Rising to the top
Best of BaselWorld 2013
Another BaselWorld is in the books. Journalists, retailers and watch nerds alike are retreating as we speak to their blogs, stores and web forums to debate who the winners, the losers, the biggest surprises and the biggest disappointments were at this year’s show. Of course, all of the hype surrounding the biggest watch event on the planet is a sign of the times. Watches have become big business, and the launch of a new OMEGA or TAG Heuer attracts the same buzz as a new U2 album or Bond film. Editor-in-chief of the wristwatch-focused Revolution magazine, Jack Forster, recalls a time not so long ago when watch periodicals gathered dust on shelves next to knitting and model railroading magazines and the trade shows attracted the same sort of nerds as Dungeons and Dragons conventions. This year, BaselWorld opened with a Lana del Rey concert and with #baselworld trending on Twitter. Watches are cooler now than they’ve ever been.
The CIA could learn a thing or two about secrecy from watch companies. You’d think the new Breitling Emergency 2 or Rolex Daytona was a new stealth bomber by the way speculation buzzed over the ether. But the brands’ secrets stayed locked as tightly as a Swiss bank vault until April 24th, press day in Basel, when Instagram lit up with “live photos” and “wrist shots” of all the new releases. Our intrepid band of watch experts has elbowed past the hype and tirelessly pored over the onslaught of new watches shown this past week to distill a list of the most interesting, groundbreaking and just plain sexiest new timepieces of BaselWorld 2013.
Based in that watch mecca, Minneapolis, Timekeeping Editor, Jason, is our resident dive watch expert. He actually takes his watches — gasp! — diving. But in an attempt to not be pigeonholed, none of Jason’s BaselWorld choices are rated to deeper than 50 meters.
OMEGA Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon
Roger Waters meets Buzz Aldrin on the wrist. Some have said OMEGA could never tinker with its vaunted Moonwatch without upsetting legions of fans. And it hasn’t: the Speedmaster Professional remains untouched in all its hand-wound, NASA-approved glory. But that doesn’t mean the “non-Professional” Speedmasters aren’t fair game for a little freshening up. This year’s Dark Side of the Moon Speedy is about as fresh as you can get and many have already said that it was the best new watch of the whole BaselWorld show.
First, the obvious. It’s black. OMEGA has rendered a block of zirconium oxide, aka, “ceramic” into a sculpted 44mm case that bears the familiar twisted “bombe” lugs of the Moonwatch. The dial and trademark engraved tachymeter bezel are also ceramic, giving the watch a new-found toughness, both in stealthy appearance and in its resistance to scratching. Flip the watch over and you see, through a domed sapphire caseback, the beautifully decorated in-house OMEGA calibre 9300 co-axial chronograph movement, with 60 hours of power reserve, chronometer-spec timekeeping and a two-register elapsed time display. Contrary to early reports, this Speedmaster does not play Pink Floyd songs.
Girard-Perregaux 1966 Integrated Chronograph
To compete at the top end of haute horlogerie, a watch company must have its own handwound chronograph in its stable. It was only a couple years ago that Patek Philippe abandoned its Nouvelle Lemania base calibre to build its own hand-cranked chrono. Lange & Söhne has had its renowned Datograph for ten years. And now, that revered old maison from La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Girard-Perregaux, has one. The 1966 Integrated Chronograph made its debut at G-P’s first trip back to BaselWorld after years of exhibiting at SIHH instead. And despite the fanfare over the company’s Constant Escapement, the Integrated Chronograph may be even bigger news.
I’ve always liked G-P’s 1966 line and its self-winding chronograph, but there’s just something about an integrated (not a sandwiched modular design) chronograph that is such a pleasure to operate and look at, its inner workings free from the shadows of an automatic winding rotor. After five years in development, the GP03800 is that movement, with finely beveled plates, Geneva stripes, circular graining and blued screws. Naturally, it is a column wheel design, ensuring crisp, precise actuation and has a healthy 58-hour power reserve. This movement is fitted in a 40mm pink gold case with familiar design cues from Girard-Perregaux’s 1966 family, and a bi-compax dial layout with tachymeter scale. While the dial is nice, we suspect most people will be looking at the back of this timepiece.
Breitling Emergency 2
While my tastes usually run to the classic and the mechanical, Breitling’s Emergency has always pulled at my adventurous side a little. The Big E, with its integrated antenna and radio transmitter, has straddled the line between wristwatch and serious instrument since it was introduced in 1995. But with the release this year of the Emergency 2, that line has been smashed. This is a bona fide personal locator beacon (PLB) and was probably the only watch shown at BaselWorld with functions that no one wants to use in a real-world scenario.
The original Emergency had an antenna and radio transmitter built into its caseback that would, if activated, transmit a signal on the emergency 121.5 mHz frequency. With a range of 100 miles, any search and rescue group monitoring that frequency, whether in a plane, boat or on foot, could home in on the watch and presumably its owner. There are tales of the watch’s usefulness, and it was a favorite timepiece for pilots and explorers around the world.
The new Breitling Emergency 2 has a much stronger dual transmitter, now sending out SOS on the satellite-monitored 406 mHz frequency in addition to the 121.5. This has earned it official PLB status, the first wristwatch to be named as such. Sure, it’s 51mm of titanium strapped to your wrist — but this isn’t a watch targeted at the average weekend warrior or watch geek. And when it saves your life, you sure won’t be complaining that it wouldn’t fit under your shirtsleeve.
Adam is one half of our New York-based Timekeeping contingent and our most, er… well endowed writer, horologically speaking. His penchant for the luxury sports watch segment is evidenced by his fine collection of Audemars Piguets and IWCs, though he’s thoroughly egalitarian in his love of timepieces, great and small.
Linde Werdelin SpidoLite II Tech
Linde Werdelin is a relatively young brand with a love-it-or-hate-it aesthetic that can be viewed as derivative on one end of the spectrum (Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, anyone?) and wildly avant garde on the other. In the opinion of yours truly, they skew closer to the wild side, but make no mistake, these guys don’t pull their punches with their watches. Carved, beveled, and finished to within an inch of their lives, LW watches set the bar with their intricately designed cases, and their new SpidoLite II Tech is no exception to this rule. This time around, the case is rendered in forged carbon — yes, a material more commonly associated with Audemars Piquet — with an inner case made from Alloy Linde Werdelin (ALS), which is a composite that’s said to be twice as light as titanium and twice as strong. The proceedings are capped off with a ceramic-coated bezel and a contrasting anodized titanium crown, all of which conspire to create one heckuva light watch on the wrist. The look is as polarizing as anything we’ve seen from the brand, and frankly, I love it.
Tudor Heritage Chronograph Blue
Tudor is a company on the move these days; specifically, to an authorized dealer near you, thanks to their return to the U.S. marketplace later this year. One of their watches I’m keen on seeing in person without resorting to a trip to Canada or Europe is the new Heritage Chronograph Blue. Okay, fine, we’ve already seen this watch a couple years back, when it bowed at Basel 2011 with either a black or gray dial. But wow — this new white and blue color scheme completely transforms what was already one of the best-looking chronos on the market. As with its precursor, it comes with both a stainless steel bracelet or matching nylon NATO-type strap and houses a modular ETA 2894 chronograph movement. It’s a pity that we won’t being seeing Tudor Stateside before the summer is over, because this one would look perfect on my wrist while lounging poolside with a cocktail in hand.
Swatch Sistem 51
We all remember the original Swatch from the early 1980s and how it revitalized the moribund Swiss watch industry with its cheeky designs and solid Swiss quartz underpinnings, right? Well, in the intervening years, the humble Swatch Co. has grown into the Swatch Group behemoth that owns such brands as Omega and Breguet. And while these companies had their share of new debuts at Basel, it’s the conglomerate’s eponymous brand that stood out the most with its ground-breaking Sistem 51. Once again, Swatch paves the way for affordable Swiss timekeeping, this time with a fully automatic mechanical watch comprised of just fifty-one parts and assembled entirely by machine. This revolutionary movement does away with a regulator and has a staggering 90-hour power reserve. Pricing hasn’t been finalized, but expect the Sistem 51 to come in comfortably under $200.