Monochrome Watches
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Frank Geelen’s Baselworld 2017 Top 10 and Musing about the Fair

| By Frank Geelen | 15 min read |
Top 10 Baselworld 2017 Frank Geelen

Back in 2008 the world faced a new challenge. The worldwide financial crisis began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The following year the watch industry was kind of nervous and saw a small drop in sales. And while the financial crisis went on, on a global scale (we’re still recovering from that), the big crisis in the watch industry didn’t really come through… yet. Last year was the first year that brands and luxury groups published numbers that showed serious signs of the crisis, and this year’s numbers are actually more than worrisome. This year the crisis could also be felt in the novelties as presented by the brands, not only during the SIHH in January, but also at the 100th edition of the Baselworld Watch & Jewelry show that has just come to an end. Still, it was possible to list ten watches that got me exited! However first some musings about this year’s edition of Baselworld…

Seiko 62Mas Re-edition SLA017 - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Seiko 62Mas Re-edition SLA017

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More of the same, yet better proportioned

In previous years we saw more complicated, more hand-made and hand-finished watches. This year the brands mainly showed reworked collections, some ‘minimal’ changes to collections, and ‘small’ novelties. That’s necessarily a bad thing, and it might even clean up brand’s catalogues (with often way too many collections). Since a few years we already see that brands have reworked existing collections to slightly more elegant and wearable proportions. The Rolex DateJust II has been modified to become the DateJust 41, similar for the DayDate II, and the (now out-phased) Sea-Dweller ref. 116600 featured more elegant lugs and case shapes than for instance it’s sister the Submariner (that still features the beefy lugs). This year Oris does the exact same with the popular Aquis collection.

Oris Aquis Date 43mm - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

The general consensus among team Monochrome was that the offering at this year’s Baselworld was rather… dare I say it… boring. However there were certainly some watches that stood out from the crowd! Before I move on to my top 10, I’d like to share some novelties that could have made it to my top 10, and touch upon some topics that certainly caught my attention.

Rolex Datejust 41 steel - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Personally I was no fan of the bulky DateJust II and seeing the new DateJust 41 is like a breathe of fresh air compared to its predecessor. Rolex seems to have done everything right on the new DJ41 and it’s very good to finally see the stainless steel models, including that lovely jubilee bracelet, being presented. Maybe not top 10 material, but certainly something that will A) be good for Rolex’ turnover of this (and coming) years and B) resonate very well with Rolex aficionados who have been asking for this, for many years.

Stainless steel instead of gold

Similar for the Sky-Dweller. I love it, the annual calendar and second timezone complications are great, and so well executed. And now finally available in steel/gold and stainless steel with white gold fluted bezel, and the starting price of € 13.250 Euro is just superb for the most complicated Rolex in the entire collection. However it is also breaking with the way that Rolex has dealt with precious metal and the DayDate in the past. The Sky-Dweller could be regarded as the epitome of Rolex complicated watches, and in the past that immediately meant it would never become available in stainless steel… and now it is available in stainless steel. Strange? For sure! However also very welcome, and like the 41mm stainless steel Datejust, it will be very good for Rolex’s annual sales figures.

Rolex Sky-dweller steel - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Retro-inspiration: unexpected pleasure or worrisome sign?

For the past years we have seen many watch brands introduce retro-inspired models, or even collections. However when Patek Philippe launched the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time ref. 5524 some 2 years ago, I was baffled. Patek didn’t play on the “vintage” emotions. And now they did. This year they do it again with a Calatrava Perpetual Calendar (that is absolutely lovely), and with the ref. 5960 Annual Calendar Chronograph that now comes with a matte dark blue dial, similar to the dial of the aforementioned ref. 5524.

Patek Philippe Annual calendar Chronograph 5960g - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Another moment that my jaw almost hit the floor, was when I saw the new Rolex SeaDweller that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, however I’ve never seen Rolex come with a retro-inspired model, or even with some small retro-inspired design features. Unheard of (but it looks absolutely cool).

Seiko already used the retro-inspiration since a few years. Re-editions of the Grand Seiko 44GS, the Spring Drive version of the Golden Tuna (ref. SBDB008), the Marine Master 1000m Emperor Tuna Rose Gold (ref. SBDX014) and the retro-inspired “Turtle” are collector’s favorites. This year the Japanese watch brand comes with more vintage-inspired watches, and the message that Grand Seiko will, as of now, sail along as a separate brand!

Grand Seiko reedition first - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Now why could this be worrisome? I’m not worried about either of the three mentioned brands, however seeing Rolex introduce certain models in steel instead of precious metals is unusual. And their first model with a retro-inspired red writing on the dial (we could expect something like that from sister brand Tudor, but from Rolex themselves…?)  is certainly unusual, to say the least. However it looks great.

Similarly for Patek Philippe. Another brand that didn’t play on the retro-inspiration, and only introduced strictly classic design, and was always very successful doing so. Since the ref. 5524 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time that ‘code’ has been broken, and this year the Geneva-based brand adds a few models to the vintage-infused models, with the Calatrava Perpetual Calendar and the white gold edition of the ref. 5960. Again kind of strange to see this, however the watches also look very good, especially that stunning Calatrava QP.

OK… enough talk, now on to my top 10. The watches are in alphabetical order, just saying…

Baselworld 2017 Top 10

Bulgari Octo Finnissimo Automatic

Talk of the town during Baselworld was not a Rolex, but the Bulgari Octo Finnissimo Automatic. What a watch! For starters, it distinguishes itself with more than just great looks. The large (40x40mm) sandblasted titanium case that is very thin (5.15mm) wears super comfortable, yet has a significant wrist presence. The dial perfectly matches the matte finish of the case, and is also in grey, with black painted hour markers (Arabic numerals at 6 and 12) and a small second hand between 7 and 8 o’clock.

Bulgari octo finissimo automatic - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Personally I’m very much charmed by all of the above, and the world’s thinnest self-winding movement that ticks inside. The movement, calibre BLV138, that is only 2.23 mm thick and no less than 36.00 mm in diameter, is a new world-record. Although a certain Geneva-based (Piaget) brand has the name for ultra-thin movements and watches, Bulgari is crushing one record after another in the last few years. In recent years the Italian brand introduced the world’s thinnest tourbillon movement (1.95mm, while the entire watch is 5.00mm thick) and thinnest minute repeater (6.85mm for the entire watch, while the in-house movement, BVL Caliber 362, is only 3.12mm thick).

Bulgari is setting the new benchmark for ultra thin, and even for ultra thin complications. The design is something that the Italians have always been good at, and everything adds up to a magnificently interesting collection. Keep an eye on them!

Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Divers

As of Baselworld 2017 the Grand Seiko brand will proceed as an independent brand next to Seiko. That’s what Shinji Hattori, Chairman and CEO of the Seiko Watch Corporation, and direct descendant  of  Seiko founder Kintaro Hattori, announced during the press conference. That’s big news, and something that mainly we in the “West” probably understand better than for some strange mix of Seiko, Grand Seiko, and Credor, under the same flag.

Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Divers - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

With this announcement also came a proper novelty, namely the very first Automatic diver watch from Grand Seiko! And boy, it is nice! The clous de Paris dial in dark blue, the big, but very light titanium case and bracelet, the ceramic bezel… it all works. This is a dive watch that is ready for serious action at hundreds of meters below sea-level, and equally looks good in any casual setting on land. With its dimension it might not be the best choice for wearing with suit & tie, however I cannot think of any other occasion that it would not look good in (plus it wears very comfortable because the case and bracelet are in titanium, and thus very light.)

Omega Railmaster Master Chronometer

Somehow we expected the Omega Trilogy and we all loved it. The one that I didn’t expect, and actually like even better than any of the trilogy pieces, is the new Omega Railmaster. Its size is just about right for a great daily beater and so are its looks. This new vintage-inspired Omega comes in two versions, one with a dark grey dial, and one with a silver/metal dial. The dials are made in stainless steel, finished with a vertical brushing. This is quite unusual as dials are mostly made in brass, or silver for watches in the higher segment (over €10k).

Omega Railmaster Master Chronometer - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

With a proper history the Railmaster still continues to be anti-magnetic, although not like its predecessor by means of a soft-iron inner case, but because of Omega’s Master Chronometer movement with stellar a-magnetic properties. The watch can be worn on a steel bracelet, or on a fabric strap, and either combination is priced well below € 5.000 Euro. Click here for our first hands-on article with the new Omega Railmaster Master Chronometer.

Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition

This year Oris re-designed the very popular Aquis collection and I think they did a great job on that. Of course there were more new models, however one somehow charmed me from the moment I saw it: the limited edition Big Crown 1917. At first glance you might wonder why, and what is so special about it. he devil is in the details as they say, and in this case it’s in the small pin that is located just above the oversized crown.

Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition - top 10 baselworld 2017

However let me go back into history first. In the early 1900’s there were just not that many wrist watches, and often pocket watches were worn on the wrist (and pilots often on wore a big pocket watch strapped to their leg). Now the thing with these old pockets watches is that they often had a small pin next to the crown. That pin served a purpose, namely to adjust the time. The crown could not be pulled, and only turned. When the pin was not pushed in, turning the crown meant that the movement was being wound. However when the small pin was being pushed, and at the same time the crown was turned, the hands could be set to the correct time.

Oris re-created such a pin-lever movement, or in fact re-created a modern watch with a crown that cannot be pulled, and a pin that functions exactly like on the old pocket watches. Is that cool or what. See here for the full article about the Oris Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition, and soon we’ll do a full hands-on article.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Perpetual Calendar ref. 5320

I already touched upon the rather unusual design of the new Patek Calatrava QP, however what I didn’t say is that this watch took my by surprise. And that was not due to the creme-colored dial, or the applied Arabic numerals that are reminiscent of the aforementioned Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. No… it was the lugs and the case!

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5320G - top 10 Baselworld 2017

The lugs are so called stepped lugs, and you could find stepped lugs on watches from the 1920’s and 1930’s, even on some up until the 1950’s. I have not seen many stepped lugs on later models. Hand-finishing these stepped lugs is quite a challenge, as everything is done by hand, and every edge is sharp! Not razor sharp of course (that would be kind of dangerous) however to get every lines so straight and sharp requires an expert with many years of experience to do the finishing. And that’s just the case! The rest is ‘just’ a perfectly elegant Patek Philippe with a perpetual calendar.

Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator

The chronograph re-invented! That’s a bold statement, and it’s not from Porsche Design, but from me. The new Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator 24h-Chronotimer, as it is officially baptized, is (by far) the easiest chronograph in use. So one could say the chronograph re-invented. That’s because you just have to ‘slap’ the side of the case to start, stop or reset the chronograph. OK, I might exaggerate a bit, however the chronograph is really much easier to actuate than any other chronograph that I’ve had on my wrist.

Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator - Top 10 Baseworld 2017

It is also because of the ingenuous use of rockers that can be found in the engine of the Porsche 911 RSR. The use of these rockers, and a very clever case-band, make actuating the chronograph so easy. Besides the superior functionality and usability, the looks are also great. The dial is very clean, and subsequently very legible. Moreover, the design comes from the Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph that the brand launched together with IWC back in 1980. Maybe the Monobloc Actautor is an unexpected one in my top 10, but this watch really does it for me. The history, the functionality, and the innovations. That’s what makes a great tool watch. Read more about the Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator 24H-Chronotimer here, or wait for the full technical explanation that will come within a few weeks.

Rolex Daytona on Oysterflex

Rolex Daytona white Gold Ceramic Oysterflex - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

I’m probably one of the few people on the face of our planet who does not really fancy a Daytona. The screw down pushers, the polished center links of the bracelet, the lack of the date… It’s probably an accumulation of these things that make me kind of indifferent towards the Daytona. That is, until this year’s Baselworld, when I sat in one of the rooms at the Rolex stand (or rather building), to see their latest novelties. Three new Daytona models on what is probably the best rubber strap in the industry, the Oysterflex, and I simply fell in love. This is how I like to see the Daytona, and I like it a LOT.

Rolex Daytona yellow Gold Ceramic Oysterflex - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

Especially the yellow gold edition, however also the white gold edition looks absolutely fab! The looks are pretty much identical to what we predicted for the white gold edition, and I could not have imagined that it would look so good on the wrist. It’s the mix of a superbly finished and well shaped case, a stylish chronograph dial, and the overall quality of Rolex, that do the trick. Click here for our first impressions after seeing the new Daytona models. An extensive hands-on will follow soon!

Rolex Sea-Dweller

Usually I’m all for smaller watches. Now Rolex changes the good old 40mm Sea-Dweller and enlarges the case to 43mm, and puts one line of red text on the dial. And I just love it. The same and the red font is not what I expected, and didn’t expect to like it. However once on the wrist, the 43mm looks fabulous, because somehow the thicker case seems better proportioned with the larger diameter.

Rolex sea-dweller 126600 43mm red text - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

That one line of red text on the dial adds a vintage flair, and really looks good. The only factor that I questioned was the date magnification cyclops however (again), once on the wrist, I actually didn’t notice it anymore. The date was clearly visible, however the presence of the cyclops was hardly noticeable. Altogether I really like the new Sea-Dweller, and it almost feels as if it finally rose to its full potential, and correct size. A well-sized superior dive watch.

Seiko Presage Enamel Automatic Chronograph SRQ023

Last year Seiko introduced the Presage collection as an affordable line of mechanical watches. The offering was already quite diverse and included two limited edition chronographs (mouthwateringly beautiful, and spectacularly priced), and a host of beautiful classic-styled watches with an automatic movement.

Seiko Presage Enamel Automatic Chronograph SRQ023 - Top 10 Baselworld 2017

This year the Japanese watch brand adds four new models with an enamel dial, and all four models come at prices between € 1.100 euro for the round three-hander, to € 2.650 for the chronograph. The latter is one of the best offerings I’ve seen during this year’s Baselworld edition and it A) looks great, B) is priced more than great, C) features an enamel dial and D) comes with a very nice in-house movement with vertical clutch and column wheel actuation of the chronograph functions. Who can beat that? No-one! Well done, kudos to Seiko. This is a win-win in my opinion, as it opens up “in-house chronograph” and “enamel dial” market for people with a budget below € 3.000 Euro.

Tudor Black Bay Steel/Gold

And all of a sudden it became hard to choose only ten watches from Baselworld 2017. If you think about my statement about the fair being kind of ‘boring’ this becomes kind of an odd thing. However the steel/gold version of the Tudor Black Bay might be exemplary for this year’s Baselworld in general. It’s nothing new, it also isn’t world-shocking, or #BREAKING news… but it is a very nice watch, one that I would love to wear on a daily basis (and believe me, my wrists are spoiled!)

Tudor Heritage Black Bay Steel and Gold date - top 10 Baselworld 2017

The new Tudor Black Bay Steel/Gold just looks awesome, and like all its siblings it also wears great. The Black Bay is certainly one of team Monochrome’s favorites, as both Brice and Robin (and I) bought one and wear it a lot. The addition of the in-house movement, the date (finally, what kept ’em so long?) and the steel/gold execution make this into the perfect daily beater. When in the office, on the beach, next to the swimming pool, or in the gym. It’s great in pretty much every occasion.

8 responses

  1. With everyone’s top 10 list almost the same, doesn’t that show maybe Baselworld 2017 doesn’t have much to offer ?

  2. Out of the 3 Omega trilogy you went with the Railmaster – really interesting. I thought the Speedy was really gorgeous, with the smaller size and original handset. Actually, all 3 were fantastic, so having to choose between must have been difficult.

  3. Hi Frank,
    thanks for sharing your top ten as well as your perspective on how the brands/market is moving – especially on re-issues, re-editions etc.
    I fully agree with your opinions.

    Honestly I am really getting bored to see neverending iterations of the same model. To me this shows how big the fear of watch market future is among brands (even big ones); noone or very few dare to move towards innovations (both technical and aesthetical). It is a true pity, and as watch fan and collector I think I’ll move towards new brands from now on.
    You can’t live forever in heritage LOL

    Just my two cents,

  4. Couldn’t agree more with Andrea! Really disappointed to see that either the independents and the really new stuff isn’t getting covered, or there just wasn’t much to cover. I did enjoy a few articles on Baselworld, including the one on Itay Noy (though his watches are a bit hefty for my small wrists), but otherwise, added almost nothing new to my wish list this year (just the Patek 5230 as a dream, but not something I’ll likely be able to own in the foreseeable future). Would like to see more about what’s really new.

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