Article : A Yorkshireman On Tour, Baselworld 2019

BaselWorld has always excited.  I’m usually glued to social media with post after post washing over me as the press folk we follow so avidly, try to get out news on the latest and greatest in their own inimitable style.  Excitement rains for a day and a judging community stands ready to shift the thumb in one direction or another.

This year I wanted to be there.  To experience the buzz, the revelation, to feel part of the wave of innovation and iteration which would more than likely impact the context for the following year, horologically speaking and potentially, if something came along that was really significant, amend my wish list.  So a Car>Plane>Bus later and I’m walking into a side entrance to Basel.

It’s the first day of the show where us mere mortals are allowed to tread the hallowed turf.  I was sat at work a day earlier when the world lit up from BW’s press day with the news of multiple releases from the shows heavyweights.  So I am arriving with a slight feeling of anti-climax given that the bullets have been fired, the sheet pulled away and we now know the collective design strategies of many of the premier brands that graced us with their presence.

Speaking of these revelations, this year feels like the year of misinformation.  Milgauss-gate from the House of Rolex and Submariner-gate from its sibling all providing an exciting narrative to a week, that now, feels like it’s failed to deliver.  We may, unfortunately, have to live with the fact that brands love to follow their own creative direction and not necessarily pander to the aspirations of its informed public.

I walked into the precious stone side of Basel.  I was a stranger in a strange land and definitely in the wrong room.  A detour took me to the upper floor of Hall 1 that had a quieter, ethereal vibe.  I passed Citizen and lingered on a presentation in Japanese.  I’m a little bit mesmerized not only by the presentation but by the booth design which has a few thousand suspended mechanisms glinting in the artificial lighting. There I was in a multicultural, horological Nirvana.

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Up stepped NOMOS.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the brand though not yet found their product at the top of my list.  Lug shape is sometimes an issue; they always look so long.  I have flirted in the past with the idea of buying an 807 World-timer / GMT (depending on who you ask).  That reference was sat there, behind a sheet of glass, taunting me with its sublime form … but HELLO,  my head was turned for its younger cousin.  A stunning black dialed Club Campus Sport with a steel bracelet was stealing my attention.  That is a visual delight.  If I can get past the resemblance to the Nixon 51-30, I could fall hard for that watch.

It was a short walk to the next booth.  Grand Seiko!  This is reminding me of the Foo Fighters on tour playing Everlong (one of my favourites) as the first song.  Surely it should have been played at the end of the night as a final celebration.  The Grand Seiko’s were beautiful.

 

The eight-day reserve Spring Drive (9R01) with no power indicator looked both simply stunning and stunningly simple.

A new elegance piece the SBGY003 looking too much for me like the ‘cocktail’ range and a host of new elegant hand wound Urushi lacquer dials (9S63) which fell into dress watch territory and the badass SPGA403 which speaks to the inner Sniper in us all.

My personal focus has been around the Elegant Collection’s GMTs and so I spent ages at Grand Seiko.  It was surprisingly quiet with the hoards still buzzing around the premier honey pots.  Here I lingered building my own personal affinity in the still, calm atmosphere of craftsmanship, with my good friends SBGJ217 and SBGJ011.

 

Grand Seiko led to Seiko.  A green dialed presage caught my attention though I prefer my blue one.

Prospex divers a plenty can be found and a £5K Seiko with a Spring Drive which somehow fries my mind in terms of both price and concept.  The Seiko Prospex Diver SLA019 stole this particular display with its celebration of GREEN.

 

From a trend perspective, I expected to see case sizes decreasing based on a feeling consumers were heading this way but this didn’t seem to be realised, at least not this year.  The Rolex Yacht Master and Tudor’s PO1 at 42mm, Tudors Black Bay Bronze at 43mm, Sinn 206 Arktis at 43mm (and 17mm thick) make bold statements on the wrist.

Ladies watches looked a little more visible with some booths emphasising product in this space.  The new Patek Nautilus 7118 providing some premier hardware as well as additions to its Twenty Four line.  It was good to see the likes of Grand Seiko and Patek demonstrating female watches that didn’t necessarily require encrusting in diamonds and I would say that windows featuring women’s only watches were common.  In terms of dial colour Green is the new Blue (Aquanaught, Seiko Presage, Seiko  SLA019 etc), although Blue is obviously still very prevalent (see the new releases from Oris and Sinn).

The first day was drawing to  close (for me at least) and early Baselworld had been a distinctly pleasant experience.  It is a trade fair after all and as you would imagine press and commercial interest take priority – especially in terms of hands on experience.  The exceptions here are Oris, lovely Oris, who welcome one and all and positively encourage you to paw over the latest pieces and also the smaller independent contingent who are happy to engage and share their passion.  Incidentally, that Oris bronze body green dial Big Crown Pointer Date, it had me at hello!

It’s not a bad old day when you can hang around a few hundred watches sitting side by side. You can validate the weird green Aquanaught is a weird green and ask yourself if the shiney blue Oris is a little too shiney.  Also, I am not sure I have seen one Sinn out in the real world.  Here I can see their entire collection and make visual side-by-side comparisons of EZM’s or 104’s.  Same goes for Patek, for Rolex, for Ice Watches (oh no what have I said).  The place is huge.  I leave pondering what I’ve missed.

Day 2 begins with security enforcing a 9am start. A boy can try.  I am politely ushered to the lobby where I pour over maps of the Halls.  There it is!  I seem to have missed a few thousand feet of exhibition space across the road and this starts my second day.  Downstairs sit some independent heavyweights from the weird (MB&F) to the wonderful (Grönefeld).  Upstairs, the Watch Laboratory, where more modest offerings celebrate passion and diversity.

I had made one appointment prior to the show after reading with interest an article about the upcoming Urban Jurgensen One.  A premier sports watch that didn’t hang on the coat-tails of the mythical Genta.  I had to see it and understand the ambition and the design process to tackle one of our most celebrated of watch sectors.  I introduced myself to the CEO, Soren Petersen who welcomed me into the inner Urban sanctum.  The guy was a true gent and for half an hour or so, he discussed the sector, highlighted the design challenge and the subsequent build and welcomed a mere enthusiast to try on a number of pieces until I found one with the right bracelet proportions. Sublime bracelet and a cracking watch. I wonder how it practically competes with some of the holy trinity offerings but they can perhaps take some comfort in the fact that the Royal Oak wouldn’t sell in the early days of release.  He was also keen to highlight the distribution options in Scotland via Hamilton & Inches of Edinburgh.  I may have mentioned ScottishWatches.co.uk 😉

I wander back to Hall 1 where I am chastised for trying to photograph a massive jewellery piece.  Perhaps they objected to my attempt to use my torch to demonstrate light diffraction through the huge jewel in a Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon album cover styley.  Some people have no love for the sciences!

I met up with #nicks_swiss_watch outside Oris.  Here IG #watchfam strangers, met, laughed, shared stories of parallel geeking out before time constraints ushered us on.  This I really enjoyed and it represented an engaging side of the show where likeminded people can’t help but stumble over their similarities in passion and outlook.

Time is pressing.  Two days feels about right, to see what there is to see.  I finish with a spin around a few other brands:- Muhle Glasshutte, Doxa, Laco, Squale (Doxa do non dive watches too – who knew!).  On my way out I pass by Grand Seiko to say goodbye to SBGJ217 and SBGJ211.  I hope I might see one of them soon back in blighty.

I fly back to Edinburgh, exhausted, reflecting on my time in Switzerland.  The things I have seen; Tag Heuer Autavia’s that look half decent; $70000 all gold Doxa’s; 55mm Laco pilot watches, ALL Rolex steel sports models; Cara and Stephen from Hodinkee, celebrities from that popular ScottishWatches podcast – what is not to love.

A few days on and I’m a bit sick of hearing about the show if I’m honest.  The show is intense and so is the recycled opinion after the event but I have found myself all the more interested in the opinion of commentators who didn’t go along – just to see their take from the media.

I very much enjoyed the experience, seeing more watches than I could shake a stick at and meeting some awesome people.  On that basis I’d recommend a visit.  This year didn’t challenge my wish list as much as I may have wanted it to but I am all the more richer for the people I have met, the expedition to foreign soil and the bewildering diversity of wrist based wonder that was laid out for me to dwell upon.

 

@jonwatchsmith

Find this watch obsessed Yorkshireman at https://www.instagram.com/Jonwatchsmith/