The Baselworld watch fair, which turned 100 this year, was a planet unto itself, an extraterrestrial realm where a $3,000 watch qualifies as entry-level and a watch containing a tourbillon (don’t ask) for under $20,000 is a downright steal.
So it was surprising that watchmakers across the pricing spectrum stressed value at this year’s fair.
Value, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But in a year of global uncertainty for the watch industry — heck, for everybody — companies continued to churn out head-turning pieces across the price spectrum. Some may not even require a second mortgage.
1. TAG Heuer Autavia
$5,150 (on leather strap)
Classic Autavias from the 1960s often fetch five-figure sums on the vintage market. So imagine the delight when TAG Heuer updated the coveted 1962 racing chronograph, featuring a reverse panda dial and brawny black bezel. The new version has been modernized, with a larger 42-millimeter case and a date window. But it still channels the spirit of Mario Andretti, Jochen Rindt and other racing legends.
2. Rolex Cellini Moonphase
Rolex generated considerable buzz with its burly Sea-Dweller and Yacht-Master II sports watches. But this dress watch may have stolen the show. The company’s first moonphase model since the 1950s is a looker, but will also delight amateur astronomers. Rendered in 18-karat Everose, the watch will accurately track the lunar cycle for 122 years. Better still, the full moon appliqué is fashioned from actual meteorite.
3. Citizen Eco-Drive Professional Diver 1000M
At first glance, a light-powered watch that can be used 1,000 meters underwater may not make much sense. It’s dark in those inky depths. But the lack of a battery means the hardened “Super Titanium” case never needs to be opened, making it virtually leakproof. Functionally speaking, it is a bathyscaph for the wrist.
4. Longines Heritage 1945
Benjamin Clymer, who runs the influential watch site Hodinkee, called the Heritage 1945 one of his favorites, and no wonder: It is based on a watch that he owns. Longines spotted the elegant dress watch, which dates back to the 1940s, on his Instagram feed and reverse-engineered it, down to his aftermarket tan strap. Little surprise, Mr. Clymer found the result “stunning.” We happen to agree.
5. Slim d’Hermés L’heure Impatiente
This whimsical piece, designed by celebrated watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, does more than tell the time. An horological homage to a famous Georges Clemenceau line — roughly, “the best moment in love is right before it arrives” — it has a 12-hour countdown that gives the wearer a sense of anticipation, culminating in a delicate chime from deep inside the watch’s rose gold case.
6. Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic
Bulgari made its name with diamond-encrusted showstoppers worthy of a royal coronation. But lately, the Roman maison has been scoring hits with its men’s watches by going understated and thin — very thin. At 5.15 millimeters, the futuristic Octo Finissimo is the thinnest self-winding watch ever, not much thicker than a coin. With a sandblasted titanium case, it is both featherweight and tough, a watch to be worn daily — not just for galas with the queen.
7. Breitling Colt Skyracer
Makers of fine Swiss timepieces have no choice but to connect with millennials or fade to irrelevance. Quality quartz watches like this are a great start. At $2,000, the baby Breitling costs less than half of the company’s signature aviation watches. But it features a featherweight case fashioned from a proprietary carbon and a “SuperQuartz” movement billed as 10 times more accurate than standard quartz. It also boasts an eight-year battery life — long enough, that is, for 20-somethings to save up for a Breitling Navitimer.
8. Graff Eclipse Tourbillon
As the Tesla S is to the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, so is the Eclipse Tourbillon to the bejeweled confections for which Graff Diamonds is known. Weighing in at only 45 grams despite a manly 43-millimeter case, this handsome black-on-black-on-black timepiece is rendered in go-anywhere DLC-coated titanium. And like a Tesla, this discreet and sexy Graff is stealth wealth at its finest.
9. Nomos Glashütte Club 38 Campus
Millennials can tell time only on their smartphones, right? That’s a cliché, of course, but Nomos Glashütte, a lauded German maker, released the chic,budget-friendly Club Campus line for those still paying off their student loans. As a bonus, each one comes with a largely blank case back: just the thing for an inscription celebrating a college graduation or a first job.
10. Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chronograph
$4,725 (with a leather strap)
Rolex’s lower-priced sister brand continues to deliver bang for the buck. With its fixed stainless-steel tachymeter, the new Chrono feels both sporty and vintage. The big news for watch geeks is the new MT5813 movement in collaboration with — brace yourself — Breitling. Cooperation, even with rivals, is very Swiss, they say. Maybe that’s how they stay neutral.
11. Movado Connect
Starting at $495
Two years ago, the dawn of the smartwatch era was the talk of Baselworld. Now the smartwatch simply is. Movado is closing the gap between a stylish watch and a wrist computer with this sleek model, featuring Google’s Android Wear 2.0 platform and five customizable versions of its minimalist Museum dial.
12. Patek Philippe Ref. 5320G
At roughly the price of a new Porsche 911, Patek’s latest showstopper is hardly cheap. Then again, it’s Patek. The brand’s well-heeled obsessives are toasting the retro-inflected cream-color dial of this perpetual calendar (which tracks the date for perpetuity, including leap years and months with 28 or 30 days) on a design that recalls Patek classics from the 1940s and 1950s. Hey, at least it’s not priced like a Bentley.
13. Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary Limited Edition
Celebrating the 60th anniversary of one of the most famous watches ever (a watch that astronauts would eventually take to the moon), Omega introduced this lovely and letter-perfect homage to the original Speedy, designed from a digital scan of the ’50s original. It can be purchased individually or as part of the Trilogy collector’s set, along with remakes of the 1957 Seamaster and Railmaster.
14. Hublot MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis
$211,000 in king gold
Unlike more discreet watchmakers, Hublot is not the kind of brand that is going to install a tourbillon — the grandest of complications — and keep it hidden under the dial. With this limited-edition statement piece, the rock star of watch brands has included a tourbillon rotating on two axes inside its own display window, for maximum visibility. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
15. 1960 Grand Seiko
Starting at $5,700
Seiko is known for producing watches for the masses, but its premium Grand Seiko line holds its own among the fine Swiss houses. To celebrate Grand Seiko’s formal split into a separate brand, the company introduced an exquisite reissue of its understated first model, featuring a domed crystal and wedge-cut hour markers. This retro charmer is available in gold, platinum and stainless steel, in limited editions of 1,960 each, naturally.
16. Zenith Defy El Primero 21
Zenith, a legacy brand currently undergoing a dramatic reinvention under its new chief executive, Jean-Claude Biver, made a statement with this sexy new riff on its classic El Primero. This model features a titanium case, a skeleton dial and a high-frequency chronograph accurate to one-hundredths of a second. As with Hublot, another brand overseen by Mr. Biver, the new Zenith is about dressing to impress.
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