Following his annual trip to Baselworld 2019, Uniform Wares Creative Director, Michael Carr gives a comprehensive roundup of his favourite watches from the world’s biggest watch fair.
It’s just over a week since Baselworld closed its doors for another year. The watch industry’s biggest event, where everyone from brands and manufacturers to buyers and fans gather together to showcase and witness some of the biggest new releases for the year ahead. After considerably shrinking in size in recent years, there’s no denying that this was a particularly strange one for Baselworld. The decision not to show by Swatch Group left a hole that nobody else could fill, both in the lack of physical presence of its huge centrally-located booth, as well as in the form of general footfall. That said, this didn’t affect the experimentation and risk taking I saw, with the major players still turning out in force to show their very latest innovations, new releases and prototypes.
It’s always hard to choose, but I’ve selected a few of our team’s favourites from this year’s show to review:
BVLGARI OCTO FINISSIMO CHRONOGRAPH GMT AUTOMATIC
If you’re thinking this looks familiar, then you’re right. This is, in fact, the fifth iteration of this watch that we have included in our yearly Baselworld reviews. We gave up trying to justify this the fourth time around, as it’s not an aesthetic that you would necessarily associate with us. But the simple fact is that to us, this is one of the most stunning timepiece architectures on the market and has been the platform Bvlgari has used in recent years to channel its most exciting innovations. This year it took the form of the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic, the world’s thinnest automatic chronograph ever made. At 6.9 mm thick, its angular sandblasted titanium case and dial with minimal dial layout and integrated bracelet wears more like a slim, dress watch than a tech heavy, sports chronograph. An extraordinary feat of engineering and design trickery.
ZENITH EL PRIMERO A386 REVIVAL
50 years after its original launch, one of our all-time favourite watches gets an upgrade in the form of three new, precious metal references – white, yellow and the rose gold featured above. Originally made famous as a result of its high speed automatic chronograph movement, which was also used by Rolex to power their early Daytonas, these new Zenith El Primero references are almost identical in design to the original from 1969 and still feature the unmistakably bold dial design with tri-coloured subdials and black inner ring. What makes these new models even cooler, is that there will only be 50 pieces of each made. Which means that as well as being one of the most distinctive and famous watches of all time, they will also be solid investment pieces, sure to be high on the auction request list in years to come… if any of their owners can bring themselves to sell one, of course!
NOMOS GLASHÜTTE ORION DUO
Nomos is a firm favourite amongst us here and one of the brands we make a priority visit at Baselworld. This year saw them launch a series of two-hand reinterpretations of their most well known models in reduced case sizes, featuring steel cases, clean galvanised white dials and gold hands on beige leather velour straps, known as the ‘Duo Collection’. These were available in the well established Ludwig, Tangente and Tetra models, as well as our personal choice, the Orion. At just under 33mm diameter, they represent the smallest in Nomos’ offering, but we think this is the perfect size for smaller wrists and those who enjoy a more discreetly-sized wrist watch. Two-hand complications are also something we at Uniform Wares have long been fans of, as you’ll see in the number of two-hand styles we offer in our collection. Beyond all this however, the thing that really makes these Nomos pieces stand out is their simple, elegant styling and subtle use of carefully considered tones from the dial to the strap.
PATEK PHILIPPE LADIES NAUTILUS REF. 7118
Patek Philippe is one of the most, if not the most highly regarded watch manufacturer in the game and the Nautilus is arguably their most iconic model. This year, they decided to focus on the women’s version of this model, the reference 7118. At 35.2mm across, it’s a versatile size that, though aimed at women, can sit comfortably on both men’s and women’s wrists. In fact, I personally prefer it to the original. The standard sized case and famous integrated bracelet design can sometimes seem, dare I say, slightly cumbersome on the more slender wrist, whereas the dimensions here seem much more palatable and somehow more considered overall. Four new versions were released, including a steel with diamond set bezel, but our favourite is the rose gold option in its two dial options. Both with their unique wavy line dial texture.
ZENITH DEFY INVENTOR
Zenith has also consistently pushed the boundaries of possibility and for the last two years, this has been in the form of their Defy concept. These experimental models are based around the Zenith Oscillator, which is a single silicon component that incorporates the functions of the balance wheel, balance spring and lever. This model was originally presented two years ago as the Zenith Defy Lab, a non-production prototype model, but this year was represented as the Zenith Defy Inventor, a production-ready version which will be produced in small batches. Other than the higher quantity being made and various improvements to its performance, the main visible difference is that this new model will be produced with a titanium case body and Aeronith (aluminium foam filled with a stabilising polymer) bezel, rather than fully out of Aeronith, like the Defy Lab prototype. It looks great in the photo, but to fully appreciate this watch you need to see the movement running.
TUDOR BLACK BAY CHRONOGRAPH S&G
Steel and gold combinations seemed something of a trend this year, with a number of offerings being released by the likes of Rolex and Oris. Our favourite amongst them was the two-tone take on the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph. It’s a strong look and not for the faint-hearted but, when worn right, can offer the ultimate in versatility. The distinct combination of steel case, gold tachymeter bezel with black gilt chapter ring, and black dial with gold subdials, print and hands seems to offer the perfect balance for our taste.
CITIZEN ECO-DRIVE CALIBER 0100
If there was a record-breaking watch release at Baselworld this year to take on the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT, it was the Citizen Eco-Drive Caliber 0100. Though very different in aesthetic, it is no less impressive a feat, being the most accurate wristwatch ever made and, guess what, it’s all thanks to a quartz movement! It uses a very high frequency quartz oscillator, running at 8.4 MHz (8,388,608 Hz) as opposed to the 32,768 Hz frequency of a standard quartz watch. The cut of the quartz crystal is also unique, called an AT-cut quartz crystal, which has a lozenge shape, rather than the tuning fork shape of a conventional quartz crystal. The oscillator is also temperature-controlled, which is the single most significant factor in improving accuracy of quartz oscillators and a similar technology to that used in our own PreciDrive models. That said, the thing that first caught our eye was the carefully chosen cream tone dial, which admittedly is not to everyone’s taste but sat well with us as an alternative to the usual white, black and metallic tones.
ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL GMT MASTER II REF.126170 BLNR
It would seem strange not to include a Rolex somewhere in this list. They might not always offer the most dramatic of releases (that in itself is largely the reason for their success and why they always feature here) but what they do, they do absolutely right. Ultimately, it’s easy to sum up why this watch is here; it’s a GMT, one of the most useful complications; it features their unmistakable Jubilee bracelet with Oysterlock clasp; it’s powered by the new caliber 3285 movement, regulated to +2/-2 seconds a day. And critically, this new version features a black and blue Cerachrome bezel… simply more wearable and versatile for most of us. Yes, that is all, but that is enough!
GRAND SEIKO SPRING DRIVE SNOWFLAKE 20th ANNIVERSARY
One of the things we find so fascinating about watches is their unique ability to harness the best of the sometimes cold worlds of science, engineering and technology, but still connect with us on an emotional level. Bringing these two worlds together can be challenging, but has always seemed intrinsic to Japanese culture and maybe that’s why Grand Seiko are proven masters at getting the technical and emotional balance right with their timepieces. As a result, they are one of the most highly regarded watch manufacturers out there and one of only a handful of non-Swiss brands that have consistently taken on the Swiss when it comes to quality, craftsmanship and innovation. This year marked two decades since the launch of their first ‘Spring Drive’ calibers, which use a unique, electronic regulating system, allowing them to achieve a precision of one second a day. To celebrate, they launched four new 20th Anniversary models, featuring hand wound versions of the original Spring Drive movements. Our favourite reference is famously known as the ’Snowflake’ due to the unique pattern on the dial which is said to be inspired by the beauty of the snow in the Shinshu region of Japan. In this new model the texture has been included on both the silver finished dial and continued across the hand carved platinum case. This is then accentuated by the sweeping motion of the second hand as it runs across the textured dial which Grand Seiko says encourages the wearer to ‘feel the natural flow of time in the winter and the beauty of our natural world in its purist, pristine state’. Technically impressive, visually stunning and one of our favourites of the show this year.