See the 6 Most Artful Watches at Baselworld 2016
Prepare for show-stopping luxury pieces.
“At Baselworld, we see beauty and innovation at the service of time,” said François Thiébaud, president of the Swiss Exhibitors Committee for the world’s preeminent horology fair, which takes place every spring in the quaint riverside city. “We have always had time,” he added, speaking to a room of international press on the eve of this year’s edition, which takes place from March 17-24. “But today we choose to dress up time, to decorate it using the tools, savoir faire, creativity, and craftsmanship that go back centuries.”
Indeed, despite tough economic times—Thiébaud tempered the levity of his message with a slideshow charting recent devaluations of global currencies and hits taken by the watch industry—the 141,000 square meters of Basel’s famous Messe seemed as luxurious as ever for Baselworld 2016. Stunning booths for the fair’s 1,500 exhibitors included a suspended aquarium of fluorescent jellyfish, guests were invited to kick back in lounges serving ramen and champagne, and heeled women in sequined dresses manned the information booths like female Bond villains.
Inside Hall 1, where the most important global brands show their newest wares, an onslaught of tourbillons and complications were balanced by designs that soften and humanize the precision of mechanics, featuring organic motifs and patterns drawn from nature. Brands like Patek Philippe and Breguet were eager to showcase their use of artisanal craft, from the manual application of pailloné enamel to engraving and even automation.
Every Philippe Patek watch is a work of art,” said Vivane Borges, head of communications for the world-renowned line, preferred by the likes of Pablo Picasso. “But a work of art we want people to wear and to use.”
Launched at this year’s edition of Basel World, this update to the 4968 watch was inspired by the spiral arches of gymnastic ribbon. Featuring a dial made from mother-of pearl, it includes 314 diamonds on the dial and 273 on the case—cut in 9 different sizes—as well as rubies for the hour markers. Traceries of gold lining set the moon face apart from the shimmering jewels.
“This is a big year for women, since we have had numerous legendary women as part of our clientele,” said Liliana Chen, PR manager for Bréguet. The signature blued-steel hour and minute hands of the new Classique Phase de Lune Dame watch are descended from the famous open-tipped Breguet hands, which he designed in 1783, and which have since been emulated by watchmakers the world over.
Meanwhile, at Boucheron, sculptural watches were directly inspired by the animal kingdom. “Boucheron was known as the great auto-body mechanic of watch calibers: it was everything surrounding that part that was most important for him,” said the brand’s representative, while pointing to a series of timepieces whose face was hidden inside a jeweled beetle and was only revealed when a button on the creature’s nose forced it to open its wings. “So if you’re looking for a huge tourbillon and lots of complications, you wont find it at Boucheron. These are real art and jewelry pieces: craftsmanship is our strength,” she added.
Another series of new Boucheron watches consigns the dial to a small section of the overall design, which is dominated by volutes, floral flourishes, and carved reliefs of swans and tigers, in diamond, gold, or mother-of-pearl. The shimmering Bulgari booth, meanwhile, has devoted many of its vitrines to new designs from its Serpenti line, all of which stuff the watchface into the mouth of a snake and emulate the wrap of its body with scales made from gold and precious stones.
Jaquet Droz debuted a series of pieces that highlight the line’s continued appreciation of the arts of Asia—Droz was, after all, the first watch brand accepted into the Forbidden City. The Petite Heure Minute Thousand Year Lights watch, for example, has an engraved floral motif created using the Najeon Chilgi technique of shell inlay lacquer—a special 14th century Korean craft for decorating aristocratic jewel boxes—while this year’s watch dedicated to Chinese New Year features an engraved monkey in red and white gold, against a black onyx and painted mother-of-pearl dial.
“We create watches that are works of art and of engineering in one piece,” said François Bezault, Droz’s brand manager. Perhaps no other watch embodies that mission as aptly as the series of Automata watches, rooted in the founder’s pioneering achievements in the realm of automation. As early as the 1760s, Droz was creating stunningly complex robots that are considered the earliest computers, and they continue to animate the brand’s work.
Ulysse Nardin, for example—always inspired by the movement of the sea and well known for its marine chronometers—celebrated the golden age of yachting in a new design that feels more like a sculptural diorama than a watch. The Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon, as it’s called, features a dial made from wood marquetry that mimics the look of a ship deck, with related details: flags, rigging, and railing. The minute hand has been replaced by an illusory aluminum boom that is pulled along its trajectory by a fiber nanowire, recalling the movement of the sail across the deck.
“For me, the dial of a watch is like a canvas, and then, like a painter, you start applying different materials, enamels, indexes, levels,” said Christina Hentschel, vice president of marketing for German manufacturer Glashütte. “There is a lot of beauty in a caliber. Here in this movement you can see the striped finish, or the glistening sun-ray petals on the gear,” she added, flipping over a new model of the brand’s Senator Excellence watch. “But the surface of the dial looks like freshly fallen snow.”
Since Leonardo da Vinci pioneered art and engineering as twin endeavors, the watch-making industry has been defined by dual identities: one, the pursuit of scientific precision in the telling of time, the complex networks of parts that make a watch tick; two, the watch as a sculptural object and a work of art. That duality continued at the show, as brands known for the complexity of their calibers sought to draw a slightly broader audience.
The 2016 edition of the watch and jewelry fair Baselworld takes place in Messe, Basel, from March 17-24.
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