There were a lot of good things at Baselworld, the high watches and jewellery show in Basel, Switzerland, which ran from 24 April until 2 June. There was the new structure for the main hall, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, with its striking expanded metal sheet envelope, and its circular aperture over Messeplatz.
There were some remarkable new products both from mainstream brands and from the independent watchmakers. There was a good feeling about business, with many companies reporting growing sales figures. For many maisons, the key to success is connecting to the Asian markets, particularly China and Russia, with interesting developments from Singapore and Brazil.
There were some important anniversaries, such as the 275th of Jaquet Droz, Certina's 130th, and the 50th of the Tag Heuer Carrera. For the 60th anniversary of the Blancpain classic diving watch Fifty Fathoms, CEO Marc A. Hayek (in the photo below), himself a keen scuba diver, described the story and introduced the new versions.
There were many technical innovations, wonderful for geeks but also artfully translated into stunning looks. While Omega are excelling in keeping magnetism outside the movement, presenting the powerfully antimagnetic Seamaster Aqua Terra 15,000 Gauss, Breguet have moved in the other direction, actually introducing two magnets into the case. In the Breguet Classique Chronométrie 7727 (below), the balance wheel pivot is not held by the usual ruby bearings, but by two powerful micromagnets, which provide virtually zero friction, as well as excellent shock-resistance and precision.
Many brands are forging ahead with new alloys and ceramics. Rolex actually refines its own gold and so is constantly researching new alloys related to its proprietary Everose, which retains its pink colour more durably than normal gold-copper alloys. Omega's Sedna gold combines gold, copper and palladium to create a unique hue. Ebel presented a greenish gold tint for its latest watches for women. Burberry, exhibiting at the Basel show for the first time, presented a 50-piece limited edition of the Britain for women in its 'Trench Gold' case colour, a perfect match for the brand's signature garment fabrics. Shown below, craftsmanship on The Britain by Burberry.
Other trends in visual design include extensive areas of irregularly-set gems – we're talking about women's watches – creating a glittering pavé that is unique to each watch. The same sort of diffuse sparkle is created by Milanese watch bracelets, which are making a strong return. De Grisogono presented watches (shown below) in which the diamonds extended outwards from the bezel in a flexible mat which rippled gently against the skin.
Let's look at some examples.
The colour of the year is definitely blue. Rolex featured a blue-dial version of their classic Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, along with other bright colours, cherry, green, cognac, chocolate as well as rhodium.
Omega's new Seamaster Aqua Terra models (below), now with day and date windows at 12 and 6 o'clock respectively, include a version with a deep blue dial, and likewise its lovely Planet Ocean 'Good Planet.'
Jeanrichard's Terrascope and Aquascope models (Aquascope in the photo below) also include an ultramarine-toned dial.
Glashütte Original's version of the colour is midnight blue, in its new variants of the Sixties and Sixties Panorama Date.
When it comes to sheer watchmaking brilliance, we are spoilt for choice. Girard-Perregaux have created not just a new movement, but a new regulator, replacing the classic lever escapement with a very thin blade fixed at either end and snapping across from one side to another, like a business card held between thumb and finger – which intriguingly was precisely what gave the watchmaker the original idea in 2008. Five years of development later, the Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement L.M. is something truly different, a design for which there is no benchmark.
Harry Winston's new products were a rich treasure trove, amidst the luscious beauty of the Premier Feathers collection, the diamond-setting brilliance of Premier Glacier, and the originality of Opus XIII. I particularly loved the Ocean Tourbillon Jumping Hour (shown below), in which the tourbillon is suspended from steel bridges without any apparent mechanical connection to the rest of the timepiece. The jumping hours window is never obscured by the minute hand, which is a small red triangle that revolves around the dial.
Blancpain is to the Carrousel what Breguet is to the tourbillon, and the Carrousel Répétition Minutes Chronographe Flyback is a very beautiful piece of haute horlogerie that combines the flying carrousel at 6 o'clock with a minute repeater, operated by a slider at 9 o'clock, and a flyback chronograph, with column wheel and vertical coupling clutch. The 546 components of the in-house 2358-calibre movement are housed inside a 45-millimetre red gold case. The chronograph minutes and seconds are shown by means of centre-sweep hands, read off the inside and outside of the chapter ring, which enables the maison to open up the dial and expose the amazingly beautiful movement.
In their anniversary year, Jaquet Droz returned to the legend of founder Pierre, who became famous for his automata and singing birds. The Charming Bird combines tradition with up-to-the-minute looks, with a beautifully-sculpted bird that turns, flaps its wings, moves head and tail, and opens its beak, chirping audibly by means of a piston-driven bellows system. A masterpiece, available in a limited series of 28.
Glashütte Original continue the development of their superb PanoLunarTourbillon series, with the classic asymmetric dial framed in a 40 millimetre red gold case, and the flying tourbillon highlighted by the silver dial.
We cannot end this article without mentioning Longines, a brand that has been based in Saint-Imier in Switzerland since 1832, and has consolidated a leadership position in the CHF 900-3,000 sector. In our interview, CEO Walter von Känel said that he knows that he will always sell as many classic watches in steel and gold, with white or silver dial, as he makes. This year's HydroConquest collection includes the de rigueur blue-dial model, but, as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Some more images from the show:
Above, Tony Axelzon of timetotalk.se