Baselworld watches: Dare to be different
27 February 2012 | By Alex Doak
The labyrinthine halls of BaselWorld reward their more adventurous visitors with a host of hidden gems and less-trumpeted oddballs. Alex Doak reveals the quirkier corners of the Messe
Titanic-DNA Chrono Tourbillon by Romain Jerome
Just in time for the centenary of the doomed White Star Line vessel, Romain Jerome is launching a new flagship (pun intended) for its signature Titanic-DNA Collection. A rare watch, each of the three steel, black PVD or red gold versions will be issued in a mere nine-piece limited edition. The metal of the bezel, which fuses materials from Titanic that were recovered from the depths of the Atlantic and steel from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast where it was built, is deliberately rusted and stabilised in its corroded form. Combined with the open-worked mechanical wonders whirring away within, Romain Jerome’s distinct ‘steampunk’ aesthetic has evolved spectacularly, whether you find the whole conceit tasteful or not.
H1 by HYT
There’s always at least one so-crazy-it-has-to-be-seen concept at BaselWorld. You can rely on TAG Heuer on a virtually annual basis, joined in recent years by Chanel and its dial-side crown and Concord’s outrageous liquid-power-reserve C1 QuantumGravity. So it’s no surprise that Concord’s former chief executive, Vincent Perriard, is behind new brand HYT, whose H1 indicates time with a capillary of two immiscible liquids, pumped back and forth by two hydraulic bellows. Horological think tank of the moment Chronode SA is behind the movement, fresh from similarly mind-boggling projects for watch brands MB&F, Urban Jürgensen & Sønner and Harry Winston.
Zürich by Nomos Glashütte
A brand finally enjoying the success it deserves in the UK at the hands of distributor The Alexander Collections, Nomos Glashütte’s Bauhaus beauties could well be the best-value ‘manufacture’ watches on the market. They start at well under £1,000 – something to do with the fact this quirky German company has chosen to reinvest in R&D during its 20-year lifespan, rather than marketing or advertising. Nomos’s top-end Zürich is the first of two Hannes Wettstein-designed watches featured on these pages. It has an iF Design Award already under its belt, and a new steel case back version launches this year for the more budget-conscious collector.
Galet Secret Tourbillon Double Spiral by Laurent Ferrier
It’s the Chinese Year of the Dragon, so given the watch world’s massive reliance on the Asian market as the western economy limps on, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing a flock of fire-breathing timepieces at BaselWorld. This piece from Laurent Ferrier is particularly clever – as you’d expect from a man who, up until a few years ago, served as head of product development at Patek Philippe for 37 years. Either on demand, or in passing, a 240º aperture is unfurled, revealing a beautiful, ivory-coloured grand feu enamel dial on gold with a hand-painted dragon. But if that doesn’t impress you, there’s a double-spiral tourbillon ticking away inside, not that Ferrier would ever be so crass as to show it through the dial. You can take the boy out of Patek…
ALT1-WT World Timer by Bremont
If you’re veering from the beaten path to see Fortis, a visit to the Swissotel by Hall 4 is also recommended. Here you’ll find BaselWorld’s other must-see satellite brand, Bremont, whose ebulliently English English brothers are sure to offer you a warm welcome and – at last – a decent cup of tea. Bremont has only been going for 10 years, but its rugged aviator chronographs are strapped to wrists in theatres of war the world over. The ALT1-WT is the first world timer from the British brand, a civilian version of a watch they designed specifically for C-17 Globemaster transporter crews, which debuted last year at SalonQP.
Mach 2000 Marquise By Lip
The 1970s revival continues apace this year, and it’s arguably thanks to the influence of Lip and its searingly original, but ultimately futile last-ditch launches of 1974 and 1975. Even nowadays, the watch world is relatively bereft of big-name designers (something to do with the closed nature of the Swiss industry) but France’s biggest manufacturer, faced with trades union turmoil and liquidation, took the unusual step of enlisting no less than six industrial designers to try to jump-start its fortunes. Famous for drafting the seminal lines of SNCF’s TGV train, Roger Tallon, who died in October last year, was the most out-there, and his D-shaped Mach 2000 watches have proven to be the most enduring for Lip’s modern revival at the hands of Manufacture Generale Horlogere.
Carbon Fibre Drass by Anonimo
Once unfairly known as the ‘poor man’s Panerai’, owing to its adoption of the Richemont brand’s Florentine case and strap-making facilities when Panerai moved to Switzerland, Anonimo has transcended the fashionability of its forebear with aplomb. It has earned countless professional endorsements thanks to its bulletproof casing and fantastic value. This new three-hander model features on-trend carbon fibre elements, but instead of the usual DLC or PVD coating, its steel case is sandblasted in a proprietary process called Drass. The alpha male’s choice.
Tread 1 Version F by Devon Works
Devon Works is a design lab dedicated to creating innovative luxury products that exemplify the American spirit, from supercars to superbikes and now superwatches. The Tread 1 is an audacious spider’s web of nylon conveyor belts driven by four tiny microstep motors. It was nominated for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2010 for Best Design and Concept Watch – the first time a US watch brand had ever been included. New for 2012 is Version F, picked out in orange. Plus, still veiled in secrecy at the time of press is its follow-up, Tread 2, another micro-mechanical wonder developed within the US aerospace industry’s network of suppliers and engineers. These watches have to be seen to be believed.
24 Hour by MeisterSinger
Another cult brand in the making, MeisterSinger’s USP is almost agonisingly simple: a single hour hand, with a fine enough point to read off the minutes between the hour indices. The use of the musical ‘fermata’, or ‘pause’ symbol, as its logo reflects MeisterSinger’s guiding philosophy of a more relaxed perception of time – no frantic sweep seconds dials here – and the new 24 Hour takes things one step slower. Now you can see the whole day at a glance, giving the wearer the chance to focus on the important things in life.
Alarm Chrono GMT by Fortis
Fortis is a BaselWorld satellite brand but it is well worth the two-minute stroll from Hall 2 to the Dorint Hotel. Fortis has irresistible action-man credentials that extend all the way into orbit, on the wrists of Mir’s cosmonauts. The brand’s 100th anniversary this year will be marked by a number of special, but always utilitarian, pieces – most notably this, the world’s first alarm automatic chronograph GMT, found in Fortis’s F-43 Flieger line.
Sparc MGS by Ventura
Often overlooked or simply unbeknown to visitors of BaselWorld is the Palace – a huge marquee behind the car park containing niche, independent brands that are too cool for school (or rather the stuffy Académie Horlogère Des Créateurs Indépendants in Hall 5). Make sure you see MB&F, Urwerk, Ressence and personal favourite Ventura – a luxury digital brand finally revived last year after a worrying hiatus. Fronted by Pierre Nobs, Ventura was the first to make an automatically wound digital watch in 2000, packaged in achingly hip Jetsons style by Hannes Wettstein.
Korona K0 by Sarpaneva
Son of Finnish jewellery designer Pentti Sarpaneva and nephew of iconic product designer Timo, Stepan Sarpaneva was destined for a life of creativity and craftsmanship. He graduated from The Finnish School of Watchmaking – a surprisingly prolific feeder for the Swiss industry – and cut his teeth at Piaget and Parmigiani, among many others. Stepan moved back home in 2003 to concentrate on his own Gothic-brutalist designs, inspired by the melancholy of the Finnish winter, working alone from a corner of Nokia’s abandoned cable factory. The Korona K0 is his first sporty piece, water resistant to 300m.
Giant Black by Mondaine
Like Mini, whose modern incarnation of a design classic has evolved into a full-blown brand in itself, Mondaine has, in its 20 short years, taken its wrist-born tribute to the Swiss Railways Clock down all manner of avenues, while always preserving the spirit of Hans Hilfiker’s classic 1944 design. This year’s sumptuous 42mm-diameter Giant, equipped with a Ronda quartz movement, tells us that black on black is still a hot trend for 2012.
Force 4 Shadow by Offshore Limited
Offshore Limited is a new French fashion brand that you’ll find over in Hall 2 at BaselWorld. It is currently enjoying huge success among the Euro jetset crowd
as a fun but high-end holiday or weekend watch. Designed with an eye for extreme sports, the watches are equally at home on the piste, the quaysides of St Tropez or the buzzy nightspots off the Champs-Élysées. The chunky proportions and exuberant colours are all bang on trend, and given the pieces’ weighty build
quality, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better alternative to TechnoMarine, which seems to have dominated this niche for too long.