The end of Baselworld is like coming down off a really brutal high. The intense energy of the show is only matched by how busy you are. Nights are filled with long European style dinners that take forever, but go by quickly as the conversation is engaging. Watch lovers can be themselves – this is our week. And even though the show is that long, you can only manage to see a fraction of the exhibiting brands. New things come at you around each corner, and items you’ve only seen as computer renderings come to life. The best part is by far the people; the gossip, the laughs, and thankfully this year — the optimism.

“More orders than last year” seems to be a sober but enthusiastic claim made across the board. Few brands leave without smiles on their faces, while the major brands are all celebrating due to increased sales in key markets. If retailers are buying watches then it means they have a pretty good reason to think they can sell them. It will still take a year or two before many US retailers return to Switzerland, and I am not sure the industry was able to anticipate the good times. Hopefully they last.

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What Baselworld 2011 didn’t have was a lot of novelty. At first I wanted to write about how I was disappointed by the lack of new offerings, but perhaps I got spoiled after we had year after year of brands designing like mad. This year many brands focused on mere “line extensions,” or rather new versions of existing watches. Others had just single new watch to show, and no one wanted to admit their 2011 offerings were modest (I need new interrogation tactics). That wasn’t the case with everyone though. Strong brands like Hublot, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Omega, Tissot, Jacob & Co., Corum, Patek Philippe, and Zenith all had substantial new things to show.

As new watches take a few years to develop, it is possible that what we are seeing is a side-effect of a few years of economic woes. I have a feeling things will pick up again in the next few years if good sales at least remain consistent. What trends did I see? Unlike the strong adherence to sober designs that I wrote about in my SIHH 2011 overview, Baselworld was certainly more edgy. While retro and classic designs are still in, they certainly aren’t the cornerstone of what 2011 is about. Retro-revivals seem to be mostly well thought-out save for a few pieces which will appeal to mostly collectors.

Color was a big thing, as brands look for innovative ways of getting people’s attention. I saw a lot of bold tones in watches both inexpensive and very high-end. There isn’t really a focus on any one color, but all colors seemed to be of interest to brands. I will however say that I saw a lot of blue colors – which is a bit unusual.

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Aside from a few key brands that really love to dazzle with complications, watches that wow with engineering prowess were lacking. Not a lot of new movements, but those fresh movements you did see, felt impressive. All in all 2011, felt like one big build-up to 2012 – and what that means will take a year to find out.

Without further delay, here is my list of the top 11 watches for 2011, followed by noteworthy honorable mentions. These aren’t in a particular order, just the best 11 overall.

Corum Admiral’s Cup Legend 42

Now that the Admiral’s Cup collection is an icon unto itself, Corum was able to offer a affordable version in a slimmer case that has the core shape of the line with a demeanor that is more business casual, versus boat deck chic.

Harry Winston Opus Eleven

Really what else can I say that a mere glance doesn’t communicate? The movement in this watch boggles your mind, and even after you understand it, you want to see it again. Denis Giguet is now going to be a famous man round these parts for what he has done here. This watch totally stole the show.

Porsche Design Heritage Compass watch

The original was a quizzical watch for your Porsche driving weekend survivalist. Now over 30 years later Porsche Design re-visits the watch with an analog compass in the case, and builds it the way they wanted to originally.

Glashutte Original Seventies Panorama Date

Loving this watch on my wrist was a big surprise as I wasn’t sure what to make of the retro gradient dial and TV screen shaped cased. GO makes a perfect steel casual watch for all occasions that is the right mix of interesting and sober.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5270

Who thought black oxidized gold could make a watch look so special. Everything you love about Patek is here in a contemporary size and look that will have you selling off your record collection to afford one.

Hublot Minute Repeater Tourbillon Chronograph Carbon Fiber

I am convinced Hublot never anticipated this, but their zealous use of high-tech carbon fiber helps improve a very traditional complication. Most minute repeaters in today’s watches are muted by gold and platinum metal cases that absorb sound. Carbon fiber doesn’t keep in the sound as much, but does keep the water out.

Citizen Satellite Eco-Drive

Japanese technical innovations each year are more often than not the most useful. This watch gets signals from navigational satellites hovering over our planet to stay accurate in all parts of the world — a feature someday all quartz watches might have.

Zenith Stratos El Primero

It just looks great. Zenith’s new design ethos pays off with a sexy new sport watch with an El Primero heart. Beautiful comfort and detailing at a reasonable price.

Breuget Type XXI 3810 Titanium

This is your iconic high-style military aviator’s watch done in titanium with some fresh design features that seem to make a great watch look even better. Breguet re-affirms that it knows how to make a good sports watch — when they feel like it.

Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Automatic Chronograph

The lineage of the Moon Watch lives on in a more modern package with probably the best new mainstream movement of the 2011 show. Newly upped to 44.25mm in size, this Speedmaster keeps the core look we love, with a movement we all want to have.

Chronoswiss Balance

Likely an underdog winner, the Chronoswiss Balance proves that symmetry is your friend. Traditional in design, the cultured look of the watch holds a refined retrograde seconds movement with chronograph. Chronoswiss hit a sweet spot between classic beauty with functional utility and legibility.

Honorable Mentions:

There can only be 11 in a Top 11 list. An honorable mention goes to the following pieces. The pieces below are all great as well. Some are in this list merely because they are not new enough (just new variants) or because they are still in a prototype phase. If you think other piece require honorable mention comment below.

Also really great….

– Romain Jerome Octopus

– 4N Watch

– Casio G-Shock Collection

– Bremont BC-SOLO

– Perrelet Seacraft Chronograph

– Ball 3000 Meter Diver

– Christophe Claret 21 Blackjack

– Linde Werdelin SpidoSpeed Chronograph

– Urwerk UR-202S

– Bulgari Serpenti

– Jacob & Co. Digital Ghost

– Loiseau 1f4

– Temption CGK205

– Hautlence HL2

– Seiko Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater

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