The world’s biggest watch fair is underway, and these are the best of the releases so far.
If you don’t follow the world of watchmaking, Baselworld is one of the industry’s two major events — a time where half (if not more) of the industry’s best and brightest brands unveil their latest creations. Though some years have been quieter than others, there are always a cluster of watches that stand out from the pack in some form or fashion. This year is no exception, as some of the industry’s heavy hitters have just unveiled a fresh crop of wristwatches worthy of coveting. There’s a lot to pick from, and much more to come over the next handful of days, but so far these are the pieces that have caught our eye.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Alarm Travel Time 5520P
Compared to their conservative set of offerings last year, Patek Philippe has come out swinging with a good cluster of new releases, but none more interesting than this 5520P — the latest expansion of the Calatrava Pilot collection.
We’ve already seen them add the dual time display to the previous Travel Time version, however this piece is powered by an all new movement that integrates an intricate mechanical alarm mechanism. While this is by no means a new innovation in watchmaking, how the mechanism is executed is particularly different in its design, requiring Patek Philippe to apply for four new patents in the process. The most notable from a visual standpoint — the set alarm time is displayed digitally below the 12 o’clock mark on the dial. It’s cased in platinum, and though we don’t have pricing yet, being classed in the Grand Complications category, it’s not going to come cheap.
Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Tourbillon
On the other end of the spectrum, the bold and brash Hublot has some entertaining offerings on the table for 2019. Limited to only 100 pieces, cased in a carbon fiber composite with vibrant blue compound highlights, and fitted with a new dedicated manually-winding skeletonized tourbillon caliber with a 5-day power reserve, this piece is just as much go as it is show.
Polarizing as the brand can be amongst collectors, their technical capabilities continue to impress, and of the many releases from the brand still to come, this is hands-down their hero piece so far. Its USD list price is $94,700.
Rolex Yachtmaster 42
It’s a weird year for Rolex novelties, as the newest catalog additions include a new bracelet and updated movement for the much loved “Batman” GMT-Master II, a white gold version of the Pepsi bezel GMT-Master ii with a meteorite dial, and a two-tone variation of the Sea-Dweller that looks sharp but is anything but groundbreaking. That said, this latest edition of the Yachtmaster — upsized to 42mm — is easily their best offering of 2019.
It is fitted with a rubber Oysterflex bracelet, not to be called a strap (per Rolex) as its metal inserts and other design features make it vastly more elaborate than a conventional rubber strap. They’ve fitted the piece with the brand’s newer caliber 3235, which delivers a power reserve of 70 hours. Cased in white gold, the interplay of matte rubber, the mix of matte and polished ceramic of its bezel, and its polished case make it (among other things) a great alternative to the more traditional Submariner.
Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition
Still having those vintage feels? You aren’t the only one and the trend is anything but dead if this year’s releases are any indication. Case in point, this Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 — hands-down the most historically accurate 1-to-1 re-edition to hit watchmaking thus far.
It measures the same 41mm across as its predecessor. It uses a manually wound movement instead of a self-winding one. It even uses a plexiglass crystal instead of the industry-standard sapphire we see in anything else that comes out lately. Its luminous material is also purposely “aged” to give it the same look as the few well-kept vintage examples that still exist on the market. If you love the look, size, and feel of vintage watches, but have concerns about reliability and sourcing of a good example, Breitling has the best answer you could hope for.
Hautlence HL Sphere
Though the fair is far from over, so far this wonderfully unorthodox creation from Hautlence is my favorite of the fair. The hand-wound caliber displays minutes in retrograde on the right half of its dial, whereas on the left a sphere linked to a complex multi-axis gearing system displays the hours. At each change of the hours, the sphere rotates rapidly to display the next hour.
Though this kind of caliber takes a significant amount more energy to operate, the caliber HTL 501-1 still delivers a power reserve of three days. Cased in white gold, the watch is limited to only 28 pieces worldwide.
TAG Heuer Autavia “Isograph”
Now, here we have a weird one. Historically speaking the TAG Heuer Autavia upon which this piece is designed was a chronograph — and a damned good one for that matter. Meanwhile, this latest release, which is 42mm diameter and available in either steel or bronze casing, is an interesting twist on the original design, being offered in a simpler and more affordable 3-hand configuration with a date aperture at the 6 o’clock position. Its bezel is made of ceramic, and its gradient dials are rather reminiscent of the old Heuer Silverstone more than the Autavia.
A little “artistic licence” has definitely been taken here, and I speculate the price will be quite approachable as well. Its power reserve is a fairly low 38 hours, however the pieces are chronometer-certified, and are using a new carbon composite hairspring that TAG is launching first in this new model.
MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT
Let’s face it, the folks at MB&F are MAD. They continue to build complex, innovative, and just plain outside-the-ordinary timepieces year after year with epic consistency.
This year, the team finally tapped into the uncharted corner of watchmaking they’d been eyeing for some time — the creation of their first watch for women. Rather than scaling down an existing piece (as most others love to do), the FlyingT was designed from scratch, and boasts a unique caliber that is simply fantastic. Its time indication dial sits tilted upwards around the 7 o’clock position, and in the center, a large flying tourbillon adorns the top of its wedding cake stacked clockworks resting below. The best looking of the pack features a black lacquer dial with nominal gem setting on its case, starting at $115,000, with more elaborately gem set pieces also available up to a price of entry north of $300k.
Bell & Ross BR03-92 MA-1
Sticking with their aviation and military play for 2019, Bell & Ross cooked up something a little out of the ordinary with the launch of their MA-1.
Designed after the classic bomber jacket (a la Alpha Industries), the watch features a military green ceramic case and dial with contrasting orange indices, and like the flight jacket its strap is designed to be reversible — green on one side and orange on the other. Much like the jacket we suspect most will wear it green side up for the most part, but it’s a clever bit of design that we don’t really see in the watch world.
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph Steel & Gold
Much like Rolex it’s an odd year for Tudor as well, but they’ve got a few fun tricks up their sleeve. In particular, this steel and gold version of the Black Bay chronograph steals the base design from the previous year’s diver-focused chronograph and gives it a motorsport-inspired twist that feels a lot like a chunkier and more casual version of the Rolex Daytona (which is clearly what they were targeting).
Priced at $5,393 on strap and $6,552 on a riveted two-tone bracelet for a self-winding column-wheel chronograph movement with COSC certification (accurate to -2/+4 seconds per day), there’s a lot of value to be had here if you’re down with the two-tone aesthetics.
- Words: Justin Mastine-Frost