Luxury: Basel Diary

Watches: Time Is Precious

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Ten familiar luxury watches get a makeover

ALL ART IS INNOVATION. At Basel, the Swiss city where watchmakers gather every year to showcase the latest they have on offer, the reverse rings just as true. This is where a story of ingenuity that began with the Antikythera Mechanism, that ancient whirligig of time with interlocking gears discovered in 1900 by sponge divers and dated back to the second century BCE, finds modern expression— in the form of a dazzling array of timepieces that defy their original purpose. A watch, after all, is now worn with motives that get fuzzier by the day: what begins as an ode to the mastery of mechanical motion—say, a special movement— could endure as an emotion encased on your wrist. The world’s top watchmakers have been whirring away to create watches to marvel at in one way or another, working anew on just about everything that gives them their mystique, from materials and dials to sound effects and complications. On display are not just works of fine intricacy, but reason after reason to raid your bank and clamp yourself to one of these. Ultimately, it’s about nothing more complicated than beauty—or truth. Here are ten irresistible watches unveiled at the fair this year.

ROLEX COSMOGRAPH DAYTONA

USP: This legendary chronograph for speed enthusiasts has a new bezel to aid reading and retain its newness for decades on end

Of the dozens of new watches thrown open to public admiration at Basel, one that’s hard to draw your gaze away from is Rolex’s Cosmograph Daytona, a beauty of its Oyster Perpetual range that looks as beautiful as it always did in hypnotic black and white, only even more so now that it’s been retouched to retain its looks even better down the generations. The new Daytona’s bezel is made of cerachrom, an extra-tough material newly patented by the company. Snap out of the spell for a closer look, and you’ll marvel at how nicely its tachymetric markings—designed to calculate speeds of up to 400 kmph—stand out on black, thanks to a dab of platinum on every numeral. The chronograph, the mechanical timer for which its movement is so well regarded, claims accuracy of a figure within an eighth of a second, its self-winding perpetual rotor can stay still for 72 hours before needing a shake-up, and the clasp of its Oyster bracelet feels fabulously foreverish. Whether or not speed’s your kick, €10,420, a shade over Rs 7.8 lakh, sounds like a steal for this one.

OMEGA SPEEDMASTER MOONPHASE

USP: Its phase-of-the-moon display features a high-resolution image of a mark left on the lunar surface in 1969 by a ‘giant leap for mankind’

A chronograph model that you can’t do justice to with bare eyes is Omega’s Speedmaster Moonphase Co-Axial Master Chronometer, the latest version of the watch that went to the moon in 1969. At first glance, it looks every bit as lovely as it did earlier, but it takes a magnifier to catch its magnificence: a window on its dial has a lunar image of such high resolution that if you zoom right in, you’ll see an actual footprint on the Sea of Tranquility. What’s more, Omega has upped the accuracy ante with a superb new movement that resists magnetic fields like never before, that scourge of mechanical watches, thanks in part to a balance spring made of silicon. Priced at a cool €8,270, once it’s on your wrist, you won’t want to leave the planet without it.

TAG HEUER CARRERA CONNECTED

USP: Its touchscreen offers online apps in sync with a phone without losing the aesthetic appeal of this sporty brand’s sense of style

While still on Earth, or at least within the range of a telecom network, a watch to try out would be Tag Heuer Connected, a phone-linked model in a light titanium case that combines Android Wear software with this brand’s sporty aesthetics. Its main screen is a Carrera, with its characteristic ‘horns’, and you can swipe from app to app, or even talk to it, without being any less of a Tag wearer. At only €1,366, it’s cheap. But if you insist on the real thing, that a watch is a watch is a watch, there’s always the €18,240 Carrera 02T Phantom, a Tag that’s something of a cardiac threat at first sight—it looks so damned good.

BREGUET TRADITION REPETITON MINUTES TOURBILLON

USP: Its movement was designed to a sound specification

Over at a decidedly more glitter-happy pavilion is a watch you simply have to hear to believe: Breguet’s Tradition Repetition Minutes Tourbillon 7087. Its dial and case are 18-carat gold, its caseback features sapphire crystal, its nod to heritage is a chain device used in a pocket watch made for Marie-Antoinette—the French queen for whom Breguet was commissioned in 1783 to put all known complications into a single piece—and its price is a royalty-worthy €400,000, about Rs 3 crore. But what’s unique is that it has been crafted to the specification of a sound (picked from 200,000 frequency combinations). The watchmaker didn’t just have to redo bits like the tiny gong springs of its minute repeater system to get the sapphire and bezel to vibrate a new way, but redesign the insides almost entirely so that its acoustic chamber achieves the desired effect.

JAQUET DROZ PETITE HEURE MINUTE THOUSAND YEAR LIGHTS

USP: Its dial features a modern interpretation of a 1,000-year-old art form patronised by a dynasty that gave Korea its name

Art and tradition come together in quite another way for Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute Thousand Year Lights. Its 18-carat white gold case is set with 232 diamonds. To tell the time, it has a subdial—a brand signature of sorts—nestled in a wild garden of flowers done by ateliers d’art inspired by the so-called ‘Najeon Chilgi’ method patronised by the Goryeo Dynasty of Korea (918-1392 CE), with mother-of- pearl lacquered, polished and engraved with hues meant to retain their shine on any woman’s wrist down the ages. It’s 35-mm in diameter, and with only eight pieces ever made, costs €33,660, a little over Rs 25.3 lakh apiece.

BLANCPAIN LADYBIRD ULTRAPLATE

USP: This tiny timepiece boasts of a miniature movement behind an irresistible ‘foliage motif’ on its dial

Among feminine works of haute horlogerie, one of the most arresting is Blancpain’s Ladybird Ultraplate 0063E-1954-55A, unveiled by the 280-year-old watchmaker to mark 60 years of this range of tiny round watches. Its strap is Lousiana alligator leather, its case is white gold, and its bezel is studded with 32 diamonds—but it’s on this list for the allure of its dial. With gems asparkle at all hours, except 6, 9 and their opposite o’clocks, and ovals awhorl in luminous shades of pearl all the way out from the centre, its ‘foliage motif’ seems crafted to stir not just a beauty bug’s imagination but something worthy of Pavlov’s notice. It costs a neat €16,500; Blancpain has made only 60 pieces of this 21.5-mm diameter watch.

BREITLING AVENGER HURRICANE

USP: This large watch with multiple complications for pilots is amazingly light, thanks to the use of an entirely new material

Breitling’s Avenger Hurricane has heavy-duty heft written all over it. The dial is huge—50 mm in diameter—but looks even bigger thanks to all the cockpit-like gauges on what is essentially a chronograph for pilots. Its pushpieces have a non-slip grip for use with gloves, the hands and numerals are luminiscent for night flying, and every reading has been proofed against glare. That it’s sturdy as hell, of course, is a given. But pick up this black beauty to wear, and you almost toss it up in the surprise of how light it is. Its case is made of Breitlight, a special material claimed to be harder than regular stuff like steel but many multiples lighter. Available for €7,900.

SEIKO ASTRON GPS SOLAR

USP: This solar powered watch sets its time by satellite to promise almost-absolute accuracy

Seiko’s GPS Solar Astron, its latest World Time SSE091 limited edition of 3,500 units, is another work of technical brilliance. It sets its time by satellite and uses natural light to keep it going, and with its ceramic bezel, dark mother- of-pearl dial and titanium case coated in black, this model boasts of a new calibre that makes it slimmer than ever before without any compromise on the antenna that gets signals from way above the exosphere. It claims an accuracy of being off the mark by no more than one second in 100,000 years. The design is inspired by what the earth looks like from outer space at night.

PATEK PHILIPPE GRANDMASTER CHIME

USP: This Janus-faced watch has dials that can be flipped around, one for usual time-telling and the other for a perpetual calendar

Of the ultra-complicated timepieces that’ve made their debut at Basel, Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime Reference 6300 is a must-not-miss. And you wouldn’t be able to. For one, it’s a flip-around watch, with dials on either side, the flipping done by a delightful pivot mechanism. Both faces show the time, but one of them accords special space to a perpetual calendar—a complication the brand pioneered in 1925—that’s amazingly easy to use. In all, this model boasts of 20 complications, a true marvel of horological complexity. Among other things, it has an acoustic alarm, a repeater that chimes the date, and a grande sonnerie to go with a petite one.

HUBLOT BIG BANG UNICO SAPPHIRE

USP: An entirely transparent watch cut out of hard sapphire crystal that reveals the movement within

If offering a peek of the tiny barrels, gears and springs of a movement in all its elegant glory is a trend that’s been upping the wow factor of mechanical watches, Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Sapphire finally lays it all bare. And with a finesse that’s hard to beat. Its case, bezel and back have all been hewn out of separate blocks of see-through sapphire, the expertise needed for which is extraordinary, given that the stuff is almost as hard as diamond and tough as hell to cut. Its screws, crown and buckle are titanium, but its dial is of a transparent resin through which you can see a Unico movement with its distinctive column wheel and double clutch. For €50,400, it’s a stunner you’d never want to unclasp your wrist from. Only 500 units exist.

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