Feature: The Best Of The Rest At Baselworld 2019
Now Baselworld 2019 has ended—and now we’ve got the big-hitters out of the way—it’s a chance to take a look at what caught our eye at this year’s show. So here they are, the best of the rest from Baselworld 2019.
In 2017, TAG Heuer re-introduced the famous Autavia model back into its line-up with a historically inspired design upsized for a modern audience. Two years later and the brand has now announced a modern counterpart in the form of the Autavia Isograph, which borrows from both the automotive and aviation themes that make up the watch’s namesake.
So, you get a ceramic timing bezel that spins both ways—rather than just the one way, like a divers’ watch—and a dial that has a distinctively pilots’ watch feel to it, all ensconced in a 42mm case available in both steel and the material of the moment, bronze. To further underline the contemporary relevance of the watch, a variety of different colours are on offer, with different straps to complement them with, all easily interchangeable thanks to a quick release strap system. A carbon composite hairspring offers resistance to both shocks and magnetism.
The Bauhaus budget-buster from Glashütte, Nomos, has just opened the door to a whole new market by announcing the Club Sport Neomatik—what I suppose you’d call the brand’s first sports watch. But this isn’t some cop-out Submariner-a-like, because the Club Sport retains that distinctive Nomos crispness, just in a spec that makes it suitable for taking in the swimming pool.
At 42mm and with 300m of water-resistance, plus a bracelet hand assembled from 145 pieces, the Club Sport seems on paper to be markedly un-Nomos, but thanks to the distinct styling and skinny DUW 6101 movement, it manages to retain the slender proportions the brand’s watches have become known for.
The advent of silicon in watchmaking has really picked up speed in the last few years. As the realisation that the unique properties of silicon can be expanded beyond the traditional Swiss lever escapement design, more and more watchmakers have started to explore new concepts for regulating time.
In 2017, Zenith introduced the Defy Lab, which was fitted with an oscillator fashioned from a single, very complex piece of silicon. With the ability to remain rigid where needed and flexible elsewhere, Zenith was successfully able to incorporate the balance, balance spring and lever into a single, very thin, very futuristic-looking silicon component.
The incredible complexity of the piece restricted production to just ten pieces, but now it’s back in the Defy Inventor, and with some improvements, too. Running at 129,600 vph, some four-and-a-half times faster than normal, and taking up the entire diameter of the case, the escapement is now driven by a flexible, hollow-toothed escape wheel rather than the previous solid item. The futuristic-looking material Aeronith, a polymer-stabilised aluminium foam, features again, but this time just for the bezel.
And from the futuristic to the classical, on the opposite end of the scale Zenith is offering a limited-edition trio of reissue A386’s—that’s the reference of the numero uno El Primero from 1969—to celebrate the icon’s 50th anniversary.
What you get it is an identical 38mm case with the classic El Primero inside, beating at a faithful 36,000 vph. Even the logo gets the heritage treatment, with printed fonts in the original monotone script. A box set of the trio was previously teased, but now these reissues can be independently purchased—the catch is there’s only fifty of each, and all of them are in gold.
Continuing the heritage theme, Breitling has reissued the Navitimer 806 in a release that is as close to identical to the 1959 original as it can be. And when I mean identical, I mean they’ve copied every last little detail, from the 41mm steel case to the number of beads on the rotating bezel. You even get a plexiglass crystal and a manually wound movement—a modified version of the in-house B01 called the B09—to complete the picture.
Some modern touches like the 30m water-resistance and SuperLuminova markers are a welcome addition to the original spec, however the limited number of examples being made—1,959, to be exact—may be a concern for those looking to enjoy a bit of vintage luxury without any of the pitfalls. Oh, and remember how I said everything was identical to the original? The reissue even has a solid case back.
Also tickling the vintage enthusiast’s taste buds from the Breitling stand is the Premier Norton Edition, a partnership between watchmaker and motorcycle manufacturer to create a rather striking vintage-inspired version of Breitling’s flagship line. It’s the start of Breitling’s latest automotive partnership, and will be complemented by a Norton motorcycle that’s been given a Breitling makeover.
In a release that at last looks nothing like an Audemars Piguet, Hublot have stunned the Baselworld audience with a new collaboration piece with automotive legend Ferrari. The Classic Fusion Ferrari GT stands out from the Hublot catalogue by looking nothing like any of it, taking on a skeletal, organic form that draws inspiration from both the curvaceous classic Ferraris and the latest, sinewy SF90 Formula 1 car.
A word of advice for future owners: the torx-style chronograph pushers are not screw-down, the design is just for show. They’re fitted to a 45mm case that can be chosen from a selection of titanium, gold and carbon, each limited to 1,000, 500 and 500 pieces respectively, and dressed with a rubber and leather strap combination that comes straight from Ferrari hide supplier Schedoni.
For whatever reason, Bvlgari has in recent years dedicated a lot of its watchmakers’ time to figuring out how to make its watches very thin. In a back and forth with other thin watch watchmaker, Piaget, Bvlgari has been stringing along releases that consistently leave onlookers scratching their heads and wondering how the trick’s done.
This new chronograph is no different, packing one of the most complex complications out there, the chronograph, into a case just 6.9mm thin. This is thanks to the calibre BVL 318, a befuddling 3.3mm-thick movement that somehow finds 55 hours of power reserve alongside the chronograph functionality.
But that’s not the most impressive bit, because—as the name Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic suggests—this watch not only has a chronograph, but also squeezes in a GMT function and automatic winding. It’s not immediately obvious, but a peripherally mounted rotor that navigates the edge of the movement is used to the keep the watch slender, sacrificing nothing of the ridiculously thin dimensions, making it the thinnest automatic chronograph in the world.
Perhaps the most unusual and unexpected release this year has to be from Japan, from Grand Seiko as it celebrates twenty years since Yoshikazu Akahane brought us the much-misunderstood Spring Drive. A combination of mechanical power and quartz regulation, the Spring Drive concept has amazed and confused watch enthusiasts in equal measure since it first went on sale in 1999.
And what a way to celebrate it, with an iteration of the much-coveted ‘Snowflake’ pattern hewn not just into the dial, but the platinum case as well—by hand, I might add. A second platinum edition, this time with a more traditionally finished case and dial, completes the pair, both of which also boast engraved minute markers and dial text, rather than printed.
Both watches, in celebration of Spring Drive, are fitted with the calibre 9R02, a hand-wound movement closely related to the ultra-high-end Credor 7R14. A new feature is the torque return system, which recovers wasted energy when the mainspring is producing the most torque at full wind, returning it to extend the power reserve to 84 hours.
Given the $76,000 and $57,000 prices of this pair, it comes as a relief that a $25,000 gold model and a $7,600 steel model exist as well, with the gold featuring a snowflake dial and the steel a sunray dial. This pair gets the more affordable—but also impressive—calibre 9R31, still hand-wound but minus the torque return system for just 72 hours of power.
But Grand Seiko isn’t done yet, because there’s also an array of angular sports watches to contend with as well. Available with and without a chronograph, and in steel or rose gold, the Spring Drive Sport Collection gets 44.5mm cases and 200m of water-resistance, plus a selection of textured dials.
Despite the Swatch Group’s absence, we’ve seen an interesting, surprising and confusing selection of watches emerge from the watchmakers at this year’s Baselworld. There have been some hits and there have most certainly been some misses—we’ll have to wait and see what the final verdict is when the watch-buying public votes with their wallets.
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