Baselworld, the annual watch-industry trade fair in Basel, Switzerland, has seen headier times. The brands of industry giant Swatch Group, along with a host of others, have opted out of this year’s fair, continuing a trend that’s seen the number of exhibiting watchmakers dwindle by more than half since 2017 and the exhibition space drastically reduced. Baselworld, however, remains a rite of spring for retailers, media, and influencers worldwide who ply their trade in the horological world, especially because many of the event’s tentpoles—including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Bulgari, and TAG Heuer—remain.
Hundreds of important new timepieces will make their worldwide debut, continuing a tradition that stretches back to the first Schweizer Mustermesse Basel in 1917. Many of these timepieces, of course, are shrouded in secrecy until their unveiling during the week of March 21-26, but here are a handful of notables we’ve had a chance to see thus far.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass
Bell & Ross takes its hallmark aviation-dashboard aesthetic to a new height with the BR 03-92 Bi-Compass, whose design is based on that of a vintage radio compass. It will be a piece you buy for its striking looks: The dial is arranged as three concentric circles, the innermost a rotating hour disk with a triangular pointer coated with sea-foam-colored luminous paint. The pointer indicates the hour on the Arabic numerals and indexes that occupy the middle zone, also treated with blue-green lume. The outer circle, elevated from the others by a steep rehaut, features numerals and indexes for the minutes, indicated by a central minute hand; both the hand and indexes have a contrasting cream-colored luminous treatment. The BR 03-92 Bi-Compass is housed in a 42-millimeter matte black ceramic case and powered by a Sellita movement.
Bulgari Gérald Genta 50th Anniversary
What does one do for an encore after giving the world such icons as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus? Legendary watch designer Gérald Genta started his own eponymous brand, with its own distinctive design language, in 1969. His atelier was later absorbed into its eventual owner, watch and jewelry powerhouse Bulgari, and its technical and aesthetic savoir-faire contributed to the evolution of the Bulgari watch portfolio. This year, Bulgari pays tribute to Genta, who died in 2011, with a special platinum-cased edition, the Gérald Genta 50th Anniversary watch. Here, a blue lacquered dial displays a jumping hour numeral in a round window at 12 o’clock, and the minutes and date on two retrograde hands. This is a timekeeping configuration that was emblematic of pre-Bulgari Gérald Genta watches. Powered by the self-winding BVL caliber, the watch features the classical Genta brand logo on the dial.
Grand Seiko Elegance Collection
Once Japan’s best-kept horological secret, Grand Seiko continues to win over enthusiasts worldwide since it entered the U.S. market. For 2019 the watchmaker has introduced a manual-winding movement made entirely in-house, placing it inside four new models in its dressy Elegance collection. Caliber 9S63 powers a simple two-handed time display balanced by a small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock and a power-reserve indicator at 3 o’clock. It ticks inside a slimmer, 39mm case hand-finished with Seiko’s Zaratsu polishing, a technique that yields sharp, mirrorlike surfaces. Japanese artisanship is also on display on two of the four dials, finished in the centuries-old urushi lacquer process, in which sap from a specific Japanese tree is applied layer by layer to the dial.
Price: Starting at $4,300
Breitling Premier Bentley Centenary Limited Edition
Breitling and Bentley have maintained a partnership since 2003—it’s the longest-running such watchmaker-carmaker collaboration—and the relationship continues in 2019, not coincidentally the 100th anniversary year for Bentley Motors. The Premier Bentley Centenary Edition accompanies the rollout of the new Continental GT Number 9. Offered in a 200-piece edition in rose gold and a 1,000-piece series in steel, the watch sports a handsome brown elm burl dial reminiscent of the wood inserts on the car’s dashboard, with contrasting black chronograph subdials and a racing-inspired tachymeter scale. A special Bentley-branded plaque, designed like those found on historical dashboards, identifies the watch on its left-hand side, while the brown leather strap has a stitched pattern reminiscent of Bentley car seats. Powering the watch is Breitling’s self-winding in-house caliber B01.
Price: Starting at $9,500
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver
While Zenith’s biggest news of 2019 is the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking El Primero chronograph models, the brand is not neglecting its historically inspired Pilot Type 20 collection. It’s launching the first of the military aviation-inspired watch in a case made of silver, a precious metal found only rarely in the watch world. Its dial continues the theme, with a shiny, silvered finish punctuated by rivets that call to mind the fuselage of a vintage warplane, and its solid silver case back features a period-appropriate engraving of the Zenith Flight Instruments logo. Inside beats Zenith’s in-house Elite caliber, a non-chrono version of the El Primero movement. Price:$7,700