The QP team picks out the most significant watches from Baselworld 2017 – as well as personal favourites
By Chris Hall, James Gurney and James Buttery
The dust has settled on another year’s Baselworld, and it’s time to see which watches have made an impression. Between the three of us, we met with more than 75 watch brands and saw, at a conservative estimate, close to 500 new watches. From these we have chosen just three each that we consider to be the most important new releases – and each of us has been allowed just one money-no-object favourite that he would walk away with from the fair.
Stringent conditions, I think you will agree, but fair ones. It was a stronger Baselworld than perhaps most were expecting, given the pessimistic export figures that prefigured it, with the vast majority of brands and watchmakers rising to meet the challenge of creating commercially viable products that stand out from the competition. Personally, I saw more watches that I could imagine myself buying than in any of the last six years’ exhibitions.
Which is why the criteria we’ve gone for is “most important”. Picking watches you like is easy; the only challenge comes in whittling them down. These nine represent the single watches that we think stand the best chance of making an impact, whether that is on the market as a whole, or on the fates of the brand that produced them. They may exemplify a current trend or signal the start of one to come; they may be with the mainstream or entirely against it, but they are all watches we think will stand the test of time. Oh, and the last rule: no doubling-up on your choices.
James Gurney, Editor-in-Chief
Omega celebrated the anniversary of the Railmaster/Seamaster/Speedmaster trilogy with nice re-editions, but the contemporary takes on the Railmaster showed Omega staking out new territory in style. The 40mm size, contemporary strap options and exceptional dials (no date klaxon!) put the Railmaster on ground successfully occupied by the similarly priced Rolex Air-King and Oyster Perpetual. Success here could make the new Railmaster a game-changer for Omega.
Zenith’s El Primero 21 Defy (!) is the lit fuse of Jean-Claude Biver’s plans for LVMH’s problem brand. As we pointed out in January, Zenith has rarely had the commercial success to match the watch world’s undoubted respect. Biver has brought in his wrecking crew and intends to transform Zenith’s fortunes in the way he’s already done with Hublot and TAG Heuer (not to mention Blancpain). Incidentally the El Primero has a 1/100th of a second chronograph.
Bulgari has already done more than enough to be considered a major player on the horological stage. So, in this respect, the record-breaking Octo Finissimo Automatic is not important news. But reputations are slow to build and need constant reinforcement and the Octo Finissimo could be the watch that sees Bulgari attain the respect it has long deserved.
The one I’d walk away with:
Patek Philippe 5960/1A-010
Despite affection for pieces from, amongst others, Rado, Bell & Ross and Romain Gauthier, the black dial 5960 is so nearly perfect as to make the choice for me. The mystery power reserve works simply as a beauty spot.
James Buttery, QP Magazine Editor
The 2017 TAG Heuer Autavia (£3,900) has finally arrived and is a serious contender for best-in-show steel chronograph. The finished design is exceptionally pleasing on the wrist despite being a sliver too big. With the vintage Heuer market currently on fire, this 60s reissue will be in demand, especially when it has an in-house movement, the CH80 reborn as Calibre Heuer 03.
Rado is going through a real period of transformation, shifting the conversation from highly techy – and rather cold – materials to one of design. The marketing gloss might be a little hygge for my liking, but the watches are spot-on from the entirely smart Diamaster Grande Seconde, through the slightly wild Rado True Designers’ series to this complete surprise; an all-business, limited run of the Ceramica in grey with a vertical brushed rhodium dial.
The Seiko SLA017 (the brand is still content to leave the business of coming up with cool names to its fans) is a reissue of the 1965 62MAS divers watch, the brand’s first. The limited-edition piece could be used as a case study to illustrate the current obsession with vintage design – the old models just look too good to ignore, it seems. The Seiko’s 39.5mm case fits like a glove, while the double dome crystal throws some delicious light effects on to the dial. Given that the original 62MAS wasn’t known for being the most watertight of dive watches, the 200m-worthy SLA017 is a welcome update.
One I’d walk home with:
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chronograph
With a Breitling-sourced, Tudor-tuned movement and rugged good looks, the £3,430 price is something of a bargain. One of our Facebook followers has already dubbed it the Baytona. Sure, it has met with a mixed reaction, but for me it’s a winner. Read James Dowling’s full guide to Tudor’s new models for 2017 here.
Chris Hall, Digital Editor
Breitling fans have been asking for a new Navitimer for some time now. This year they got one – sort of – in the form of the split-seconds Navitimer Rattrapante. It’s still in a bigger case than many would like, and I could do without the brown dial. But (and I concede it may be wilful optimism), I would like to think this is the watch that could get us talking about Breitling as a really serious chronograph manufacturer once more.
Fabergé, on the other hand, did something very few were expecting with the AgenGraphe – not just an entirely new chronograph movement (even that would be rare right now) but a ground-up reimagining of the complication that claims several major improvements. I don’t love the styling or think Fabergé has (yet) got the clout to unseat more established brands. But Agenhor is a respected force, and I think elements of the technology within could find widespread adoption in years to come.
My last pick is the Tissot Gentleman Automatic with “Swissmatic” movement. In truth, I could have picked a number of watches here, because what I want to talk about is value. From Chopard L.U.C to, well, Tissot, everyone at Baselworld had one eye on offering value for money. This watch takes the Sistem51 movement – made entirely on a robotic assembly line – and packages it up with a Tissot gold-plated case and black dial. It costs £355.
Put in context, a Swatch Sistem51 Irony with the same movement (save for a stainless steel rotor) will cost you £127 and a Tissot with an automatic movement that was at least touched by human hands starts at £380. Does that represent good value? How much value is the well-informed consumer expected to find in brand equity? (Or precious metals? Gemstones? In-house movements?). At a time when sales of Swiss watches are under intense scrutiny, we will be exploring these questions more over the coming months.
One I’d walk away with:
Patek Philippe 5320
A perpetual calendar from Patek Philippe is one of watchmaking’s archetypes, and this one comes with bags of personality (not to mention youthful energy) from those pipette hands and luminova hour markers. Plus it’s a good bet this design will be short-lived, meaning once I have looked after it for the next generation (sorry…) it might actually be worth a few bob. Check it out in full here.
Read James Dowling’s expert – and unrestrained! – take on all the new models from Rolex at Baselworld 2017 here.