IMAGINE an enormous aircraft hanger turned into Bond Street, repeat that several times, and you’ve an idea of what Basel’s annual watch industry knees up, Baselworld, is like. The March event has thousands of brands on show, and tens of thousands of dealers, buyers and industry executives (oh and the odd journalist) eyeing them up.
In such an environment, it’s often the most out-there designs and extreme inventions which catch the eye. Yet this year two of the most interesting watches were entry-level pieces for their brands. Zenith, a resurgent brand with a great tradition of craftsmanship behind it, created waves with its new Stratos sports watch, featured on page 24. But of equal note was its Pilot Chronograph, a brand new line containing (as does the Stratos) Zenith’s legendary El Primero movement. With just two subdials and beefy military-themed markers and hands on a black face, it’s a dynamic piece and great value for an El Primero watch. Meanwhile Bremont, the small British brand which punches far above its wait with its smart, robust aviation watches, launched the sleek, three-handed BC-Solo. It’s thinner than Bremont’s other watches but just as tough, and its effortlessly cool design would suit a Savile Row suit as well as it would a rugged flying jacket. The £2,550 price tag is pretty sleek too.
“Retro” is a common enough theme with watch brands, though as past eras go, the Seventies have rarely been in favour since, well, about 1980. Suddenly, though, the watch industry is breaking out its chest wigs, medallions and sidies with some neat Seventies-inspired pieces. The ever-affordable Hamilton (once American, now Swiss) brought out a chunky new version of its 1971 Pan Europ chrongraph, the watch equivalent of checked bell-bottomed trousers, while Glaschutte Original’s Seventies Panorama Date ought to come with its own disco soundtrack and deep shag-piled bachelor pad.
Aviation brand Breitling was also following a retro trend, though a somewhat earlier one with its suave Transocean chronograph, a new line named after a model launched in 1958 and featuring Bretiling’s in-house Caliber 01 movement. Among the other marquee names, Rolex revamped its Explorer II, which has grown to 42mm in width (big for Rolex) and features a new, enlarged movement and a snazzy orange GMT hand. Over at Omega, as well a sleek new Speedmaster, the brand attracted attention with its Hour Vision Blue – this supplement’s cover star. Created to raise money for the charity Orbis International, it’s noticeable for its gorgeous blue dial.
In fact blue was a noticeable trend – take Cuban-inspired brand Cuervo Y Sobrinos’s elegant Historiador dress watch, for instance, or TAG Heuer’s Carrera Heritage Blue with its eye-catching, burnished blue hands.
Hermes also went down the blue route with the latest version of its Clipper chronograph diving watch, though of more note was its bizarre, if elegant, Temps Suspendu. This is a watch designed to stop – hit a button, the hands stop turning and you don’t have to worry about time. Good for sitting back and enjoying a long lunch, perhaps. Hit the button again, and it picks up at the right point. As horological conceits go it’s as daft as a brush, but it looks awfully smart with it. As does Seiko’s new release from its top-of-the-range Grand Seiko line, a renewal of the original Grand Seiko from 1960, and Hublot’s understated (for Hublot) chronograph.
Lastly, a word of praise for Jacquet Droz, a brand that’s less well-known in the UK. It’s sublime dress watches, perfectly mixing oversize proportions with formal elegance and crisp style, stopped me in my tracks every time I passed them.
CUERVO Y SOBRINOS,
HISTORIADORE PEQUENOS SEGUNDOS, £1,935
HAMILTON, PAN EUROP £1,310
ZENITH, EL PRIMERO PILOT £4,200
TAG HEUER, CARRERA
HERITAGE BLUE, £1,695
70S PANORAMA DATE £7,400
JAQUET DROZ, GRANDE
SECONDE QUARTIEME £6,600
BREMONT, BC-SOLO £2,550
SEIKO, GRAND SEIKO
ANNIVERSARY EDITION £15,000
HERMES, ARCEAU LE TEMPS SUSPENDU, £11,320
ROLEX, EXPLORER II £5,180
BREITLING, TRANSOCEAN CHRONOGRAPH £6,210
HUBLOT, CLASSIC FUSION CHRONOGRAPH
PRICE ONN APPLICATION