From hundreds of watches seen at breakneck pace over five days at the world's largest watch fair, these are the ones that stuck in the mind.
Urban Jurgensen One
I heard about this watch shortly before Baselworld, and it filled me with anticipation. Many is the time that a brand steps into the territory of the Royal Oak/Nautilus/Overseas and rarely does it succeed. Would this be a similar story? Sporty designs are unfamiliar terrain for Urban Jurgensen too; I had no doubt the movement and dial would hold up to close examination, but this watch lives and dies by its case and bracelet. Were I nitpicking, I’d say it’s a bit thick, and maybe the bracelet could benefit from bevelled edges, but overall this didn’t disappoint from its early promise. It’s one of my watches of the fair because a brand tried something new and succeeded, and that’s pretty rare.
De Bethune DB21 MaxiChrono Re-Edition
The Maxichrono has been around in various designs since 2006, most famously in the DB28 case, and appeared on the cover of QP issue 68 in 2014 as the DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon but hadn’t been heard from in a while. Now it’s back in the collection with a cracking new dial that’s fresh, colourful and rooted in classic chronograph design tropes while remaining utterly modern. Everything else that was always great about the watch remains: five chronograph hands from the central pinion, a patented clutch system and a high-frequency escapement. Sadly only ten will ever exist.
Breitling Premier "Norton" Edition
Gilt-tinged chronographs were everywhere at Baselworld this year (Carl F Bucherer, Tudor, Bell & Ross, Oris...) but the one that worked best in my eyes was the Breitling Premier Norton edition, produced to mark the watchmaker’s partnership with the British motorcycle brand. It’s a nice, legible panda chrono, dressed up with some gold outlines to the numerals and a gold handset. Nothing remarkable on a horological level but all jolly handsome.
Junghans Max Bill Automatic 100 Jahre Bauhaus
To celebrate the centenary of the Bauhaus school of art and design Junghans has allowed its Max Bill collection to put its party shirt on and head out on the town. Max Bill himself designed clocks and watches for Junghans in the late 1950s and 60s; he was hugely indebted to the Bauhaus pioneers, and his estate has worked with Junghans to commercial and critical acclaim since the brand reinstated the Max Bill line in 2010. This automatic is designed to evoke the Bauhaus school building itself, with an anthracite case reminiscent of the façade, and a red date disc to match the front door, together with a caseback engraving of the school itself. Whether or not that matters to you, it’s just a lovely watch.
Grand Seiko SBGZ003
I was going to talk about the Seiko Presage, with its Arita porcelain dials, as they do offer amazing craft and value for money. But in all honesty, this is a money-no-object list and I have to say I hanker more strongly for a platinum-cased Grand Seiko Spring Drive that for the first time, moves the power reserve to the caseback and has a movement decorated with Credor levels of finishing.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT
They’ve done it. Of course they have. Bulgari’s kings of slim would not have been happy to have Piaget out there with the title of thinnest mechanical chronograph, and now the Octo reigns supreme thanks to this new chrono. It’s just 6.9mm thick, thinner than the Piaget despite also being automatic (the Altiplano is hand-wound) thanks to a peripheral rotor. Like the Piaget, it is also a GMT (second timezone at 9 o’clock) and like the Piaget, I really really want one.
Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1L.1
My appreciation of Ferdinand Berthoud has been a slow burn since Chopard revived the brand in 2015 – the case shape in particular being one I had to work hard to love – but this year it feels like I finally got there. The FB1L is a moonphase watch and comes in light and dark versions (FB1L.1 and FB1L.4 respectively; I still don’t understand the naming system), and I was drawn to the dark side, so to speak. It’s a highly sophisticated moonphase complication, which although I respect greatly for its ingenuity, isn’t normally my bag at all, but I love the technical, steam-punk nature of FB’s dials and this one took the biscuit.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5212A-001
A quirky, complicated Patek? Yes please. No-one I’ve ever met actually expresses the date using the week number, but that’s almost entirely beside the point. The dial layout of this stainless steel automatic is graphic- and text-heavy however rather than come up with the kind of ingenious simplification (think the bullseye chronograph counter found on the ref. 5960) it is known for, Patek has really owned this wealth of information, rather than shying away from it. The typeface used has been carefully thought out too; this isn’t some rigid sans serif font but rather something irregular, as though someone had carefully, though imperfectly, attempted to draft it by hand. Thankfully elsewhere everything is just as perfectly finished as you might expect.
Reservoir Hydrosphere Air Gauge
It’s fair to say that some new brands just don’t have a clue when they arrive brandishing their first clutch of watches. No such problem for Reservoir, which has seemed unusually polished and assured from day one. The retrograde minutes and jumping hour concept is nothing new (Gerald Genta used it as a brand signature as far back as the 1980s) but using it to echo the rev counter and fuel gauge is clever and surprisingly doesn’t suffer from being overly contrived (which it is, a bit). But the idea isn't restricted to motoring-inspired watches, as the brand’s 2nd phase demonstrates, with a series of watches taking their cue from the air gauges on diving tanks. To emphasis the instrumental, the case is entirely lug-free and circular with both metal bracelet and rubber straps screwed down into recesses in the caseback. Both black and blue dials hit the mark but the white-dialled model has an added selling point because its dial is entirely luminescent, something I’d take up diving just to test.
Voutilainen watches are famous for some of the finest engine-turned dials you are ever likely to see. So the team at the Comblémine dial workshop Kari Voutilainen purchased in 2014 must have wondered what they’d done wrong when they saw the 28ti, a watch entirely without a dial. The 28ti focuses instead on the aforementioned movement finishing by flipping the movement over within the case, bringing the balance and gear train to the dial side, offering unrivalled views of Voutilainen’s trademark anglage, decoration and polishing. To actually tell the time, Voutilainen has added some additional gearing to bring the motion works to what would normally be the rear of the movement, allowing the hands to be mounted above the balance wheel. This extra gearing has added some depth to the Vingt-8 movement and so, to lessen the impact on weight that a larger case would bring, Voutilainen has opted for titanium. Flip the watch over and you’ll also find small seconds and power reserve.
Carl F Bucherer Heritage Bicompax Annual
Not only are we struggling to think of another annual calendar big date chronograph at this price, we’re struggling to think of another watch that brings these complications together full stop. Apparently a reimagining of a piece created by the brand in the 1950s, the case dimensions have increased from 34mm to 41mm but the vintage aesthetic, replete with 'glassbox' crystal and stylised numerals, remains. Whether you opt for the stainless steel version on black rubber strap or the warmer pink gold and steel bimetal design, Carl F Bucherer has focused on price, working with Sellita for the chronograph movement and Dubois Depraz for the annual calendar module to bring them in at £5,500 and £8,000 respectively.
Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT
Hublot’s fearless, fruitful partnership with Ferrari sees the introduction of an entirely new case shape courtesy of Ferrari’s own Centro Stile head Flavio Manzoni. While part of the Classic Fusion line-up, the Ferrari GT looks very different from anything Hublot has produced in years, having more in common with 2017’s Ferrari Techframe, early Hublot designs or even classic IWC/Porsche Design watches from the 1980s than with the Big Bang or Classic Fusion. Here a central circular watch case, housing a Unico chronograph movement, is suspended within a 45mm exterior housing that includes the solid lugs, crown and pushers. Variants in 18ct King Gold, Titanium and 3D Carbon are available, but it’s the two latter options that best suit the technical aesthetic of the design.
Chopard LUC Chrono One Flyback titanium
Another watch to be applauded is this L.U.C Flyback chronograph from Chopard, a brand more associated with refined dress watches than rugged, adventurous designs. When paired with a distressed brown leather strap, the watch’s 42mm sandblasted titanium case really sings, while the satin brushed dial registers from green to brown depending on the play of light. Chopard also presented a more traditionally handsome limited edition stainless steel version but it was its more weathered cousin that really caught my eye.