The mood was sombre at this year's fair, held barely two months after the Swiss National Bank ended its commitment to a fixed exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and the euro. The sudden spike in the Swiss currency meant that exports became significantly more expensive, and that brands had to either increase their prices accordingly or take in lower profits. For the watchmakers, it was a bitter pill to swallow, especially at a time when the industry was already rattled by news of sluggish economic growth in key markets, anti-corruption measures in China and protests in Hong Kong.
Yet the show must go on, as they say. In spite of the gloom, watchmakers stuck to their creative guns to produce beautifully made timepieces that would bode well with both loyal and new clients. The proclivity towards the outrageous has been toned down even further from last year as brands adopted a more coherent and commercial approach.
As for what trended, some have pointed out watches in rose gold, vintage designs or with blue dials. But unless this was your first Baselworld, you would have seen numerous examples the last three years. What stood out this year instead was the use of even more unusual and rare materials on dials. Even exotic gemstones and feathers have lost their novelty, and in their place are dials with pigments from butterfly wings (Harry Winston's Premier Precious Butterfly Automatic), scarab beetle elytra (Christian Dior's Dior VIII Grand Bal Pièce Unique Envol No.5) and papyrus (Girard-Perregaux's The Pearl of Wonders).
That being said, the hottest topic at the fair was undoubtedly wearable technology: Will smartwatches truly, as Apple predicts, cripple the watch industry? How can watchmakers (and should they even) incorporate such technology into mechanical watches? After all, some brands do feel strongly about wearable technologies' added value to customers. The biggest announcement was the partnership between TAG Heuer, Google and Intel to launch a Swiss smartwatch powered by Intel technology and Android Wear. At its press conference, Jean- Claude Biver, President of the Watches Division, LVMH Group, said: “Our collaboration provides a rich host of synergies, forming a win-win partnership, and the potential for our three companies is enormous.”
Breitling and Frederique Constant launched watches (incorporated with technology) that pair seamlessly with smartphones via iOS and Android apps, while Kairos upgraded the beloved mechanical watch (complete with sub counters, skeletonised hands and an exposed part of the dial that reveals the escapement) with a 1.1-mm thin TOLED (Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode) display that only appears when a notification springs up. Meanwhile, Bulgari introduced the Diagono Magnesium Concept, which although isn't a smartwatch, incorporates the use of digital technology.
Priced affordably under US$10,000, these watches signal a shift in the industry towards affordable luxury, whether as a reaction to an uncertain financial climate, to woo a younger clientele, or to cater to savvy consumers who demand better bang for their buck. Corum has realigned its strategy and instead wants to concentrate on watches between 5,000 and 15,000 Swiss francs. The Bubble watch that was reintroduced this year remains at 5,100 francs, the same as it was 10 years ago despite inflation and increased production costs. Elsewhere, others like Hermes and Bulgari launched new collections at great value: The Slim d'Hermes automatic watch comes complete with the in-house H1950 movement and retails at about 6,900 francs, while the Bulgari Diagono Magnesium, at about 4,000 francs, comes fitted with a resilient and lightweight case middle made of magnesium and PEEK (short for polyetheretheretone).
Tradition Minute Repeater Tourbillon 7087
Game-changing and proprietary innovations in the minute repeater field
Featuring irregularly shaped minute repeater gold gongs and hammers that strike outwards towards the sapphire crystal, Breguet's 7087 has an impressive list of innovations that are crammed into its 44-mm case. Ensuring that sound transmission is uninterrupted are the gongs, which are attached to a radiating bezel screwed to the caseband via three pillars.
Other details such as the direction of the hammers' strikes, their semi-active buffers and the gold membrane at the back of the case, contribute to the volume and clarity of the chimes.
Other unusual features that made this watch stand out as one of the most innovative timepieces this year include a magnetic regulator which uses magnets to eliminate any unnecessary whirring noises and a chain transmission instead of the usual gear system. Finally, a periphery winding rotor and a high energy barrel guarantees 80 hours of power reserve while the tourbillon at six o'clock is a tip of the hat to its founding father Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Chamber of Wonders
A novel and unusual combination of artisanal craft
It usually takes a lot more than the standard portrayal of the hours and minutes to catch our attention, but this heart achingly beautiful trio of watches (sold as a set) struck
a chord. The first is The Pearl of Wonders, a reproduction of a 15th-century map drawn by historian Ibn al-Wardi that shows the Arab world at its centre. Its dial is a 0.7-mm sodalite stone, with tiny cut-outs of flattened papyrus featuring painstakingly hand painted details.
The Terrestrial Map reproduces the world map drawn by Jesuit astronomer Matteo Ricci, one of the first westerners to be allowed within China's Forbidden City. Composed of a 0.7-mm white jade dial, it was hand-decorated with Indian ink in a process that demanded some 17 hours.
Finally, New World is a cartographic reproduction of scholar Sebastian Münster's work that shows a marquetry of three stones: Blue and pink aventurine, calcite and nephrite. The map's details are later drawn and painted by hand, with the entire process requiring more than 95 hours of manual labour. Offered in 40-mm 18k pink gold cases, each watch is powered by the automatic GP03300 calibre.
Histoire de Tourbillon 6
The unlikely combination of a triple axis tourbillon and a carousel
No stranger to unusually complicated watches, Harry Winston introduced the Histoire de Tourbillon 6 that features a triple-axis tourbillon, a separate carousel, dual-time indications (with the second time zone doubling up as a 12-hour chronograph) and an 80-hour power reserve.
Protected under a bulbous sapphire crystal is the tourbillon with three carriages: The first carries the balance wheel and rotates once every 45 seconds, a second carriage, which makes one revolution in 75 seconds, encases the first, while a third spherical carriage contains the two and revolves once every 300 seconds. Set in constant motion, the balance wheel only assumes the same position four times in every hour.
Located at the top of the dial at one o'clock is a carousel that makes one rotation every 30 seconds. It is linked to a second escapement that controls the second time display with a zero-reset function, which means that the display can be used as a dual time or a monopusher chronograph to record the hours and minutes.
The tourbillon and carousel work together to counter the negative effects of gravity. Precision is further enhanced by the fast-rotating twin barrels that deliver steady torque. Composed of 683 parts packed within a 55-mm white gold case, this watch is available in only 20 pieces.
A traveller's essential showing 37 time zones
Those who coveted Glashütte Original's 25-piece-only Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon from three years ago will be glad to know that the watchmaker has brought back the useful world timer function. But instead of the tourbillon and perpetual calendar complications on the 2012 watch, there is now a large seconds sub dial and a power reserve indicator on the Senator Cosmopolite.
In addition to the regular 24-hour time zones that other world timers reflect, this watch also shows 13 other time zones that differ by half and quarter hours. These time zones are indicated by their International Air Transport Association (IATA) location codes and differentiated by colours (black for the 24 regular zones, blue for those that are offset by half an hour, and red for the time zones that are 15 and 45 minutes ahead or behind a standard time zone). The watch is offered in a 44-mm 18k white or red gold case and is powered by the new calibre 89-02 with a beautiful engraved balance cock and an off-centre rotor that delivers 72 hours.
Big Bang Unico Italia Independent
Another proprietary material for the master of the art of fusion
The recently forged partnership between Hublot and Italia Independent has reaped fruits in the form of Texalium, a material that had never been used in watchmaking before. Quite the leader in the area of carbon fibre cases, Hublot has gone one step further with Texalium (aluminium-coated carbon fibre), whose great advantage is that it can be expressed in different colours.
Bearing in mind that all carbon fibre cases are black, this is a revolutionary step in the material's evolution, and opens the door to limitless creative possibilities. Powering the watch is the in-house Unico movement, a column wheel chronograph with dual coupling and flyback function. Offered in a 45-mm grey or blue texalium case, each one is available in only 500 pieces.
Diagono Magnesium Concept
The world's first ‘wrist-vault'
A partnership between Bulgari and Wisekey, a leader in digital security and data storage, has led to the creation of the first mechanical watch with a cryptographic chip and invisible antenna. The watch takes the same form as the new Diagono Magnesium that features a ceramic bezel and a case middle made up of magnesium and PEEK (the same material used to build space stations). The encircled “e” on the name “magnesium” printed on the Motor-Lac coated dial is the visual giveaway that differentiates both watches.
Using NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, a digital certificate can be securely transmitted to the Bulgari Vault application on the user's mobile phone (also fitted with an NFC chip). This application can store a large amount of encrypted data on the cloud and can also communicate with other devices within its range. This means you can use it to unlock security codes and doors (such as those from various holiday homes or different cars), activate alarms and make secure payments. As reliable as a bank, there is one catch: The app must be accessed by tapping the watch against the mobile phone — not so convenient for those who like switching watches.
Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master
Premiering the proprietary Oysterflex bracelet
Presented in Rolex's patented 18k Everose gold, Cerachrom bezel and newly introduced Oysterflex bracelet, the new Yacht-Master is a shining example of the watchmaking giant's innovative personality. The Oysterflex strap is a nice departure from the metal bracelets of previous designs. It is composed of a high-performance black elastomer wrapped around a flexible titanium and nickel alloy blade that is attached to the case and Oysterlock safety clasp.
Particularly resistant to environmental effects, the high-performance black elastomer is also very durable and wraps around the wrist snugly thanks to a patented longitudinal cushion system that stabilises the watch on the wrist. Available in a 37-mm case, it is water-resistant to 100m.
Lady 8 Flower
A flower automaton that unfurls to reveal a spinning briolette diamond
Presented in the signature Lady 8 case construction, the top part of the watch that usually features a movable pearl, has been replaced with a sapphire glass bubble protecting an automaton in the shape of a lotus flower. At the push of a button, six petals unfurl to reveal a fan of enamelled inner petals surrounding a twirling briolette diamond. The hours and minutes are shown on a guilloche dial decorated with an engraved enamel butterfly while the watch runs on a self-winding movement. There are two iterations of this piece, one in 18k red gold (shown) and the other in 18k white gold with diamonds and sapphires; they are both available in only eight limited pieces.
Speedmaster Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award Limited Edition
A proven tripartite formula
Commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission is this collector's edition that highlights the Silver Snoopy Award, awarded by Nasa to Omega in 1970 for its contribution to the Apollo 13's rescue mission. Snoopy is found on the dial front and the caseback of this watch: Depicted in his usual sleeping form at the seconds sub-dial, he has been given a luminous treatment so he glows in the dark along with the hands, hour markers and tachymeter. On the domed sapphire crystal caseback, he takes after the design of the pin that comes with the Silver Snoopy award and is rendered in silver against a blue enamel background speckled with hand-applied silver flakes.
Other details include a speech bubble on the dial with the quote “Failure is not an option” (delivered by actor Ed Harris who played flight director Gene Kranz in Ron Howard's 1995 film, Apollo 13) and the words, “What could you do in 14 seconds?” written across the first quarter of the dial (in reference to the critical 14-second mid-course correction burn that the Apollo 13 crew embarked on with the help of the astronaut's Omega Speedmaster). Finally, the 1,970-piece watch runs on the calibre 1861, the very same manual-winding chronograph that was first worn on the moon by Buzz Aldrin in 1969.
Calatrava Pilot Travel Time ref.5524G
One of the most controversial watches of 2015
Pilot watches aren't Patek Philippe's forte but traveller's timepieces such as world timers are certainly very much in the DNA of the brand. In the 1930s, together with Louis Cottier, it developed its first “Heure Universelle” (World Time) wristwatches while the first patent for the Travel Time mechanism was granted in 1959. In 1996, it filed a patent for its refined two time zone mechanism.
However, because it has stayed out of the pilot's watch category for most of its contemporary history, the 42-mm ticker became one of the most talked-about watches at the fair when it was revealed on its first day. The style of the watch is characteristic of aviator-type watches: Robust and complete with a blue dial, and bold luminous hands and numerals. However, unlike most tool watches, this watch is presented in solid 18k white gold, a non-utilitarian choice of material but a decision that went in line with Patek Philippe's reputation as one of the most prestigious names in the industry. It is powered by the self-winding calibre 324 SC FUS and has a GMT function that can be adjusted via pushers (these can be locked to make the case waterproof), as well as a date function.