First, a small Basel recap: if you are interested in watch industry business then my report from Baselworld 2013 is simple. The watch industry has anticipated a slowdown in business and growth from China for the last few years and the projections are true. While Chinese money is still important, China isn’t exactly a growing market and many Chinese buyers are purchasing outside of China in places such as the US and Europe (where sometimes surprisingly, taxes on luxury goods are cheaper).
This means that the luxury industry is once again focusing on the Western world and traditional luxury hot spots such as the Middle East, Russia, and the world’s hot vacation spots (that still attract money). Business as usual in the world of glitz and status is “go where the money is” which is once again the primary objective of those who claim to make the best watches in the world.
The good news is that new watches in 2013 are better than ever, and take it from people who’ve seen the watches. Top 10 lists are great, but a few we’ve seen are written by people who haven’t even seen the products. What we hope to offer you is a transference of our own hands-on experiences. I saw a lot of solid new introductions from the big brands, and appealing unique watches from the independent makers. Modern design is finally back in fashion, and vintage redo models are finally slinking away back into the past. Instead we see vintage inspiration in new watches that simply focus on the appeal of retro design but rendered in a thoroughly modern skin. A big reason for that is ceramic. With no historic analogs, ceramic is a modern watch making material used in modern looking watches – and ceramic is hotter than ever. Prices remain high, but we see less price increases and potentially more value, especially from the big brands.
With literally over a 1000 watch brands showing at Baselworld, we were able to see a scant few. Even so, we met with about 65 brands including the corporate power houses that show in the lux Hall 1 to the cool guys and new guys in The Palace. A little note before I start. We are only covering watches our team got to see. Yea, there are probably other good watches we missed and if you think something should have made the list then comment below. So, what did the aBlogtoWatch team find to be the best watches of Baselworld 2013? Let’s find out:
Omega Speedmaster Dark Side Of The Moon
Oh baby, did we love Omega’s new variation on its in-house movement-based Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Chronograph called the Dark Side Of The Moon (hands-on here). What makes this Moon Watch dark? Black ceramic is what. A carefully designed black ceramic case mimics the precise polished and brushed finishes of the standard steel Speedmaster case that is just over 44mm wide. Rather than absorb the light, this case plays with it elegantly. Omega matches the case with a black ceramic dial, but legibility is still thoughtfully precise. Once on the wrist, you find that the watch is actually surprisingly light, and on the black Cordura strap, it fits snugly. This may be the best new Speedmaster with an extremely satisfying mixture of modern design, movement, and materials. omegawatches.com
Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5227
You want a classy dress watch? Patek Philippe has got a classy dress watch for you. This new version of the Calatrava has an 18k gold (rose, yellow, or white) case, increased in size to 39mm wide. Even Patek Philippe isn’t immune to the concept that people want bigger watches, even formal pieces. 39mm wide isn’t big, but rather just the right size for a modern suit watch. At just over 9mm thick, it isn’t chunky either. Aside from the picture perfect dial with pristine dauphine-style hands, the case has a new hunter-style hinged case back that Patek Philippe worked hard to blend in with the case. The system means that it does have a case back that can be popped open to see the movement, but you’d never know it was there unless you looked. Imminently classy, this was easily the top dress watch of the show. The icing on the cake is the extremely modern mechanical Patek Philippe made caliber 324 S C automatic movement that include technologies such as Patek’s Gyromax balance wheel and their Spiromax hairspring. patek.com
Maurice Lacroix Pontos S Diver
Sapphire crystal is more or less scratch-proof, but its hardness has made it particularly hard to work with in anything aside from very simple shapes. Technology and techniques have improved in recent years, however, with more fully sapphire-cased watches, as well as costs for them beginning to come down such as using the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire (hands-on) – though they tend to stay more rare and costly even than precious metal case watches.One thing that is especially neat about the X1 series watches, even however, is that no matter how outlandish each design gets, it still conveys Bell & Ross’ core design language; that square 45mm case, screwed together at each of the four corners. And though this DNA does carry through to the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire, were it not for the instance signatures, this one may be mistaken for something other than a Bell & Ross watch, because the primary timekeeping cues (the hour and minute hands) have been shrunken to the upper 12:00 area of this dial. While this does give plenty of opportunity to enjoy the flying tourbillon’s movement against most of the clear, negative space from the sapphire, it does detract somewhat from general utility and legibility as compared with all the new pilot and instrument watches — something that other Experimental offerings have claimed.
The Pontos collection is Maurice Lacroix’s bestselling watch family. The new Pontos S diver is more or less a three-hand version of last year’s Pontos S chronograph. In addition to the metal bracelet, Maurice Lacroix decided to offer it on a soft leather NATO style strap – which is what pretty much every one at Maurice Lacroix at Baselworld was wearing. The three-hand diver cleverly mixes retro design with modern style and has a clever internal rotating bezel system. A fancy polish job on the steel case makes this a very desirable and fashionable diver for 2013 in the circa $3,000 price point. mauricelacroix.com
Vincent Perriard of HYT might not have the world figured out, but I think he found his home at HYT. In his brand’s second year they release the H2 watch as only imagined by the hydro mechanical horologists. Priced much higher than the brand’s original H1, the H2 (hands-on here) is a limited edition piece that celebrates none other than ‘horology’ itself. A gorgeous deep movement designed like a car engine was produced to appeal to watch movement lovers, and it sure does. A double retrograde system for the hours and minutes combines liquid with a traditional watch hand. This is a timepiece worth spending a lot of time just looking at. Don’t miss the temperature gauge designed to keep the watch in an optimal working environment. hytwatches.com
Bell & Ross BR 126 Blackbird Flyback
You need to have an appreciation for the history of Bell & Ross as it began as an extension of German tool watch maker Sinn if you really want to understand where the BR 126 Blackbird Flyback watch came from. Part of the BR 126 chronograph collection, the Blackbird Flyback contains a new for Bell & Ross movement produced by Dubois Depraz. The movement puts a chronograph module over a base Swiss ETA 2892 which hearkens back to the features of the famous Lemania 5100. You need to look closely at the dial to realize it, but this watch has a central seconds and minutes chronograph with a synced 24 hour indicator at 9 o’clock which functions as an AM/PM indicator. Yea, and the chronograph has a flyback feature. An orange accent completes the otherwise instrumental black case with instrumental dial. bellross.com
Breguet La Chronometrie Ref. 7727 10Hz
To be honest we listed this Breguet watch before (back in 2012), but it is even better for 2013. When we last visited this watch, it had one feature no one seemed to like, which was red print for the 10Hz label on the dial. Red is unsurprisingly gone from the dial (your comments do influence changes so keep them up). The 43mm wide case is size able and modern, while the hand operated guilloche machine engraved dial is picture perfect Breguet. While putting a 10Hz movement in an automatic movement doesn’t necessarily make a lot of practical sense, it is something Breguet himself would be proud of in its pursuit of accuracy and consistency in designing innovative watch movements. Silicon allows for the ultra-fast movement to operate and aside from the label on dial, you are reminded of the high beat by the quickly moving small small seconds hand (produced intentionally from silicon). breguet.com
Ball Engineer II Annual Calendar
The man who develops the new products at Ball watches came to the brand from an interesting role at Rolex. Part of the crown brand’s product development department is inventing amazing things, at Ball watches he can actually have his creations made. This new annual calendar watch is not only the best-price annual calendar watch with independently adjustable indicators, but it also includes Ball’s new SpringLock system that puts a cage around the hairspring to reduce the error experienced in watches when they are subject – not to harsh shocks, but constant minor vibrations. In this conservative guise, the watch is still everything you love about a Ball including tritium gas tube illumination and durability. ballwatchusa.com
Casio G-Shock GW-A1100 Gravity Defier
Last I checked, Casio G-Shock watches had digital dials. All of a sudden you have 100% analog G-Shocks and I don’t even know if I miss the digital ones as much as I should. Casio believes that analog watches sell better than digital ones so they have been perfecting the art of making previously digital-only functions in analog dials. With Tough Movements and Smart Access, they are getting rather successful at it. In addition to doing so much else, top-of-the-line Casio G-Shock and Edifice watches now have digital compasses like the Pathfinder models. The modern looks of the GM-A1100 looks like it is best worn while piloting a big robot, and it should survive just about any beating. gshock.com
Citizen Satellite Wave-Air
Citizen and Seiko have been fighting over GPS satellite technology in watches for a couple of years now. Both have indicated that it is their intention to supplant atomic clock radio signal receiver watches with those that receive signals from GPS satellites (that in turn rely on atomic clock time of course). The first Citizen Satellite Wave was a wild looking limited edition. The Satellite Wave-Air gets a more mainstream look and a significant price drop, but more importantly, an improved system to received signals from satellites. This technology is here to stay, and the Japanese are on top of it. citizenwatch.com
Rolex GMT Master II Day/Night
People held their breath as Rolex lifted the curtain on their 2013 watch collection when it was unveiled on the press day at Baselworld. We didn’t see anything revolutionary, but the new version of the GMT Master II was a popular hit among retailers and a good looking watch by all measures. The real innovation is the bezel. Of course in ceramic, it uses a patented Rolex process to produce a single piece with multiple colors. Rolex owns this technology, and its potential is exciting. For the day/night version of the GMT Master II, Rolex offers a perfectly half-and-half black and blue ceramic bezel used as an AM/PM indicator. That’s great, but what I really like is how it looks and what Rolex might do with it in the future. rolex.com