Of the thousands of new watches on display at the annual Baselworld fair, the vast majority look alike: three hands, a round case, maybe a window to display the date. This has been a tried and true formula for centuries. But what fun is tried and true? Watchmakers are inveterate tinkerers, and computer-aided design and modern manufacturing techniques have freed them from the constraints of the conventional timepiece; a device-obsessed culture has also freed watchmakers from the constraints of building watches to merely tell the time.
So: some of the coolest new timepieces at Baselworld 2016 resemble spaceships; some are transparent; others use exotic materials. It’s less about the time and more about how it’s told. Here are five timepieces leading the revolution in being different.
Manufacture Royale 1770 Haute Voltige
Purportedly founded by the famed philosopher Voltaire, Manufacture Royale takes an enlightened view of watchmaking. Case in point, the 1770 Haute Voltige, which displays two independent time zones on the clean, openworked dial. Because the two times are not linked in any way, they can be set to account for those time zones that are offset by 15 or 30 minutes from the rest of the world. A raised bridge suspends the massive balance wheel above the dial; the visible escapement is a 3D course in how mechanical watches work.
Ulysse Nardin Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon
Ulysse Nardin’s claim to fame was its accurate marine chronometers that helped ships navigate at sea. The Grand Deck takes this nautical inspiration to a new level, using tiny winches and cables to drive the retrograde minutes needle across the expansive dial. Those cables are made from tiny strands of Dyneema, a high-strength fiber that is actually used for sailboat rigging. The dial is made from teak wood, as found on boat decks for centuries.
Bell & Ross BR-X1 Tourbillon Sapphire
Sapphire is the second hardest substance on Earth, behind diamond — so you can imagine how difficult it is to create an intricate watch case from it. But Bell & Ross took up the challenge, spending ten hours of machining on each square-shaped case. As if that isn’t enough, the watch is a monopusher chronograph whose escapement rides inside a gravity-defying flying tourbillon.
MB&F HMX Black Badger
Maximilian Büsser & Friends could make this list every year, mainly for its avant-garde timepieces made in collaboration with company’s eponymous founder and his “friends,” who happen to be some of the greatest names in modern watchmaking. This year though, Max chose to collaborate with materials wizard James Thompson, a.k.a. “Black Badger”, a Canadian living in Sweden whose claim to fame is his work with high-tech luminescent composites. The HMX has a titanium case resembling both an automobile engine and a retro driver’s watch, with a digital display that is viewed from the inside of the wrist, ideal when your hands are at 10 and 2. But the pièce de resistance is Black Badger’s handiwork: the bright glowing bars of his proprietary AGT Ultra composite that glows from the top side of the case.
Hublot Classic Fusion Berluti
The Parisian shoemaker Berluti is world renowned for its lusciously patinated bespoke shoes. Perfect leather for a watch strap, right? But Hublot, never one to shy away from a challenge, wanted to go a step further and use the leather not only for the band, but also for the dial. The challenge was to render this organic material suitable for long-term use inside a watch, a problem that was mitigated by chemical means to preserve the leather. The result is a watch with characteristic leather warmth, whether in “Nero” or “Tobacco” with matching strap that includes the trademark “Gaspard” incision down the center. Each watch is packaged in a special case and includes a leather care kit to be used on the straps, or your matching Berluti shoes.