Baselworld, an enormous trade show that runs from March 21st through 26th this year, is an annual deluge of new watches of all kinds and price points, and the 2019 edition is almost upon us. There have been major shifts in the industry in terms of business and politics (most notably, the Swatch Group pulled out of the show this year), but the important thing is what the products themselves will be like — and overall, it’s a good time to be a watch lover, especially if you like the “vintage aesthetic.”
With the Swatch Group’s surprising announcement that it will not participate in Baselworld 2019, this year will be markedly different from past shows and see the halls absent of significant brands like Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Hamilton, Longines and Tissot.
That doesn’t mean these brands will be silent, however — in fact, it was announced late last year that the Swatch Group’s upper-tier brands will exhibit at their own separate trade show during Baselworld, though this show will be meant strictly for retailers, many of which evidently requested time during Baselworld to meet with them. We can, as always, expect many exciting new releases from Swatch Group brands (speaking of which, check out the new Hamilton Murph) — we simply won’t be covering them live from Baselworld itself.
We’ll know all the details soon enough, and our team will be on the ground in Switzerland reporting on notable new releases. There are several ways we can speculate on the kinds of new Baselworld watches to expect, the first of which is to look at existing trends in the industry as well as at individual brands. The other big watch industry trade show, SIHH, already gave us a taste of 2019’s flavor in January (albeit specifically for Richemont Group brands).
Another good predictor is any notable product anniversaries, especially considering the strong enthusiasm for vintage reissues across the industry. Watch brands simply can’t resist these, and there are at least a few in 2019 — many of which involve chronographs from 1969. It’s fun to speculate — and to be correct, sometimes — but it’s always even more satisfying to be surprised by innovation and creativity from the watch industry.
Vintage inspiration: Props to those who make genuinely novel and contemporary watches and do it well, but no one can afford to ignore the enthusiasm for vintage re-releases and generally retro-inspired design. This trend has been going strong for years now without any sign of slowing, but it has also evolved. These resurrected watches from eras past have become more faithful to the originals, and that includes using smaller case sizes. Faux-aged effects have also expanded beyond yellow lume to things like speckled dials and even banged-up-looking cases. Overall, some sort of “vintage inspiration” can be expected from just about any brand.
Dial colors: Blue dials have become so popular that excitement for them might be beginning to plateau (see: Vacheron and JLC) . That doesn’t mean that they will go away, however, and we can expect more at Baselworld 2019, likely treated as more or less standard alongside black and silver dial options. While green is not quite the new blue, a number of lovely recent examples have been well received, and some more can perhaps be expected. Other dial colors, as well, like red and “salmon” will be welcome. As many watch makers learned from experience with blue dials, success with different colors very much depends on execution of tone and texture.
Materials: Watch case materials like bronze, titanium, carbon, and ceramic continue to be a popular way for watch makers to stand out. Other exotic, high-tech materials we couldn’t previously even imagine like IWC’s Ceratanium, Panerai’s Carbotech, or Girard-Perregaux’s carbon glass are examples of materials developed for watchmaking, whether for their durable properties or physical appearance. Also, like blue dials, everyone seems to be creating bronze watches — so expect to see more of those.
Value: There will of course be crazy haute horlogerie pieces on offer. But even brands that are primarily high-end have been producing relatively more accessible offerings, and better value will continue to be a focus at all levels. Basic entry-level models in steel — again, often reviving vintage references — is one way brands will achieve this. It’s cool to see this applied to watches with in-house movements and complications as well, and what could be better news for the general watch-consuming public?
Smartwatches: Finally, whether snobby mechanical watch collectors like it or not, tech is now part of the watch landscape. Brands already producing smartwatches (whether that term is used to mean merely “connected” or with full touchscreen capability and apps) will be releasing new versions that make last year’s obsolete. Further, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more brands enter the game. New smartwatches will continue to improve upon battery life, display, ergonomics, and features to convince more bare wrists or those currently occupied by “traditional” watches to make the leap.
Tudor: Teasers on Tudor’s Instagram feed feature a closeup of what appears very much like a vintage 79090 Tudor Submariner dial. This suggests a vintage-styled Submariner will make a comeback of some sort, possibly in the form of a new dial for the popular Black Bay dive watch. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight was a slam dunk last year, so it would make a lot of sense to see more options offered for it, such as dial and bezel colors. The same can be said of the Black Bay and Black Bay GMT, as Tudor has done a lot of that in the past. Is it too soon for a Fifty-Eight GMT? Probably, but that sure would be cool.
Rolex: No matter what Rolex does, people will freak out — that’s an easy one. After last year’s release of the GMT-Master II 126710BLRO “Pepsi Bezel” in steel, we can only hope that more classic Rolex favorites will make a similar return. Alas, this isn’t the kind of thing Rolex does every year — and when they do resurface popular models’ design language, they sometimes come in precious metals with prices out of reach for many fans. The good old Rolex Submariner wasn’t in the spotlight for last year’s Baselworld releases, and it may be due for a movement update. Rolex is notoriously conservative, but anything is conceivable, so some have wondered aloud about a “Coke bezel” (black and red) GMT or an anti-magnetic Milgauss with a bezel à la the vintage reference 6541.
Patek Philippe: Since the brand’s entry-point model, the Calatrava, wasn’t featured in 2018’s novelties, there is a strong chance there will be new versions of it this year. As president of Patek Philippe USA Larry Pettinelli said in a recent Gear Patrol interview, the brand is “not changing things simply for the sake of doing so.” However, as the brand is turning 180 years old in 2019, some models to mark the occasion are likely. It would be exceedingly cool to see something from Patek’s usually quiet “Advanced Research” division, but what form that would take would be difficult to predict.
Seiko: In recent years, Seiko has consistently excited fans with numerous models in its popular Grand Seiko, Presage, and Prospex lines, so each of those is expected to get some new models in both modern and possibly vintage styles. Seiko is another brand marking 50 years since some significant releases in 1969, one of which was the first automatic chronograph to be sold to the public. Considering how surprisingly rare chronograph movements are among Seiko’s mechanical lineup, it would be exceedingly cool to see more of the modern Seiko take on the automatic chronograph. It is also 50 years since Seiko introduced the world’s first quartz watch. A Grand Seiko 9F quartz movement-powered re-edition of the 1969 Astron watch (they did something similar 10 years ago to celebrate 40 years) would be a very cool way to show how far Seiko — and the world — have come.
Zenith: It is impossible to imagine that Zenith will not make a big deal of the 50th anniversary of the movement that defines the brand today, the El Primero. The brand has, in fact, already released a “50 Years of El Primero” box set this year that includes an El Primero watch reverse-engineered to be very close to the original that came out in 1969. It is all but certain that Zenith has more ways to mark the occasion for Baselworld that will at the very least include commemorative models with “50 Years” markings and the like. Part of celebrating the El Primero will likely see it also feature in more modern collections like the successful Defy.
TAG Heuer: TAG Heuer is certain to have major releases for each of its major audiences: something for fans of Heuer heritage, something for the young crowd that the bold Carrera Heuer 01 is meant for, and something for the smartwatch market with their Connected. TAG Heuer (and more specifically, Heuer) will also be celebrating 50 years since the debut of its famous Calibre 11, so expect a heritage model and expect it to cause a splash among enthusiasts. Since the Heuer 02 is an evolution of plans for a movement that was once called “Calibre 1969” we expect to see it participate in the celebration of the Calibre 11, as well as to find its way into more watches, vintage and modern.
MB&F: Baselworld just wouldn’t be the same without MB&F’s avant-garde contribution to the mosaic of new watch releases. Probably the most surprising thing that MB&F could do would be to come out with a totally normal-looking dive watch — but don’t count on that. The next logical model in the brand’s Horological Machine line would No. 11, but the relatively traditional Legacy Machine is also due for something new and weird.
Bulgari: The Octo Finissimo has done well for Bulgari, combining watch design hero Gerald Genta’s octagonal shape with a shockingly thin but complex case, and it still has a lot of potential to expand into different territory. Since it is yet to be featured in case materials much more exotic than titanium, a ceramic version would be right in line with industry trends and probably not too difficult to achieve with the LVMH group’s vast resources. Bulgari doesn’t shy away from bright colors, either, and ceramic offers some interesting possibilities.
Oris: We can only predict that Oris will continue to rerelease vintage references from its archives, which offer a lot of options, and that they’ll be successful. Just which ones the brand will choose to work with is anyone’s guess, but the Big Crown Pointer Date forms an excellent basis on which to iterate. Also expect to see more colors for popular lines like the Aquis dive watch.
Frederique Constant & Alpina: The Citizen Group’s classically styled Frederique Constant and sporty Alpina duo has been doing some of the most interesting stuff related to smartwatch technology. They will continue updating their connected watches, but it will be especially interesting to see how their unique, cyborg-like Hybrid Manufacture watch evolves. Also, as a leader in offering exotic complications in their in-house Manufacture line at relatively accessible prices, we can look forward to their purely mechanical offerings as well.