2019 will not be remembered as a bumper year for innovation or artistry among the watch brands exhibiting at Baselworld. It may not be remembered at all for the watches as most people’s lasting impression will be for the dramatically shrinking show.
It was a year when a mere glint of creativity or simply clear design direction caught the eye and made it possible to grab the attention of retailers.
My three favourite watches at the show went much further than this. They are watches that are inventive and desirable in equal measure.
First is the Oris Great Barrier Reef Limited Edition III, a diver’s watch created in partnership with the Reef Restoration Foundation and based on the ever-popular Aquis housing an Oris 743 movement.
Sustainability and particularly marine conservation are such hot topics right now that it was inevitable that several watch brands have started aligning themselves with the causes.
Oris has been doing this for years, and goes far further than simply donating money to charities. The company aims to be kind to the planet and its oceans in everything it does, ranging from changing the food and drinks it offers at its company cafeterias to sustainable options (e.g. no more plastic bottles) through to reducing the environmental impact of its manufacturing processes.
It has also been organising clean up days for several years along rivers and beaches, with hundreds of its employees and business associates taking part.
The Oris Great Barrier Reef Limited Edition III has a specific goal of raising money that will be used to protect and replant areas of Australia’s great reef.
It is limited to a production run of 2,000 pieces priced at CHF 2,450.
Saving the Great Barrier Reef is just one reason to love this watch, the other is that it is drop dead gorgeous. The blues of its graduated dial are mesmerising. It made me think of those photographs taken from underwater towards the sun where the light is brightest at the centre of the shot, and darker to the margins.
It wears smaller on the wrist than its 43.5mm steel case would suggest, perhaps because the eye is drawn to the centre rather than its darker blue ceramic bezel.
All the usual diver’s watch standards are present, such as 300 metre water resistance and large luminous hands and markers, but this is a watch that can be worn all day, every day. It even has an elegant presentation of the date on a circular ring around the dial.
Next up is a tribute by Bulgari to Gérald Genta, a watchmaker who made his name working for the likes of Universal Genève, Patek Philippe, Omega and IWC in the 1950s and 60s before launching his own eponymous manufacture in 1969.
To mark 50 years since the watchmaker founded his own company, Bulgari has created the Gérald Genta 50th Anniversary Watch.
As well as appreciating the tribute to Mr Genta, I simply loved the look and feel of this timepiece. It has a stunning blue lacquered sunray dial in a smooth and sumptuous 41mm platinum case.
The time is presented in jumping hours through a window on the dial at 12 o’clock while minutes are tracked on an arc spanning the top half of the dial. The date is shown in a similar but smaller arc at 6 o’clock.
Powered by the BVL 300 Caliber with a bidirectional self-winding movement boasting a 42-hour power reserve, the complex mechanism is visible through the scratch resistant sapphire case back.
Everything about the watch oozes the sort of class and attention for detail for which Mr Genta was famous. The applied platinum numbers for the minutes are slightly raised to add interest and depth to the dial. The hands are an interesting hollowed sword shape. The crown is rounded and almost flush to the side of the case. The dark blue leather strap has stitching of a slightly lighter blue that picks up the way the lacquered blue dial reflects lighter and darker shades.
This is a the sort of watch that goes on a bucket list. Love, love, love it.
Finally, another watch that shows the time using a jumping hour, the Gucci Grip.
This is not a watch that a 50 year-old like me is likely to wear, but I can understand why several buyers I spoke to around the show picked out this collection as a winner. It is eye-catching, unusual, picks up a current trend for 1970s retro styling and will look fantastic in a jeweller’s window.
In my opinion the watches bear a passing resemblance to mini bathroom scales, with hours, minutes and the date displayed in three apertures cut into a flat metal surface.
Naturally, to keep the seventies story consistent, the four style collection of watches all house quartz movements. One edition brings together a yellow gold PVD case and yellow gold PVD bracelet, both engraved with Gucci’s signature Interlocking G logo. Another variant is worked purely in steel. At the upper end of the range are two editions with colored calf leather straps: green with a steel case, or Bordeaux with a yellow gold PVD case.
They come in two sizes, 35mm and 38mm with prices ranging from the dollar equivalent of £1150 to £1320 for the 35mm models. There are 46 different interchangeable quick release straps, which sell individually for between £140 and £360. Gucci says they will go on sale in September and I expect these watches to fly out of the shops and to be a massive hit in the coming holiday season.