Superlatives are everything when it comes to standing out in a competitive industry. In recent years, the luxury-watch world has provided plenty of evidence of this: The most complicated timepiece. The loudest minute repeater. The thinnest what-have-you. But this year, the world’s biggest watch fair – we’re talking about Baselworld, of course – heralded an interesting development, no doubt a result of the depressed retail environment right now: Brands seem to be competing over which of them can produce the cheapest timepiece.
And mind you, when we talk about these new, accessibly priced models, we’re not talking about some basic, no-frills time-tellers, but advanced complications. Tag Heuer, a brand that not too long ago embarked on a major exercise to pull its prices firmly back into entry-level territory, showcased the Carrera Heuer-02T. The watch’s USP: Costing less than $30,000, it is the most affordable Swiss-made tourbillon chronograph out there right now.
Ditto the perpetual calendar, a high complication that watch lovers hold dear because of the mechanical wizardry that enables it to require just a once-a-century adjustment. Frederique Constant and Chopard released accessibly priced perpetual calendars in steel, with the former winning the “most affordable” mantle with its approximately 8,000 Swiss francs (S$11,200) version.
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But it wouldn’t be Baselworld without the big statements, of course. Bulgari impressed us with its industrial-looking, super-sleek Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, which is – we told you superlatives were important – the world’s thinnest minute repeater. And while Ulysse Nardin streamlined its product lines, it went big on its signature nautical theme with a timepiece whose retrograde minutes hand is moved by a sailboat-style pulley system. Exciting new products, sitting alongside well-made, well-priced ones– a winning combination that we like to think of as a silver lining in tough times.
(RELATED: The 24 Best Luxury Watches of SIHH 2016.)
01: HISTORICAL VALUE – ROLEX
There’s nothing wrong with dwelling on the past when it results in releases like the kind put out by Rolex this year. Take, for instance, its 2016 Daytona watches. Fitted with black Cerachrom (Rolex’s ceramic) bezels, the 40mm steel Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona pays homage to Daytona models from 1965, which were the first to bear black bezels (back then, however, they were made from Plexiglas).
Rolex also pleased fans with updates of two entry-level classics in steel. The Oyster Perpetual Explorer was refreshed with luminescent numerals, which glow blue in the dark thanks to the brand’s Chromalight lume. Another old favourite, the Oyster Perpetual Air-King, returns with references to 1950s models, using the same lettering for the “Air-King” inscription on its dial.
02: AIR TIME – BREGUET
Best known for timepieces with elaborate complications and the decorations to match, Breguet is not generally associated with aviation watches. Well, turns out that the brand’s eponymous founder and tourbillon-creator Abraham-Louis Breguet wasn’t the only inventor in the family. His great-great-grandson, Louis Charles Breguet, was a developer and maker of planes. Additionally, the Breguet watch company used to supply pilot’s watches to the French military.
This year, Breguet reminds us of its links to flying with the Type XXI 3817 chronograph, an addition to its lesser-known collection of aviation watches. The 42mm steel watch has a flyback chronograph function and vintage accents, such as a slate-grey dial with a finely fluted caseband, providing an aesthetic link to this past.
03: INDIVIDUAL ENTERPRISE – BREITLING
Just as many companies are releasing smaller versions of their watches, independent brand Breitling breezily unveils the 50mm Avenger Hurricane, which houses the COSC-certified B12 chronograph movement. However, the brand has thoughtfully crafted the case from a new polymer it aptly calls Breitlight. Weighing 3.3 times less than titanium, and 5.8 times lighter than steel (but much harder), the subtly mottled material is resistant to scratches and temperature changes, and hypoallergenic.
Also new: The Breitling Chronoworks performance lab, a division that will develop and test technical innovations. For this year, the team reworked the brand’s Calibre 01, making a series of technical improvements that take its power reserve from 70 to 100 hours. The souped-up movement powers the Superocean Heritage Chronoworks watch.
04: NEXT WAVE – BREMONT
Aviation-focused English brand Bremont continues to extend its reach from air to sea with new watches created in partnership with the America’s Cup and defending title-holders Oracle Team USA. Aside from dressier Regatta AC models in rose gold or steel, there are sporty-looking Regatta OTUSA titanium-encased models in white or black.
Two key features distinguish the latter from regular chronographs. Firstly, the Regatta OTUSA models have 15-minute countdown and five-minute countdown displays, which are handy in regattas, where crews have only a short time to get their yachts to the starting line. Secondly, the watch crowns contain carbon fibre from the Oracle Team USA yacht that won the America’s Cup in 2013 – a nice bit of nautical fairy dust for both sailors and landlubbers.
05: STAR TURN – ARNOLD & SON
Fans of Arnold & Son’s signature triangular bridges should be very pleased with the Nebula, one of the brand’s headliners for the year. Seven of those architectural-looking structures frame the openwork dial of this watch, and are meant to evoke the look of an exploded star.
The concept of symmetry – which traditional aesthetes believe to be key to beauty – is also central to the construction of this timepiece, which is symmetrical horizontally and vertically. Available in red gold or steel, the 41.5mm watch is powered by a new skeletonised, manually wound movement featuring two mainspring barrels that give it 90 hours of power reserve.
06: BEYOND THE J12 – CHANEL
Until now, Chanel’s men’s timepiece offerings have been confined to its popular J12 ceramic watches. This year, the French company makes a surprising move that aligns it with a growing number of luxury fashion houses making serious inroads into haute horology. The Monsieur de Chanel is powered by the Calibre 1, the first movement designed, created and produced by Chanel.
The result of five years of development, the manually wound movement has two advanced features: a digital jumping hour and a retrograde minute display. An interesting detail is that the movement’s wheels were produced – to Chanel’s specifications – by well-known independent watchmaker Romain Gauthier. The 40mm watch is available in white gold or Chanel’s proprietary beige gold.
07: IN PERPETUAL MOTION – CHOPARD
Only requiring adjustment once every century (if kept wound up), the perpetual calendar is the highlight of two of Chopard’s releases, each at a different price point. At the higher end, there is the L.U.C Perpetual Chrono, with a sticker price of US$85,000 (S$115,000). Featuring Chopard’s first in-house perpetual calendar and chronograph movement, it bears Geneva Seal and COSC certification. It’s also socially responsible: Its 45mm case is made from ethically sourced Fairmined white or rose gold.
Chopard also launched the L.U.C Perpetual Twin, a chronometer-certified perpetual calendar in a stainless steel case. Priced at US$25,000, it is but one of the latest examples of how more brands are making high complications available to a wider audience.
08: TIME FOR SOME BUBBLY – CORUM
With the growing number of brands in the high-horology space, one way for brands to stand out is by creating distinctive designs that people instantly associate with them. For Corum, that signature has long been the Golden Bridge, its floating linear movement. But the brand is clearly looking to establish the Bubble, which was re-launched last year to plenty of buzz, as another key model.
At Baselworld 2016, Corum dedicated a room to the watch with the comically outsized, domed sapphire glass (the glass itself is 8mm high). Bubble models from past and present were on show, including this year’s novelties – which ranged from the Heritage Tourbillon Bubble GMT to gaming-themed models, as well as collaborative pieces with French photographer Dani Olivier.
09: ELEGANTLY EFFICIENT – BLANCPAIN
As brands continue coaxing consumers to loosen those purse strings, steel is back in business in a big way, with brands that typically favour pricey precious metals employing it in their new releases. This year’s Villeret Quantieme Annuel GMT watch marks the first time Blancpain has encased an annual calendar watch in steel.
We like how the 40mm white-dialled watch retains the clean and classical look of the Villeret series, despite its functionality. The subdial at eight o’clock displays the home time, while the day/date/month windows are neatly positioned on the right side of the dial. Reinforcing this quiet aesthetic, the watch’s calendar-adjustment buttons are tucked away under the lugs, instead of taking up real estate on the periphery of the case.
10: A MODERN NOTE – BULGARI
Stealth wealth can take several horological forms – a tourbillon that is visible only through a caseback, for instance, or an unassuming, time-only watch that was fully handmade by a master. And then there is Bulgari’s latest minute repeater, a sporty-looking, ultra-thin model that bears scant resemblance to typical chiming watches.
With a thickness of just 6.85mm, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is also the world’s thinnest minute repeater. One of the keys to its slender form is the sand-blasted titanium used for its 40mm case and dial – the low-density metal makes for more resonant sound as compared to precious metals. Cut-out numerals and markers on the dial further help to increase sound resonance, although they also add to the watch’s industrial-chic appearance.
11: BLASTS FROM THE PAST – GIRARD-PERREGAUX
This year, Girard-Perregaux marks its 225th anniversary with tributes to its lengthy history. A gold medallist at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889, the Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges pocket watch inspired the brand’s 2016 elaborate star highlight, the Esmeralda Tourbillon. The 45mm pink gold watch reflects this influence in details such as the double-headed arrow design of its three hand-finished bridges.
Also noteworthy is the Place Girardet collection of 225 watches. While all the watches are technically similar, they come in various finishes and colours. More interestingly, each features a plate denoting a different year starting from 1791, and the bottom of each dial is marked by a major event that took place that year.
12: FROM THE INSIDE – GLASHUTTE ORIGINAL
At the massive watch fair that is Baselworld, it is easy to get distracted by complicated, sometimes over-the-top new releases. But Glashutte Original served up a timely reminder that less can be more, and that watchmaking excellence starts with a firm foundation.
Enter the new Calibre 36, an automatic base movement designed for greater stability, precision and running time. Debuting in the also-new Senator Excellence models, the movement called for a rethinking of the fundamentals: For instance, it is held in place with a twist-to-lock bayonet mount (like that of a camera lens), making it shock-resistant, and easy to disassemble and service. Also, its substantial 100-hour power reserve was achieved simply by increasing the size of the mainspring barrel while shrinking its arbour (or spindle). Consider us distracted.
13: MADE FOR LIFE – H. MOSER
One might ask, why make a perpetual calendar watch water-resistant to 120m? It’s not like you’re going to take such a high-end timepiece along for a swim, anyway. That said, considering the high cost of these high-complication watches, perhaps a better question would be, why not? Which is why H. Moser’s latest, the Pioneer Perpetual Calendar, makes good sense to us.
Combining the brand’s award-winning, minimalist perpetual calendar calibre (the month is indicated by a little central arrow pointing at the hour indexes, which double as month indicators) with the lightweight titanium case of the new sporty Pioneer family, this new release measures 42.8mm in diameter and offers a seven-day power reserve.
14: ART OF SUBTLETY – HERMES
Following the launch of its Slim d’Hermes collection last year, Hermes continues to add to the ultra-thin watch family. Aside from presenting new dial colours (blue and slate-grey) for the 39.5mm automatic models, Hermes unveiled the Slim d’Hermes Email. A grand feu enamel dial, created by repeated firings of a copper disc coated with enamelling powder, is an elegantly stark complement to the minimalist stylings of the rose gold timepiece.
Elsewhere, Hermes showcased another artistic technique used for the first time in watches – the dial of the Arceau Tigre features a tiger motif created by shaded enamel. The technique combines engraving and enamelling to create an image of varying depths, which absorbs or reflects light to three-dimensional effect.
(RELATED: Hermes reopens Liat Towers boutique.)
15: ALL BASES COVERED – HUBLOT
Hublot watches are bold statements, and not always ones that we are sure we want to make. This year, however, we would gladly make wrist space for many of the manufacture’s latest launches, in particular the Big Bang Meca-10. Taking its cues from the classic Meccano toys, the new in-house skeleton movement has a clean, industrial look that belies its lengthy 10-day power reserve.
Hublot also served up winners for watch aficionados with fashion-forward leanings: The Classic Fusion Berluti collaborative piece uses the shoemaker’s leather on its dial and straps to beautiful effect, while brightly coloured linen adds summery appeal to the dials and straps of the Big Bang Tutti Frutti Linen models.
16: FULL CIRCLES – JACQUET DROZ
Jaquet Droz’s line-up for 2016 focuses on the Grande Seconde, a family distinguished by two subdials that form the numeral eight. Driven by a new automatic movement, the Grande Seconde Dual Time turns the large seconds subdial at the bottom into a triple-tasker: Aside from showing the seconds, the subdial also serves as a date indicator and a 24-hour second time zone display.
Another addition to the family is the Grande Seconde Off-Centered. The two subdials occupy off-centre positions on the polished black onyx dial, with the top subdial moved to the right and the bottom one shifted left. Achieved by turning the movement slightly, the design is unexpected and all the more charming for it.
17: THE RIGHT TRACK – LONGINES
In recent years, Longines’ heritage-inspired collection has taken inspiration from its vintage watches created for a variety of purposes: aviation, the military, equestrian and diving. Just as we thought we knew the extent of the brand’s historical reach, it reveals yet another facet of its past.
A 40mm automatic watch in steel, the Longines Railroad takes its cues from a 1960s model designed for railway workers. Neat but not boring, the design of the Railroad is dominated by black Arabic numerals that make up its 24-hour time display, and accented by small details such as the letters RR on its dial.
(RELATED: Read up our 2015 Baselworld Report.)
18: LET IT SHINE – MB&F
Spelt out in full, MB&F stands for “Max Busser and Friends”. Busser, of course, is the independent brand’s founder, while “friends” refers to MB&F’s many well-known collaborators. Its latest ally is James Thompson, a Canadian designer currently based in Sweden.
The founder of design studio Black Badger Advanced Composites, Thompson specialises in working with a solid luminescent material (or lume) that is brighter than Superluminova, the liquid-based lume commonly used in watches. The glowing blocks (in green, blue or purple) illuminate and accent new Performance Art editions of two designs: HMX watches, which were launched last year to mark the brand’s 10th anniversary; and the Starfleet Machine table clock. Warning: Do not wear these to the cinema.
19: FORWARD MOVEMENT – OMEGA
Two years ago, Omega and Metas (the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology) announced a new joint watch certification, with watches that pass this test qualifying for the title of Master Chronometer. Omega has wasted no time in pushing out new movements bearing this mark of quality: Six new Master Chronometer movements were presented this year, powering novelties such as the Globemaster Annual Calendar and all the latest Seamaster Planet Ocean models.
Yet our favourite of all the new Omegas is one powered by a legendary movement first used in 1959. The 39.7mm Speedmaster “CK2998” Limited Edition is an update on one of the first Omega watches worn by astronauts, and is powered by the Nasa-approved Calibre 1861.
20: TWICE AS NICE – PATEK PHILIPPE
Patek Philippe was one of the first brands to create the world-time watch as we know it today, based on the system invented by Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier. The brand is also known for its chronographs, especially desirable when paired with high complications like the perpetual calendar. But interestingly enough, it has never created a movement that combines the world-timer and the chronograph, save for a unique piece created for a client in 1940.
Which makes the World Time Chronograph Ref. 5930 kind of a big deal. Bringing together elements of two calibres, the manufacture has created the world’s thinnest and smallest world-timer chronograph. These two useful complications are fitted into an elegant white gold case measuring 39.5mm across and 12.86mm thick.
21: LIGHT FUTURE – RADO
Lightness was the theme of a Rado-sponsored exhibition held during Baselworld and, this year, the brand elaborates on this concept by taking its products further into featherweight territory. Weighing in at a barely there 56g, the Hyperchrome Ultralight is crafted from three super-light materials – silicon nitride ceramic, anodised aluminium and hardened titanium.
The last material involves the use of a newly developed treatment that changes the topmost structure of titanium, giving the light metal greater resistance to scratches. This toughened-up titanium also takes centre stage in the Hyperchrome 1616 (pictured), a cushion-shaped watch that looks a little out of place in today’s Rado line-up but is actually based on the brand’s Cape Horn model from the 1970s.
22: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – ROMAIN JEROME
During a recent chat we had with RJ-Romain Jerome CEO Manuel Emch, he let on that the brand has several famous fans from the fashion and music industries. Aside from watch boutiques, RJ-Romain Jerome is also stocked at cult concept stores like Colette in Paris, where fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has purchased several of its timepieces.
Combining fine watchmaking with a sleek, quirky aesthetic, the Moon Orbiter GMT shows why the independent brand appeals to horology buffs and fashion fans. The calibre, made in collaboration with movement specialist La Joux-Perret, includes a flying tourbillon with a rocket-shaped cage. Integrated with a signature X-shaped dial, the decorated plate features a jumping-hour second time display. Function, form and fun? We’ll say yes to that.
23: SHAKING THINGS UP – TAG HEUER
Two years ago, major changes at Tag Heuer culminated in a renewed emphasis on its niche as a gateway to luxury watches. But this doesn’t just translate to making simpler timepieces – the brand is positioning itself as a provider of “affordable haute horlogerie”, with bold launches like the Carrera Heuer 02T-Tourbillon. Its starting price of $21,800 makes it the lowest-priced Swiss-made tourbillon chronograph around.
But the past has not been forgotten even as the brand looks to secure its future. A reissue of the Monza Chronograph marks the 40th anniversary of the Monza – a watch created to celebrate Niki Lauda’s first Formula One championship title with Ferrari. Housed in a cushion-shaped titanium case, the Monza stays true to the original, adopting the latter’s pulsometer and tachymeter scales, as well as its font.
24: COMING INTO ITS OWN – TUDOR
For many horology fans, there’s just something special about a watch with an in-house movement, rather than one sourced from a third party. This year, Tudor makes the Heritage Black Bay – already a cult favourite – even more desirable with the new in-house automatic movement MT5602. Even better, the manufacture movement-powered pieces will only cost buyers an extra 250 Swiss francs (S$351).
Two special models, also featuring in-house movements, join the Black Bay line-up this year. Firstly, there’s the Heritage Black Bay Dark, an all-black version in satin-brushed PVD-treated steel. And then there’s the Heritage Black Bay Bronze, the brand’s first bronze watch. Slightly larger than the other Black Bays at 43mm, its case is made from a bronze-aluminium alloy that will age subtly over time.
25: ALL HANDS ON DECK – ULYSSE NARDIN
There are nautical-inspired watches. And then, there is the Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. Taking its signature maritime influence up many notches, the brand has created one of Baselworld 2016’s most out-of-this-world designs. The watch is designed to look like a ship’s deck, with the star attraction being the pulley system that moves the retrograde minutes hand.
Modelled after a ship’s boom (the horizontal pole used to angle the head sail), the minute hand is pulled by a nanowire that is finer than a human hair. Completing this mini-tableau: hand-crafted wood marquetry on the dial, as well as little rails at the bottom of the dial.
26: ON THE ROAD – ZENITH
Watches aside, Zenith offered plenty of diversions at Baselworld this year: a retro-style barbershop right in its booth, offering fairgoers a shave and a shoeshine; classic cars, complete with a Zenith livery, that could be hired via Uber. This year, the brand goes old-school, aligning its El Primero movement-powered novelties with classic automobiles, as well as an English motorcycling subculture that arose in the 1960s.
The El Primero 36,000 VPH Classic Cars is an update on a 2013 release, and features a new dial that stands out with brushed Geneva stripes. A grained slate-grey dial, on the other hand, gives the Zenith Pilot Cafe Racer an appealing vintage feel. It is housed in the brand’s 45mm Type 20 pilot’s watch case in steel.