After a week on a steady diet of horological canapés at Baselworld 2016 - the largest watch show on Earth - it’s time to digest the goodies and select the top five watches for men that caught my eye, and will hopefully catch yours.
Bulgari is fast establishing itself as a power to contend with in the ranks of haute horlogerie, deploying complicated models from its very own Swiss manufacture. Commanding the legion of Bulgari Octo watches in 2016, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater broke the silence of a very quiet Baselworld watch fair in terms of innovation, positioning itself as the world’s thinnest minute repeater complication.
The formidable architecture of these Bulgari watches, inspired by the coffering on the ceiling of the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum, have been rendered in titanium and house an ultra-thin movement just 3.12mm in height. Considered the most complex of all horological complications, fitting 362 parts of a movement that can chime the hours, quarters and minutes in such a minimal space is nothing short of prodigious. To diffuse the crystal-clear sound of the chimes, incisions on the numbers of the dial and small seconds counter act like gills, allowing the sound to reverberate. The 40mm sand-blasted titanium case gives the watch a contemporary, virile spirit and looks absolutely fantastic on the wrist, destined to conquer men who shun more classical iterations of the minute repeater complications.
Next up is an archetypal racing watch. The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona takes pole position in its new 40mm stainless steel declination with a lustrous black ceramic bezel. Enjoying life on the winner’s podium of sports chronographs since its launch in 1963, these Rolex watches were conceived as functional, high-performance racing drivers’ companions with contrasting black and white details on the dial for enhanced legibility, and the all-important tachymetric scale on the bezel to measure average speed over a given distance. Immortalised by Paul Newman, the technical and sporty good looks of the monochrome watch, coupled with the resilient and water-resistant Oyster case, won over a legion of fans both on and off the racing circuit. Equipped with an in-house automatic calibre 4130 with a 72-hour power reserve, these handsome men’s watches come with a high-tech sleek Cerachrom bezel in ceramic instead of the more traditional metal bezel, and the chronograph counters have been highlighted with black rings for greater visibility. Not only does it look good, this superlative timepiece conforms to the new and stringent manufacturing tolerances of +2/-2 seconds-a-day accuracy demanded across the board for all Rolex watches.
A signature trait of the Genevan high-end watchmaker Patek Philippe is the talent to combine complications in its horological cocktails. For 2016, the venerable Genevan brand has married a world timer with a chronograph, something not seen in Patek’s product line-up since the 1940s. The 2016 World Time Chronograph Ref. 5930G - the thinnest and smallest complication of its kind - was based on a 1940 wristwatch housed in Patek’s impressive watch museum. Blue dials are very much in vogue and this stunning blue opaline dial features a hand-guilloched decoration flanked by a moving disk with the names of cities representing the 24 international time zones, and a 24-hour ring to distinguish night from day. Presented in a 39.5mm white gold case measuring just 12.95mm thick, these Patek Philippe watches are made to be worn and enjoyed thanks to their robust case and legible dial. The applied gold hour markers and hands have been treated with a luminescent material, and these men’s watches can resist depths of up to 30 metres.
Currently the most popular model in the UK, the 43mm Tudor Heritage Black Bay dive watch gets a bronze diving suit this year and an automatic in-house movement specifically developed by Tudor for the larger proportions of this model. The bronze case - a reference to the use of this metal in historic ships and diving equipment - gives these Tudor watches a terrific vintage character. However, to avoid the natural corrosion of 100% bronze, which turns green over time, an alloy of aluminium and bronze has been concocted to create a subtle and unique patina that will age over time. The delicious chocolate-brown dial, offset with beige luminescent material on the snowflake hour hand, minutes hand and indices, consolidates the retro appeal. Tudor’s first manufacture movement, launched in 2015, has been adapted to fit the larger proportions of this model and offers a sturdy 70-hour power reserve fitted in a case that offers water-resistance to 200 metres. Right on cue with the current trend for customisation, the Black Bay Bronze comes on an aged brown leather strap. A beige and brown hand-woven jacquard strap with a central yellow stripe is included in the box, along with a small tool suite so that you can change the strap according to your mood.
The big revelation for me this year in the independent watchmakers venue - grandiosely known as the Palace, which is really more like a large wedding tent - was the niche brand Arnold & Son. I had assumed that this was just another fledgling Swiss newcomer, piggybacking on a British name with a prestigious history. I stand corrected and enjoyed an impassioned lecture on John Arnold’s pivotal role in British horological history from Dr. Sébastien Chaulmontet, head of production and design at the brand he helped found in 2010. Chaulmontet’s devotion and admiration for the original marine chronometers, inventions and clocks of Arnold impregnates every watch that emanates from this small brand with a production of just 800 watches a year.
The openwork movement and dial of the 41.5mm Nebula watch is the star of the show, and the near-mirror symmetry of the parts appeal to our brain’s innate attraction for symmetrical proportions and balance. These men’s watches boast 10 bridges radiating from the perimeter of the dial to the centre like an inverted exploded star, hence the name Nebula. Purists will never tire of admiring the beautifully hand-finished, in-house movement which, thanks to two barrels, will keep ticking for a 90-hour stretch. Available in a red gold or stainless steel case, the spirit of John Arnold lives on.