The luxury watch industry is resonating to the chimes of epochal change. So it is only natural that the world’s most important watch and jewellery show, Baselworld, is also adapting to the new milieu. The 2019 edition attracted around 600 exhibitors, in comparison with the figure of approximately 2,000 attained in 2011. Swatch Group’s decision to leave the show meant the absence of important brands such as Omega, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Hamilton, Tissot and many others. The show’s new management structure has introduced some new features such as a revamped media centre and a catwalk for jewellery presentations. And 2020 will see even more radical changes, principally a calendar coordination between Baselworld and the other important watch show, SIHH.
Perhaps the most dramatic change in the show is the style of companies’ presentations, increasingly involving influencers, personalities, musicians, events and social media. Every year, more and more luxury brands present their own version of connected watches, as exemplified this year by the Modular 45 Golf Edition, linked to the TAG Heuer Golf App. Topical themes are finding their way into the industry, for example the problem of plastics in the ocean, championed by the Oris Clean Oceans Limited Edition created in partnership with the Pacific Garbage Screening project. The timepiece has a caseback in recycled plastic, a touch that adds extra colour and makes each watch unique while also expressing the brand’s commitment to the environmental cause. The GyroGraff Endangered Species collection comprises a series of five watches with diamond-marquetry dials depicting an elephant, a tiger, a panda, a rhino and a gorilla, all listed by the World Wildlife Fund as threatened by extinction. The watches themselves are remarkable complications, with a double-axis tourbillon, a spherical moon phase indicator, and a power reserve indicator.
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New layouts created by daring combinations
In terms of design, fusion is a significant theme. Patek Philippe added a 24-hour alarm function to its pilot’s watch in the 5520P, a watch with four crowns and four patents on the new movement. TAG Heuer’s Autavia Isograph is a fascinating combination of a pilot’s watch – bold luminescent numerals, large crown – with diver’s watch performance and everyday functionality provided by a bi-directional bezel, date window and smart gradient dial. The Nomos Glashütte Tangente Sport Neomatic combines the Bauhaus aesthetic with a 1,000-foot water resistance.
New materials and innovative technology
There are some exciting episodes of technical innovation premiered at Baselworld 2019. Ulysse Nardin’s Freak NeXt has a 32-blade silicium balance suspended on a ‘virtual pivot,’ beating at 12 Hertz, three times the usual rate. The concept watch’s energy is produced by a complex rotor system whose name ‘The Grinder’ reflects the brand’s ties to sailing. Zenith has also been working on a high-frequency calibre, and in the Defy Inventor, a one-piece regulator incorporates the escapement anchor and runs at a super-fast 18 Hertz, with a very low amplitude, just 6°. Both these watches have a superb appearance, with the Defy Inventor featuring a deconstructed blue dial and a blue star-shaped counterweight.
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A passion for blue
Blue remains the most important ‘other colour’ for watches, in addition to the ever-popular silver, white and black dials. There are some new shades of blue, such as the spectacular turquoise of the Rolex Day Date 36, the lovely combination of a blue dial and a white metal case as in the Patek Philippe 5726 Nautilus, and the gorgeous Patek Philippe 4899/901 Calatrava ladies’ watch with its white gold case and snow-set jewelling comprising 348 diamonds and 354 blue sapphires. The same colour features in the enduring popularity of the so-called Batman bezel, for example the GMT Master II by Rolex.
Time for travel
There is currently a massive focus on GMT watches, an indication of how travel is becoming an increasingly important part of contemporary lifestyle. In addition to the Rolex GMT Master II mentioned above, other significant examples include Tudor’s Black Bay GMT with in-house movement, and the Rolex Skydweller GMT.
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Historical re-evocations and anniversary celebrations are a constant presence in brands’ collections. This year, Breitling celebrates the first Navitimer with a remarkably faithful version of the 1959 timepiece that has become a truly iconic aviation watch. Zenith marks 50 years of the El Primero chronograph movement. Seiko heralds the 10th anniversary of its revolutionary spring drive – which provides an excellent 1-second/day precision and an extended power reserve – with four new watches in the Grand Seiko Elegance collection. Hublot celebrates the 90th anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari with a special edition of its Big Bang chronograph.
Need for speed
For most luxury cars, there is a luxury watch. The parallels between high-power petrol engines and the miniaturized engineering of watch calibres are underlined by automotive-inspired timepieces such as Breitling’s continuing collaboration with Bentley, and Chopard’s 2019 Mille Miglia chronograph.
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Every edition of Baselworld celebrates man’s constant ability to renovate and innovate. Some of the most interesting ideas came from smaller brands. Valpin, founded in 2014, presented a new octagonal case shape with original dial layouts such as the LR05 with two intersecting subdials for hour and minute indications. Itay Noy’s Reorder watch has a conventional minutes hand, with hours shown by cut-out numerals distributed in an apparently random manner over the dial, highlighted by a segment of colour. And Gucci’s Grip watches have a striking appearance, with three windows for hour, minute and date indications, and rotating discs powered by a quartz movement. Whatever the changes, Baselworld continues to be a source of constant surprise and inspiration.
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