platinum-cased watch is powered by an updated version of Blancpain’s dual-regulator movement that brings together a tourbillon and a carrousel, with a resolutely angular openwork style.
Another release, however, is definitely purist-pleasing. The handsomely legible Villeret Grande Date marks the debut of a big date in the heritage-inspired Villeret family, with beautifully finished date windows distinctly complementing classical applied Roman numerals and skeletonised leaf hands.
Breguet may have named the series “Tradition”, but there is nothing outdated about the latest additions to this timepiece family. At the top of the pyramid is the Tradition Repetition Minutes Tourbillon 7087, a minute repeater designed from the start to reproduce two notes found by researchers to be particularly pleasing.
Achieving this aim required rethinking elements such as the gongs, which here are unusually shaped and different in size. The gongs are also attached to the bezel instead of the case side, which purportedly improves sound transmission. And just so there’s no mistaking this is a Breguet, a tourbillon rounds it all off.
Partnerships with iconic British brands Jaguar and Boeing mark this year’s Bremont headliners. Last year, the British watchmaker announced that it had worked with Jaguar to create six unique watches to be offered to the owners of the six new Lightweight E-Type cars. In response to demand from those who don’t have one of the iconic Jaguars on their shopping lists, Bremont is offering two more-accessible editions of those watches.
Sporty without over-busy dials, the MKI and MKII both take their aesthetic cues from E-Type instruments. Driven by Bremont’s BWC/01 automatic movement, the MKI has a dial inspired by the tachometer of the Lightweight, right down to the red quadrant between three and four o’clock. We’re pretty sure these pieces are going to move fast.
Forty years ago, you couldn’t just walk into a Bulgari store and buy a Bulgari Roma watch. This was because the timepiece, with its now-familiar engraved bezel, was first created as a gift for the brand’s hundred most important clients. This year, the Italian company pays tribute to this history with the Bulgari Roma Finissimo – the yellow-gold version is available in a limited edition of 100 pieces. It will also make pink-gold or steel editions of the ultra-thin manual watch.
Not to be left out of the trend of technology-touting timepieces, Bulgari also showcased the Diagono Magnesium concept watch. The self-winding “intelligent watch” is equipped with a microchip that enables its owner to access personal information stored in a digital vault.
As wrist candy for both traditionalists and those with sportier tastes, Chronoswiss’ novelties include additions to its classic Sirius family, as well as a new Timemaster equipped with a second time zone. Mixed guilloche patterns on sterling-silver dials add plenty of depth to the Sirius Big Date Small Seconds, and the Sirius Regulateur Jumping Hour.
Despite its elaborate decoration, the 40mm Sirius Big Date Small Seconds is a highly readable timepiece, thanks to elements like its outsize date and distinct hour markers. The automatic watch is available in red gold or stainless steel.
Building blocks were the foundation of the dial design for the C1 Tourbillon, Concord’s latest version of the C1, its high-end model that was relaunched with sleeker proportions in 2013. The 47mm black PVD-finished titanium watch offers a minimalist, graphic take on skeletonisation, with a partially openwork dial.
The dial’s distinct rectangular pattern complements the structures of the movement, which is regulated by a flying tourbillon at six o’clock. Finally, a carbon-fibre sub-bezel adds a sporty touch and depth to the dark-hued timepiece.
Rather than work less accurately as it uses up its energy stores, a new movement by Arnold & Son stops, once the power from its mainsprings falls below that needed to drive its patented constant force mechanism. This mechanism comprises a unique energy-delivery system powered by two (instead of one) mainspring barrels.
With a design that pays tribute to the marine chronometers designed by the brand’s namesake, English watchmaker John Arnold, the Constant Force Tourbillon has twin barrels that deliver consistent power to the movement, avoiding the loss of accuracy that occurs as a typical mainspring winds down. Another unusual feature: The watch’s true-beat seconds hand, which jumps in precise intervals above design elements like skeletonised triangular bridges.
A little quirkiness can go a long way – especially in the often-conservative world of fine watchmaking. Just consider Corum’s novelties for this year. Sure, the brand made a perfectly elegant timepiece marking its 60th anniversary: The Admiral’s Cup Legend 42 sets the hallmarks of high watchmaking – a flying tourbillon, restrained finishings – against a smoked sapphire dial.
Yet, what got observers talking was the return of the brand’s Bubble watch, launched in 2000. The watch’s domed sapphire crystal was inspired by a dive-watch prototype from the 1960s. A few years after its discontinuation, the Bubble is back and bigger than ever. Its diameter of 47mm is matched by the crystal’s towering height of 8mm, which magnifies and distorts the dial markings to (welcome) playful effect.
There’s a lot going on in one of Girard-Perregaux’s latest highlights, the Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges. Good thing it’s all a pleasure to look at. Two of the brand’s signature Three Gold Bridges, for instance, feature prominently on the dial side (the third one is affixed on the back of the movement). Then, there is the tourbillon at six o’clock.
As if all that weren’t enough, its minute-repeater components – the hammers and gongs – also take centre stage. It’s more than just aesthetics, apparently, that drives this placement; the designers at Girard-Perregaux found that this positioning allows less of the sound to be absorbed by proximity to the wearer’s wrist.
It is one thing for a mechanical watch to be equipped with useful complications. It is another, however, for said watch to be both easy to use and easy to read. Powered by a new automatic in-house movement with a 72-hour power reserve, the Glashutte Original Senator Cosmopolite scores high on all counts.
A dual-timer with a difference, the destination time in any of the world’s 37 time zones is easily set – just turn the crown at four o’clock until the appropriate city’s airport code appears at the window at eight o’clock. The destination time is automatically set, along with the correct day/night indication, so harried travellers can cross calculating time-zone differences off their to-do lists.
With H. Moser, what impresses us as much as its minimalist yet functional designs is the amusingly witty marketing. Take, for example, the “concept watch” the brand launched in Basel. While concept timepieces typically comprise a budding technological innovation housed in a design teetering between avant-garde and unfinished, H. Moser’s Concept Watch explores a notion daring in its extreme simplicity.
Doing away with logos and other embellishments, the watch shows the time – only – via the brand’s signature elements: elegant leaf hands set against a dial in a gradient fume (French for “smoked”) finish. Available by custom order, the 40.8mm white-gold watch is driven by an in-house manual movement.
If Elvis Presley were still alive, this would have been the year of his 80th birthday. What better way for Hamilton to mark this milestone than with a watch that pays tribute to one of the king of rock ’n’ roll’s favourite timepieces? The original Hamilton Ventura was sported by Presley in his 1961 film Blue Hawaii, and he wore it off the set as well.
That watch’s shield shape is the most distinctive feature of the Ventura Elvis80, which has a black PVD-treated steel case measuring 42.5mm by 44.6mm. While large, it sits pretty comfortably on the wrist, thanks to its curved form that seamlessly connects to a rubber or leather strap.
Always one for wit and whimsy, Hermes serves up playful design – in petite portions this year. The Slim d’Hermes is an all-new ultra-thin timepiece family, whose 39.5mm models are driven by the 2.6mm-thick, H1950 in-house movement. Breezy qualities characterise this fresh series: skinny, graphic numerals; slim hands with two different finishes; and, of course, sleek silhouettes.
Aside from time-only models, the series also includes a heavyweight – figuratively speaking – complication: the Slim d’Hermes Perpetual Calendar, which is a little thicker because of the Agenhor perpetual-calendar module it houses. We can definitely live with that.
We can always trust Hublot to do things in a big way. So of course we aren’t surprised that the brand is celebrating a decade of its Big Bang series with new designs that are anything but retiring. Dazzling in their gem-set glory, not to mention their million-dollar price tags, the models in the Big Bang “10 Years” Haute Joaillerie collection occupy the apex of this commemorative pyramid.
Our pick? The full black diamond model (adorned with 653 black baguette diamonds) – if only because it’s an insanely blinged-out version of a sure-fire Hublot best-seller, the all-black watch. Have a slightly smaller budget? Not to worry. Other anniversary models include a Big Bang Unico done in full Magic Gold (Hublot’s scratch-resistant gold alloy).
Things always come full circle. Just take, for instance, the true beat, or dead beat, seconds. First used in timekeeping in the 18th century, the mechanism behind the jumping-seconds hand – instead of one that moved continuously – was invented to allow the precise tracking of small periods of time.
Now, the true-beat seconds is enjoying another renaissance. It appears in a 2015 novelty by Jaquet Droz, the Grande Seconde Deadbeat. Powered by a new movement, the complication takes pride of place on the 43mm red-gold watch’s grand feu enamel dial. Instead of occupying a subdial at six o’clock, the seconds hand marks off time around the entire watch face.
One of the inherent values of mechanical watches is that they don’t quite go out of style. Two of Longines’ archival-inspired pieces duly demonstrate this point. The Pulsometer Chronograph is modelled after a timepiece from the early 1920s. As its name suggests, it is distinguished by a pulsometer, which was used by physicians in the past to help them quickly measure a patient’s heart rate.
Moving from the medical to the marine, the Heritage Diver 1967 is inspired by a diver’s watch from, well, 1967. The 42mm chronograph timepiece features a graduated red diving bezel framing a black opaline dial, and an engraving of a diver on the case back.
Over the past decade, MB&F must have provided plenty of catharsis for its founder, Max Busser. Many of the brand’s design elements are inspired by Busser’s obsessions growing up, ranging from sci-fi series such as Star Trek to Japanese anime. This year, he makes an imaginary childhood friend come to life. Kind of.
Named Melchior after a Busser family tradition, a desk clock resembling a robot is the result of the brand’s second collaboration with Swiss high-end clock manufacture L’Epee 1839. Technical finesse meets sci-fi-inspired fun: jumping hours and sweeping minutes are displayed on discs on Melchior’s chest, while his abdomen bears the power-reserve indicator. And the Gatling gun carried in one of his articulated arms? It detaches to become the movement’s winding/setting key. We give this one a high score.
A new series by Omega may look like an updated version of its vintage Constellation watches, but to understand why this is the brand’s big launch for the year, look inside. The Globemaster is home to what the company is calling its most advanced movement, the Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8900/8901.
This movement is certified by a new rigorous testing standard created by the brand and the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology, which includes testing for anti-magnetism at a high level of 15,000 gauss. Moving back to the outside, the retro-looking watch includes design elements from early Constellation watches, such as a “pie pan”-like dial, a fluted bezel, and a star emblem at six o’clock.
Having celebrated its 175th anniversary last year, Patek Philippe this year aroused plenty of emotions at Baselworld with one of the best-looking timepieces of the fair (that would be the Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph), as well as its first modern pilot’s watch (Ref. 5524 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time).
So called because of its ability to measure two elapsed time intervals simultaneously, Patek Philippe’s Split-Seconds Chronograph features an in-house calibre with a column wheel system and a horizontal clutch, and is designed with innovations to increase efficiency and durability. On the dial side, the 41mm platinum watch’s glossy black enamel dial is the perfect backdrop for beautiful accents such as applied white-gold Breguet numerals.
And about that pilot’s watch? Some love the white-gold dual-timer (it’s a fine-looking piece with a midnight-blue grained dial and useful functions), while others hate it (some think it’s unoriginal) – but it certainly shows Patek still has plenty of surprises up its sleeve after all this time.
One of our firm favourites to emerge from Baselworld, the new 40mm Day-Date models by Rolex are just mouth-watering, inside and out. Aside from subtle design updates like enhanced bracelets and lugs, the latest additions to Rolex’s top-of-the-line family stand out with laser-etched dials, with the ice-blue version in a platinum case being particularly scene-stealing.
With a staggering 14 patents, the new movement powering these watches was also the cause of much chatter. Rolex’s automatic Calibre 3255 features the manufacture’s Chronergy escapement, which was designed for increased efficiency and greater reliability – thanks to elements like a lighter escape wheel and a more precise, highly resilient hairspring.
Already known for their way with high-tech ceramics, the boffins at Rado have gone and outdone themselves with an even lighter, hardier watch. The Hyperchrome Si3N4 has a case and bracelet crafted from ultra-light silicon nitride ceramic, which is highly scratch-resistant, and has less than half the density of typical high-tech ceramic. Aluminium bridges also help to shave off more weight from the new movement of this watch, which has a futuristic dial design inspired by supercar vents.
Another new addition to Rado’s material world – a chocolate-brown ceramic, which is used in three new Hyperchrome models, including an automatic chronograph.
A pebble. A manta ray. A particularly ergonomic alcohol flask. Whatever you think the Subcraft by RJ-Romain Jerome resembles, one thing’s for sure: The curious-looking result of the brand’s collaboration with French artist and watch designer Alain Silberstein may have no sharp angles, but it packs quite the technical edge.
Powered by the same automatic movement that drives the angular Spacecraft, the Subcraft features a complex time-telling system combining linear, jumping and retrograde indicators. Displayed under a cambered glass on the side, the hours are read from the side of the titanium timepiece. On the top of the watch, you’ll find the minute disc under a spherical black glass. A smooth operator, indeed.
After years of creeping ascendance in terms of prices and complications, Tag Heuer is embarking on a changed course that sees the mid-tier brand returning to its more-accessible roots. Aside from announcing that it would be making a smartwatch in collaboration with Intel and Google, Tag Heuer also presented a new watch with a new case and a new calibre – well, almost.
The Heuer 01 movement in the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 is based on the brand’s existing Calibre 1887, with sporty-looking changes such as the addition of a red column wheel and an updated rotor design. This aesthetic is matched by a dynamic skeleton dial with an openwork date disc. Most notably, it is apparently the only manufacture with a chronograph watch going for less than 5,000 Swiss francs (S$7,000).
Last year, Ulysse Nardin premiered its Anchor Escapement, a constant-force mechanism made entirely of silicon, even before it had created a proper home for it. That home is now complete, in the form of the Anchor Tourbillon. A large 44mm rose-gold or white-gold case, with a Grand Feu enamel dial at the centre, allows the innovative and efficient escapement to enjoy all the attention.
This increased efficiency contributes to the impressive seven-day power reserve of the Calibre UN-178, which is shown on a scale encircling the opening that showcases the tourbillon.
Say Zenith, and the first thing that will come to many horology-inclined minds is its El Primero chronograph calibre. If the brand has its way, its Elite movement will also enjoy that kind of close association. Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Zenith brings the Elite base movement – named Best Movement of the Year at Basel in 1994 – to the forefront.
The new and improved Elite 6150 automatic movement, with an increased power reserve of 100 hours and a larger diameter, is housed in an ultra-thin timepiece of the same name. The 42mm steel watch is a study in monochromatic elegance: Sleek hands tell the time against a silver-toned, curved dial.
What we prize in our timepieces, (almost) as much as wearability, are the absolutely out-there moments at watch fairs. This year’s “what on earth?” moment came courtesy of Urwerk’s UR-1001 Titan – a version of the 2011 Zeit Device that can be strapped to your wrist. Or, if you’re shy about flashing a 600g titanium behemoth on your forearm, it can be used as a pocket watch or a desk clock.
The Titan has all the signature Urwerk features, and then some. Its satellite time-telling mechanism, for instance, has been supplemented with an annual calendar and a day/night indicator. On the back, you’ll find an “oil change indicator” that shows when it’s time for servicing, as well as 100-year and 1,000-year displays showing how long the watch has been in operation. Talk about confidence in one’s product.