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 women
Top 10 women's watches from Baselworld
Patek Philippe Ladies Chronograph Ref 7150/250
Geneva’s favourite son has particularly refreshing form when it comes to complicated women’s watches in general, and chronographs in particular. Back in 2009, the legendary watchmaker launched its first in-house chronograph movement, controversially debuted in a feminine, diamond-set case, shaped like a handbag compact. Fast-forward eight years and it’s time for a reboot. The cushion-shaped case is now round, but that has allowed the designers to add a pulsometer and change the numerals from Roman to Arabic, all of which gives the whole dial a more vintage feel. As this is Patek, there are still diamonds, of course – 72 of them set into a rose gold case – to keep the watch looking practically feminine. That is if you can find any real use for a chronograph other than boiling an egg.
Rado Tradition 1965
Rectangular watches are still something of a rarity – especially in landscape orientation – but this Rado makes a convincing argument. With its boxy indices and brown colour palette, it’s not hard to see that its inspiration is New York City’s skyline in the 1960s. Based on a timepiece from that era called the Manhattan (Rado isn’t allowed to call it that anymore, as, reportedly, the name meant the original could only be sold in that New York City borough), it’s the kind of watch you’d imagine Mad Men’s Peggy Olson wearing to prove to Don Draper that she’s not like other women. It’s a bold slice of retro style that feels perfect for today’s gender-fluid times.
Chanel Boy.Friend Skeleton
Although it is in the Boy. Friend case – and there is a diamond-set option as well – there is still a play of both the masculine and feminine in the design of Calibre 3, Chanel’s latest in-house movement. But it’s not just the look that is impressive – at the heart of this exposed mechanism’s pared-back aesthetic are spokeless wheels. These had to be galvanically grown to ensure they would have enough weight on them in order to function properly. It is this attention to detail of the minutest elements that’s become something of Chanel’s calling card in its relatively new era of in-house haute horologerie.
Bulgari Lvcea Skeleton
Call them opulent, decadent or, with the men’s oeuvre, complicated, but while Bulgari’s watches are always things of beauty, you would never describe them as having levity. Until Lvcea came along in 2014, then decided to cut loose four years later. What you notice first is the stone-set letters spelling out “Bvlgari” scattered haphazardly around the dial. These are given extra pizzazz thanks to a diamond-encrusted bezel and that fabulously eye-catching red strap. That you can also see the movement clearly behind the letters is a nod to chief watch designer Fabrizio Buonamassa’s love of blending form and function, and a little reminder, lest you forget, that the Italian luxury goods brand has serious haute horlogerie clout these days. But most importantly, it is a joyous thing to have on your wrist. And joy is something we all need a lot of right now.
Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara
You almost don’t want to wear this watch on your wrist – it seems much more suited to being set into an east-facing window, to truly appreciate all the work that has gone into the dial. The stained-glass effect is thanks to the plique-à-jour enamelling technique, or smalta clara in Latin. Although Jaquet Droz is famous for its Grand Feu enamel dials, this is the first time it has used this notoriously difficult technique, which sees the enamel panels become more and more brittle each time they are fired. The dial features seven colours that make up the snarling face of a tiger. Meanwhile, reducing the dial and movement to their small proportions, and removing the caseback, allows the fragile beauty of the design to sing, especially when caught in a sunbeam.
Gucci Automatic with Kingsnake GMT function
Since creative director Alessandro Michele took over the reins, the Italian luxury brandGucci has gone from staid to sensational. And luckily, his magic has also rubbed off on the watches. This year, things were even bolder than ever, with emerald-bright green being a major colour, as it is on this particular automatic GMT. Cuff watches are usually geared towards men – having roots as they do in the military – but this could be worn by anyone, providing they have the chutzpah (as with most Gucci garments, admittedly). It certainly makes a statement on the wrist, while the GMT function, as indicated by a kingsnake, one of the house’s new icons, means it is also practical. It may be too brash for some tastes, but love it or loathe it seems to be the new Gucci way. And that’s much more fun than pleasing everyone.
Longines Record L28205572
As with many of Longines’s styles, there is more to its updated Record collection than first appearances would suggest. The juxtaposition of a rose-gold-plate bezel with the steel case gives a fresh, modern feel, while the diamond indices against the black dial suggests that it could just as easily be worn with an LBD as with white cotton and denim. Then there’s the word chronometer under automatic, which means that Longines has gone the extra mile and had this timepiece COSC-certified, which assures its accuracy to no more than minus-four or plus-six seconds a day. This is solid Swiss watchmaking at its most elegant – all you need is to is add the requisite attitude, as per the brand slogan.
Graff Snowfall Slim
A couple of years ago, Graff wowed Baselworld with Snowfall, a haute joaillerie timepiece born of computer wizardry in concert with fine craftsmanship. Thanks to 3D printing, the Graff team managed to make a 300-joint lattice network of diamonds so supple, it was like twisting thick grosgrain ribbon, rather than metal and stone. That design has informed this more wearable (and reasonably priced) update. The full-pavé bracelet has been reduced to two decorative elements at the top and bottom of the dial, while the rest of the strap is now black satin. Incredibly, the fluidity of movement is still there, and there are more than enough diamonds to satisfy Graff’s ritziest regulars.
De Grisogono Retro Double Jeu
De Grisogono is a brand with a reputation for not giving a hoot about the codes of fine watchmaking, and this Retro Double Jeu is the perfect example. The design team has gone to all the effort of putting an oscillating rotor in a watch purely for reasons of whimsy. Rather than have anything to do with powering the watch – it’s quartz – a full rotation actually makes the enlarged and bejewelled 9 and 3 move to reveal the different-coloured diamonds on the reverse side. It’s the sort of audaciousness that has come to typify de Grisogono’s style of watchmaking and, while it’s unlikely to always be your thing, it will always make you smile.
Oris Big Crown Pointer Date
Bronze has been big news for a couple of years now, but usually confined to oversized men’s styles at boysy brands such as Panerai, Oris, Tudor and Zenith. Thankfully, at least one of these has now woken up to women’s potential attraction to the warm glow of the copper alloy, which develops a unique mint-green patina over age. Oris has subsequently given its Big Crown Pointer Date a dainty, vintage makeover. Launched in the 1980s, this take on a classic pilot’s watch has been reduced to 36mm, cased up in naturally ageing bronze and given the most gorgeous light-green dial. This was inspired by a colour plate on Le Corbusier’s Polychromie architecturale – two colour collections created in 1931 and 1959 featuring 63 shades that are harmonious and can be combined in any way. It will only get better with age – rather like the women wearing it.