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Opinion: Baselworld 2019

The show of the year is behind us, here's what caught our eye.
Opinion: Baselworld 2019

A few weeks ago we published our Baselworld predictions along with what to expect from the show in terms of trends and themes. As the dust settles from this year’s show, we’re left with a reality that has diverged from the expected path by a few degrees. As usual. Some of the biggest surprises didn’t come in the form of watches released (though, there were a few of those), but rather in the overall tone and direction we see the brands taking.

Overall I’d call this a conservative year for the show, with no real showstopper to be found among the releases. One thing we were expecting to see was a continuing trend toward more manageable cases sizes, with a strong eye toward wearability. On that front, we see mixed results, with the most notable absence coming from Tudor, who did not expand on the Black Bay 58 line. Additionally, Rolex released a new Yacht-Master but sized it up from 40mm to 42mm in diameter. Even Patek introduced a new Aquanaut in a jumbo case. The reasons for this tap into a broad theme of this year’s show.

Outside the Patek Philippe booth, credit: Atom Moore

If you’ve tried to buy any popular steel sport watch from the above brands over the past 12 months you may have noticed their lack of availability through authorized retail channels. Seeing their releases this year suggests they may be intending to fill a little more of that demand before releasing a new batch of unobtanium references into the world to further frustrate collectors. Don’t take that to mean it’ll be easier to get sought after models, but a “year off” with these new models allows a bit of that tension to be eased. This could be why we saw watches released that may appeal to a slightly different crowd, i.e. larger watches, precious metal watches, oddball watches like the P01, and even two-toned watches.

That brings me to another trend that has taken another step into the spotlight this year, two-toned watches. We saw it from Tudor in the Black Bay Chronograph family, and we saw it from Rolex in the …Sea-Dweller family. You read that correctly. While the historical precedent is there, the Sea-Dweller family of watches that served as the last bastion of true tool watches from the brand. No polished center links, no precious metals, no fuss – all business. That’s been the mantra of the Sea-Dweller, until this year. Of course, these days Rolex is interested in making luxury products that are also purpose built tools, so it’s not shocking to see the release of a two-toned Sea-Dweller. References either evolve or they die. Think of it like the Viper and Z06 Corvette, one of them eventually got an automatic transmission while the other never did, and one of them is still around as a result (not that I condone the existence of the automatic Z06).

Let me note here that I have not seen any of these watches in the flesh, and will reserve final judgement until I do. But not every watch had me scratching my head, there was a lot to love released by brands like Oris, Bulgari, Seiko, and even throwbacks from the likes of Bulova and Zodiac. These are the watches that stood out to me this year, for better or worse.

Tudor P01

Photo credit: Atom Moore

This watch is on my radar for a couple of reasons. First and foremost for what it isn’t. Tudor clearly struck a nerve last year with the Black Bay 58, the fact that they remain elusive at ADs a full year later is testament to that. Because of this, I (and many others) were expecting another step in that direction by releasing more dial and bezel combination for the 58, as well as a new model built in the mold of the old Tudor Submariner. We got neither of those things. Instead, the P01 was a completely unexpected turn into a new direction, and I give Tudor credit for that. This watch has been the source of many heated discussions, and if anything it’s caused people to take notice of a little known piece of Tudor’s past. That’s the second reason it’s on this list, it’s new, as in “wtf is that?” new. Regardless of my feelings on the design, I admire what Tudor has done here and I hope to see elements of this watch applied to future watches from the shield (especially those hour plots).

Zodiac Aerospace GMT Limited Edition

Zodiac is a historic brand that’s been making some welcome moves in recent years. Their latest reissue taps into some serious ‘70s vibes done in a very approachable manner. The two colorways, one in cool grey colors and the other in navy and orange, are spot on in their execution without being overdone. Toss in the workhorse ETA 2893 which keeps the 40mm case at 13mm thick, and the price well under $2,000. The only downside is how limited they are, with just 182 of each color being produced, and yes, they are already sold out. Keep an eye out for these on StockX in the coming weeks. This is a fun, accessible watch, but the real message here is that Zodiac continues to make the right moves and is a brand we should be paying attention to in the coming years.

Monta Atlas GMT

Much like Zodiac, Monta has positioned themselves as a viable option for enthusiasts with well considered designs and more importantly well considered cases. Take their latest release, the Atlas GMT for instance, the dial has depth, and effectively balances complexity with readability with just enough color in the right places. The watch features time, date and GMT complications packed into a case that measures just 38.5mm in diameter and 10.2mm in thickness. Those are seriously impressive numbers for a watch that starts under $1,500.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Chronograph

Photo credit: Atom Moore

We talked about this watch on the blog already, but this one is a stand out from the show this year for me. Not only is the overall design and case construction avant garde, but it represents the world’s thinnest automatic chronograph, revealed in the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the very first automatic chronograph. The watch is another piece of the horological foundations Bulgari is forging and it’s a refreshing presence in the midst of watch brands looking to the past for inspiration.

Patek Philippe 5212A

Photo credit: Atom Moore

If you read our Baselworld Predictions post you’ll know that we were keeping an eye out for something new in the Calatrava family. Patek didn’t disappoint with the release of a new reference 5212A, which offers a new weekly calendar complication, a steel case, and vintage good looks. Read more about the watch right here, but this one is a stand out hit for me due to the sheer unexpected details like the “hand written” dial, and well, the weekly complication.

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