The specter of the Apple Watch hung over this year’s BaselWorld like a Granny Smith-shaped cloud. Everyone was asking about its impact, often to carefully crafted official responses from the exhibiting brands. Will the smartwatch replace fine Swiss watches on the wrists of Millenials? Will the mechanical watch finally be exposed as the dinosaur it is? When will Patek release its smartwatch? The answer to all questions seems to be, “It’s too early to tell.”
It’s clear that while the Swiss watch industry isn’t quaking in its lederhosen over the coming smartwatch onslaught, it is paying attention and won’t be caught flat-footed like it was at the dawn of the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s. Big Swiss brands like TAG Heuer and Breitling scrambled to announce their own “connected” watch plans and align with tech companies. TAG even went so far as to hang Intel and Google logos proudly alongside its iconic shield just inside the entrance to the Basel Messe exhibit hall, a true sign of the times.
Despite all the smartwatch buzz, the talk of the show focused more on Patek Philippe‘s controversial introduction of a (gasp!) pilot’s watch. While this seemingly innocuous novelty from the Geneva brand isn’t as groundbreaking as one that, say, can display a text message, its significance was this most revered brand’s obvious move toward a new generation. Watching Patek flirt with a new demographic is akin to watching a battleship correct course, and it was indicative of industry trends in general. The old guard is courting younger buyers, ones that might have an Apple Watch on the other wrist.
During our three days at BaselWorld, we saw smaller, slimmer, more colorful and more affordable watches with lots of nylon, rubber and even paracord straps. Even Rolex, that model of conservative product development, trotted out its first in-house rubber strap. But none of this is to say that the traditional mechanical watch is no more. There were plenty of classically-styled watches to be seen, and for those of us for whom a connection with a watch doesn’t involve Bluetooth, it was a good year to be at BaselWorld. Here are nine of our favorite new watches from the show.
Glashütte Original Senator Observer
When one thinks of timepieces for polar exploration, what usually comes to mind are burly, rugged watches bristling with a GMT complication and a rotating bezel. But the first man to reach the South Pole, Roald Amundsen, was carrying something very similar to the watch you see pictured here — an observation watch from Glashütte, Germany, which he bought in 1910 before his fateful trip south. Of course, his was a pocket watch while the new Glashütte Original Senator Observer is a self-winding wristwatch, but still present is the legible Arabic dial, offset seconds and a power reserve. Glashütte Original makes its own dials, and this one has a fine frosted texture, bright Superluminova markers and the brand’s trademark Panorama date function. Around back is a classic three-quarter plate in-house movement that is beautifully decorated. Perfect for observation.
It may seem like questionable marketing fluff when a brand invents its own quality standard, but OMEGA’s “Master Chronometer” certification is no joke. In addition to the usual “minus four, plus six” second accuracy tolerance that Switzerland’s independent quality agency tests for, OMEGA adds no less than eight grueling tests of quality to go a step further. These tests ensure that the movement maintains its precision even when exposed to a range of temperatures, positions and even 15,000 gauss’ worth of magnetic influence. The first watch to bear the Master Chronometer badge is the all-new Globemaster, a fitting choice given the history of its name: In the 1950s, OMEGA marketed a line of highly accurate watches called the Constellation; however, in some geographies that name was taken, so OMEGA rebranded it as the Globemaster. Aside from its timekeeping prowess, the Globemaster also pays design tribute to the 1950s Constellation with the distinctive “pie-pan” dial and the observatory logo on the rotor, which is visible through the sapphire case back.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time
Every BaselWorld, there is always one watch that everyone is talking about and this year that watch is the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. The reason for the buzz has nothing to do with the watch’s beautiful, accurate and useful calibre 324 S C FUS that tracks two time zones and can be adjusted easily with the patented locking push-pieces on the left side of the white gold case. Nor is there any question about the beautiful, textured, deep blue dial, inspired by the color of US Navy fighter planes. On paper and in hand, this is a home run, a knockout punch, a runaway success. But to Patek faithful, it is close to blasphemy. Is Patek selling out and pandering to the younger generation by making a 42-millimeter pilot’s watch in a style reminiscent of those made by the likes of Zenith or IWC? Maybe. Do we care? Not a bit when the result is as perfectly executed as this one is, wrapping a proven Patek masterpiece movement in a watch we’d wear from ballgame to boardroom. This is the horological equivalent of Dylan going electric or Porsche building an SUV: people will remember it for generations.
ORIS Divers Sixty-Five
Vintage style is popular these days in the watch world, with everyone from OMEGA to Tudor trotting out yellow lume, NATO straps and grainy archival photos with their heritage watches. This year it was ORIS‘s turn, and the plucky independent brand may have bested everyone with the execution of its new Divers Sixty-Five. This retro dive watch looks every bit like one ORIS sold in, well, 1965. Its profile is slim with long, straight lugs and a domed crystal, while the 40-millimeter diameter is like many of the “big” dive watches of the golden age of scuba diving; on the wrist, it reminds us of just how perfect that size really is. The modest 100-meter water resistance is still plenty deep for diving while staying faithful to the depth ratings of the era to which it pays homage. The dial is all funky ‘60s style, with faux patinated block markers and a squared-off numeral font that hasn’t been seen since the Kennedy era. Even the rubber strap is a perfect replica of those basket-weave “Tropic” straps that every dive watch came with in 1965.
Georg Jensen Koppel Mechanical Handwound Small Seconds
The perfect dress watch is an elusive creature, despite its simple criteria: slim, uncomplicated and unobtrusive. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to come across the Koppel collection from Georg Jensen, a Danish brand better known for its silversmithing than its timepieces. These watches, inspired by the designs of famed designer Henning Koppel, are sleek and minimalist, as the Danes do best: simple stick hands and tiny button markers punctuate broad enamel dials that are unencumbered by giant logos. The Handwound Small Seconds is the purest form of expression, driven by a Swiss Soprod hand-cranked calibre, it would be a pleasure to wind up every morning and slip beneath a starched cuff.
Bremont Jaguar MKII
Cars and watches go so well together that it makes us wonder why so many collaborations between car and watch brands are so badly executed: tire tread straps, fuel gauge dials and giant logos come off as cheesy instead of evocative. But leave it to Bremont, whose collaboration last year with Boeing proved their mastery of the co-brand approach, to get it right. This year, they announced a partnership with iconic British car brand Jaguar, and the first two watches are nothing less than gorgeous. While both the MKI and the MKII are lovely, it’s the MKII chronograph that really sings to us. The watch draws inspiration from the gauges of 1960s E-Type Jag without being too literal. The retro Jaguar logo is subtle and matches the rest of the dial aesthetics. Around back, the automatic movement’s winding rotor recalls the three-spoked steering wheel of the watch’s inspiration. Beyond the Jaguar cues, this is a proper two-register gentleman’s motoring chronograph, right down to its calfskin rally-style strap. Instead of buying this watch to accessorize the Jag in your garage, you might end up buying a Jag to accessorize this watch.
Maurice Lacroix Pontos S Regatta
For such a niche complication, the regatta countdown has had lasting appeal. Originally conceived in the early 1960s to help sailboat skippers time their approach to a regatta’s starting line, the familiar red and blue disc dial has been found on popular chronographs ever since. Maybe it’s the splash of color, the different take on a common watch type, or the evocation of the nautical lifestyle that keeps brands building them. This year, it’s Maurice Lacroix’s turn and their execution is better than most. Rather than a traditional steel watch, the Pontos S Regatta is constructed of forged carbon, making the watch not only featherweight and scratch resistant, but also contemporary in its demeanor — think America’s Cup multi-hulls, not teak-decked sloops. On the textured rubber strap, with the word “Ready” in full view in the dial aperture, this watch begs for action.
Tudor North Flag
Tudor’s ascendancy in recent years has been largely on the success of its pitch-perfect Heritage line, which draws inspiration from historical watches from the brand’s rich archives. But this year at BaselWorld, there were no new Heritage watches. Instead, the big news at the Rolex offshoot’s booth was the introduction of Tudor’s very first in-house movement. Tudor has always been known for, and indeed founded upon the premise of using third-party movements with Rolex-level cases and build quality. It was a brand built on selling excellent tool watches at affordable prices. With the calibre MT5621 that beats inside the all-new North Flag, that tradition lives on, but with a greater autonomy than ever before: the design and build of the impressive 70-hour power reserve movement is all Tudor. The North Flag is the perfect vehicle for this rugged new motor. It is a modern sports watch with clean lines, sharp angles, pops of color and brushed surfaces that heralds a new era for this storied brand.
Perhaps the coolest timepiece we saw at BaselWorld isn’t a wristwatch at all, but a 15-pound robot named Melchior. Melchior is the brainchild of the creative genius Maximilian Büsser (the “MB” of MB&F) and built with the help of renowned Swiss clockmaker L’Epée 1839. Named for a traditional first name in Büsser’s family tree, Melchior is actually a table clock with a 40-day power reserve, retrograde seconds integrated into Melchior’s eyes, a power reserve meter in his belly and a domed sapphire head that gives a glimpse into his “brain” (the movement). Oh, and time telling (this is a clock after all) is done via separate discs in his breastplate. To wind Melchior requires a key, and to help you keep from losing it, it is integrated into the removable Gatling gun he carries on his left arm. As you might imagine, Melchior is a limited edition; only 99 of these pieces will grace desktops of distracted executives.