The Top 5 Men’s Watches From Baselworld 2016
The watch world received something of a shock last year: the Swiss reported their first downturn since the blackness that was 2009.
Admittedly, it amounts to a mere 3.3 per cent drop in export value – or 460,000 fewer watches leaving Switzerland than 2014’s mind-boggling 28.6 million – but for a sector rather taken by its own ability to defy the global financial crisis with spectacular year-on-year growth, it was a shock nonetheless.
And sure enough, the watchword at Baselworld was with a doubt“caution”. The trade fair’s cavernous halls of gleaming, multistorey brand pavilions thronged as usual with the bold, the beautiful and the downright glamorous, but the timepieces ticking away inside their spotlit vitrines were more about consolidation; evolution rather than revolution.
Which is to say that new mechanical movements and case shapes – the two aspects of watchmaking requiring the biggest investments – were in scant supply. Instead, we were treated to core-collection novelties, updated with cool, high-tech materials, funky new straps, and rainbows of colourways.
The larger-than-life head of Tag Heuer, Jean-Claude Biver, has found himself as spokesman for his fellow watchmakers in recent years, and in a pre-Basel interview judged the slowdown as a short-term dip driven by global economical factors, stretching from Ukraine to China. In his words: “…and we did just minus 3 per cent? I say that’s fantastic! I say to everyone in Switzerland, you are all brilliant guys, bravo.”
And judging by the variety and imagination of the watches themselves, we say bravo as well.
1. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe
A classic example of this year’s core-collection, just-tweaked-enough trend – but all is forgiven when it’s the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, which could just be the coolest diver’s watch in an overpopulated diver’s-watch marketplace. Cleverly, the newness draws on Blancpain’s Swatch Group sister brands. For a start, the case has been rendered in a special ceramic developed for Rado, whose “plasma high-tech carburizing” process borders on actual alchemy, activating gases at 20,000°C to infuse the case with carbon, to give an ethereal, scratch-free grey sheen. The bezel, in turn, borrows from stablemate Omega and its Liquid Metal alloy technology – three times as hard as stainless steel.
2. Glashütte Original Senator Excellence
While there has been very little in the way of investment in new movements this year, where the investment has been made, it’s been made towards long-term, future-proof workhorse calibres, powering classic timepieces that people will always want. Step forward Saxony’s journeyman watchmaker, Glashütte Original, which has applied a holistic approach to its new Calibre 36, driving this handsome specimen. An anti-magnetic silicon hairspring keeps things ticking rocksteadily for more than 100 hours, thanks to a new, longer winding spring that fits into a barrel of standard diameter. And, cleverly, the movement slots solidly into the inside of the case with a bayonet fixing, like a camera lens. Solid German engineering, on an exquisite level.
3. Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze
There’s something distinctly noble and romantic about bronze, especially when it is used to encase diving watches, as it speaks of ancient mariners wielding chunky winches, battling the high seas. Watchmakers, especially, like using it as it gradually oxidises, so every watch takes on a unique patina. But what’s even more notable about this handsome sailor is that it’s the first Black Bay model to house Tudor’s in-house automatic movement, launched at Basel last year. Rolex’s little brother is all grown up, it seems.
4. Seiko Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph Black Ceramic
You might usually write Seiko off as mass-market fare, but you’d be wrong. As well as the ubiquitous, quartz-powered sports watches, the Japanese giant has always harboured a top-flight fine-watchmaking facility, making “Grand Seiko” pieces on a par with Omega or Rolex. Indeed, Seiko’s Shizukuishi studio, nestled in the evergreen hills of Morioka in the Tohoku region of northern Japan, could easily be mistaken for a Swiss atelier in the subalpine Jura Mountains, complete with lab-coated, tweezer-wielding watchmakers hunched at their workbenches. The green dial and hints of green in the strap of this unusually trendy ceramic piece pays tribute to its birthplace, echoing the verdant foliage of its surrounding forest.
5. Nomos Glashütte Tetra neomatik tiefblau
Over the road from Glashütte Original in the picture-postcard village of Glashütte, the old railway station building is occupied by Nomos – the first high-end brand to establish itself in the old home of German watchmaking after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And in just 25 years it has achieved great things, always dressed in unmistakably cool Bauhaus style. This is an unusually colourful creation from the brand’s design studio in east Berlin (where else?), driven by the new DUW 3001 movement – an ultra-slim automatic launched last year, designed and made entirely in that old train station. It’s difficult to overstate how impressive this cocktail of style and substance is, for a brand over a century younger than its neighbours.