The watch business is full of curious coincidences – synchronicities if you will – that watch writers and retailers alike encounter virtually every year. For example, we saw IWC Schaffhausen reconfigure its entire aviation collection at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) earlier this year. Just a few short months later at the Basel World 2012 watch fair, evidence of activity in this segment of fine watchmaking is all around us.
Obviously, Breitling has a piece of the action with numerous interesting novelties for 2012 but this is only to be expected. Less obvious is Zenith, which has revealed a new Pilot collection of watches and the fact that the word ‘Pilot’ is trademarked by the LVMH-owned brand. In our visit to the fair this year, we also saw notable examples of the aviation theme in brands as varied as Bell & Ross, Hanhart and Alpina but one example stands out very clearly: the Rolex Sky-Dweller.
We’ll showcase our selection of watches to watch from Basel World 2012 in a moment but first, we’d like to also like to match our observations from Basel with those we made in Geneva. Basel World of course showcases hundreds of watch brands so the scale is quite different to the SIHH but there are still statement pieces, collectables and, most importantly, watches that tell us what to look out for in the future.
The aviation theme is a mere trend but some brands have released statement pieces to match. We have made a selection of these of course. Other obvious statement watches in the past have included the always-impressive Harry Winston Opus series, TAG Heuer concept watches and the iconic Ulysse Nardin Freak. This year though, we are missing new entries from TAG Heuer and Ulysse Nardn, both choosing to go for depth in watches for the future.
A note about complications: although we have only selected one in this list, do not be misled. There are very attractive tourbillons, minute repeaters and perpetual calendars to be had from the likes of DeWitt, Breguet, Bulgari, Chopard and even Jacob & Co. With this list, we wanted to higlight ambitious moves on grander scales as well as the implementation of a few mechanical timekeeping improvements.
Without further delay then, here are 11 watches that caught our eye at Basel World.
- Breguet Classique Chronometrie 7727 - For a very old name in watchmaking, Breguet has always found a way to incorporate contemporary innovation in its current range. Reference 7727 is a further example of this, incorporating the high beat silicium escapement (10 Hz) first introduced two years ago in the Type XXII chronograph. The presence of this very escapement in reference 7727 tells us that we may be seeing even wider applications for this technology from Breguet in the years to come. In the meantime, enjoy the little show the seconds subdial puts on.
- Blancpain Villeret Ref 6633 - After introducing the world to the concept of the annual calendar with GMT function last year, Blancpain shows off its core competencies this year with this watch, the Villeret Squelette 8 Jours. Extensively engraved by hand, the 4.2mm thick in-house movement is a thing of ethereal beauty and showcases the skills of Blancpain’s artisans. For our part, this is one of the most attractive skeleton watches we’ve seen this year.
- Breitling Transocean Chronograph Unitime - Powered by a totally new in-house movement, calibre B05, this watch brings the world time function to the Breitling collection – except that Breitling had a world time watch in the 1950s. As far as updates go though, this might as well be an entirely different watch. Since the B01 movement is the base, the watch also has a chronograph and a date window. Like most world timers, this one indicates time simultaneously in 24 time zones. Unlike most world timers, changing the time zones is done via the crown – hours, city disk and 24-hour disk all shift forward or backward – while minutes and seconds are completely unaffected.
- Chopard LUC 8HF - A few years ago, Chopard announced it was developing high frequency escapement and this year, the manufacture one-ups itself with the LUC 8HF watch. As the name suggests, the escapement vibrates at 57,600 vph or 8 Hz, and Chopard has got the watch certified by COSC. At the present time, the Chopard LUC 8HF is the only high frequency mechanical watch with a COSC certification.
- Corum Admiral’s Cup Legend 42 Annual Calendar - The second annual calendar on our list demonstrates just how popular and widely available this complication will be. On the heels of such calendars from brands as varied as Cartier and Zenith, this entry from Corum further illustrates the development of what was once exclusively available from only Patek Philippe. Months are indicated via the subdial at 6 o’clock while the dates are marked out along the flange and indicated via a central hand. The selfwinding movement is cited as Corum CO503 but Corum does not claim this as an in-house development nor does the press information say what specialist house worked on the development.
- Harry Winston Opus 12 - Jeweler Harry Winston wowed the world again with the latest Opus. A collaboration between the brand and watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet, the Opus 12 is a complicated device that indicates hours and minutes via markers on the periphery of the dial. Every five minutes, the appropriate marker flips over, turning blue. Every hour, each marker flips over in sequence, going from grey to blue and back again, until arriving at the next correct hour, which remains blue. The hands in the center indicate power reserve (the silvery hand), small seconds (with its own sapphire crystal subdial) and retrograde 5-minute hand.
- Perhaps surprisingly, Omega’s in-house movements of late, the 8000 series, have not included a GMT complication. This watch addresses that oversight and provides some food for thought. Omega of course already has an annual calendar function so we might see an annual calendar with GMT complication soon. After all, fellow Swatch Group brand Blancpain already has one and Rolex is already moving to claim this space.
- No statement watch will receive more attention in 2012 than this entry from Rolex. The Sky-Dweller combines the ever popular second time zone complication with the increasingly available annual calendar. Although not the first in the world, it is certainly the first that will be widely available. A single crown that works in sync with a bezel function selector handles all adjustments to local time (central hands), reference time (24-hour ring), date (under the usual Cyclops lens) and month (discreetly shown via apertures behind the roman numerals). This ingenious system and the admittedly unusual dial design will make or break this watch for Rolex .
- Patek Philippe Ref. 5204 - A new and important watch from Patek Philippe at Basel World is always welcome in setting a positive tone for the year head. Ref. 5204 fits the bill perfectly because it completes an arc of sorts for the entirely in-house chronograph as it meets in horological matrimony with the perpetual calendar, while acquiring the added powers of a split seconds feature. In terms of complexity and mechanical ingenuity alone, the new calibre CHR 29-535Q makes waves. Patek Philippe has been developing this watch for five years and it has been no secret so appetites have been amply whet.
- TAG Heuer Link Lady Diamond Star - No fascinating concept watches from sports-and-speed specialists TAG Heuer but the brand did introduce a new vision for its women’s watches. Instead of simply going with scaled-down models, with diamonds and a white strap, the brand has made it a point to create a special collection with its own trademark characteristics. Obviously, the Link Lady trades in TAG Heuer’s very distinctive bracelet but it also has an innovative approach to both form and function. The automatic model in particular deserves mention for the way it brings femininity to the mechanics of the caliber in the form of an attention-grabbing visual flourish. The entire movement is within the central part of the watch, appearing to be suspended in sapphire crystal. The rotor provides the visual flourish, being larger than the movement proper and designed to look like a shower of shooting stars.
- Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 - The aviation segment of watchmaking gets a lift this year with offerings from multiple brands, the most significant of which comes from Zenith, which as we mentioned, now has an entire aviation-themed collection. At 57.5mm in diameter, the Type 20 watch in particular is major statement for the brand. It features the historic manual-winding Zenith pocket watch calibre 5011. This movement was named in 1967 as the most accurate chronometer ever tested by the Neuchatel Observatory and has been in production, in one way or another, since the 1960s.