At the end of March, David Duggan packed his bags and descended upon Basel – Switzerland’s third most populous city – and joined 120,000 other guests and 3,600 journalists to find out what this year’s 1,400 Baselworld exhibitors had to offer during the seven-day watch and jewellery extravaganza. This year, it was the show’s 100th anniversary, and the prevailing sentiment for many brands was distinctly nostalgic – a chance to look back and pay tribute to their heritage.
Mechanical watches were at the heart of this year’s hype, with Tudor pulling out all the stops to dazzle and introducing four new additions to their Black Bay family, including its first in-house manufactured chronograph. As David puts it, “they’re the real Robin Hood of wrist watches, really giving something back to the consumer and in keeping with German watchmaker Hans Wilsdorf’s original sentiment behind the launching the Tudor brand to create a more affordable sibling to Rolex.”
Meanwhile, Omega celebrated no less than three anniversaries this year – for their Speedmaster, Seamaster and Railmaster – and the brand has taken care to do so respectfully, focusing on retaining, rather than updating, each timepiece’s iconic features. They are even presented in vintage packaging.
Fashion house Bulgari shocked the competition with the introduction of a record-setting thinness for its Octo Finissimo Automatic only 5.15mm height, it’s the slimmest watch on the market. Every single one of its 130 components has been reduced down to its absolute minimum.
Rolex stunned with a new Cellini Moonphase, with white lacquer dial and meteorite full moon, set on a blue enamelled disc in 18ct Everose gold – Rolex’s signature rose gold alloy. It’s the brand’s first Moonphase watch to be made in 50 years and Rolex – in only true Rolex style – proclaims it will go for 122 years before needing to be adjusted for accuracy.
The anniversary Rolex Sea Dweller was also big news this year. The timepiece has divided critics with its hefty 43mm diameter, making it larger than any Sea-Dweller not part of the Deep-Sea collection, and the addition of a cyclops lens next to the three o’clock to magnify the date aperture. It’s the first cyclops lens to appear on a Sea-Dweller since its conception. For many Rolex lovers, the Sea-Dweller was defined by its lack of cyclops lens, as compared with its Submariner counterpart.
Other trends that reigned supreme were steel and gold two-tone watches, blue dials, blue straps, blue everything. And, much to the delight of those with small wrists, or a penchant for smaller timepieces, the watch industry seems to be toning down its recent fetish for the oversized.
Courtesy of Baselworld
“For me, the perfect size is 37 or 38mm diameter, but that’s just personal preference,” says David. “Ten years ago they were getting astronomically bigger… Panerai watches were 47mm and colossal – you could have slapped them around your ankle.” Many new watches are becoming a lot more subtle, evolving very gradually. “Some of these 42mm watches just don’t look as big as they actually are, although I’m unsure whether the eye has simply become accustomed to the really big watches now. The new Ladies DateJusts are 28/29mm and just seem tiny.”
One to Watch asked David to share his top-five highlights from this year’s Baselworld show.
1. 18C white gold Patek Philippe Minute repeater with new ivory dial ref. 5078G – following the platinum and rose gold versions, the 5078 with classic gongs and brand new cream enamel dial is a beauty of a watch, with white gold Breguet hands and numerals. They also produced the watch with cathedral gongs, but I prefer the classic; the gong is crisper, cleaner, not as loud, but more glassy.
2. 18C white gold Patek Philippe Aquanaut with blue dial ref. 5168G – to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Aquanaut model, Patek has created the incredible 42.2mm night blue version of its iconic classic with ‘tropical’ composite strap. And the graduated colouring on it is fantastic. Blue seems to be the colour this year. A fine anniversary edition.
3. Steel Tudor Black Bay 41 ref. 79540 – this is a fine example of what Tudor does best – making affordable, versatile and smart sports watches that are durable, ultra-resistant. The perfect everyday watch. Tudor’s watches really should be three times their retail value.
4. Steel Gold Tudor Black Bay S&G Watch ref. 79733N – the S&G [which stands for steel and gold], with black cerachrom bezel, with other proportions and lines retained. Both rotating bezel and winding crown are made from gold, as is the central link on the bracelet, complete with the same dainty date aperture. Very smart and I imagine it will be incredibly popular.
5. Steel white gold Rolex Sky Dweller with Blue Dial – Rolex has departed from the Roman or Arabic numerals of yore in favour of chunky, rectangular indexes, which is a tick for legibility. And another welcome addition is the chromalight display, with long-lasting blue luminescence. It’s a very smart watch with an elegant update.
To find out more about David Duggan’s thoughts on this year’s Baselworld, take a look at an article he has written for Watchuseek, an interview he gave to Luxurious magazine or his Best of Baselworld article from Ape to Gentleman.