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
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.