At Baselworld 2019, the finest timepieces weren’t necessarily the most expensive ones.
Perhaps it was the scaled-down feel of the Palexpo building where the Baselworld watch expo takes place, or maybe it was the first stirrings of global economic headwinds, but for whatever reason, this year the timepieces that shone the most weren’t the ones with the most diamonds.
Instead, among the hundreds of new watches I saw from brands such as Rolex, Graff, Hublot, Nomos, Bell & Ross, Grand Seiko, TAG Heuer, and Bulgari, the ones that caught my attention included a fair number at entry-level price points. Whether they were new concoctions from Oris or Casio, or retro pieces from Breitling or Bulova, there was a lot to love under $10,000.
Of course, I loved the diamonds, too. I’m not crazy. Read on for my favorite pieces from the biggest watch show of the year.
Oris Great Barrier Reef Limited Edition III
This is the third in a series of timepieces Oris has launched to raise awareness and funds for the disastrous decline of the Great Barrier Reef. The brand’s commitment to sustainability and cleaning the ocean was a strong through-line in its collection this year, and with this watch I heard about Oris’s efforts to support reef replanting. The piece itself is a dive watch (obviously), with a gorgeous blue coloring and a slick date complication. It’s limited to 2,000 pieces and is certified to 300 feet underwater.
Price: 2,450 Swiss francs ($2,463)
Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition
This is a near-exact replica of the 1959 Navitimer but with an updated movement inside. The busy vintage look is utterly eye-catching, with everything from the rotating beaded bezel to the Champagne luminescent numerals and hands screaming “old school.”
Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu II in King Gold
So this one isn’t cheap, really. But for Hublot it’s at least a little understated? The 45-millimeter watch is an update of the brand’s ongoing, successful collaboration with tattoo artist Maxime Buchi. The top of the huge diamond is actually the hour indicator, while the long hand that stretches across the face indicates the seconds. The little white triangle in the subdial at 3 o’clock serves as the minute hand. They all rotate visibly in a very satisfying way, on a 72-hour power reserve.
Zenith El Primero Revival A386
This was probably my favorite watch of the show. Another vintage-inspired piece, at 38mm it looks kind of small and understated on the wrist, despite its intricacy. It’s essentially a reissue of the first watch to be introduced with Zenith’s legendary El Primero movement back in 1969, but with more powerful and reliable automatic technology inside. Although it will be limited to 50 pieces in each metal, you can bet more versions will continue to come out in the coming years. (The company has made various iterations of it in the intervening years, but these anniversary pieces will surely be snapped up immediately once they become available this summer.) Even if you’re not a yellow gold person, you should get this in yellow gold. It’s literally a classic.
Price: 19,900 Swiss francs
Casio Limited-Edition Rainbow MT-G
We know rainbow watches are all the rage, but the trend has so far existed mostly at the top of the price range. Brands such as Rolex, Chopard, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, and Parmigiani have been rolling out versions, with a spectrum of colored gemstones and diamonds. That’s why it’s hard not to love that Casio, one of the biggest movers in moderately priced timepieces, decided to deliver its own response. This limited-edition MT-G watch (MT-G is the premium, solar-powered range of the G-Shock line) looks cool in person and won’t break the bank.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5212A-001 Calatrava Weekly Calendar
Hodinkee took an in-depth look at this watch earlier in the week, touting how amazing it is that Patek made it in stainless steel. (Calatravas often come in precious metals and are thus much more expensive.) “They could have made this watch in platinum and sold it out anyway,” notes Rudy Albers of Wempe Jewelers, who retails Patek and is all too familiar with what his clients will buy. “But they decided to make it in stainless steel.” The complications on this piece show the month and date, as well as the day of the week and the week of the year. As Albers explained to me, while we don’t often count the week number in the U.S., in Europe it’s more frequently used as a reference point.
As for me, as I was running between a million appointments in Basel, carrying my jet lag around with me, I realized I really needed the day-of-the-week indicator here. But what really stood out to me in person was the Calatrava’s delicate handwritten style of the months and days—apparently Patek based the font on the handwriting of one of its watchmakers.
Price: 29,500 Swiss francs
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph Steel and Gold
Partner brands Tudor and Rolex often do things in tandem, like last year when they both launched Pepsi-dial GMTs. This year we saw that sisterly behavior in the embracing of steel and yellow gold watches on bracelet. Tudor’s chronograph, whose movement was developed with Breitling and won the GPHG in 2017, has gold all over—on the pushers, tachymeter, and chapter ring. Also, fun fact: It’s the 50th anniversary of the snowflake hand, that little squared-off element on the hour hand that makes Tudors so recognizable.
Carl F. Bucherer Heritage BiCompax Annual in Rose Gold
This brand, like Frederique Constant, is one you should recommend to your friends when they ask about a “really good Swiss watch” that’s at or under $10,000. This piece is a “bicompax,” which means it has two complications—chrono and calendar. (Some people also use the term to indicate the twin subdials this watch has, and honestly I’m not sure who’s right.) At any rate, there’s a big date and a tiny month indicator near 5 o’clock, and the whole thing is elegantly inspired by midcentury watch designs. It comes in two metals, each limited to 888 pieces.
H. Moser Venturer Concept Vantablack
Like the company’s fearless leader, Edouard Meylan, I’m charmed by the simplest H. Moser watches. With this new one, the brand challenges that idea of simplicity by painting the bare dial in Vantablack, a high-tech substance that absorbs most visible light; it’s “blacker than black”—actually subtracting from what you see. As far as gimmicks go, it’s a cool one to look at.
Price: 25,000 Swiss francs
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona
Yeah, in person this one looks as crazy as it does here. Crazier, even. It’s the current Rolex Cosmograph Daytona but with 36 trapeze-cut diamonds around the bezel and 243 pave-cut ones on the dial. So it’s, you know, casual. The rubber strap is actually a cool choice with this, if you can afford it.
Bulova Computron LED
I actually shrieked a little when the movement-activated display turned on after I put on this watch. It’s very cute and a real throwback to what I thought a “digital watch” was as I was growing up in the 1980s. (It’s called a “driver’s watch,” because the screen is angled toward your face if your hands are on the steering wheel.) I expect to see this on wrists everywhere once it hits stores later this year.
Price: $395 in gold