Fair Weather Friends
It is an all new BaselWorld this year so we made some time to get reacquainted with our favorite watch fair. As it happens, there were more than a few exciting developments in the world of watchmaking to go with the new exhibition space. We present six watches we think will be influential far into the future
Watchmakers assembling the Constant Escapement movement - Girard-Perregaux's new movement with new escapement
After spending centuries battling the effects of gravity on delicate mechanical balance springs, watchmaking is turning to the second of the four elemental forces of the universe. This year at BaselWorld, the atmosphere was electric – well, electromagnetic to be precise. Breguet and TAG Heuer have teased us for a bit about the possibility of using the electromagnetic force in watchmaking; in 2013, both companies lead the way to what we think is a brave new world in mechanical watchmaking.
Before that though, we must pause to acknowledge that BaselWorld – arguably the greatest showcase of watches at every level on earth – itself is celebrating a renaissance of sorts. For the last five years or so, we have witnessed the evolution of the annual watch fair held in the Swiss town of
We are selfishly relieved though, that the layout of the halls remains relatively predictable, which allows us to get to all our appointments without mishap.
Changes to the exhibiting space aside, the world of watches itself is relatively unaltered – except that it might just have changed forever. The final realization of a new mechanical escapement from Girard-Perregaux (Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement) might well count as a reinvention of the wheel if it eventually makes a wide impact at Girard-Perregaux and other Kering (formerly PPR) watchmaking brands. Whatever happens in future, Girard-Perregaux now joins an exclusive club of watchmakers that have realized alternatives to the Swiss anchor escapement, including the Co-Axial escapement at Omega and the Dual-Direct system at Ulysse Nardin. Look for further developments from the Girard-Perregaux with the new escapement in future watches.
This year also saw an admirable transfer of technology throughout Swatch Group-owned brands, although Omega continues to tell us that the Co-Axial escapement will remain exclusively with it. In 2013, we see Liquidmetal making an appearance at Blancpain and the introduction of silicium escapement components, also at Blancpain. The Le Brassus-based manufacture thus joins Breguet and Omega in the silicium revolution. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2013 sees a raft of antimagnetic watches introduced at both Omega and Blancpain, which has been made possible in part thanks to silicium components. For watch lovers, the main advantage of the new Blancpain Bathyscaphe and Omega Seamaster timepieces, especially the Aqua Terra model (to be covered later, we promise) is that they are equipped with exhibition casebacks; in the past, an inner soft iron case was used to shield the mechanical movement from magnetic fields.
In 2013 though we move far beyond mere antimagnetism, with Breguet showing us several interesting and entirely useful applications for magnetism in watchmaking. While other companies fret about introducing new techniques and materials into mechanical watchmaking, Breguet charges fearlessly ahead. Having been a pioneer in bringing silicium to fine watchmaking in 2006, Breguet today uses the power of having a silicium escapement (hairspring, escapement wheel and pallet fork) to turn the electromagnetic force into a friend of watchmaking. Two watches in particular bear out the truth of this in 2013, the Breguet Classique Chronometrie reference 7727 and the Breguet Classique La Musicale reference 7800 but here we look at 7727 (more on 7800 in the near future).
Hands of Time
Tarrying a moment in the Kingdom of the Swatch, Harry Winston is not exhibiting as a part of the world’s largest watchmaking group but the company did host a cocktail reception inside its booth that drew many a Swatch Group board member. Of course, we were at Harry Winston to see what our perennial favorite, the Opus series, had in store for us in 2013. With a wildly complicated method of displaying time, Opus 13 was developed with independent watchmaker Ludovic Ballouard and effectively has one hand for every minute. In total, the watch has 70 hands – 11 for the hours and 59 for minutes – which makes it the watch with the most hands ever made, we think.
Elsewhere in watchmaking, experiments with materials new and not-so-new continued. Hublot demonstrated its proficiency with carbon by exhibiting an entire range of watches with precious stones set directly onto carbon cases; typically, such stones would be set in metal of some kind so this is a genuine material coup for the brand. Yes, as with many such innovations in watchmaking, the patent office has been called into service.
Not on this list but still worthy of a mention, Rolex demonstrates its growing prowess with ceramics, as typified by the new Oyster Perpetual GMT Master II with bi-colored ceramic bezel. Apparently, the brand-that-wears-the-crown has figured out how to incorporate two colors consistently into a single ceramic piece. As Rolex watchers have guessed all along, it is not a matter of ‘if’ Rolex will bring back the so-called Pepsi bezel but ‘when’…
All across the reinvented halls of BaselWorld, we see evidence of material innovation, including some technical wizardry with regards to magnetism, as already mentioned with Blancpain and Omega. Some brands, such as Christophe Claret and TAG Heuer are already harnessing the power of magnetism to generate technical solution in watchmaking. TAG Heuer in particular has made some fundamentally important moves here, casting aside the balance spring itself for magnets. Basically, the engineers at the firm are interested in upping the vibrations per hour or frequency of the escapements and they are employing magnetism to realize their vision.
For more details and visual references, please see the gallery of watches below, listed in alphabetical order.