Fresh from Swiss watch fair's thronging pavilions of all things ticking and sparkling, we bring you our pick of 2018’s finest mechanical timepieces for men
Top 10 men's watches from Baselworld
Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Racing Bird
When it’s not crafting instruments for the wrists of fighter pilots or Paris’s Swat units, Bell & Ross hones its slick aesthetic via what-if concepts in high-speed transport – and then creates the companion watch. It started with a B-Rocket motorbike straight from Judge Dredd, and continues this year with the BR Bird, a rocket-like V12 Rolls-Royce-powered monoplane, fit for the daredevil Reno Air Races. It’s the brainchild of Bruno Belamich – the Bell in Bell & Ross – who claims to have everything ready to go, should the right aeronautic entrepreneur step forward. Meanwhile, satisfy your low-altitude taste for danger with the accompanying chronograph – a crisply appointed flying machine that’s pure Dan Dare raffishness.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
There seems to be a pattern developing. Just like last year with its swoon-inducing, Breitling-powered Black Bay Chrono, Rolex’s little brother Tudor yet again sets itself apart from the mother ship with another doozy that wins Baselworld. It’s a second-time-zone “GMT”, designed in subtle allusion to Rolex’s famed Pepsi dial blue and red configuration of the 1950s, but equipped with a brand-new, in-house integrated movement. This means that the mechanics required to adjust your home time hand separately from the local time are part and parcel of the whole engine, rather than bolted on top – not only a far more reliable, let alone prestigious state of affairs, but a bargainous one, too, at just £2,570 (Dh13,260).
Raymond Weil Calibre RW1212 Skeleton
Ever since Omega and Breguet’s parent group, Swatch, announced in 2002 that its movement maker, ETA, would be drastically cutting supplies to third-party brands, an initial panic has blossomed into a flurry of in-house innovation at the entry-level of luxury Swiss watchmaking. Previously ETA-dependent names – Tudor, Baume & Mercier, Oris – have stepped up to the plate, developing affordable, proprietary mechanics. Raymond Weil is also on the list now, as its movement partner Sellita (usually in the business of supplying ETA clones) has worked up the 1212, framing the ticking balance wheel with a window at 6 o’clock, maximising enjoyment of your investment. A thrill that gets turned up to 11 this year, with the exposure of every intricate facet whirring away inside.
Porsche Design 1919 Chronotimer Flyback
It’s easy to underestimate the significance of Porsche Design in Swiss watchmaking – especially in the early days when, having left his eponymous sports car marque, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche applied the same design nous that birthed the 911 to watches. He coated a watch in black PVD before anyone else and made the world’s first titanium watch with IWC. Now, back in collaboration with the family firm, the engineering side of things gets a serious shot in the arm with a new in-house-developed chronograph movement, equipped with instant-reset “flyback” mode for timing laps. Initially kept back for petrolheads buying a GT2 RS or Turbo S Exclusive Series, the Werk 01.200 now powers this machine, mounted in an espresso-hued titanium chassis.
Nomos Glashütte Autobahn
It’s always cheering to step onto Nomos Glashütte’s sunny pavilion at Basel, even without discovering, in the process, the most unexpected release of its 28-year history. The German purveyor of Bauhaus purism, where form and function remain in perpetual balance, may toy with layouts, typography and colour, but everything has always been in strict service to the task at hand: telling the time. So what’s the deal with the new Autobahn’s luminescent semicircular motif? Nothing much more than decoration, and allusion to night-time driving, but it does work. Especially in concert with a dial contoured like a miniature skatepark and some gorgeous colouration. Its four years in gestation at the hands of Werner Aisslinger really have paid off.
Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heure Sautante Minute Rétrograde
These days, the teeming thoroughfares of Baselworld can’t boast the sort of horlogerie fireworks found at SIHH, where Vacheron Constantin, A Lange & Söhne, Richard Mille et al tout their complicated wares. But there are two particular exceptions, found opposite each other in the heart of Basel’s Hall 1.0: Breguet and Blancpain, each dating from 1700-and-something and each an enduring bastion of the ancient handcraft. The latter’s highlight is a whirling tourbillon, displaying the hours digitally through a round window. They jump to the next, just as the minute hand itself jumps from 60 to 0, all in the blink of an eye.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II
It won’t come as any surprise to learn that Rolex harbours a fiercely passionate following from collectors and trainspotter sorts the world over. As with so many cults, a lexicon has arisen from the chattering forums, all in fond reference to the countless iterations of Rolex’s surprisingly few core products. The GMT-Master alone commands at least eight beverage-related nicknames, thanks to the chamaeleonic evolution of its duo-tone 24-hour rotating bezel – one colour denoting day hours, the other the night. Most fans were talking about the relaunched “Pepsi”, in gleaming blue and red ceramic, but the interesting money was on its counterpart, with an unprecedented brown and black bezel combo.
Breitling Navitimer 8 Unitime
Almost every professional pilot’s favourite watchmaker is undergoing a top-to-bottom shake-up right now, at the experienced hands of ex-IWC CEO Georges Kern. For a start, he’s shifting the venerable chronograph brand’s main focus away from aviation, controversially dropping the wings logo from all dials and denoting “land” and “sea” sectors as equally as “air”. That’s not to say Breitling’s most iconic collection, the Navitimer, is being neglected. Far from it – Monsieur Kern’s opening salvo has been a new collection, Navitimer 8, named after and inspired by the marque’s Huit cockpit chronograph department, set up in 1938. That said, the smoothed-out aesthetic works especially well in a non-chronograph model, in combination with a world-timer function and shimmering silver dial.
Tag Heuer Carrera Tête de Vipère Chronograph Tourbillon chronometer
A winding drive down the north face of Swiss watchmaking’s Jura Mountains heartland takes you to the quaint township of Besançon. Once France’s own industrious hub of horology, until the purge of the “Quartz crisis” in the 1970s, a few green shoots of recovery are showing, including the reopening of the Observatoire, which once rated the accuracy of clocks and watches by observing the stars. It now awards its prestigious Viper’s Head certification to a very select few chronometers fit to survive its gruelling 16-day test without losing more than four seconds or gaining more than six. Exactly 155 very special blue-ceramic editions of Tag Heuer’s bafflingly affordable tourbillon have done precisely that.
Tissot Heritage 2018
The word homage can be overused by an industry so in thrall of its own heritage. But Tissot is classier than that. Which means we’re free to wheel it out with aplomb, as this sepia-tinged beauty is a pinpoint-perfect homage to the Swiss legend’s golden mid-century years – all kick-started by its breakthrough Antimagnetique watches of the 1930s. Keeping things relevant and useful in 2018, however, it’s certainly not all show. Into the quite-extraordinary £850 (Dh3,845) bargain goes a voluptuous box-type anti-reflective sapphire crystal and, displayed proudly through a crystal back, every Tissot collector’s favourite manual-wind movement, the Unitas of the 1950s – slightly post-dating the 1943 subject of homage, but who’s really counting?