Despite Apple taking a bite out of the luxury watch industry, BaselWorld shows that traditional timepieces still reign supreme.
By Irene Moore
They come to feel the pulse, discover new trends, and ogle the latest creations. Organized like the fine mechanics of a highly precise watch, BaselWorld is the annual not-to-be-missed first-class event, drawing attendees to Basel, Switzerland, every year. So what surprises were in store at Basel this year?
This year at BaselWorld, there was an elephant in the room — the Apple Watch. For the first time in Apple’s history, the tech company has entered the luxury segment by introducing a prestige-priced product. Will it disrupt the $38 billion Swiss watch industry? Maybe. The jury’s still out. With a price tag of $17,000, the Apple Watch Edition model offers solid 18-karat gold faces in yellow and rose gold. It is the most expensive item in the company’s product line-up, positioning it against luxury brands that have been around for decades, perhaps even centuries.
Goldgenie’s founder, CEO, and customization-guru, Laban Roome — whose $163,000 version of the Apple Edition is bedazzled in gold and encrusted in diamonds — was quoted as saying: “The Apple Watch will surely change the face of time and how we handle it.” Yet, there will always be a demand for over-the-top, status timepieces, as well as the established classics.
So our nod to the traditional starts here with Trillionaire’s top picks from BaselWorld 2015.
Diamonds Are Forever
With 260 carats in emerald-cut diamonds set in an inverted-pyramid bead setting, the new Jacob & Co Billionaire 18-karat-gold watch, priced at $18,000,000, may just kick the men’s diamond watch category up a notch. While Jacob & Co is the official licensor of the Billionaire watch, its association with Flavio Briatore’s Billionaire branding helps too.
Some of the stones in the Billionaire weigh up to three carats each. They form the case and bracelet of the watch, and each diamond is GIA-certified. The case and bracelet are one seamless piece, crafted in 18-karat white gold with a sapphire crystal and sapphire case back. The rectangular watch “dial” is enthroned in its 260-carat, scintillating surrounding. Blue hands point to diamond hour markers. A skeleton manual winding caliber allows visibility of the winding mechanism. Cinching the synergy of the two luxury brands, the back of the watch is engraved with the Billionaire brand logo.
This year marked the launch of an exciting world premiere in the Graff’s men’s timepiece collection. Featuring Graff’s invisible Mosaic Diamond setting, the Diamond MasterGraff Structural Tourbillon Skeleton timepiece is entirely offset by baguette diamonds positioned along each bridge. (The bridge is the part affixed to the main plate.) This is an industry first, with 164 diamonds — totaling 21 carats — encrusting the 48-mm-faceted case, creating a spectacular sparkler. But it’s a risky business: to protect the diamonds from getting scratched; the movement must be placed in the case only after all the diamonds are set. After that, no adjustments can be made. Talk about pressure! Two sapphire crystals enclose the diamond case, allowing for an inside view of the movement workings.
The Graff Caliber 6 powers the timepiece — a hand-wound, skeletonized, tourbillon-driven caliber. Housed in a 46-mm case, only five of each of these limited-edition stunners are available in either 18-karat white or rose gold, both fitted with a black alligator strap. $2,000,000.
The modern chronograph, Breguet Tradition Chronograph Indépendent 7077, is a watch with a stopwatch function that measures and displays elapsed times, in addition to showing conventional time. The timepiece honors the brand’s past — but, at the same time, is looking to a more innovative future. This timepiece is in a delicately fluted case in 18-karat white or rose gold, featuring Breguet’s signature touches, such as open-tipped hour and minute hands. There is a subdial located at the 12 o’clock position. The bridges and the main plate are designed in a dark-grey, frosted finish, contributing to its modern look.
Adding more bells and whistles on either side are a power reserve and 20-minute counter. But why is this watch such a beauty? It possesses an imperfect symmetry that features different scales on the power reserve and chronograph indicators, and different frequencies and materials for the two balance wheels at 6 o’clock. Other unusual touches — the placement of the chronograph’s pushers in positions on either side of the case. Though it may appear to be an oversized timepiece — the case is 44 mm in diameter — it fits around the wrist comfortably. $78,900 for the 18-karat rose-gold version and $79, 700 for the 18-karat white-gold model.
Chip Off the Old Block
This watch was all the buzz at BaselWorld — the buzz being that conservative watch brand Patek Philippe is using to target a younger generation by making a 42-mm pilot’s watch in a throwback style. The design recalls the brand’s history of making watches for pilots. Vintage pieces — now in the Patek Philippe Museum — were created in the 1930s as military watches to be worn by pilots and navigators. These “hour-angle” watches, enormous by modern standards — 55.3 mm — allowed for faster navigation and precise positioning, using a sextant and radio signal. As collector’s items, they have sold for as much as $1,700,000.
The new Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is slated to be a huge success, but to Patek loyals, it’s a sellout. Known as a staunchly “old world” brand, Patek Philippe has a fine pedigree and loyal collector base. According to the company, the goal was not to create a tribute to its history, but rather a fully functional modern timepiece. In this version, the brand has utilized its popular automatic mechanical travel time movement and placed it into a pilot-style case. The dial, housed in a white-gold case, is a rich, textured blue, inspired by US Navy fighter planes. And this latest Patek masterpiece is wearable everywhere, from boardroom to courtside. The price is $47,600.
Built for Speed
For all lovers of Jaguar’s classic XKE — and who isn’t — Bremont Watches and Jaguar continue their relationship, following the overwhelming response to six Bremont chronometers, complementing the six lightweight E-Type Jaguar sports racing cars currently in production. The MKII watches capture the spirit of what is, undoubtedly, one of the most iconic sports cars of all time.
The timepieces are dedicated to celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type launched in 1961, which at its Geneva Motor Show unveiling was not only the fastest production car in the world, but according to Enzo Ferrari, the most beautiful. Its radical appearance caused near hysteria, resulting in 500 orders being placed during the show. The MKII watch transports the wearer back to the golden era of 1960s sports car motoring, when traffic wasn’t a total gridlock. Its black dial carries the Jaguar heritage logo above the 6 o’clock position, and its markings are in the style of the numerals found on the E-type instruments. The classic chronograph layout features two subdials, at three o’clock and nine o’clock positions.
A subtle “red line” on the 60-minute counter pays homage to the E-type’s tachymeter. A double-domed crystal enhances the vintage appearance of the watch. The mechanism, visible through a sapphire-crystal case back, pays tribute to the E-Type with an automatic steering wheel winding weight. Further automotive imagery is in the “tire-tread” winding crown, which is topped with the Jaguar logo, matching the one on the dial. The best Series 1 “flat floor” E-Type roadsters now command more than $100,000. The watch, considerably less, is around $10,000.
At the opening ceremony of BaselWorld 2015, Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann praised watchmaking as an art: “With the invention of the mechanical clock, time was, in the true sense of the word, turned into an art — an art that is driven to even higher peaks—in precision, in technological ingenuity, and in ever-evolving aesthetic forms.” These remarkable timepieces are, indeed, a testament.