Baselworld comes around and goes once again. This is my 20th year attending the show. And it has changed significantly from the hustle and bustle of the earlier years, to the now more sedate pace. Nevertheless, there were some awesome watches shown during the 6 days of the exhibition. And my top picks are from a category of watch which may (or may not) bust your budget, depending on which end of the collecting scale you are playing with. We start for those with a more modest budget with the Rolex GMT-Master-II, to Grand Seiko 9S VFA, from Andreas Strehler’s Transaxle Tourbillon to the H. Moser Minute Repeater Tourbillon, and rounding up with the grande dame Patek Philippe World Time Minute Repeater.
Is Baselworld dying?
Baselworld 2018 is a show in turmoil. Fears spread early when news hit that of the 1300 exhibitors who showed in 2017, half of them would not return. Even attendance fell. The last reported official figures were released in 2017 at just over 106,000 visitors. Fair management said the 2018 numbers was about the same. Anecdotally, walking the halls, we noted strong traffic on the opening day on Thursday, and significantly reduced traffic for the weekend, and to a trickle on Monday. On the last day of the show, Tuesday, the Messe was nearly a ghost town. Baselworld management is adamant. “I believe that Baselworld’s present dimensions with 650 brands are optimal. We now have a tailwind for 2019.” René Kamm, CEO of the MCH Group, organizers for Baselworld.
But for the Deployant team, it was almost business as usual. We expanded our coverage to about 60 brands. We saw, handled some 250 watches and made more than 1200 photographs. We walked some 60km each over the 7 days (6 official fair days plus 1 Press Day), and between the two of us, we ate exactly 1 full lunch.
The main big 5 were still dominant in Hall 1.0, (as one enters Hal 1.0) the LVMH Group (with Bulgari, TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith), Patek Philippe, Rolex and Tudor, Chopard and the Swatch Group still take center stage. With Breitling, Oris, Corum at the rear half of 1.0. Upstairs in 1.1, the Japanese (Seiko and Grand Seiko, Citizen, Casio) and German brands (Tutima, Nomos) and Jacob&Co reign. The all important Les Ateliers where the Independents are putting up camp remained in 1.1. The show spread also to the Hyperion Hotel where the rest of the Independents (Moser, Hautelence, De Bethune, Urwerk) exhibited, and the AHCI sayed in 2.0.
I spoke privately with President of LVMH Watch Division and CEO of TAG Heuer, Jean-Claude Biver just before the opening, and he said he is leading a push to coincide the dates of the fair with SIHH in Geneva. Up until 2009, SIHH opened on the Monday following Baselworld late March, early April. SIHH 2009 was the first departure for the Geneva show to January, while Baselworld remained at the last week of March. However, JCB’s intent was for them to be on the same dates.
We hear rumours abound of the fate of the fair. That it will be no more. Some say 2020 will be Baselworld’s swan song. This is a city which is woefully unable to support a large trade fair. Hotels are full to the brim, and prices of rooms escalate some 400-500% for the week of the fair. Food prices are exhorbitant, the famous CHF8.50 sausage stand is a classic example. But Baselworld is so tradition bound to the watchmaking industry that these linkages go deep. Nobody wants to be the brand credited for pulling the plug. So it plods on.
Rolex’s CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour expressed that he will be back in 2019. Patek Philippe’s President Thierry Stern and Chopard co-President Karl-Friedrich Schuefele affirmed likewise. And we understand Nick Hayek Jr. is supportive of the Swatch Group remaining at the Basel Messe. For the meantime, the show goes on. We will be back, 21 – 26 March 2019.
But on with this year’s show. Here are our Chief Editor’s Top picks for 2018.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master-II “Pepsi” Ref. 126710 BLRO
We start with perhaps many people’s darling of the show. Interestingly, the Rolex group announced two watches with the so called “Pepsi” bezel. The first is our subject – the Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO, and the second is Tudor’s Black Bay GMT. We speculate what the intents of CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour as to why both his brands will have Pepsi bezels, but we will never know for sure, as he does not give interviews.
The new GMT-Master-II returns to the early two colour bezel. Instead of the first generation’s bakelite bezel insert (1954-56), and later aluminium ones, the latest Ref. 126710 comes with the one piece bi-colour bezel insert. The blue and red bezel signifies the return of the Pepsi to the stainless steel GMT-Master-II. Prior to this, the ceramic bi-colour Pepsi bezel was only available in the full white gold version as Ref. 116719 BLRO-0001 which is now discontinued and replaced with Ref. 116719 BLRO-0002 with the Pepsi bezel, but in a dark blue dial. The BLRO-002 will defer from the Ref. 126710 BLRO in that the former will retain the C.3186, while the latter will get a new movement.
But there is more to the new release than just a Pepsi in steel, which in the latest Rolex-speak is called Oystersteel for the 904L stainless steel they exclusively use. We now have a new in-house manufactured movement. The Caliber 3285, with 70 hours of power reserve (vs 50 shours of the Caliber 3186) and COSC and Rolex Chronometer Certified. It is also equipped with a new Jubilee bracelet. The Jubilee style bracelets are usually is fitted on the non professional Rolex models. Earlier generation GMT-Master-IIs had been fitted with Oyster bracelets, including the ceramic bezel white gold Ref. 116719 BLRO. Rolex informs us that the Jubilee bracelet fitted on the Ref. 126710 BLRO is not interchangeable with an Oyster bracelet.
Why is this watch on this list? It is not particularly wallet busting at a retail at S$ 12,430 inclusive of GST or CHF 8,800 inclusive of Swiss tax. The actual price may not be a strain to most haute horlogerie budgets, but obtaining one prove to be a difficult task. Perhaps akin to the latest Rolex stainless steel professional sports models like Sky Dweller in two tone, the Sea-Dweller and the elusive Cosmograph Daytona with ceramic bezel. It will require one to have dropped serious cash on watches to build a custom with the Authorized Dealer to obtain one.
Well also, I find the GMT-Master-II Pepsi to be a beautiful and updated release of the iconic Pepsi GMT-Masters of old. And a fitting tribute to the original, and now famous and very collectible Pepsi GMT-Masters. I find the Jubilee bracelet to be very appealing, giving the professional sports Rolex a different feel. Full review to follow.
Grand Seiko Caliber 9S 20th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGH265 VFA
The Grand Seiko Caliber 9S 20th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGH265 VFA is a special limited edition of 20 pieces in platinum only, and was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 9S caliber. This new watch also carries the VFA tradition. Seiko released two other series of limited edition watches to celebrate the 9S 20th Anniversary – the Special in a yellow gold case (limited edition 150 pieces), a steel version which is limited to 1500 pieces, and a Blue Ceramic Special limited to 350 pieces. However, only the platinum edition is VFA.
The Grand Seiko Very Fine Adjusted (VFA) is a special category of watches from Grand Seiko which meet the very strict chronometrie standards. It demands that the cased watch with hands and dial attached to be regulated until it meets a maximum variance of 1 minute a month. Traditionally this meant regulation to +/-2s a day. And in the case of the SBGH265, it is specified by Grand Seiko as +3/-1s a day.
What is interesting about the Grand Seiko Caliber 9S 20th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGH265 is that the movement is the same caliber 9S85 as is used in the other High Beat GS watches. The additional VFA moniker is added because the master adjusters (régleur, in French. For another interesting story of a Master régleur and Patek Philippe, click here.) spent additional time to adjust and regulate the watch until it meets the specifications. The process requires high skill and considerable time, as the watch gets adjusted by numerous iterations, each getting closer to perfection. The watch then goes under inspection and tested for 34 days, double the standard for GS.
The SGBH265 is a limited edition of only 20 pieces, and is available in a case of 950 platinum. The dial is a special design, with a spiral guilloché spiral mosaic made of the GS initials and the Daini Seikosha logo. Daini Seikosha is now Seiko Instruments, and was responsible for the first Seiko high beat movements in 1968.
Recommended retail price is € 53,500 before taxes.
Full review with much more details to come.
Andreas Strehler Transaxle Tourbillon
Andreas Strehler is a master watchmaking genius. Andreas made his name in the early AHCI years as being the boy genius some 20 years ago. Prior to that, he began his career in Renaud et Papi as head prototypist in 1991. As he became independent and started to develop his own watches, he also worked for other companies, applying his knowledge and savoir faire to solve mechanical problems with complicated watches. He was the creator of the Moser’s Perpetual calendar system in 2003. And of the world’s most accurate moonphase display with an accuracy of 1 day in 2 million years in 2014. And this year, he presented the Transaxle Tourbillon.
At first look, it is already an impressive looking watch. The dial is fully skeletonized, allowing the full guts of the movement to be seen from the dial side. And it features a seconds morte driven directly from the rewinding of a one second remontoire. What is a bit unusual is that the remontoire is located on the same axis as the tourbillon and drives it directly. Andreas’ method is simple and effective and has proven itself in his other Sauterelle series which use the same arrangement. Compare this to the very complicated, though still very effective, Greubel Forsey Différential d’Égalité.
The price starts at CHF 182’500 (excl. VAT/Tax) with Gold case.
While we did have a full hands on session during Baselworld with Andreas in attendance, he was not able to provide a press release or a specifications sheet at time this article goes live. We will followup with a full hands on detailed review when we have a bit more time to discuss the technical aspects with Andreas.
H. Moser Swiss Alp Minute Repeater Tourbillon
Also fresh for 2018 is the H. Moser Minute Repeater. The first from the company. The minute repeater is the queen of complications, but to make it even more complicated, Moser has chosen the Swiss Alp case which is a rectangular case very similar in shape to the Apple Watch. It carries a new movement, the C901, which is also rectangular, and with gongs of the repeater which follow the same form.
Earlier attempts by other manufacturers to build a rectangular minute repeater with a form movement (Audemars Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre are examples) have often resulted in compromised sound. So how does the Moser sound? Amazing. Beautiful, clear, clean, with good harmonics and decay. Words we normally associate to describing the repeater sound of a Vacheron Constantin or a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater? Well, it is close.
But as if that’s not enough, the movement also has a tourbillon regulator, making an almost unique blend of complications – a rectangular, form movement minute repeater with tourbillon. Competition count drops to zero.
Each watch will be offered with the possibility of customization, and each will be unique.
The dial we saw in Baselworld is an amazing. It reminds one of a mosaic composed of shades of blue. The surface pattern carries alternating motifs.
Priced starts from CHF 292,000 before taxes in a gold case.
Full review to follow.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater
Not much needed to say, except that this is a Patek Philippe and we already make the case of a highly desirable watch. It is a Patek Philippe World Time. Makes it doubly desirable. It is a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater. Increases the desirability even more! And it is a world premiere for a minute repeater to strike the selected local time. Desirability index goes off the charts!
Just listen. Apologies for the noisy background, the only possible location to record it was in the Press Room after the Press Conference, where all other journalists were having their hands on with the novelties. The recording is also truncated abnormally as a loud colleague started speaking very near to the recording site. But what is there and captured by our microphone is amazing.
Just listen! Wait, go ahead, listen to it again. What a sound signature. The strikes are clear, clean, precise. The attack of each strike is excellent. The harmonics of each strike is beautiful. With a musical quality and consonance which melts and pulls at one’s heartstrings at the same time. And then a beautiful decay of the strikes. This unusual and delightful sonics is due to a special technique of attaching the gongs to the middle case band instead of the traditional movement plate.
The optics of the watch are no slouch either. The case is 18k rose gold with skeletonised lugs, and the repeater slide on the case band has Patek’s hobnail motif. The dial is pure Patek World Timer. It looks similar to the classic Patek World timers and is made in 18k gold and maillechort. A central medallion with a cloisonné enamel depiction of the Lavaux wine region with a lateen-rigged boat that has set sail completes the look.
Price is approximately CHF 550,000. Which, all things considered, may be viewed as reasonable, as other Patek repeaters are circa CHF 600k or more.
Overall, we found this Baselworld to be quite superb.
We found the general trend for 2018 is that most brands are releasing rather commercially inclined products. We saw no major new horological innovations. Although we did see many interesting and technically innovative watchmaking. We also saw some interesting new developments from independents, with a few new brands and a couple of old ones about to be (re-)launched in the near future. But we also saw this year the return of high end pieces, more so especially when compared to the decidedly dull and commercial 2017.
We hope you have enjoyed our Armchair Picks from our writers, the Top 5 picks from our European Bureau Chief and this Top 5 picks from the Chief Editor. This year, we have themed it a bit more. We think this might make more sense rather than just random picks from what piqued our interests. What are you eyeing from this year’s crop? Get involved in the comments and tell us what got you excited in the crop of Baselworld 2018 watches.