March 27, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Baselworld 2015 came and went seemingly faster than previous Baselworld watch trade shows. Maybe that is because team aBlogtoWatch met with so many brands, hour after hour, for a solid week. By our records, we formally met with about 85 watch brands in the hopes of capturing as wide a scope of what is new in the watch world as possible. That includes meetings with the big boy luxury watch makers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, TAG Heuer, Breitling, and many more that represent most of the world’s high-end watch makers, as well as meetings with more mainstream producers of timepieces such as Bulova, Citizen, Seiko, Casio, and Victorinox Swiss Army. More so, we took the time to learn what smaller independent watch makers were doing to innovate and add variety to the world of not only mechanical timepieces, but also some interesting new electronic and smartwatches.
Yes, smartwatches. With TAG Heuer’s loud “Biverian” announcement that they will soon release a smartwatch produced in partnership with Google Android Wear and Intel, the watch world was buzzing with plans for how they should adapt to the upcoming Apple Watch or merely offer their own take on dealing with the high-end “connected watch” market. Surprisingly, talk of the Apple Watch (whose April 2015 release date was announced just one week before Baselworld 2015) was not a common topic of conversation during our meetings with watch brands. The aBlogtoWatch team anticipated a lot more questions and discussions regarding what will likely be a highly disruptive product. While some brands certainly had feet in the world of connected electronic watches, comparisons or alternatives to the Apple Watch seemed slim.
My guess is that brands did not feel they actually had anything to compete with Apple’s product and simply preferred not to bring it up too much. Other than TAG Heuer’s smartwatch announcement, the new brand Vector soft-launched a new smartwatch concept, Bulgari announced a magnesium Diagono with an NFC chip built in that connects with an electronic locker app, Frederique Constant was extremely bullish on their MMT platform-based Horological Smartwatch, and several year old Kairos finally showed off some close-to-being-complete watches that combine mechanical movements with digital screens.
For the most part, smartwatches are still not a major part of the traditional watch industry, but major groups like Swatch, Fossil, and Timex are clear that smartwatches are part of their short-term future strategies. In a sense, it was refreshing to see mostly traditional products with some lovely innovation and some eye-popping wild novelties destined for the privileged few. Let’s compare for a moment to SIHH 2015 which I determined was about catering to the most high-end demographic of watch buyers with more exclusive, diamond-decorated products that offered little in terms of novel R&D or new models.
Baselworld is much more about all price brackets, and for the most part, I think it is safe to say that “good value” was something a lot of brands had in mind for their 2015 releases. That means lower priced models not only for the major groups, but also from the high-end independents where lower prices might mean $50,000 versus $100,000. The message to us was that the market was not only interested in lower-priced models, but expensive timepieces that deliver excellent value.
From a visual trend perspective, we were surprised at just how popular the color blue was. Literally all the major groups had impressive new blue-colored watches. That means brand new models in blue, but also a lot of existing models with new blue versions. I don’t know what it was about blue, but many of them were beautiful enough that we didn’t need to ask “why.” I think it is also safe to say that a lot of companies are adding smaller-sized watches to their collections, but at the same time, not abandoning larger-sized watches.
It would be incorrect to say that there is a trend toward smaller timepieces, but rather, a trend toward rounding out brand collections to include smaller and larger watches. 40-44mm wide seems to be a common size this year with timepieces under 40mm wide being relatively uncommon, and brand new watches over 45mm wide only existing in the “novelty sport watch category.” Nevertheless,we saw an enormous amount of bold sport watches. Macho timepieces are certainly in, whether it is from a big brand like Omega or from smaller companies who are entirely dedicated to bold sport watches. For me, the message is that more and more companies are understanding the fun, fashionable nature of aggressively designed sport watches for men – and the popularity thereof.
The aBlogtoWatch team had a difficult time (as always) selecting our list of the top 10 watches of Baselworld 2015. The watches on the list are by no means the only good watches from the show, but represent our relatively democratic agreement of what we feel comfortable recommending to a large pool of people. If you are into ultra-extravagant complicated timepieces, brands like Breguet, HYT and Jacob & Co. certainly have something for you. If you like more demure dress watches, then Bulgari, Frederique Constant, and Zenith all have things you’ll be into. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is aBlogtoWatch’s list of the top 10 watches for Baselworld 2015.
Guessing what Rolex is going to come out with each year is a difficult task that most people get wrong, but oddly, I guessed that a new Day-Date model was on its way – and for 2015, there indeed is a new Rolex President (another name for the Day-Date). Rolex has discontinued the Day-Date II 41mm watch in favor of this brand new Day-Date 40 which is more than just a “facelifted” product. This is a totally new Day-Date watch, with updates concerning the case, bracelet, dial, and movement. The operative term here is “refinement.” The Rolex Day-Date 40 isn’t about changing the Day-Date, it is about making what has been successful better. The new caliber 3255 movement is more accurate and reliable, the bracelet links have new ceramic inserts for durability and comfort, the dial has more detailed hour markers and decoration, and the case has been carefully refined to really optimize the experience. Rolex has upped the ante with the Day-Date 40, making what they do even better – although, at the same time, it is a product without any real competition in the market. Exclusively in gold or platinum, the prices for the 2015 Rolex-Day Date 40 range from 33,200 CHF in Everose gold to 59,600 CHF in platinum.
Classic looks and a lot of cool technology are what we like about the enamel-dialed Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon watch, that includes Ulysse Nardin’s new shock absorbing system in the tourbillon-based in-house made movement. Using a lot of silicon, the movement includes not only a tourbillon, but a constant force system as part of the regulator which has been designed with durability in mind. Wearing the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon watch is a pleasant experience, offering a handsome classic design with a super legible dial, exposed tourbillon, and clever power reserve indicator display. In 18k white or rose gold, the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon is priced from $84,000.
In 2007, Omega delighted enthusiasts by reintroducing the iconic Seamaster Ploprof from the 1970s. In 2015, Omega updated the Seamaster Proplof 1200M with some new tech, material updates, and more reasons to love this cult dive watch that enthusiast adore. The large and heavy Omega Seamaster Ploprof is now a lot lighter, being rendered entirely in titanium – which also includes the supplied mesh-metal bracelet. The watch now uses a ceramic bezel and has a cleaner looking dial without the date. Inside the Seamaster Ploprof 12000M watch for 2015 is Omega’s new 8900 family of in-house movements that is more or less an 8500 movement with the addition of anti-magentic parts and Omega’s new METAS certification – “Co-Axial Master Chronometer.” The new Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M Co-Axial Master Chronometer versions aren’t half bad either, but these continue to be pricey timepieces, starting at $12,500.
Zenith really got its entry-level priced pilot watch right this time. Last year’s Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special watch was a great looking time-only version of the Type 20, but Zenith baffled consumers by including a Swiss Sellita automatic movement versus something produced in-house. For 2015, Zenith nails it with the new Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze. The new 45mm-wide bronze metal case with the titanium caseback is excellent looking and wraps the vintage look in a case which feels both refined and a bit steampunk. Inside the Zenith Pilot type 20 Extra Special Bronze is an in-house made Zenith Elite caliber 679 automatic movement which the collection had served in the first place. Available later in 2015, the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze will be priced at $7,600.
We probably would not have included the Tudor Pelagos with the new blue dial on our top 10 watches of Baselworld 2015 list just for the new color scheme, even though they did it so well. However, in addition to the new blue dial and matching ceramic bezel, the Tudor Pelagos gets a brand new in-house made Tudor movement, known as the MT5612. With 70 hours of power reserve and a silicon hairspring, the new in-house movement not only offers a more integrated brand experience, but a modest price increase over the outgoing Tudor Pelagos that included a Swiss ETA automatic movement. Price for the Tudor Pelagos Blue is 4,200 Swiss francs.
When Breguet puts their mind to something, the result is typically very impressive. The brand isn’t too open about their internal research and development, but they are among the few producers of classically-inspired watches that nevertheless utilize interesting and often new mechanical technology. If you are familiar with the basic concept of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre, you will more or less understand the idea behind having two separate drive trains to power the part of the watch that indicates the time and the part of the watch that offers complications. The Breguet Tradition Chronograph Independent starts with a single mainspring system that powers a separate gear train and escapement for the time and for the chronograph. Each of the balance wheels spin at a different rate with a 5Hz balance for the chronograph and a 3Hz balance for the time. It all looks beautiful and is a treat to wear on the wrist for those who love watches because they love mechanical movements. Price for the Breguet Tradition Chronograph Independent 7077 is $78,900 in 18k rose gold and $79,700 in 18k while gold.
It wasn’t until I put the first Carrera watch to come as a result of Jean-Claude Biver’s leadership of TAG Heuer on my wrist, that I could appreciate what he was trying to do with this new model – one that basically just looked like a skeletonized Carrera watch in early press pictures. This watch is going to be controversial among TAG Heuer lovers and it isn’t for everyone, but I think it is a positive move for the brand in its efforts to re-enliven itself as the demographic TAG Heuer. The brand once so popular with younger demographics had lost much of its entry-level appeal, being mostly interesting to more mature watch lovers with a soft place in their heart for the old days of Heuer and people like Steve McQueen. If TAG Heuer is going to be relevant to the younger demographic, it needs to appeal to their tastes with items that are more affordable. So what does that mean for this 45mm-wide steel and titanium Carrera watch with a dressed-up version of the in-house made caliber 1887 movement – that TAG Heuer is calling the caliber Heuer 01? It means TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver is borrowing from his own success at watch brand Hublot (also an LVMH group company) and offering something with the same type of aesthetic look as the modern Big Bang, but much more affordable and at TAG Heuer. It’s brilliant, will likely piss off a lot of TAG Heuer traditionalists, and will ultimately be a sales success. Price for the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 is 4,900 Swiss Francs.
Where did all the Glashutte Original Senator sport watches go, such as their Navigator pilot watches and their Sport Evolution models? The Swatch Group’s German watch maker has been focusing on very classic or retro timepieces over the last several years, even though they have really stepped it up in terms of complexity and visual quality. Still, Glashutte Original enthusiasts have been eagerly anticipating a return of Glashutte Original sport watches and the Senator Observer is… well, sort of that. We will call it a transitional model that is certainly sporty, but still with the conservative feel of the brand. The Glashutte Original Senator Observer comes in a 44mm-wide steel case with a black dial and lovely 18k white gold hands and super legible, lume-painted dial. Inside the watch is the caliber 100-14 automatic movement with a big date indicator, subsidiary seconds dial, and power reserve indicator. Best of all, it comes on a sporty bracelet, in addition to the black leather strap. This is a watch that can be dressed up or down and I think will appeal to a lot of people. Retail price for the Glashutte Original Senator Observer with leather strap is 9,900 Euros and 11,100 Euros on the bracelet.
The new Airboss Mechanical Black Edition watch collection from Victorinox Swiss Army takes the popular Airboss family of higher-end timepieces from the brand, and gives them an all-black case and red ring applied to the sapphire crystal. This three-hand model is handsome, legible, and, best of all, affordable. One thing we can typically say about Victorinox Swiss Army watches is that they offer a lot of value when measured against competitors. More so, even though the Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mechanical Black Edition has a degree of modern looks and a strong masculine feel, this is nevertheless a watch with enough timeless design to keep it relevant on your wrist for years to come. Price for the Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mechanical Black Edition is $995.
Stepan Sarpaneva produces much of his own timepieces personally in his workshop in Helsinki. An artist and machinist, he is best known for his distinctive “moon face” moonphase indicator display on many of his watches that is actually inspired by his own face. Quirky and original, timepieces like Sarpaneva’s strike a major chord with those who like good watches produced in exclusive batches by passionate artists. For 2015, Sarpaneva teams up with Black Badger to create the Sarpaneva Northern Lights which takes one of his most successful designs and adds three different Black Badger lume dials in either purple, blue, or green. Black Badger produces not lume paint, but actual luminant composite materials that could be absolute game changers for the watch industry. Limited to just eight watches each, the Sarpaneva Northern Lights watches aren’t just amazingly cool, they are likely the start of a major new material trend. Price for the Sarpaneva Northern Lights limited edition watches is 14,500 Euros each.
Keep up with our pre-, post-, and live Baselworld 2015 coverage here.