Laura McCreddie-Doak and Alex Doak round up the top 10 men's watches launched at the 2017 edition of the Baselworld watch fair. This year, it's about making an informed purchase, safe in the knowledge that here is a timepiece that will tick for far longer than any flighty trend or economic wobble. Let us know your favourite by voting here.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Chronograph
Jean-Claude Biver, watch boss at luxury-goods behemoth LVMH, has a reputation for turning beleaguered brands around on a sixpence, and Zenith will be his fifth and final tenure before retirement. He’s a revolutionary who could be partly credited for reviving interest in mechanical watches in the 1980s, through Blancpain, when everyone was wearing quartz. His other babies are Omega, Hublot and Tag Heuer, so we can expect big things from Zenith in the near future. First up, in a bold reassertion of its El Primero’s technical prowess (in 1969, it was the first chronograph to tick with the precision of a tenth of a second), the stopwatch function is, in fact, powered by a separate, high-frequency gear train. It ticks at the breakneck speed of 360,000 vibrations per hour, meaning the central seconds hand whizzes around the dial once per second. What’s more, the two balance springs are made from pure carbon nanotube.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Horograph
The term Bauhaus is usually reserved for minimalist, modernist masters of watchmaking, such as Nomos Glashütte, Junghans and Mondaine (the latter of which has exclusive rights to Swiss Railways’ iconic platform-clock design). Well, prepare to add a fourth to that list, in the guise of Bell & Ross, a brand that may have always done pared-back and modernist, but has traditionally been more utilitarian than designer. Taking inspiration from another sort of public clock, this time from an airport, the BR 03-92 Horograph squares the circle with its cockpit-instrument brutalism, softening the overall impression by bead-blasting the steel case to a smooth matte finish. We feel the scholars of Germany’s revolutionary art collective would approve.
Omega 1957 Trilogy
Novelist L P Hartley wrote something about the past being a foreign country, but if only its different ways of doing things were still being done today – then we’d get more watches looking as gorgeous and as unfettered by fads as Omega’s trio of 1957 reissues. That year, all three of the Swiss giant’s enduring Masters were launched: the Seamaster (for the nascent scuba-diving community), the Railmaster (anti-magnetic, for the flourish in engineering) and the Speedmaster (the famous Moonwatch chronograph, still issued to Nasa’s finest). If you want all three faithful revivals, now kitted out with cutting-edge chronometer movements, you can even buy a special set, cased beautifully in oak, for barely a franc over the collective price of the individual watches.
Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X. Carbon
Since its launch two-and-a-half years ago, the Swiss army knife’s rock solid and highly durable companion in watch form, the I.N.O.X. now constitutes 50 per cent of Victorinox’s timepiece sales. So the challenge facing the brand is how to diversify a product that’s inherently coherent and innovative in itself. Alongside an impressive Professional Diver iteration, with a steel bracelet 10 times tougher than anything on the market, 2017 sees the introduction of the Carbon – something not out of place on Batman’s utility belt. But, in fact, it was a handbag that inspired the resin composite technology here, as a test revealed that spilt cosmetics and mosquito repellent inside this most hostile of environments are absorbed by porous carbon. Why a carbon men’s watch would be knocking around a lady’s clutch is anyone’s guess, but at least it’ll be up to the job.
Nomos Glashütte Club Automat Datum Signalblau
When it comes to colour, it’s all about the pops and blocks right now – an affordable and fun means of switching up a brand’s entry-level models, not to mention a healthy realisation that watches are being worn as much as wardrobe items as heirlooms. Nomos is one brand with particular form when it comes to a delicate shade, and is every hipster connoisseur’s favourite, thanks in large part to the German watchmaker’s stand-alone design studio in East Berlin. As well as an exacting approach to clean Bauhaus proportion and balance, the bright, young timepieces play with colour to Farrow & Ball levels of obsession, sensitive to trends in interior design as well as fashion. This year’s siren-blue brights are as uplifting as a sunny day.
Frédérique Constant Flyback Chronograph Manufacture
This is a brand built on democratic pricing, as well as classical styling and technical expertise, but an in-house-developed flyback chronograph for less than US$4,000 (Dh14,700) is still an extraordinary feat indeed. Originally developed over the course of six years for sister brand Alpina, this sporty complication (originally conceived in the 1930s for pilots) sits easily among Frédérique Constant’s sober portfolio. The instant return-to-zero-and-restart functionality has been boiled down to just 96 parts, sitting on top of the brand’s existing in-house base caliber, which makes it ultra-robust – and its affordability even more baffling.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono
Rolex’s so-called little brother Tudor well and truly steps out from the shadow of the mother ship this year with what is, arguably, the watch of Baselworld. It’s a fully integrated chronograph, where others would simply add a module to a base caliber (which Tudor already has the ability to make in-house, note), and it’s a chronograph operated via the prestigious column-wheel mechanism, running efficiently via a vertical-clutch system. All for less than US$5,000 (Dh18,365). This formidable leap is down to a surprise collaboration between Tudor and Breitling – not such a surprise, when you consider their shared spirit of independence and a pragmatic approach to good-value, rock-solid watchmaking. That the Tudor Heritage Black Bay chronograph is priced at almost half of Breitling’s equivalent, however, is the real kicker. Talk has been made of bolstered economies of scale and deferred development costs, but either way, this is one beautiful bargain.
Rolex Cellini Moonphase
The news on everyone’s lips at the Rolex stand was the Sea-Dweller – a veritable bathyscaphe for the wrist – developed 50 years ago with commercial deep-sea divers in mind. More interestingly, however, is the Cellini Moonphase, which was the only truly brand-new Rolex for 2017. Not only does it inject much-needed verve into Rolex’s sleepy dress-watch collection, but it also brings the lunar indication back to “the crown” for the first time since the 1950s. And how. The full moon itself is realised with a wafer-thin slice of certified meteorite, sourced on the quiet from that most delightfully named breed of professional: the meteorite hunter.
Raymond Weil David Bowie Limited Edition
Before the cynics and Bowie purists pipe up, this is a tribute that Mrs Bowie, Iman, initiated herself. The music-inspired watchmaker, which also makes the official Beatles watch, has worked in constant collaboration with the Brixton rock legend’s estate to coin a design that is, in fairness, subtle and spot on. Borrowing the Diamond Dogs logo, and adding the famous Aladdin Sane lightning bolt at 12 o’clock, the timepiece gets really interesting on the reverse side. Seeing as Raymond Weil has also built a relationship with photographer-to-the-stars of the 1960s Terry O’Neill, all 3,000 watches will bear an original, from-the-negative print of the iconic Bowie portrait he took in 1974. Things don’t get more authentic than this.
Breguet Marine Équation Marchante 5887
Astronomers may have our year’s 365-ish days down to 24-and-a-bit hours each, but the 360-degree rotation of the Earth only happens in this exact time four times a year. Otherwise, it meanders around the Sun elliptically, with true “solar” time varying by as much as –16 or +14 minutes a day. The “equation of time” is the difference between this true solar time and average civil time, and that’s what this watch calculates, thanks to the wobbly cam, or analemma, mounted on top of the tourbillon at 5 o’clock, which completes one rotation every 365-ish days. Most equation-of-time watches have a separate small hand that waggles at a “–16 to +14” arc. This one is special, because the solar time runs constantly, as a second minute hand tipped by a Sun motif. Highly technical, yet romantic too.