We take a look at the best and brightest of BaselWorld 2018 and hand out the highest honours in watchmaking without the star-studded, multi-hour televised ceremony.
BEST IN SHOW
Bulgari has become one of the most exciting forces at BaselWorld thanks to its Octo Finissimo. The svelte icon has inspired the technical and creative vision of the Italian brand the last four years, leading to a series of consecutive size zero record-breakers. This year’s new thinness is a self-winding tourbillon at under 4mm thick, simultaneously smashing three world records in the automatic wristwatch, tourbillon, and automatic tourbillon categories. Based on the Finissimo Tourbillon 2014 movement, the Calibre BVL 288 adds automatic winding in the form of a peripheral rotor and opts for a flying tourbillon to maintain its 1.95mm slimness. The watch is further starved with an openworked dial, embracing Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin’s sentiment that “for men, the ultimate elegance is thin.”
The show of stylish force continues with the contemporary attires of the Octo Finissimo. The Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is outfitted in high-performance Carbon Thin Ply, an ultra-light and robust material that purportedly possesses better acoustic properties than titanium. Like all carbon fibre-based cladding, the all-black case and dial flaunt a distinct mottled pattern akin to stealth camouflage, providing a powerful new identity for the world’s thinnest minute repeater. The Octo Finissimo Automatic also expands its wardrobe with two metals: rose gold and rhodium-plated steel. Both receive the same sandblasted surface treatment as the original; the luminous yet matt appearance provides a chic counterpoint to industrial titanium.
BEST CELEB PAIRING
Even though Breitling’s ambassador pool (currently consisting of a lonely John Travolta) is getting a much-needed update with new #SquadGoals, Tudor is the one making waves in the celebrity name game. Following last year’s #BornToDare champions, David Beckham and Lady Gaga, the brand now ropes in Taiwanese pop icon Jay Chou for its fearless campaign. The “King of Mandopop” may have elicited a resounding “Who?” from Western audiences, but Asia’s fervour for the man is undeniable, and his inimitable “Chou style” is perfectly suited to the Tudor 1926, a new classic line that is sure to resonate with Asian tastes and culture.
BEST COLOUR VISUAL
Green is the new blue for watch dials, but the colour that has gotten everyone talking is “Pepsi”. Rolex revives its iconic red-and-blue Cerachrom bezel in the latest GMT-Master II, now in Oystersteel with a Jubilee bracelet. The popular two-tone can be traced back to the brand’s work with Pan American Airways in the development of its first GMT watch, and fans later gave it the cola moniker. It is not just big brother Rolex, however, as Tudor surprised everyone by releasing its own Black Bay GMT with a “Pepsi” bezel (“a nod to the iconic look of our family”). The concerted effort is giving enthusiasts quite the sugar rush, with the colour combination dominating social media feeds during the fair.
BEST MATERIAL MOMENT
Omega’s new Canopus gold is an exclusive white gold alloy (with rhodium, palladium, and platinum) that exudes pure brilliance. Rado’s HyperChrome Ultra Light case made from silicon nitride ceramic weighs as much as 10 sheets of paper. However, both of these material innovations are overshadowed by the beastly showmanship of Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Red Magic. Previously seen on the bezel of the Ferrari Unico Carbon Red Ceramic, the “vibrantly coloured ceramic” is harder and more colour-rich thanks to a patented sintering process developed by the brand’s materials lab in Switzerland, which sets the ceramic without burning the added pigments. Polished to a bright cherry pop, the Big Bang Unico Red Magic proves to be a hot topic for the future chromatic potential of watchmaking ceramics.
BEST LIFESTYLE APPEAL
Is there anything more badass than a casual Patek Philippe? The sporty Aquanaut welcomes its first chronograph, complete with bright orange accents and rubber strap to add youthful levity to a brand usually considered to be traditional and formal. Despite its relaxed appearance, the Ref. 5968A Aquanaut Chronograph sports serious mechanics with a self-winding chronograph movement combining classic column wheel control and vertical disc clutch, as well as flyback functionality.
BEST CROSSOVER REMAKE
Last year, TAG Heuer (together with LVMH-owned brethren Zenith and Bulgari) announced a partnership with Bamford Watch Department to provide modding services for its customers. Now, the avant-garde Swiss watchmaker legitimises the collaboration by having the renegade watch customiser rework one of its icons. The Monaco Bamford modernises the classic McQueen-worn timepiece with highlighter-blue accents (a Bamford signature) and a solid carbon case, while keeping the hallmark 39mm square dimensions and left-positioned crown. A bold, if not slightly controversial, makeover that doesn’t stray from the Monaco’s connection with motorsports.
BEST FOREIGN ENTRY
Of the non-Swiss brands showing at BaselWorld this year, Japanese siblings Seiko and Grand Seiko impressed with their mechanical movements. Grand Seiko celebrated the 20th anniversary of its revered 9S calibre with a trio of limited editions, with the V.F.A. (“Very Fine Adjusted”) model in platinum being the most exalted. In addition to the serious chronometry associated with the set of initials (+3 to -1 seconds deviation per day), the commemorative piece flaunts a geometric whorl that incorporates a special emblem to stunning effect on the dial. Seiko offers up the new 6L35 calibre for its Presage line, which is slimmer and more accurate than the trusted 6R15. The slender profile is accentuated with a front-load case construction (the movement is inserted from the dial-side), which allows the sides to be angled inwards so that the watch sits more closely and comfortably to the wrist.