The biggest watch fair in the world revealed some major overall trends. First and most important, the battle is being waged above all in the lower luxury tier, from 800 to 4,000 Swiss francs (about the same in euro). Brands that were previously principally working below this tier – quartz brands – are moving upwards into the area of automatic watches, above all Swatch Group brands such as Tissot, Mido and Rado. Hamilton is already going strong and reaping its rewards in this sector. And a few other medium-high level brands are extending their range downwards into the entry-level bracket, such as Corum with a new range of quartz watches. Rolex’s entry-level Oyster Perpetual in steel now has a price of £3,750, complete with a new colour range and exceptional precision. And Tudor, sister brand to Rolex and up until now considered as a cheaper alternative, is reinforcing its identity with an in-house movement and very attractive pricing, at 3,400-3,500 Swiss francs.
The other trends confirm what we’ve been seeing over recent months and years. Greater attention to women’s watches, with female designers enlisted to ensure that the products are user-friendly, and some beautiful women’s complications. Trend dial colours are blue and bordeaux. A small flurry of intelligent watches, with a few brands (Alpina, Frederique Constant) adding sensors and electronics to their watches that interact with your smartphone, and others resolutely resisting electronics and using other forms of intelligence (Bulgari, H. Moser). Some fine minute repeaters, with a couple that you can actually hear. A predominance of “useful” complications (such as second time zone). Lots of refreshing, original pieces by independent and one-man brands.
Top 10 watches (alphabetical order)
1. Arnold & Son, Golden Wheel
Arnold & Son are a company who purchased the rights to this historic brand name, and while their use of the date 1764 on the dial may seem like a bit of a stretch when compared to brands like Vacheron Constantin and Blancpain which have truly been operating for a couple of centuries, Arnold & Son are commendably researching their acquired origins and creating a brand identity based on the British watchmaker’s work for the Navy and including historically-influenced true beat watches. The Golden Wheel in the Instrument collection is a very unusual way of displaying the time, with slim rotating sapphire discs, a so-called “wandering hours” display, with a central true beat seconds hand. The watch has a 44-mm case in red gold containing an automatic movement with a 50-hour power reserve. It is a limited edition of 125 pieces, at a price of 46,764 Swiss francs (inclusive of taxes).
2. Breguet, Tradition Chronographe Indépendant 7077
Breguet presented several interesting pieces at Baselworld 2015, and I have chosen the 7077 chronograph because it could be considered as a concept piece, more a work of art than an everyday watch. Though not entirely practical – the chronograph seconds scale has no numerical indications, and the chronograph minutes scale is also rudimentary – the watch is a fitting tribute to the legendary Abraham-Louis Breguet, founder of the brand. In this piece, Breguet have completely separated the chronograph from the main going train, so that each function has its own gear train and balance wheel. The time function is powered by a manually-wound 3-Hertz movement with a 50-hour power reserve, while the chronograph function has a 5-Hertz movement for greater precision. There is just one barrel which powers the main gear train, while the energy for the chronograph is provided when the user presses the chronograph reset button. This action charges a flexed-blade spring, and that simple operation of pressing the pusher to reset the chronograph provides the system with enough energy to run for 20 elapsed minutes. The dial for hours and minutes is at the top of the watch, flanked by the chronograph minute counter on the left, and power reserve indicator on the right. The case is 44 mm in diameter, in white or pink gold; the movement is the Calibre 580DR. Price €73,200 for the white gold version, €72,000 for the pink gold version. Read more here.
3. Fabergé, Peacock Egg watch
Peter Carl Fabergé’s mission, as supplier to the Tsar, was “to surprise and delight,” and this year in Baselworld the brand did exactly that, not only with the first imperial egg after 99 years. but above all for two very beautiful women’s complication watches. They worked with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht from Agenhor, and the results are beautiful. The Peacock Egg watch was inspired by a Fabergé egg, and the peacock’s golden, bejewelled tail gradually opens to indicate the minutes shown on a mother-of-pearl scale that slowly progresses around the dial, while another mother-of-pearl ring indicates the hours read off against the crown wheel. The Peacock Egg watch’s curved shape, with domed sapphire crystal, sapphire caseback and platinum case, recalls the eggy origins. The technology is beautifully hidden, and from outside the watch is a sumptuous jewel, while inside, Jean-Marc’s movement includes a system of four gears that propel the peacock’s tail feathers, with special spring blades between the teeth that eliminate any play and ensure that the movement is smooth, and that the feathers remain perfectly positioned at all times. Read more here.
4. Girard-Perregaux, 1966 Minute Repeater
This is an exceptional minute repeater, because, like few others, you can hear it across a room. Like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept RD#1, the sound is louder when the watch is worn on the wrist. At the same time, an open architecture reveals the movement, with both the tourbillon and the striking mechanism visible from the dial side. According to Girard-Perregaux, the reasons for the exceptional acoustics are the position of the gongs and hammers, the relationship between the size of case and size of movement, the attention paid to keeping the inside of the case free from added structures, and the curved sapphire caseback. The link between the mainplate and the caseband has been reinforced to improve sound transmission from gongs to movement and on to the case. This is a limited edition of 10 pieces. Price €387,500. Read more here.
5. Hermès, Slim de Hermès, Perpetual Calendar with GMT
Laurent Dordet, the new CEO of La Montre Hermès, said that this year’s collection represented an important step, and its significance is linked to an ultra-thin movement specially designed and made by Vaucher, and all parts of the watchmaking process, from design to assembly, were performed in-house. The collection has an entry-level price of 6,900 Swiss francs, while this perpetual calendar is priced at 35,000 Swiss francs. Read more here.
6. H. Moser, Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue
Usually a perpetual calendar has a busy, complicated dial because it has to display day, date, month and the leap year cycle, as well as the usual time functions. This piece has a dial of Bauhaus-type simplicity, but it still manages to display hours, minutes, seconds, big date and power reserve on the dial, and the leap year cycle on the caseback. The in-house movement has been used in other watches by the brand, including a piece that won the GPHG prize in 2006. The graded blue of the dial and beautiful movement finish contrast pleasantly with the weathered look of the Kudu antelope strap. This is a brand with a quirky style, they do what they want and how they want, as illustrated by a YouTube campaign advertising this watch and comparing it to the Apple Watch: the basic message was “luxury is not having to plug the thing in every 18 hours.”
7. Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Silver Snoopy Award
This piece had the journalists drooling during the presentation. It celebrates the 45th anniversary of the Silver Snoopy Award presented to Omega by the NASA astronauts following the dramatic Apollo 13 mission, when Jack Swigert used his Speedmaster chronograph to time a 14-second engine burn that got them back on course. The watch has lots of Snoopy details, with the dog dreaming the phrase “Failure is not an option” spoken by Ed Harris, the actor playing Gene Kranz in the movie, and the phrase “What could you do in 14 seconds?” around the edge of the dial from 12 to 3 o’clock. Snoopy also appears on the caseback with a space helmet, as in the original Silver Snoopy medal designed by Charles Schulz. The watch is a version of the Speedmaster, with the colours reversed with respect to the original, and so more legible both by day and by night, with a liberal use of luminescent coating.
8. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, reference 5524
This is the first Patek Philippe pilot’s watch for quite a time, and while it shares a lot of the classic features of the genre, it has some important and practical differences. The dial is in dark navy blue lacquer, with large applied Arabic numerals in white gold with generous SuperLuminova coating, as on the baton-style hands for local time. Patek Philippe have added a useful function to the basic pilot’s watch, an indicator for a second time zone. The home time hour hand is skeletonized and designed so that when the watch is set so that local time and home time are the same, the home time hand is below the local time hand. There are two day/night indicators with small circular windows, one at 9 o’clock for local time, and one at 3 o’clock for home time. The time-zone adjustment pushers have a safety lock to prevent accidental adjustment of the local time hour setting. To be operated, the pusher is released by a quarter turn, and after adjustment, they can be locked with a quarter-turn in the other direction. The watch is powered by the in-house automatic Calibre CH 324 S C FUS movement. Price 42,000 Swiss francs. Read more here.
9. Rolex Day-Date 40
In actual fact I could have chosen any one of the various Rolex new products, because while they have nothing particularly revolutionary in terms of design or functions, the new generation of movements, and in this case the Calibre 3255 entirely manufactured in-house, is exceptional for precision and power reserve. Over 90% of the components have been redesigned, and the certification procedure is also new, with the customary movement certification by COSC followed by Rolex’s own in-house testing on the watch assembled in its case. At worst, precision is -2/+2 seconds per day, which is two times better than the COSC parameters and industry-leading. The new barrel design provides more space for the spring, enabling a power reserve of 70 hours, a significant figure because it means that you can put the watch away in a drawer on Friday evening and put it on again on Monday morning and it will still be running.
10. Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon
There are some interesting new products by Ulysse Nardin this year, and in particular the Anchor Tourbillon. Curiously, this piece has something in common with the Girard Perregaux Constant Force escapement first presented two years ago, and not just the fact that both brands are now part of the Kering Group. The new escapement looks like a classical anchor escapement, but it is in fact supported by two blade springs which have a bistable stability. In other words, they can be bent one way, or the other, and when they snap from one configuration to another, they release a constant amount of energy. The pallet arms therefore hold the pallet fork, which has no staff and so does not generate friction. The pallet fork can be seen as part of the tourbillon. The rest of the watch is a traditional piece with white grand feu enamel dial. It is made in two limited editions, white gold or red gold, and it will be available from May 2015.