Baselworld men's watches: Retro reigns supreme
Watch expert Alex Doak tells us the trends and men’s timepieces to look out for at BaselWorld 2012
As the Swiss watch industry continues to defy all economic trends, and BaselWorld itself invests a hefty CHF430m (£300m) into a major new extension over Exhibition Square due to open in 2013, you would expect the trade show to pull out all the stops product-wise this year. A return to the heady mid-2000 days of pantomime complications and bling-bling extravagance, if not more, surely?
But what people forget is the lead time required to develop new watches. Hence, while 2009 saw a rare, brief dip in Swiss exports, the innovation, diversification and out-there concepts were still in abundance - they had to be, as they had been in development for the past two or three years. The industry has rallied, but the boffins who had been told to rein things in during 2008/2009 still don’t have the goods to match the new boom. So this year the Swiss show, which runs from March 8 to 15, will be another one marked by that watchword (excuse the pun) beloved of marketers and journalists, ‘consolidation’, even though the wheels are in motion for an epic 2013. Anyone who visited trade show SIHH in January knows this, and is advised to apply scrutiny at Basel to find quirkier offerings worth writing home about.
One unflagging trend directly informed by the economic slowdown is the return of the simple watch, invariably in the form of vintage reissue. After all, the archives are out of copyright, and the watches are generally simpler, more readily commercial affairs with a higher turnover, plus of course the younger, newer money is still in love with retro. Moving on from the clean 1950s and 1960s dress styles of 2011, this year there will be sportier, more rugged retro numbers in steel, with nylon straps and flashes of on-trend colour. It’s the Chinese Year of the Dragon too, so the high-end brands with more reliance on Asian markets (the majority, then) will doubtless harbour the odd fire-breathing dial engraving.
Things will also be changing beneath the dial this year, thanks to December’s decision by Swiss competition regulator Comco to allow Swatch Group to reduce supplies of movements to third parties. Despite a legal challenge from nine competitors, Swatch’s ETA unit is cutting deliveries to other watchmakers by 15% of the 2010 level. This is bad news for many smaller brands but will mean huge investment by the bigger brands into proprietary manufacturing capabilities. This could add to the current lack of product diversity, but could also be the dawn of a new age in technical development and a golden opportunity for smaller movement suppliers like Sellita, La Joux-Perret and Soprod. Enjoy the fair.
Mikrogirder by Tag Heuer
TAG Heuer took the unlikely tack of launching this remarkable watch in January, as the latest and probably biggest member of SIHH’s burgeoning satellite scene. Perhaps thanks to the undramatic overtones of SIHH, it succeeded in stealing more than a little thunder, too. The latest in Tag’s ongoing quest for ever-higher chronograph frequencies and ever-smaller timekeeping intervals, Mikrogirder takes last year’s 500Hz 1,000th-of-a-second Mikrotimer concept and turns things up to 11 - well, 2000 actually. A linear oscillator replaces the traditional hairspring and buzzes at 1,000Hz, or 250 times faster than the timekeeping regulator, allowing measurements accurate to a 2,000th of a second. Let’s see if they can turn it into a commercial reality…
James Bond 007 50th Anniversary Seamaster by Omega
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, with movie number 23, the dubiously titled Skyfall, already in pre-production. Bond’s Q-issue watch has always played a major role since 1962’s Dr No - a Rolex Submariner for the most part, with Seiko getting in on the act during quartz’s golden years of the 1970s and 1980s. Since Pierce Brosnan took the reins in 1995, however, it’s been Omega’s Seamaster diving watch all the way. This year’s special edition, while lacking a laser beam or circular saw, does boast a wonderful case back engraved to mimic the famous gun-rifling vignette of the films’ opening credits.
Premier Double Retrograde Chronograph by Seiko
With Spring Drive now a firmly established benchmark in precision timekeeping, and the Grand Seiko mechanical pieces finally making it to our shores in the capable hands of such brave retailers as Jura Watches, the UK cognoscenti are making Seiko’s zen-like stand at BaselWorld an annual must-see. This new chronograph in the Japanese brand’s premium range - think dress watches fusing the traditional with a modern edge - displays elapsed time in a unique manner. The sub-dial at 12 o’clock records stints of 10 minutes before flying back to zero, and the sub-dial at six keeps a tally of each 10-minute chunk, up to 100 minutes. As the function repeats twice, this remarkable new calibre records up to 300 minutes, or five hours.
Horizon by Bell & Ross
The French brand may be loved by turtle-necked architects and creative sorts worldwide, but the origins of Bell & Ross are firmly entrenched in the world of utilitarian ‘tool watches’, having originally shared production facilities with German brand Sinn. Countless professional hard men have adopted Bell & Ross’s no-nonsense military-style watches since 1992, from beneath the waves to the outer stratosphere. The Horizon is the latest in a series of tongue-in-cheek models that cleverly mimics the instruments guiding pilots, following on from the sinister-red Radar and Compass.
ISR by Breitling for Bentley Supersports
One of the original and most enduring car-watch brand alliances continues apace this year with the ISR, or Ice Speed Record edition of the titanium Bentley Supersports Light Body chronograph. The watch commemorates the new speed record for driving on ice - set last February in Finland at 205.46mph in Bentley’s stripped-back and racy Supersports. Only 100 pieces will be available, exclusively for the 100 lucky owners of the new commemorative ISR road car, of which the outline is engraved on the watch case back.
Pontos Sport by Maurice Lacroix
It was a bitter pill to swallow when Rolex’s entry-level sub-brand Tudor launched the gorgeous Heritage Chrono last year, before we were all reminded that the line still wasn’t available in the UK (a crying shame). But minor relief is on hand in the unlikely form of Maurice Lacroix , which up until this year had possessed an almost exclusively sober, monochrome aesthetic. The new Pontos S chrono’ range redresses the balance with panache, however, combining three hot trends - retro, colour and nylon strap - and in the process wooing a younger and sportier crowd.
Papillon Voyageur by Bulgari, Daniel Roth Collection
Away from the main halls, set within its own vast complex of sweeping staircases and monumental slate walls, the Bulgari empire operates serenely in a different time zone to the rest of BaselWorld. The seamless immersion of the LVMH brand’s haute horlogerie outposts, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth, into the main collection has now started to throw up some original pieces, including this sublime dual-time-zone novelty, in Daniel Roth’s trademark ‘ellipsocurvex’ case.
BC4 Retrograde Day by Oris
If Oris was personified, he’d be that decent chap sat quietly in the corner of the pub, reading the paper with a pint of bitter, who never had a bad word to say about anyone. The brand’s fairly priced, solidly built, no-nonsense Swiss mechanicals will ever be thus. This year’s new addition to the BC4 aviation range does verge on slightly nonsensical, however, with an endearingly gadgety linear retrograde day display. Let’s face it, if you’re a pilot you should probably know what day of the week it is. But when it looks this cool, no one’s complaining.
Original Chronograph by Victorinox
Here’s a typically confident specimen that makes it all-the-more difficult to believe Victorinox has only been making watches since 1989 - especially considering the Swiss precision-engineering expertise underlying the brand, and the fact that one in every five Swiss watches sold in the US is a Victorinox. Its aviation-inspired timepieces combine rock-solid, reliable functionality with aesthetic simplicity and amazing value for money. Much like the penknives, come to think of it - and all the other quality products Victorinox has been producing since 9/11, when its airport boutiques could no longer stock sharp objects. This military-style piece is the latest from Victorinox’s long-standing Original collection, and is available in four stealth-mode colourways - Navy grey, commando black, desert beige or khaki green.
PR 516 by Tissot
Tissot’s Heritage collection boasts some of the best-looking and best-value mechanical watches on the market. And this year’s PR 516 could be its new star, moving things on from the fusty 1940s and 1950s and into the swinging 1960s - a deliciously funkadelic era for wristwatch design. The PR 516 was an icon for Tissot back then, strapped to a racing driver’s wrist in an award-winning ad campaign, and today, to its infinite credit, Tissot has barely changed a thing. Save for the bracelet, which is punched with circles, reminiscent of the era’s lightweight steering wheels.