Baselworld 2019: 10 new watches that combine beauty and innovation
Elizabeth Doerr is the editor-in-chief of online specialist watch magazine Quill & Pad.
Despite Baselworld's sinking number of exhibitors -- three years ago it was 1,500, last year it was around 650, and now it is slightly more than 500 -- the Swiss fair remains the world's biggest physical showcase of new watches and one of the most important indicators of what's happening in the world of watchmaking.
Here are 10 notable timepieces from this year's edition that insiders will be talking about for months to come.
MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT
This women's watch is bound to steal the show this year. In an email, MB&F founder Max Büsser called his FlyingT "one of the biggest creative risks of his life." This is not surprising given that designing and crafting a timepiece from the ground up expressly for female connoisseurs, while remaining true to one's own brand identity, is perhaps the hardest and most daunting task a designer of men's timepieces can assign himself.
Büsser stripped this watch's complicated mechanics to the bare essentials and concentrated on elegance, expertly avoiding any trace of industry standards (in particular shrinking down a watch initially designed for a man). At 38.5 x 20 mm, this white gold kinetic artwork, with its complicated tourbillon mechanics on full view could easily be considered unisex.
"Keeping it 'unisex' would have been the smart business decision," Büsser explained. "But that was not the creative purpose."
Chanel Boy.Friend Tweed Art
Chanel's Boy.Friend, another women's watch, has been one of the fashion icon's most successful launches of recent years. The latest version of this contemporary watch plays on the textile theme that Coco Chanel's legacy is so famous for: tweed.
However, this time the "tweed" dial is expertly made of high-fire enamel. Limited to just 20 pieces, the beige gold beauty is powered by a manually wound movement.
Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu II
If you wonder why you're drawn to the second of Hublot's wristwatch collaborations with tattoo artist Maxime Plescia-Büchi, look closer at the chiseled, three-dimensional hexagonal artwork on display. The hours and minutes are shown by geometrical skeletonized "hands" tipped by luminous material, while a chronograph (a stopwatch for the wrist) counts elapsed seconds (via the center hand) and minutes (at 3 o'clock).
This watch is available in a titanium version limited to 200 pieces and an 18-karat gold version limited to 100 pieces. If you think it might be hard to read the time on this somewhat abstract dial, you could be right. But you might take pleasure in knowing that this 45 mm automatic watch's raison d'être is to be the horological expression of a tattoo.
Zenith Defy Inventor
Following on from the experimental watch Defy Lab, introduced to great fanfare in late 2017, Zenith has made its cutting-edge compliant movement technology available in a serial wristwatch. The new collection retains the interesting appearance introduced by Defy Lab, largely due to the use of the novel material Aeronith -- the lightest aluminum composite in the world -- which surrounds the dial opening.
Seeing this 44 mm titanium-encased watch in action is an unforgettable experience: its mechanical movement beats almost four times faster than a typical Zenith movement, a performance visible through the structural dial.
Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Norton Edition
Doing what it does best, Breitling continues to introduce interesting twists on the chronograph. The Swiss brand's latest gadget celebrates its new partnership with British motorcycle maker Norton, and in doing so demonstrates a new flair for designing fashionable, modern watches with mechanical movements and a vintage bent.
TAG Heuer Autavia Isograph
TAG Heuer looked to the past for the visual inspiration of its reborn Autavia line but forward for the new technology working inside it. We caught a first glimpse of it in January's Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph: carbon-composite components for more reliability and precision. Despite its futuristic insides, this 42 mm watch oozes vintage charm on the outside.
Hautlence HL Sphere
Hautlence is a boutique brand exhibiting just outside the fair, which has become a specialist in unusual case shapes -- and unusual technology to match.
The HL Sphere gets its name from the blue orb hypnotically revolving to reveal the current hour; the minutes are shown to the right of it by a hand that progresses through a 60-minute arc before snapping back upon reaching "60" to start the fascinating dance all over again. Limited to 28 pieces, the watch is housed in a white gold case and is powered by a hand-wound movement.
Urwerk UR-111C Black Cobra
Complicated creativity abounds in Baselworld's "Les Ateliers" section, which hosts the independent watchmakers who craft individual timepieces and small limited-edition series. These wristwatches are often made by industry mavericks using ingenious mechanics -- which can also lead to visuals unlike anything out there.
A great example: Urwerk's new UR-111C, an automatic black-coated steel-and-titanium watch that displays the time linearly instead of circularly. Jam-packed with unique technical elements, its arresting visuals -- which only display hours, minutes, and seconds -- are surely what will grab you before anything else. It is available only in a limited edition of 25 pieces.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Manual Wind Elegance collection
Behind this long-winded name hides an incredibly attractive watch expressing a special joie de vivre in honor of the 20th anniversary of Seiko's Spring Drive movement technology.
The dial of this limited-edition watch is housed in a platinum case and features the Japanese giant's celebrated Snowflake pattern, inspired by the beauty of the snow in the Shinsu region that surrounds the factory where it's made. The silver finish of the dial complements the hand-carved elements on the platinum case. The limited run of 30 pieces is only available at Grand Seiko boutiques.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic
In recent years, the Italian-Swiss maker has broken a number of records for the extreme thinness of its watches, and 2019's Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic continues the streak with the thinnest mechanical chronograph in watchmaking history -- though it goes even further by incorporating automatic winding and a second time zone (GMT). Coming in at an über-svelte 6.9 mm in height, the octagonal titanium case measures 42 mm in diameter.
Baselworld runs from March 21 to March 26, 2019.