Even before Baselworld 2016 begins, during Wednesday’s Press Day, you’ll find me walking through the always-beautiful Hermès and Patek Philippe stands. Each year, both these companies create some the year’s finest artisanal dials and display them just inside their spacious Basel real estate. I’ll be on the lookout at both locations for the real-life pieces with dazzling enamel dials I’ve only thus far seen in images. At the latter booth, Patek Philippe, I’ll finally discover how the Geneva giant will celebrate this year’s important Nautilus and Annual Calendar milestones. Both collections are marking anniversaries in 2016.
After entertaining my artistic self, I’ll need to satisfy my technical jones and learn more about how TAG Heuer has developed the lightweight flying tourbillon in its already buzzy Carrera Heuer-02T, which you may have seen online in a pre-Basel release. Likewise, Frederique Constant’s impressively affordable automatic perpetual calendar, which also is generating pre-show enthusiast chatter, will draw my queries early on during the week. Will these well-priced debuts change how collectors seek out and buy complicated timepieces?
I’m interested to see how both NOMOS and Porsche Design continue to advance their minimalist design focus, especially considering how quickly these brands, each with a distinctive function-driven message, have been gaining momentum among enthusiasts in the U.S. Similarly, Oris’s expansion domestically owes much to its well-priced dive and aviation watches, with a few especially nice examples —including the pre-Basel Carl Brashear Limited Edition– sporting eye-pleasing retro designs. I’ll then cross the Messeplatz to Bremont to see the superb new MBII with a white dial.
Another high profile early Baselworld piece, Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Sapphire, will draw many viewers next week, myself among them. This piece is a true showpiece for Hublot as it continues to expand both its movement and case manufacturing capabilities, both of which this Unico-caliber watch highlights. Hublot is demonstrating a dedication to exploring new case materials that few firms at Baselworld can match.
Also on my must-see list: Girard-Perregaux, which is re-launching its historic Laureato in what I hope will be more than the pre-Basel-announced limited edition, and Breguet, which always displays some of the show’s most interesting pieces. And finally, I’ll happily get in line at the always-crowded Rolex, Tudor and Omega stands to see and feel the watches many auction-focused iW collectors will desire for the rest of this year.
The countdown to Baselworld is upon us, and based upon the brands’ models I’ve been honored to preview, it looks like 2016 will include a variety of exciting renditions within favored collections. So, too, commemorative pieces like the Ladybird from Blancpain, which is a tribute to the original model introduced in the 1950s, and the Girard-Perregaux Laureato. Following are a few of the ladies watches that I’m looking forward to enjoying on my wrist. Stay tuned for in-depth post-show news and reviews.
Last year’s Day Night, the exquisite 40mm watch with a multi-level decorated dial and new movement, is in hindsight the perfect counterpoint for this year’s simply elegant—and diminutive—Ladybird. When the Ladybird was first launched in 1956, it was equipped with the smallest round movement on the market. And as the watch turns 60 this year, Blancpain is honoring it by introducing a new limited edition of 60 pieces with a subtle decorative motif on the dial. The 21.5mm white gold watch is set with 32 diamonds on the bezel and eight diamonds on the dial, while inside is a self-winding movement with silicon balance spring.
Last year’s Rêve de Plume was a real showstopper for me, since it is not only a stunning ladies mechanical wristwatch, but also a metaphor for writing with its diamond-studded quill gracing the left side of the case. Thus it combines three of my loves: ladies mechanical watches, pens and, of course, writing. It’ll be tough to top that, but I’m confident that the new 30mm Classique Phase de Lune Dame 9088, one of the brand’s new ladies pieces for 2016, will not disappoint. I’m a fan of clean dials, and this model has a white grand feu enamel one adorned with Arabic numerals. The only other decoration—and an exquisite one—is the small seconds and moon-phase aperture at 6 o’clock. Brilliant-cut diamonds grace the bezel and lugs of the white gold timepiece, which is also available in rose gold or with a mother-of-pearl dial. Inside is the self-winding Breguet 537L caliber visible through the caseback.
What’s not to like about the J12—in all the many iterations we’ve seen since the collection was introduced in 2000? The now-iconic watch collection is this year welcoming the limited edition J12 Collector Mirror, a 38mm white high-tech ceramic and steel watch with a mirrored dial, a white lacquered center and white numerals. Inside is a self-winding mechanical movement driving the hours, minutes and seconds. The watch is also available in 33mm with a quartz movement, but I’ll pass on that.
I really fell in love with the Slim d’Hermès collection when it was introduced last year. This year, the Slim d’Hermès Mille Fleurs du Mexique makes its debut, and it is another stunning example of just what can be accomplished at the hands of the in-house Hermès artisans. The watch is inspired by a Hermès silk scarf conceived by graphic designer Laetitia Bianchi, thus the mother-of-pearl dial motif features cut leaves and flowers reminiscent of 15th and 16th century tapestries. This 39.5mm white gold timepiece is part of a six-piece limited edition, each driven by the self-winding H1950 movement. Also this year the Slim d’Hermès collection welcomes the ladies Slim d’Hermès Manufacture 39.5mm with alligator leather watch straps crafted at the Hermès workshops in sapphire blue, elephant gray, geranium, cassis or classic black. Diamond-set versions of the steel watch are alight with a single string of 66 perfectly set white stones decorating the bezels.
My most anticipated and desired 2016 Basel developments concern the 40th anniversary of Patek Philippe’s sports-luxury icon, the Nautilus.
Patek Philippe’s Nautilus has witnessed more new variant debuts and mechanical innovations since its 2006 30th anniversary than at any time in the prior three decades. Now a full-fledged model line including complications, men’s and women’s models, many metal options, and several case profiles, the current Nautilus line nevertheless remains largely an evolution of the novelties dating back to the mid 2000s. With the exception of the 5990 and 5726, most of the headliners in the Nautilus portfolio can trace their origins to the 2006 product avalanche.
The Nautilus changes in store for 2016 could land on any point of a spectrum from evolution to revolution. Reasonable evolutions of past Nautilus products could see new metal options, new sizes, or dial colors. More radical changes could include complications never before executed such as a perpetual calendar or tourbillon, the option of a non-leather strap, metal options never executed or never in series, (e.g., ceramic or titanium), or cross-pollination of Patek Philippe’s sports flagship with métiers d’arts such as enamel or engraving.
With a new Nautilus anniversary approaching, Patek Philippe must realize that the time to revisit the Nautilus lineup is now. Vacheron Constantin’s competing Overseas family received a steroidal makeover during its own 20th anniversary at January’s SIHH. At the same Geneva event, Patek and VC’s mutual rival Audemars Piguet’s segment-defining Royal Oak received huge attention in the form of new metal options, new complications, and more models overall.
Unconventional 2016 novelties from Patek’s rival, Audemars Piguet, include the Royal Oak Double Balance and a new comprehensive Royal Oak perpetual calendar (below); these debuts have staked out a high-er horology redoubt for the original luxury sports watch. Vacheron Constantin has launched the Overseas family’s first in-house calibers across most of the range and embellished them with rich Geneva Hallmark finish.
Where do these developments leave Patek Philippe and the next Nautilus? Realistically, there has been too little time since January for Patek to tailor its response to AP and Vacheron, so watch enthusiasts will be treated to a rare instance of top-tier rival firms offerings near simultaneous best-efforts in a single hotly contested product class. In a realm of luxury synonymous with white gloves, 2016 may be remembered as the year the gloves came off in the premier class of the sports watch segment.
Stay tuned for more Basel Previews throughout this week and into next, as Baselworld 2016 prepares to open its doors March 17. Want more? Check out iWMagazine.com’s dedicated Baselworld 2016 for debuts, exclusive video and more.