As always, Baselworld 2019 was an exhausting week-long spectacle – even with the notable absence of the entire Swatch Group. Prior to the event, the organizers of Baselworld had sent out many newsletters about how this year would be different and to announce their coordination with the majority of Basel’s hotels during the fair. They stated that “exhibitors and visitors will benefit from an agreement that guarantees transparent hotel prices in two thirds of Basel’s hotel accommodation”. It was a much-needed change, though rooms still cost roughly 4x their average rate.
Arriving at the event, the changes were hard to ignore: It was a lot smaller than in previous years. Usually, a lot of people would immediately head to the Rolex booth at noon, when screens would go up and the new releases would be announced. However, someone felt the need to leak the news a day in advance, and most reactions were far from positive. With a tight schedule and up to 40 brands to visit, it was impossible to take everything at once. You’d find yourself meeting other journalists throughout the day and talking about what you’d seen, but there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
But I digress. I won’t bore you any further with the lackluster atmosphere of the event. You’re here to find out about what brought us to Basel in the first place: the watches! So let’s get down to it, shall we?
The retro trend is alive and well in 2019, and some of the new releases are truly exciting. The first brand we want to look at is Breitling. They announced an amazing recreation of their 806 Navitimer from 1959. I’d had the pleasure of seeing it a few days before the launch, and I’m happy to report that they did a great job of crafting a near-identical timepiece. You’ll have to act quickly to get your hands on this one, as it’s a limited to a run of only 1,959 pieces.
Tudor had the entire watch industry buzzing with one of their announcements. They dug up a much-discussed prototype first developed for the US Navy in the 1960s. For context: This prototype had long been a rumor and become something of an industry legend. No one could even say if the design had ever made it as far as a proper watch. This major reveal put all speculation to bed. While the original watch locked its bezel in place using two end-link clasps, the modern version holds its bidirectional bezel in place using only the top lug. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying how interesting this watch is.
Other brands also presented some vintage-inspired pieces. Oris introduced some stunning versions of their Big Crown Pointer Date with an amazing deep red dial. Then there was Seiko, who came out with stunning re-releases, including the Seiko SNJ025 “Solar Arnie,” the first hybrid diving watch. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself wore this timepiece, in the movie Predator.
Colors and Materials
As in previous years, a lot of focus was put on materials and colors. There were many new variations of familiar models, such as the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Moon Phase in stainless steel, now with a blue dial, or the white gold Aquanaut with a green dial and rubber strap. NOMOS debuted their first model with a mesh bracelet. Oris also made an interesting announcement in this regard. Their new, Sixty-Five is the first two-tone, steel and bronze watch with a matching two-tone metal bracelet.
Bronze appears to be here for the long run. Several brands premiered new watches made of this fast-aging material. Tudor stepped up to the plate, pairing a bronze case with a smoky gray gradient dial. TAG Heuer went the two-tone route with their new three-hand Autavia models – their only announcement at Baselworld 2019 beyond their smartwatch for golfing. I’m personally rather fond of these new Autavias.
Chronoswiss showed off a fantastic take on their Grand Regulator in a funky blue. When we say blue, we mean blue: The entire watch shines in different shades of blue, including the case and sturdy Hornback leather bracelet. While De Bethune, an independent brand, is best known for their blue watches, they surprised us with a stunning DB28 Steel Wheels with a yellow color scheme. They also presented the DB27 Fort Aero. I think its rotor looks 3D-printed, although they avoided confirming how it was made. However, we showed it to Michiel Holthinrichs, who sells 3D-printed watches, and he agreed with my suspicions.
The watch industry is slowly returning to more moderate sizes. I’ve written before that I think 40 mm is the perfect size, though you can go up or down a few millimeters depending on the model. Even though my wrist is fairly large, I’m not a fan of large watches. It’s great to see more wearable timepieces for those with more modest wrist sizes or tastes.
The main thing I took away from the 5 days spent at the fair visiting some 40 brands is that watch brands are playing it rather safe. Some are daring to take things in a new direction and step outside their comfort zone, but, in the end, most of the new releases were rather predictable. In fairness, why should companies have to present trays full new timepieces every year?
Many of the most noteworthy pieces announced at Baselworld tend to come from independent brands. However, these watches are only attainable to a small part of the community due to their hefty price tags. Since these are well beyond my budget, if I had to choose a watch from Baselworld 2019, it would be the Seiko Prospex SPB103J, Oris Big Crown in red, or perhaps the Sinn 206 Arktis. Each is affordable, accessible, and offers great value for money.