WATCH­ING THE WATCHMEN

Fresh from Basel­world’s throng­ing pavil­ions of all things tick­ing and sparkling, Alex Doak and Laura McCred­die-Doak present their picks of 2018’s finest me­chan­i­cal time­pieces for men and for women

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Fresh from Basel­world’s throng­ing pavil­ions of all things tick­ing and sparkling, we bring you our pick of 2018’s finest me­chan­i­cal time­pieces for men and for women

Was it the un­sea­son­ably freez­ing weather, when Basel in March should be the har­bin­ger of a long-over­due spring­time? Was it the con­tin­u­ing exodus of brands to Jan­uary’s ri­val Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie in Geneva, with higher-pro­file exits ru­moured to come? Or was it sim­ply the lack of sus­te­nance be­yond a rick­ety veal-sausage stand next to the tram stop? Ei­ther way, this year, there was a un­usu­ally cau­tious at­mos­phere hang­ing over Basel­world – still, it should be said, the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar watch and jew­ellery expo, com­pris­ing ap­prox­i­mately two Place Vendômes, a few Bond Streets, one Fi h Av­enue and a Dubai Mall, all bolted to­gether be­neath one roof.

To be fair, the fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of any vast global event like this, es­pe­cially in our dig­i­tal age of lightning con­nec­tiv­ity and hyper-lo­cal­i­sa­tion, is be­ing ques­tioned across all man­ner of sec­tors. But strange vibes aside, Basel still rep­re­sents 80 per cent of Swiss watch ex­ports, and hosts five of the six big­gest rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing Swiss watch­mak­ers, so what about the watches them­selves? Well, that at least is an easy one: 2018 is see­ing the best and most even spread of horo­log­i­cal launches in years. With ex­ports on a steady tra­jec­tory once again, the dreaded smart­watch set­tling into a non-threat­en­ing niche of its own, and watch­mak­ers re­dis­cov­er­ing their con­tem­po­rary touch a er years of de­fault­ing to retro, the wristscape has rarely looked so bright and breezy – even if the weather out­side didn’t.

1. BELL & ROSS BR V2-94 RAC­ING BIRD

When it’s not cra ing in­stru­ments for the wrists of fighter pi­lots or Paris’s Swat units, Bell & Ross hones its slick aes­thetic via what-if con­cepts in high-speed trans­port – and then cre­ates the com­pan­ion watch. It started with a B-Rocket mo­tor­bike straight from

Judge Dredd, and con­tin­ues this year with the BR Bird, a rocket-like V12 Rolls-Royce-pow­ered mono­plane, fit for the dare­devil Reno Air Races. It’s the brain­child of Bruno Be­lamich – the Bell in Bell & Ross – who claims to have ev­ery­thing ready to go, should the right aero­nau­tic en­tre­pre­neur step for­ward. Mean­while, sat­isfy your low-al­ti­tude taste for dan­ger with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing chrono­graph – a crisply ap­pointed fly­ing ma­chine that’s pure Dan Dare raf­f­ish­ness.

2. TU­DOR BLACK BAY GMT

There seems to be a pat­tern de­vel­op­ing. Just like last year with its swoon-in­duc­ing, Bre­itling-pow­ered Black Bay Chrono, Rolex’s lit­tle brother Tu­dor yet again sets it­self apart from the mother ship with an­other doozy that wins Basel­world. It’s a sec­ond-time-zone “GMT”, de­signed in sub­tle al­lu­sion to Rolex’s famed Pepsi dial blue and red con­fig­u­ra­tion of the 1950s, but equipped with a brand-new, in-house in­te­grated move­ment. This means that the me­chan­ics re­quired to ad­just your home time hand separately from the lo­cal time are part and par­cel of the whole en­gine, rather than bolted on top – not only a far more re­li­able, let alone pres­ti­gious state of af­fairs, but a bar­gain­ous one, too, at just £2,570 (Dh13,260).

3. RAY­MOND WEIL CAL­I­BRE RW1212 SKELETON

Ever since Omega and Breguet’s par­ent group, Swatch, an­nounced in 2002 that its move­ment maker, ETA, would be dras­ti­cally cut­ting sup­plies to third­party brands, an ini­tial panic has blos­somed into a flurry of in-house in­no­va­tion at the en­try-level of lux­ury Swiss watch­mak­ing. Pre­vi­ously ETA-de­pen­dent names – Tu­dor, Baume & Mercier, Oris – have stepped up to the plate, de­vel­op­ing af­ford­able, pro­pri­etary me­chan­ics. Ray­mond Weil is also on the list now, as its move­ment part­ner Sel­lita (usu­ally in the busi­ness of sup­ply­ing ETA clones) has worked up the 1212, fram­ing the tick­ing bal­ance wheel with a win­dow at 6 o’clock, max­imis­ing en­joy­ment of your in­vest­ment. A thrill that gets turned up to 11 this year, with the ex­po­sure of ev­ery in­tri­cate facet whirring away in­side.

4. PORSCHE DE­SIGN 1919 CHRONOTIMER FLYBACK

It’s easy to un­der­es­ti­mate the sig­nif­i­cance of Porsche De­sign in Swiss watch­mak­ing – es­pe­cially in the early days when, hav­ing le his epony­mous sports car mar­que, Fer­di­nand Alexan­der Porsche ap­plied the same de­sign nous that birthed the 911 to watches. He coated a watch in black PVD be­fore any­one else and made the world’s first ti­ta­nium watch with IWC. Now, back in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the fam­ily firm, the en­gi­neer­ing side of things gets a se­ri­ous shot in the arm with a new in-house-de­vel­oped chrono­graph move­ment, equipped with in­stant-re­set “flyback” mode for tim­ing laps. Ini­tially kept back for petrol­heads buy­ing a GT2 RS or Turbo S Ex­clu­sive Se­ries, the Werk 01.200 now pow­ers this ma­chine, mounted in an espresso-hued ti­ta­nium chas­sis.

5. NOMOS GLASHÜTTE AUTOBAHN

It’s al­ways cheer­ing to step onto Nomos Glashütte’s sunny pav­il­ion at Basel, even with­out dis­cov­er­ing, in the process, the most un­ex­pected re­lease of its 28-year his­tory. The Ger­man pur­veyor of Bauhaus purism, where form and func­tion re­main in per­pet­ual bal­ance, may toy with lay­outs, ty­pog­ra­phy and colour, but ev­ery­thing has al­ways been in strict ser­vice to the task at hand: telling the time. So what’s the deal with the new Autobahn’s lu­mi­nes­cent semi­cir­cu­lar mo­tif? Noth­ing much more than dec­o­ra­tion, and al­lu­sion to night-time driv­ing, but it does work. Es­pe­cially in con­cert with a dial con­toured like a minia­ture skatepark and some gor­geous coloura­tion. Its four years in ges­ta­tion at the hands of Werner Aisslinger re­ally have paid off.

6. BLANC­PAIN VILLERET TOURBILLON VOLANT HEURE SAUTANTE MINUTE RÉTROGRADE

These days, the teem­ing thor­ough­fares of Basel­world can’t boast the sort of hor­logerie fire­works found at SIHH, where Vacheron Con­stantin, A Lange & Söhne, Richard Mille et al tout their com­pli­cated wares. But there are two par­tic­u­lar ex­cep­tions, found op­po­site each other in the heart of Basel’s Hall 1.0: Breguet and Blanc­pain, each dat­ing from 1700-and-some­thing and each an enduring bas­tion of the an­cient hand­cra . The lat­ter’s high­light is a whirling tourbillon, dis­play­ing the hours dig­i­tally through a round win­dow. They jump to the next, just as the minute hand it­self jumps from 60 to 0, all in the blink of an eye.

7. ROLEX OYS­TER PER­PET­UAL GMT-MAS­TER II

It won’t come as any sur­prise to learn that Rolex har­bours a fiercely pas­sion­ate fol­low­ing from col­lec­tors and trainspot­ter sorts the world over. As with so many cults, a lex­i­con has arisen from the chat­ter­ing fo­rums, all in fond ref­er­ence to the count­less it­er­a­tions of Rolex’s sur­pris­ingly few core prod­ucts. The GMT-Mas­ter alone com­mands at least eight bev­er­age-re­lated nick­names, thanks to the chamaeleonic evo­lu­tion of its duo-tone 24-hour ro­tat­ing bezel – one colour de­not­ing day hours, the other the night. Most fans were talk­ing about the re­launched “Pepsi”, in gleam­ing blue and red ce­ramic, but the in­ter­est­ing money was on its coun­ter­part, with an un­prece­dented brown and black bezel combo.

8. BRE­ITLING NAVITIMER 8 UNITIME

Al­most ev­ery pro­fes­sional pilot’s favourite watch­maker is un­der­go­ing a top-to-bot­tom shake-up right now, at the ex­pe­ri­enced hands of ex-IWC CEO Georges Kern. For a start, he’s shi ing the ven­er­a­ble chrono­graph brand’s main fo­cus away from avi­a­tion, con­tro­ver­sially drop­ping the wings logo from all di­als and de­not­ing “land” and “sea” sec­tors as equally as “air”. That’s not to say Bre­itling’s most iconic col­lec­tion, the Navitimer, is be­ing ne­glected. Far from it – Mon­sieur Kern’s open­ing salvo has been a new col­lec­tion, Navitimer 8, named a er and in­spired by the mar­que’s Huit cock­pit chrono­graph depart­ment, set up in 1938. That said, the smoothed-out aes­thetic works es­pe­cially well in a non-chrono­graph model, in com­bi­na­tion with a world­timer func­tion and shim­mer­ing sil­ver dial.

9. TAG HEUER CARRERA TÊTE DE VIPÈRE CHRONO­GRAPH TOURBILLON CHRONOMETER

A wind­ing drive down the north face of Swiss watch­mak­ing’s Jura Moun­tains heart­land takes you to the quaint town­ship of Be­sançon. Once France’s own in­dus­tri­ous hub of horol­ogy, un­til the purge of the “Quartz cri­sis” in the 1970s, a few green shoots of re­cov­ery are show­ing, in­clud­ing the re­open­ing of the Ob­ser­va­toire, which once rated the ac­cu­racy of clocks and watches by ob­serv­ing the stars. It now awards its pres­ti­gious Viper’s Head cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to a very se­lect few chronome­ters fit to sur­vive its gru­elling 16-day test with­out los­ing more than four sec­onds or gain­ing more than six. Ex­actly 155 very spe­cial blue-ce­ramic edi­tions of Tag Heuer’s baf­flingly af­ford­able tourbillon have done pre­cisely that.

10. TISSOT HER­ITAGE 2018

The word homage can be overused by an in­dus­try so in thrall of its own her­itage. But Tissot is classier than that. Which means we’re free to wheel it out with aplomb, as this sepia-tinged beauty is a pin­point­per­fect homage to the Swiss leg­end’s golden mid­cen­tury years – all kick-started by its break­through An­ti­mag­ne­tique watches of the 1930s. Keep­ing things rel­e­vant and use­ful in 2018, how­ever, it’s cer­tainly not all show. Into the quite-ex­tra­or­di­nary £850 (Dh3,845) bar­gain goes a volup­tuous box-type anti-re­flec­tive sap­phire crys­tal and, dis­played proudly through a crys­tal back, ev­ery Tissot col­lec­tor’s favourite man­u­al­wind move­ment, the Uni­tas of the 1950s – slightly post-dat­ing the 1943 sub­ject of homage, but who’s re­ally count­ing?

1. PATEK PHILIPPE LADIES CHRONO­GRAPH REF 7150/250

Geneva’s favourite son has par­tic­u­larly re­fresh­ing form when it comes to com­pli­cated women’s watches in gen­eral, and chrono­graphs in par­tic­u­lar. Back in 2009, the leg­endary watch­maker launched its first in-house chrono­graph move­ment, con­tro­ver­sially de­buted in a fem­i­nine, di­a­mond-set case, shaped like a hand­bag com­pact. Fast-for­ward eight years and it’s time for a re­boot. The cush­ion-shaped case is now round, but that has al­lowed the de­sign­ers to add a pul­some­ter and change the nu­mer­als from Ro­man to Ara­bic, all of which gives the whole dial a more vin­tage feel. As this is Patek, there are still di­a­monds, of course – 72 of them set into a rose gold case – to keep the watch look­ing prac­ti­cally fem­i­nine. That is if you can find any real use for a chrono­graph other than boil­ing an egg.

2. RADO TRA­DI­TION 1965

Rec­tan­gu­lar watches are still some­thing of a rar­ity – es­pe­cially in land­scape ori­en­ta­tion – but this Rado makes a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment. With its boxy in­dices and brown colour pal­ette, it’s not hard to see that its in­spi­ra­tion is New York City’s sky­line in the 1960s. Based on a time­piece from that era called the Man­hat­tan (Rado isn’t al­lowed to call it that any­more, as, re­port­edly, the name meant the orig­i­nal could only be sold in that New York City bor­ough), it’s the kind of watch you’d imag­ine Mad Men’s Peggy Ol­son wear­ing to prove to Don Draper that she’s not like other women. It’s a bold slice of retro style that feels per­fect for to­day’s gen­der-fluid times.

3. CHANEL BOY. FRIEND SKELETON

Al­though it is in the Boy. Friend case – and there is a di­a­mond-set op­tion as well – there is still a play of both the mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine in the de­sign of Cal­i­bre 3, Chanel’s lat­est in-house move­ment. But it’s not just the look that is im­pres­sive – at the heart of this ex­posed mech­a­nism’s pared-back aes­thetic are spoke­less wheels. These had to be gal­van­i­cally grown to en­sure they would have enough weight on them in or­der to func­tion prop­erly. It is this at­ten­tion to de­tail of the mi­nut­est el­e­ments that’s be­come some­thing of Chanel’s call­ing card in its rel­a­tively new era of in­house haute horologerie.

4. BVLGARI LVCEA SKELETON

Call them op­u­lent, deca­dent or, with the men’s oeu­vre, com­pli­cated, but while Bul­gari’s watches are al­ways things of beauty, you would never de­scribe them as hav­ing lev­ity. Un­til Lvcea came along in 2014, then de­cided to cut loose four years later. What you no­tice first is the stone-set let­ters spell­ing out “Bvlgari” scat­tered hap­haz­ardly around the dial. These are given ex­tra piz­zazz thanks to a di­a­mond-en­crusted bezel and that fab­u­lously eye-catch­ing red strap. That you can also see the move­ment clearly be­hind the let­ters is a nod to chief watch de­signer Fabrizio Buona­massa’s love of blend­ing form and func­tion, and a lit­tle re­minder, lest you for­get, that the Ital­ian lux­ury goods brand has se­ri­ous haute hor­logerie clout these days. But most im­por­tantly, it is a joy­ous thing to have on your wrist. And joy is some­thing we all need a lot of right now.

5. JAQUET DROZ PETITE HEURE MINUTE SMALTA CLARA

You al­most don’t want to wear this watch on your wrist – it seems much more suited to be­ing set into an east-fac­ing win­dow, to truly ap­pre­ci­ate all the work that has gone into the dial. The stained-glass ef­fect is thanks to the plique-à-jour enam­elling tech­nique, or smalta clara in Latin. Al­though Jaquet Droz is fa­mous for its Grand Feu enamel di­als, this is the first time it has used this no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult tech­nique, which sees the enamel pan­els be­come more and more brit­tle each time they are fired. The dial fea­tures seven colours that make up the snarling face of a tiger. Mean­while, re­duc­ing the dial and move­ment to their small pro­por­tions, and re­mov­ing the case­back, al­lows the frag­ile beauty of the de­sign to sing, es­pe­cially when caught in a sun­beam.

6. GUCCI AU­TO­MATIC WITH KINGSNAKE GMT FUNC­TION

Since cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele took over the reins, the Ital­ian lux­ury brand has gone from staid to sen­sa­tional. And luck­ily, his magic has also rubbed off on the watches. This year, things were even bolder than ever, with emer­ald-bright green be­ing a ma­jor colour, as it is on this par­tic­u­lar au­to­matic GMT. Cuff watches are usu­ally geared to­wards men – hav­ing roots as they do in the mil­i­tary – but this could be worn by any­one, pro­vid­ing they have the chutz­pah (as with most Gucci gar­ments, ad­mit­tedly). It cer­tainly makes a state­ment on the wrist, while the GMT func­tion, as in­di­cated by a kingsnake, one of the house’s new icons, means it is also prac­ti­cal. It may be too brash for some tastes, but love it or loathe it seems to be the new Gucci way. And that’s much more fun than pleas­ing every­one.

7. LONGINES RECORD L28205572

As with many of Longines’s styles, there is more to its up­dated Record col­lec­tion than first ap­pear­ances would sug­gest. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of a rose-gold-plate bezel with the steel case gives a fresh, mod­ern feel, while the di­a­mond in­dices against the black dial sug­gests that it could just as eas­ily be worn with an LBD as with white cot­ton and denim. Then there’s the word chronometer un­der au­to­matic, which means that Longines has gone the ex­tra mile and had this time­piece COSC-cer­ti­fied, which as­sures its ac­cu­racy to no more than mi­nus-four or plus-six sec­onds a day. This is solid Swiss watch­mak­ing at its most el­e­gant – all you need is to add the req­ui­site at­ti­tude, as per the brand slo­gan.

8. GRAFF SNOWFALL SLIM

A cou­ple of years ago, Graff wowed Basel­world with Snowfall, a haute joail­lerie time­piece born of com­puter wizardry in con­cert with fine cra sman­ship. Thanks to 3D print­ing, the Graff team man­aged to make a 300-joint lat­tice net­work of di­a­monds so sup­ple, it was like twist­ing thick gros­grain rib­bon, rather than metal and stone. That de­sign has in­formed this more wear­able (and rea­son­ably priced) up­date. The full-pavé bracelet has been re­duced to two dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments at the top and bot­tom of the dial, while the rest of the strap is now black satin. In­cred­i­bly, the flu­id­ity of move­ment is still there, and there are more than enough di­a­monds to sat­isfy Graff’s ritzi­est reg­u­lars.

9. DE GRISOGONO RETRO DOU­BLE JEU

De Grisogono is a brand with a rep­u­ta­tion for not giv­ing a hoot about the codes of fine watch­mak­ing, and this Retro Dou­ble Jeu is the per­fect ex­am­ple. The de­sign team has gone to all the ef­fort of putting an os­cil­lat­ing ro­tor in a watch purely for rea­sons of whimsy. Rather than have any­thing to do with pow­er­ing the watch – it’s quartz – a full ro­ta­tion ac­tu­ally makes the en­larged and be­jew­elled 9 and 3 move to re­veal the dif­fer­ent-coloured di­a­monds on the re­verse side. It’s the sort of au­da­cious­ness that has come to typ­ify de Grisogono’s style of watch­mak­ing and, while it’s un­likely to al­ways be your thing, it will al­ways make you smile.

10. ORIS BIG CROWN POINTER DATE

Bronze has been big news for a cou­ple of years now, but usu­ally con­fined to over­sized men’s styles at boysy brands such as Pan­erai, Oris, Tu­dor and Zenith. Thank­fully, at least one of these has now wo­ken up to women’s po­ten­tial at­trac­tion to the warm glow of the cop­per al­loy, which de­vel­ops a unique mint­green patina over age. Oris has sub­se­quently given its Big Crown Pointer Date a dainty, vin­tage makeover. Launched in the 1980s, this take on a clas­sic pilot’s watch has been re­duced to 36mm, cased up in nat­u­rally age­ing bronze and given the most gor­geous light-green dial. This was in­spired by a colour plate on Le Cor­bus­ier’s Poly­chromie ar­chi­tec­turale – two colour col­lec­tions cre­ated in 1931 and 1959 fea­tur­ing 63 shades that are har­mo­nious and can be com­bined in any way. It will only get bet­ter with age – rather like the women wear­ing it.

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