Baselworld 2017: Highlights from Day One
The first day of Baselworld, the press day, is abuzz with somewhat chaotic activity. There are a ton of press milling around the semi-empty halls and booths, some of which are still being set up, and there's the constant chime of app notifications as the embargoes on many watch releases are lifted nearly simultaneously. Most of the non-Europeans are powering through their jet lag with a steady diet of espresso and chocolates on offer in the "booths". I put booths in quotes because most of them are essentially multi-story boutiques built inside a giant convention center. The experience can be a bit overwhelming, but one must soldier on, because... watches! Fair warning: my goal here is not to give you a comprehensive overview of every single novelty for every brand, because I think that's pretty well covered elsewhere. What I am going to do is talk about what I think are the highlights of each brand and the trends I see across the show. We are watch collectors first and foremost, and that's how we approach our coverage of Basel and other shows, hence the title of the blog: Collectors' Perspective.
One of our first visits was to Tudor to go over their new pieces, and they had quite a few to share with us. They introduced a 41mm version of the Black Bay 36 that came out last year, which is a nice size improvement. I like the BB 36, but think it's a bit too small, even for my small wrist, and would have loved to see a 39mm version instead. Tudor also introduced a new Black Bay Steel + Gold, which will appeal to all the two-tone watch fans, a Black Bay Steel with a stainless steel bezel insert, and the Black Bay Chronograph. I'm going to focus on the latter two.
The Black Bay Steel has the addition of a date at the 3 o'clock position, which wasn't on any previous Black Bay model. It has a stainless steel bezel, giving it a really nice tone-on-tone steel look overall, and comes either on a leather strap (at 3,300 Euro) or a riveted steel bracelet that comes standard on all the Black Bays that have an in-house movement (at 3,600 Euro). If I didn't already have two Black Bays, I'd probably buy this one.
The Black Bay Chronograph has already been causing all manner of commentary on the internet since it was unveiled at the Tudor dinner on Tuesday night. It's the first ever chronograph in the Black Bay family, and it features manufacture calibre MT 5813, but here's the twist: the calibre is derived from a Breitling B01 calibre and was developed by Tudor in collaboration with Breitling. What I love about this is that the watch industry used to have lots of open collaboration - Jaeger-LeCoultre providing movements for Audemars Piguet, for example - and I think we will be seeing a lot more of that now, as the watch industry reacts to the economic pressures of a slower luxury market. Why completely reinvent the wheel when you can build your movement in collaboration with a brand that has an established, reliable movement? The BB Chrono is available on a leather strap or a bracelet and also comes with a fabric strap that is kind of a hybrid of denim and twill. I think Tudor does some of the best fabric straps in the business, so the addition of a fabric strap from them in the box of every watch is nothing to sneeze at.
We visited a handful of independents on our first day as well, meeting with MB&F, Grönefeld, Moritz Grossmann, and Sarpaneva. MB&F's new clock, the Destination Moon, is one of their fun and whimsical takes on timekeeping with a theme of space exploration. This collaboration, unlike others where MB&F has designed the piece and approached their collaborator, started with a watchmaker creating a vertical movement design and then approaching MB&F about incorporating the movement into a clock. The rocket ship design they came up with, along with their little astronaut, Neil, showcases the movement while also being pretty damn cute.
Grönefeld had some new dial versions of their 1941 Remontoire from last year. They showed them at SIHH, but since I wasn't there, I'm going to show them here again because I absolutely love the Kari Voutilainen-produced dials on these pieces. They're not just beautiful, they're customizable - you can choose from a large number of guilloche patterns, enamel options, and color combinations. Also, you can't beat that movement, which I talked about in my A Look Back at Baselworld 2016 post.
In case you couldn't get enough of Kari's dials, Sarpaneva is now incorporating a few of his guilloche dials into their pieces, as well as using his sunburst dials in his S.U.F. line. While my favorite thing about Sarpaneva is the depiction of the moon, these gorgeous guilloche dials really complement the designs and I like the way they add some elegance to the more industrial-looking cases. The S.U.F. dials are also very nicely done and come in at a very accessible price point at under 4k Euro.
One of my perennial favorites since I first saw them at Baselworld 2015, Moritz Grossmann did a great job again this year. The pre-Basel release of the enamel dial model of the Atum is beautiful in person, with small details such as the 12 o'clock marker being blue instead of black jumping out much more in person than it did in photos. However, my favorite release in the Atum line this year is the one that features the addition of a date. The center dial is slightly smaller to make room for the date, which is displayed on an outer peripheral ring. It's a jumping date that's connected to the gear train in a 1:2 ratio, so when the hour turns twice around, the date jumps once. It's a very clean and immaculate dial, characteristic of their commitment to high-level Glashütte quality finishing.
One of Moritz Grossmann's other novelties - and there were a lot this year! - is the Tefnut Twist, which features a really interesting winding mechanism. Instead of using a crown to wind the watch, you twist the strap. It only takes a few twists of the strap to fully wind the watch.The mainspring is protected by a bridle to prevent overwinding. It's clever and unique design. No matter how I describe it here, you have to see it in action, so we posted a video of the winding process on Instagram.
Heading over to a different part of the vast halls, we visited Fabergé to have a look at both their new novelties and their collaboration with Fiona Krüger. First, we took at look at their new Visionnaire Chronograph. Like their previous Visionnaire DTZ that displayed the second time zone in the center of the dial, the Chronograph version has its complication front and center. The hours and minutes are read at the outside edges, and instead of sub-dials for the chronograph functions, the Agenhor-created movement puts its chronograph functions directly in the center of the dial. It's a pretty cool design, and it's nice to see a house like Fabergé that's not really widely known for its watches working on and showcasing some pretty solid mechanical chops.
Also at Fabergé, we saw their collaboration with Fiona Krüger, which takes its inspiration from the landscape of Mozambique, where the rubies on the dial are mined. Fiona worked with an enamel artist to evoke the look and texture of waves rolling in to the beach, and asked the artist to do some less traditional things like leaving visible brushstrokes to help the painting look more alive. The rubies on the dial were also meant to evoke texture, rather than being there purely for bling. It features a mechanical movement, which we're seeing in a lot of women's watches this year (more on that in a minute).
Last year at Baselworld, I noticed a positive change across almost all the brands we visited - most, if not all, of their women's watches were mechanical rather than quartz. The watch industry has a long-standing belief that women don't want mechanical watches and only want a watch as a jewelry item, with a quartz movement and tons of diamonds everywhere. While there are certainly women (and men!) who don't necessarily care what movement is in their watch, there are a growing number of women who are interested in the inner workings and want a mechanical timepiece. Every brand I spoke to last year about this said they were responding to client demand for mechanical watches, and the continued appearance of mechanical movements in watches that are being marketed specifically to women tells me that demand has not waned.
At Chanel, we saw the introduction of their second in-house movement in their Camellia Skeleton. Not only is it an in-house movement, but it is skeletonized to look like their signature Camellia flower emblem. It's quite a feat to skeletonize a movement well, but even more so to do it to conform to a pre-existing image or design. Again, it's nice to see a brand that is known more for fashion than horology continue on the path of creating more in-house movements and do so with technical aplomb. And the high-end pieces aren't the only thing to like, as most of their other women's watches, from the J12 to the Boyfriend, contain mechanical movements.
Which brings us back to Tudor again. This year, Tudor released a revamp of their Clair de Rose line, which all feature mechanical self-winding movements. There are three sizes - 26, 30, and 34mm - all in steel, and all priced well, with the smallest version starting at 1,800 CHF without diamonds. I know I'm probably sounding like a broken record at this point, but it makes me happy to see more mechanical movements marketed towards women, and I like the styling of these watches, as they are feminine but not over-the-top girly. I can see someone wearing any one of these Clair de Rose versions as a practical work-to-evening piece on a daily basis.
Stay tuned for Day 2!