While smart watches led the conversation in the days leading up to the 43rd Baselworld, it was the continued excellence of finely-crafted mechanical watches, helped by some controversial pieces from the industry’s most conservative brands, that soon took over. According to the Swiss Exhibitors Committee, this year’s edition drew a record number of media representatives (+7.5%), as more than 4,300 journalists jumped on line 15 of the Basel tramway network on the first morning of the fair to fight for space in the pressroom. Meanwhile, exhibitors remained upbeat despite a small drop in the number of buyers (-3%) caused by the difficult climate in Asia and Russia. In fact exports were back on the up 1% for the months of January and February 2015, compared to the same timeframe last year.
The fair’s most controversial new release, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master in 18K everose gold, was without a doubt the most exciting, too. In response to the reaction, one would think, to the ever-growing popularity of customized Rolex watches, the brand has finally decided to take things into its own hands, showing how a modern Rolex should be made. If Rolex took a few calculated risks with the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master, it made more subtle changes to the Oyster Perpetual Day- Date, one of its most prestigious models. Introduced with modernized lines and a 40mm case, the new Oyster Perpetual Day-Date does in fact still introduce a major talking point with calibre 3255, a new-generation mechanical movement with 14 patents that sets new standards of performance. Meanwhile, Rolex kept it simple in the Cellini line. Hours, minutes and seconds capture the moment, as the vintage-inspired sword hands swoop around the brand’s timeless design. The new Cellini Time collection also borrows the icon’s bezel with very finely-fluted outer ring, but is instead set with 62 larger diamonds. In the women’s collection, Rolex introduced the latest generation of its Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust line. The new model features a redesigned case enlarged to 28 mm, as well as gem-set hour markers and large roman numerals at 9 o’clock to provide more balance to the new dials.
Patek Philippe unveiled a controversial pilot watch, revamped a couple of favorites and all in all showed why the sea of watch collectors at Baselworld seemed to find refuge at its booth. Unveiled in white gold, the new Calatrava Pilot Travel Time features the patented Travel Time mechanism, which enables frequent flyers to keep time in two different time zones, and is powered by the self-winding caliber 324 S C FUS movement with the innovative Spiromax® balance spring that we saw in last year’s Nautilus Travel Time. Speaking of the Nautilus, Patek Philippe also unveiled a new edition of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711. Last year’s model comes updated with a beautifully warm rose gold case and bracelet and yummy chocolate brown guilloché dial, with horizontal lines that provide superb reflections. Meanwhile, the brand introduced a stunning dress watch. With its gorgeous black-enamel dial, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph combines the brand’s noblest qualities and fine-tunes the complication it created back in 1923, which has since become a pillar of the Patek Philippe narrative
Girard-Perregaux unveiled a stunning collection this Baselworld that spectacularly bridges different eras of watchmaking into a cohesive lineup. If the new watches celebrate the brand’s heritage, they also cement its position as a modern marvel. The Swiss luxury brand unveiled the Chambers of Wonders, a set of three watches that represent the world through the eyes of different civilizations during their golden ages, showcasing maps of the worlds drawn in the 15th and 16th centuries by Sebastian Münster, Matteo Ricci, and Ibn al-Wardi. But the brand also put one foot into the future of watchmaking with the Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges. A new approach to the chiming mechanism, it repositions most of the components to optimize sound transmission, and reveals them on both sides of the watch.
The luxury Swiss brand unveiled a 2015 collection that boasted not one, but two exceptional innovations, including the surprise return of the much-loved Freak. Driven by the unending quest for innovation that makes it one of the most dynamic manufactures, Ulysse Nardin dropped a new marker buoy on the capricious ocean of fine watchmaking in 2015. An undisputed world first, the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon incorporates the brand’s constant Anchor Escapement. The outcome of eight years of research and development, the constant force escapement features a design that breaks completely with the traditional watchmaking approach. Ulysse Nardin also brought back an uncluttered Freak, with the balance wheel re-centered and equipped with a date function for the first time. The Freaklab now incorporates the UlyChoc safety system, a new generation of shock absorbers.
Big Bang Unico “10 Years” Haute Joaillerie
Ten years after its introduction, the now iconic Big Bang design was once again the star of the show at the Hublot booth, with new models led by the Big Bang Unico “10 Years” Haute Joaillerie— an exceptional collection of 10 high- jewellery watches, each priced at $1 million. The full 10-piece collection totals a whopping 2612 diamonds set using the most complex techniques known to the watch industry. Each piece—which requires 350 hours to make—features 132 baguettes with invisible setting, 127 diamonds set on a rail, and 394 diamonds with a Clou de Paris setting. By design, the Big Bang is free to create any universe it desires, so while the Big Bang Unico “10 Years” Haute Joaillerie looks nothing like the original model from 2005, it conveys the spirit of its visionary creator.
Jacob & Co.
You don’t have to be a billionaire to buy the latest high-jewellery masterpiece from Jacob & Co., but it would certainly help. The $18 million “Billionaire” combines a diamond-set timepiece with a tourbillon. The project marks the first collaboration between Mr. Jacob Arabo and Mr. Flavio Briatore, and celebrates the friendship between the jeweler and owner of Billionaire Lifestyle SARL, from which the design gets its name. The skeleton timepiece features an 18K white-gold case and bracelet, set with 260 carats of GIA certified emerald-cut diamonds that cover every inch of the rather large 58mm x 47.5mm watch. Jacob & Co. also expanded its universe by releasing its latest Grand Complication Masterpiece. The collection, a marriage of artistry and technology, serves as the innovation platform at Jacob & Co. Its latest star is the Astronomia Tourbillon with baguette diamonds, a truly groundbreaking timepiece that elevates the art of watchmaking above the Earth, literally. Combining the highest level of Swiss timepiece craftsmanship and the horological decorative arts, the Astronomia Tourbillon is a three dimensional representation of our celestial world –with every element in constant, visible motion, all under the control of the oscillator at the heart of the three-axis tourbillon with an orbital display for the hours and minutes.
Monaco M4 Phantom
The all-black Tag Heuer Monaco V4 Phantom takes one of the Swiss brand’s most cutting-edge models and makes it look even sharper. Unveiled in 2004, the first Tag Heuer Monaco V4 introduced a unique V-shaped main plate carrying four barrels mounted in two adjacent pairs on ball bearings, and a patented system of microscopic belts to power the tourbillon at 9 o’clock. Several iterations later, the design is one of the flagships of the brand. The new Tag Heuer Monaco V4 Phantom reintroduces its iconic movement inside a totally new case made entirely out of Carbon Matrix Composite, resulting in a sexy timepiece that combines at least 50 shades of grey.
Tradition and innovation go hand in hand at Blancpain, and the Swiss watch brand once again proved the two qualities could complement each other in the new Villeret Grande Date. The watch is classically elegant in its appearance with thin opaline Roman numerals and stainless-steel hour and minute hands oozing the synonymous style of the immortal Villeret collection. The piece is positively timeless, with its simplistic accents complementing the effortlessly stylish nature of its entirety. While Blanpain showed its classic touch with the new Villeret Grande Date, the Swiss watch brand also unveiled its futuristic vision with the L-evolution Tourbillon Carrousel. It’s a mean machine, combining a tourbillon at 11 o’clock and a carrousel at 5 o’clock that will make heads spin. But it’s the avant-garde platinum case design and highly-skeletonized dial that make the Blancpain L-evolution Tourbillon Carrousel so special. It’s one of the sportiest watches unveiled this year at Baselworld, and who would have thought that would be said of a Blancpain.
What is tradition, if not an endless amount of history? Breguet’s latest collection certainly honors the brand’s past achievements and showcases many of its founder’s inventions. Both the Breguet 7097 Tradition Automatique Seconde Rétrograde and the Breguet 7077 La Tradition Chronographe Indépendant are packed with hints of the past, but in keeping with tradition, introduce important innovations. With the Tradition Automatique Seconde Rétrograde 7097, Breguet revisits its founder’s “souscription” and “tact” watches, which were notable for their mechanisms that revealed the bridges, wheels, escapement, barrel and various other parts normally hidden beneath the plate. The offset dial at 12 o’clock, another characteristic of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s distinctive “tact” watches, appears as well. The latter is a modern chronograph using two separate gear trains mounted on separate balance wheels to improve its timekeeping accuracy when the chronograph is being used. Cased in 18K white gold with a delicately-fluted case band, the watch features many of Breguet’s signatures, including iconic open-tipped hands to indicate the hours and minutes within an 18K gold sub-dial at 12 o’clock.
Time To Play
Watches are just toys for the boys, right? Well they certainly used to be, and the crazier the better. But finally, women are joining in the fun. This year at Baselworld, ladies’ watches showed their playful nature. Some were sticking their tongues out; others were opening their petals or portending to fly away. On the wrist they looked as elegant as ever, inspiring a beautiful smile or two. But they also hid very complex mechanics. It seems the boys had their toys taken away this year. Perhaps they were being too naughty. But for women, playtime has just started.
Chanel Première Flying Tourbillon Openwork Watch
Of all of the relationships that have formed in recent years, the strongest may be the one between Chanel and Renaud et Papi (APRP SA). This year, the pair celebrated their third anniversary with the Chanel Première Flying Tourbillon Openwork, the brand’s first skeletonized watch for women, which again features Renaud et Papi’s stunning flying tourbillon caliber at the center of a diamond frame. The Première was actually the first watch Chanel created exclusively for women back in 1987, with a case inspired by the octagonal shape of the Chanel No. 5 bottle stopper. While this year’s piece is a tad more complicated, it retains the charm and femininity of the original design.
Breguet B Crazy Haute Joaillerie
One of the most traditional watchmakers, Breguet showed its wild side with the addition of the Breguet “B Crazy” Haute Joaillerie. The latest watch to bloom out of the Breguet collection, it follows the “Crazy Flower” and “Petite Flower,” which expertly exercised the combination of high jewellery and high horology. The $1.8 million “B Crazy” Haute Joaillerie watch is truly a sight to behold, with its 33mm x 24.95mm 18K white-gold case bedecked with more than 1000 iridescent baguette-cut diamonds, set on mobile petals that seem to sway in the wind.
Fawaz Gruosi is famous for his corporation of diamonds in his timepieces, and the De Grisogono “Crazy Skull” timepiece is no exception. The way in which the 890 rubies have been set in the multidimensional case of the brand’s “Crazy Skull” watch is identical to the shape of a human skull, with its emaciated cheekbones fattened by a gem-setting technique similar to the appearance of solidified lava.
Dior VIII Grand Bal Piece Unique Envol No.5
Dior cracked open the archaeological archives for Baselworld 2015 by introducing the Dior VIII Grand Bal Pièce Unique “Envol” No. 5, a watch full of mystique and ancient Egyptian magic. This one-of-a-kind timepiece features the brand’s innovative oscillating weight at the center of a highly-decorated dial, boasting shocking pink hands against a rippling background of scarab beetle elytra marquetry. Like the scarab beetle, the Dior VIII Grand Bal Pièce Unique Envol No. 5 transforms and brings to life any outfit, illuminating its darkened haunt with vibrant colors and a sliver of bright yellow.
Premier Precious Butterfly Automatic
The Premier Collection was the first watch collection introduced by Harry Winston in 1989, and is now an iconic signature of the company. The three arches on the case echo the facade of the Harry Winston Salon on Fifth Avenue. Presented in white gold, the Premier Precious Butterfly features a dial in butterfly marquetry motif that threatens to fly off the wrist.
Hip To Be Square
Independent watch brands have a wicked way of challenging traditional watchmaking conventions. Unbound by the rules and regulations of conglomerates such as Richemont, LVMH and the Swatch Group, the independents can draw up their own rules—and shapes. And what is squarer in the watch industry than a round case? This year, a lot of the watches found under the Baselworld Palace—the tent-like structure reserved for independent watchmakers—presented straight lines and sharp-corner edges. If the 20th Century will be remembered for its classic circular watches, the same won’t be said for the 21st, since nowadays timepieces come in all shapes and sizes.
Urwerk UR-1001 Titan
Urwerk tried desperately hard to keep it a mystery, but the new Urwerk UR-1001 Titan watch could barely be hidden. The brand has decided to turn its iconic UR- 1001 Zeit Device pocket watch into a wristwatch at the behest of one of its collectors, creating one of the largest timepieces ever made. Measuring 106 x 62 x 23 mm, the world’s largest mechanical watch sits on the forearm, turning man into machine. Urwerk has decided to commercialize the concept with a limited edition of eight models.
Triple Axis Tourbillon
Cabestan introduced itself in 2003 with the Vertical Winch Tourbillon, a watch that features a unique vertical movement. The independent Swiss brand instantly caught the attention of those visiting its stand that year, and have had to live up to high expectations ever since. This year Cabestan took another giant and bold step forward, breaking away from its original DNA with the Triple Axis Tourbillon. It’s a risk that has paid off handsomely. The new model features a large sapphire that lets in plenty of light to show off an exclusive flying tourbillon that is both technically and aesthetically brilliant. The new Triple Axis Tourbillon is a show of intent from Cabestan, proving at once that it is not a one-trick pony.
Manufacture Contemporaine Du Temps unveiled the F110 watch at Baselworld, inaugurating the Frequential Collection in the same breath. The watch drew a lot of praise for its ability to combine classic lines and modern mechanics inside a lovely cushion-shaped case. Crafted from Titanium Grade 5 with DLC treatment, the F110 features hours, minutes and a power reserve function at 12 o’clock. However, the focus of the watch is the balance wheel that stares down the middle of the timepiece, locking eyes with anyone who comes across it. The watch is powered by a new caliber, the MCT-F1.0 manual hand-winding movement, developed and assembled in-house by the brand.
The H3 is the world’s most complex watch according to HYT, which means a lot coming from the independent watch brand that made hydro-mechanical watches a thing. There are no hands, satellites, or any other systems of time-reading that we’ve become accustomed to. Instead, HYT has created a rotating dial with four faces arranged along the time-display tube. Each of these faces is graduated with six hours, thereby enabling the 24 hours of the day to be displayed. Officially it measures a whopping 62 by 41 mm, so there is little point trying to get it under the cuff. But then again, why hide its beauty? The first timepieces of a limited edition of 25 pieces will be available starting September 2015.
With the U10 Tourbillon Lumière, Angelus has done something devilishly clever. The Swiss watchmaker managed to reach into horology’s past and pull forth something that looks remarkably modern. Mixing vintage and contemporary sensibilities together should have produced something pretty garish, but in the very capable hands of Angelus, the U10 Tourbillon Lumière is a wonderfully cohesive achievement in design. Aesthetics clearly culled from the ‘60s and ‘70s mesh beautifully with the sleek annealed steel that encases the watch’s notable movement, producing a pleasingly unique timepiece with design elements from today, yesterday and tomorrow.