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The Handbook

Baselworld 2019: The Watch Report

"For all the talk before this year’s Baselworld of reduced exhibitor and visitor numbers, once the curtain fell, the industry chatterati soon returned to a more familiar topic of conversation – new watches,says Robin Swithinbank, our Contributing Editor, from Basel.While Swatch Group’s 'Bwexitleft the show shorn of A-list brands such as Omega, Longines and Breguet, the rest of the big time players were still there – Rolex, Hublot, Breitling, TAG Heuer et al – time stamping the year with a raft of new releases."

From gem-set ladies’ watches to vintage-inspired chronographs, Robin shares the top Baselworld 2019 trends…

Rolex, Chopard, Breitling

From left, Rolex; Chopard; Breitling

Setting The Two-Tone

Watch trends don’t arrive, they creep like glacial slides. Bi-colour, or two-tone as it’s being called more and more, fell out of fashion with the red braces of the 1980s, but began its slow return roughly a decade ago. It first reappeared in women’s watches, and then gently eased into men’s watches with a detail here and a detail there. After a decade of deliberation, two-tone designs are finally front-lining, and the headline act is Rolex’s Sea-Dweller in Rolesor (Rolesor being Rolex’s name for watches mixing stainless steel and yellow gold), a luxxy spin on the company’s professional diver’s watch. You’d suspect a minority of these will see action on the seabed, but for as long as utilitarian luxe is in vogue, expect more of its kind.

Over The Rainbow

In a similar vein, this year’s trend for decorative watches with a rainbow-set dial or bezel (or both) has been a while coming, but is now here with a bang – or perhaps a bling. The basic principle is to take sapphires of different colours and set them in such a way that the colours graduate seamlessly from one to the next. It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to achieve and requires a forensic approach to the sourcing and setting of the stones, and yet in Basel we saw that Rolex, Hublot and Chopard have all mastered it, following the precedent set at January’s SIHH watch fair by Audemars Piguet. And no, this isn’t an inclusivity statement – just watch brands strutting their stuff.

  • "Rainbow gem-set watches are colouring the ladies’ watch landscape."

Set Your Watches To The Golden Age…

It seems those who argue the best chronograph designs were created in the mid-century period of the so-called ‘Golden Age of Watch Design’, an era stretching loosely from the Second World War to the beginning of the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s, are so many in number that the brands cannot ignore them. And who’s to suggest that pieces such as Breitling’s Premier B01 Chronograph (particularly the Norton Edition), Zenith’s A386 Revival trio of historic pieces produced for the 50th anniversary of the high-frequency El Primero chronograph calibre, or Tudor’s Black Bay Chrono S&G (another two-tone winner) haven’t already become timeless classics?

…But Travel Forward In Time

Much has been made of the battle between smart/connected watches and traditional mechanical watches, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that once you pass the £1,000 mark, there’s little, if any competition. Swiss exports of luxury watches around that price point and beyond seem oblivious to the arrival of the new tech (in fact, they’re rising), and this year there were no big smartwatch stories, save news of TAG Heuer’s Connected Golf Edition, which comes with some nice proprietary software that’s also freely available on your smartphone and even your Apple Watch, whether you buy the new model or not. Instead, we’re hearing far more about technical advances that make mechanical watches better – as in, more stable, more durable and more accurate, qualities with tangible benefits for owners. Sticking with TAG Heuer, its launch Autavia time-and-date models are all powered by a new version of Calibre 5 that comes with the company’s in-house Isograph carbon-composite hairspring. The watch has a solid case back, so you can’t actually see this arcane little piece, but the idea is that by being lightweight, low-density and anti-magnetic, it’s all but unaffected by gravity or shock, and that its geometry makes the watch more precise. This is the kind of innovation buyers are after because it makes a watch perform better over a longer period of time; as well as being the kind that goes a long way to future-proofing the industry.

And Finally, A Trend To Look Out For

We’ve seen bronze cases, blue, grey and green dials and now the two-tone trend come to the fore. What’s next? Unlike these, it’s unlikely to be aesthetic. The theme working its way in from the watch industry periphery is – sustainability. A cohort of brands across the spectrum, from Panerai to Oris have had a sustainability story to tell this year, with straps made of recycled PET plastic (they’re softer and more comfortable than they sound) starting to pop up regularly. This time next year, sustainably produced watches may even top the agenda, so fast is the trend coming. Might even put a stop to those glacial slides.

By Robin Swithinbank