Baselworld 2016 Round Table: What We Liked And What We Didn’t Like
It’s already our tradition to discuss big watch events, so please join our Quill & Pad round table discussion on Baselworld 2016.
Our participants are:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder of Quill & Pad
AS Amr Sindi, founder of The Horophile and contributor to Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector at Quill & Pad
IS: My overall impression of Baselworld 2016 was that it was a good, but not great, fair. Visitor numbers appeared to be down a little over last year, and while there were few exciting watches that everyone was talking about, there were still more than enough great new watches to make the week at Baselworld well worthwhile.
ED: I actually liked the quieter nature of this year’s Baselworld: fewer crowds, less journalists in the press room, a much more manageable amount of watches to see. The latter is quite important as it puts the focus on what should be most important: the spotlight watches.
I find it interesting that Baselworld’s numbers in the closing press release don’t seem to quite match my perceptions: the fair organization claims +2.3 percent journalists and -3 percent exhibitors, buyers, and visitors over the 2015 numbers. Of course, perceptions can be deceiving.
AS: For once in my nine years in the watch scene, I felt that a number of brands had solid lineups of “bang for horological bucks” timepieces. I know this one’s not for everyone, but take Angelus for example: A skeletonized flying tourbillon with some hand-finishing for less than $30,000? An automatic tourbillon chronograph with rattrapante and double column-wheel flyback for less than $70,000?
I don’t really care how the market will react; as a collector with more opinions than funds, this is a refreshing change of pace.
ED: Amr, you are absolutely correct to bring that up. Arnold & Son and its sister brand Angelus really did a bang-up job of surprising visitors this year with such a great, creative, and well-priced collection.
And I also felt that with this being such a “we need to be careful” year, many other brands also showed lines that are great value for money.
Best of show: a watch of exceptional merit
IS: My pick for “Best of Show” – and what a difficult choice this was – has to go to the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire as this timepiece ticks all of the boxes for me: interesting movement, great watchmaking, high precision, distinctive (but not too flashy) good looks, and an interesting and horologically useful complication. The slim case is very refined, and at 39.5 mm is very wearable. The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire was neither the most complicated watch at Baselworld 2016, nor even the most noticeable, but in my view just quietly epitomizes everything that makes great horology great.
GG: Sadly, my best of show watch is one that can’t be shown! It was a truly remarkable one-off version of Romain Gauthier’s Logical One Secret that its owner wants to keep out of the public eye.
A great metiers d’art piece that was on display and can be shown is the Hermès Arceau Tigre. And it was even greater to meet the artist behind the intricately engraved and enameled dial, listening as Olivier Vaucher described his methods.
AS: I’d like to say this one’s a no-brainer. Without any exaggeration, the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire left the biggest impression on me . . . not only of any watch at Baselworld 2016, but of any watch I’ve seen in years. I’m not talking about the super-complications and concept watches out there, but things that are sort of attainable with a timeless appeal. I’m currently experiencing the biggest watch crush of my life.
After the Remontoire, looking at the case backs of 99 percent of watches out there has only led me to disappointed disheartenment. I applaud the loveable Grönefeld brothers for coming out with the perfect watch at the perfect time and – perhaps most importantly for a budding collector such as myself – the perfect price.
ED: For me, though, it is really almost too hard to call as I saw so many incredible timepieces again this year at Baselworld – the fair is a time when the enthusiast in me really kicks in and I come away with a huge sense of optimism by the end regardless of whatever else might have been looming over the atmosphere.
There are so many watches I could single out here, but the objective is to name just one.
And so I will go with the one that I would have least expected to pick had I been asked before the show: the Hermès Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu (for the full details on this, please see the story I published on the first day of Baselworld: Introducing The Exquisite Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu).
The Slim d’Hermès really, really caught my eye last year as a daily wearer expressing understated elegance and style in any situation. I would never have believed it myself, but the addition of the high-fire enamel dial by Donzé Cadrans adds so much more to it than I would have ever thought. And like a true Hermès product, this addition is nuanced: you have to look for the difference. But once you see it, you can never unsee it, and it sticks with you like the taste of a very fine French wine you sipped weeks ago.
Urban Jürgensen Jules Collection Reference 2240 with enamel dial and red gold case
IS: And then there was the Urban Jürgensen Jules Collection Reference 2240 RG. The only reason this watch doesn’t rate higher for me is that I’d prefer that sensational grenage (frosted) dial “uncut,” meaning without date aperture.
GG: At our week-ending dinner, other members of our small group of enthusiast collectors had a range of picks for best of show that included the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, the Breguet La Tradition Minute Repeater, and the Rolex Daytona with Cerachrom bezel.
Worst of show: really bad or just disappointing given its potential
IS: Luckily this category isn’t more specific and did not read “Worst Watch of Show” as I would have had to put a lot more thought into this selection. However, as it stands Hautlence is a clear winner for me in this category. The Playground Labyrinth is best described in the brand’s own words as “an entirely essential yet fundamentally useless object.” But that’s not really true; it’s really only a fundamentally useless object as an interesting game for the wrist. And if the watches we wear make a statement about us, I fear that the Playground Labyrinth isn’t saying anything nice.
The Playground Labyrinth is a result of what happens when a small brand has already shown its new models at the SIHH in January and is desperate for a Baselworld talking point. I will give Hautlence kudos for creating a talking piece − and as I’m giving the brand free publicity here, it clearly worked − but as far as I’m concerned the Playground Labyrinth is just a clutching-at-straws non-event. Apparently there are plans to extend the Playground collection, but I’d suggest that the brand’s efforts might be better focused on what they do best: making interesting watches.
ED: At the risk of being a “me-tooer,” I couldn’t agree with Ian more. Sorry, guys, this one just didn’t work for me for all of the above-mentioned reasons.
GG: I was really disappointed with the Breguet La Tradition Répétition Minutes. It’s a piece that from an engineer’s perspective should be the greatest sounding chiming watch ever, but while the sound was certainly big its tonality wasn’t to my taste at all.
IS: I agree Gary, it appeared to me that Breguet’s movement designers and watchmakers managed to get the sound that they were after and hat’s off to that. But that target sound (as played on a computer) sounded dead. For all the work that Breguet put into the La Tradition Répétition Minutes I found the result very disappointing.
AS: I wouldn’t call the one I’m about to name the worst of the show, but for me it was the biggest letdown because it’s a watch that’s so close to perfection, but not close enough for me to buy it: the Tudor Black Bay Bronze.
It had all the makings of a modern classic. And while I didn’t mind the brown dial (I would’ve still preferred it to be darker and richer), the modern Explorer-style layout with applied 3-6-9 makes no sense to me on a vintage-inspired diver’s watch. Also, the aluminum-bronze alloy Tudor is using is quite inert and doesn’t have the same patina potential. So don’t expect that underwater buried treasure look to develop on the case. At best it will tarnish and darken to, well, brown. That’s it.
Another disappointment for me was the MB&F HMX Black Badger edition, not because of the watch itself, which I actually dig like just about everything my friend James “Black Badger” Thompson does (I own two of his rings and his Sarpaneva collaboration Northern Lights piece), but because of the message it carries vis-a-vis the way the original series was presented as a sort of “thank you” for longtime supporters of the brand, and that it would be a one-shot run. If I had bought one of the original HMX models, I would be pretty upset with MB&F’s self-contradiction, to say the least.
GG: Other “pans” from our collector dinner included the Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon (a piece that I’ll confess I rather liked), the Omega Constellation Annual Calendar (cited for the somewhat fussy month notations in the recesses of the pie-pan dial), and the new white and red gold versions of the Patek Philippe Reference 5396 Annual Calendar with prominent Patek Philippe logos and Breguet numerals (“everything that’s wrong with Patek Philippe design today”).
ED: Perception is a funny thing, Gary. I quite like Patek Philippe’s Reference 5396!
Watch you would buy with your own money?
IS: It took me quite a few years to understand Arnold & Son enough to really appreciate the brand, but now that I do I’m continually blown away, both by the quantity of new models − all with specially developed in-house movements − and the superb quality of manufacture and finishing.
“All models with specially developed in-house movements . . . ” is worth repeating: consider just how few brands can claim to have developed a completely new movement for each new model/collection (or thereabouts)? Perhaps Greubel Forsey, F.P. Journe, A. Lange & Söhne, Romain Gauthier, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. But that’s about where this sort of exceptional way of working halts.
And then there’s the very competitive pricing. Arnold & Son is evolving into my perfect brand. The new Nebula, at $14,500 in a very wearable 41.5 x 9.73 mm stainless steel case, is not just a great watch, it’s great value for such an exclusive watch as well (see A New Astral Body Is Born: The Arnold & Son Nebula).
ED: At the risk of sounding like a parrot once again, I wholeheartedly agree with Ian’s assessment and had already tagged the Nebula as a possible future purchase for myself after our Baselworld meeting. Not only was I drawn by its visuals (technical and airy all at the same time), but its price blew me away.
Another I may have tagged for myself is the new GoS Sarek, though upon putting it side-by-side with the Winter Nights, I became torn between the two. I am a real sucker for damascened steel, and the way that Gustafsson and Sjögren use this artisanal metal really melts my heart.
GG: The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoir was one of the sensations of the fair, and it’s my “own money” watch pick for Baselworld 2016. I was particularly impressed by how dramatically Bart and Tim updated the case design relative to their earlier pieces while at the same time making the aesthetics of the highly inventive movement even more engaging than their earlier work.
AS: My “own money” watch is probably also the Grönefeld, even if it means I have to liquidate a good portion of my humble collection to make it happen (and I will). It’s that good, and frankly even at its suggested retail price of €49,000, it is a bargain.
GG: Other members of our collector group picked the guilloche-dial re-edition of the Breguet Hora Mundi, the updated Rolex Explorer with Chromalight display, and once again the new stainless steel Daytona.
Watch you would buy if money were no object
IS: You are at Baselworld having a great time and then somebody points a gun against your head and says, “Quick, pick any watch at the fair for yourself, money no object, I’ll pay. Choose well or else.” And it’s for you to keep, not to sell.
Well, I will zig while others zag here and not pick a complicated wristwatch, but a crazy clock instead: Miki Eleta’s BY2112ME. This incredible piece of highly animated mechanical art features the following (I suggest taking a deep breath here): retrograde minutes, jumping hours, indications for weekday, moon phase, and world time in what looks like a flying saucer. Then there’s the fact that the moon phase display is three-dimensional and the regulator is Eleta’s own constant force gravity tourbillon with chronometer escapement. That will do nicely, thank you, don’t bother to wrap.
GG: The new-for-2016 watch for me, if I’m spending your money, is the Sauterelle à Lune Perpetuelle Exacte from Andreas Strehler with its mind-blowing two-million-year moon phase accuracy and precise Vernier-scale display of the age of the moon. There aren’t that many objects in this world that are both accurate and precise!
If I get to cheat a bit, my second choice here would be another Strehler watch: the Papillon d’Or in rose gold with its “mystery” hands and wonderfully carved butterfly bridge. Too many great watches, too little (of your) money, I suspect!
ED: My colleagues saw it in my face during our appointment at the A.H.C.I. booth, and I will make absolutely no secret of it: if money were no object, I would have spent 240,000 Swiss francs of your money to order Antoine Preziuso’s latest oeuvre right then and there, the new Munionalusta Stella Polare, a tourbillon watch with many main components cut from meteorite.
In fact, I was so enamored of the perfect fit and sparkly visuals (sparkle without resorting to gemstones, mind you) of this timepiece, I wanted to name it to my WatchesTV Top 5 Ladies’ Watches segment. But as it was not really conceived as a ladies’ watch, I decided against putting it in the lineup with other “true” ladies’ watches.
AS: My money-no-object watch would be the Dominique Renaud DR01 (see Dominique Renaud’s DR01 ‘Twelve First’ With Blade Resonator, Experimental Rotary Escapement, And Panoramic 360° Views), even though it hasn’t materialized just yet. I do believe it’s more than doable, especially after visiting Dominique at his workshop and seeing all his scale models of the various escapement parts working. Though if money were indeed no object, I’d have them redesign the entire case and dial just for me.
GG: My collector friends named a diverse set of pieces that included the simpler update of the Antoine Preziuso Tourbillon of Tourbillons (it seemed that cleaner versions of ornate watches were quite popular this year), the De Bethune DB28 Kind of Blue (also my wife’s favorite at SIHH where we saw it under embargo), and two watches from Kari Voutilainen: his Kaen watch with Japanese inlay dial and movement and a unique gem-set version of his mainstay Vingt-8.
Once our conversation got going, two other current production watches from Patek Philippe, neither of them brand-new this year, got some love: the outgoing Reference 5074R Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar and last year’s hit, the Reference 5370P split-seconds chronograph.
An investment watch
GG: Using my friend Terry’s definition of an “investment” watch as a piece with relatively predictable value that can serve as a foundational part of a collection, I’m led directly to the new Rolex Daytona with its ceramic bezel.
At a much higher price point, I loved the Patek Philippe Reference 5204R split-seconds perpetual calendar: it’s one of those instances for me in which changing the color palette of an existing watch completely transforms it, in this case from stark black and white to a rose-and-cream beauty.
AS: People actually buy modern watches thinking they’re investments . . .? Maybe the Kari Voutilainen Kaen, then, which is just wow.
ED: I understand your sentiment there, Amr, but, yes, there are people who consider certain wristwatches as investments – which is definitely riskier than the stock market!
Here I would have to agree with Gary’s favorite investment watch. That ceramic bezel on the Daytona won me over, though probably unlike my male counterparts here I am drawn to the white version rather than the black.
A patronage watch
GG: Looks as if my overall choices are pretty heavily skewed toward the independents, which I guess is no surprise to those who know me. A “patronage” piece is almost by definition bought to encourage the work of a deserving independent watchmaker, and this year I was bowled over by Stepan Sarpaneva’s K3 Northern Stars in a red gold version with deep black enamel dial.
By the way, if you’re still buying (see the “money no object” segment above), I’m also heading over to Akrivia for the Regulateur Tourbillon with hand-hammered gold dial.
IS: Thanks to Hermès, the meeting we had with Geneva engraver Olivier Vaucher was one of the highlights of Baselworld for me. The incredible art and craft that went into creating the exquisitely intricate dial of the Hermes Arceau Tigre was superlative on all scales (except its modest size). And this was the first watch dial created using the incredibly detailed “shaded enamel” technique!
When Vaucher first thought about creating a dial using the “shaded enamel” technique, he knew what a labor-intensive (aka expensive) project it was that he would have to sell. His first thought was Hermès, and what a result that partnership has achieved. Ownership of an Hermès Arceau Tigre won’t simply put a smile on your face every time you look at (or think about) the dial, it also makes you a patron of the arts.
ED: I could also have put this as my “money no object” watch: I was extremely enamored of Kari Voutilainen’s Kaen watch with Japanese inlay dial and movement. And if I were the type of solvent collector who could afford to buy patronage watches, this would probably be my first stop.
AS: This one’s tough as there are many independents I’d love to support. Akrivia would get my vote, as I feel they’re on the verge of doing extraordinary things. Sure, these pieces still have a very homemade feel, which I actually find charming, but I have a good feeling about the future of the Rexhepi brothers.
I also absolutely loved Andreas Strehler’s Lune Exacte, which contains the most accurate moon phase in a wristwatch without really looking much like a moon phase watch.
Another timepiece that caught me completely off-guard was by young independent watchmaker and A.H.C.I. candidate Kim Djapri: his new venture Bélier.
ED: I met the very friendly Kim Djapri a few years ago as he works with Marco Lang at Lang & Heyne. I recognized then how talented he is, and I am so happy for him in his new role as an A.H.C.I. candidate. This is a very lust-worthy piece, and also worthy of becoming a patronage watch.
A fun watch
IS: While it’s not so much a “fun watch” as “the watch I’d most likely wear while having fun,” the Tudor Black Bay Bronze is another in a series of homeruns for this reinvigorated brand. A C.O.S.C.-certified in-house caliber with automatic winding, 70-hour power reserve, non-magnetic silicon balance spring, and water resistance to 200 meters. . . . and all of that for just $3,975? That’s fun!
GG: A piece that I can afford, may or may not keep forever, but would love to have on my wrist right now? It’s the Omega Speedmaster Co-Axial Master Chronometer – the deep blue one.
ED: Probably a watch I would never wear, but I have to admit that I was instantly drawn to for its “fun” quality is the Stepan Sarpaneva Joker.
AS: Perhaps an erotic watch from Svend Andersen, those are always a hoot. If by fun you mean something affordable, then perhaps the Oris Carl Brashear, a bronze diver done right for less than $3,000.
A fantasy/money no object watch
GG: A complete fantasy watch is, of course, one so stratospheric in cost that I wouldn’t ever ask you to spend your money on it – but I’d be delighted if you did!
For me at Baselworld 2016 that was the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime in its newly purposeful white gold incarnation. The highly ornate launch version wasn’t for me, but I’d happily own this one any time – and eagerly strap it on my wrist for the most special occasions.
ED: In that same vein, I will go with the Bulgari Serpenti Incantati Skeleton Tourbillon. This is a 41 mm round watch – yes, round, even though it’s a Serpenti model. The new Serpenti Incantati line features a redesigned head and body coiling around the case.
This Skeleton Tourbillon houses just what its name promises: a beautifully skeletonized tourbillon that Bulgari and Daniel Roth fans may remember from the Tourbillon Lumière. This, fellas, is a female watch aficionado’s dream – with a price tag to match.
My only problem would be that – much like wearing big jewels – I’d have nowhere acceptable to wear it except watch GTGs or the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s fancy red carpet evening.
IS: I honestly cannot think of any even remotely conceivable occasion − outside of a watch collectors’ meeting − in which I might comfortably (in terms of the right watch for the occasion) wear a Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. But that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest as it looks and feels like such a horologically well-executed piece of pure nautical joy. Watch that huge retrograde minute hand boom swing across the deck for more than a few minutes and you start to smell the salt in the air.
And was that a parrot?
Also published on Medium.