Baselworld Rolex
by Karen Alberg Grossman
Baselworld Rolex

Photos by Khalid Bari

For watch enthusiasts everywhere, there’s nothing like Baselworld, the world’s most important marketplace for new releases in haute horlogerie; indeed, 80 percent of Swiss watchmakers were represented last month at this world-famous watch and jewelry fair.

General timepiece trends seen at Baselworld included vintage-inspired looks and vintage re-issues, amazing complications, more rose gold, notable creativity in color (blues and greens), more creative design and the thinnest movements ever. Three critical industry trends to note: a long overdue embrace of the digital world with luxury variations of the smartwatch; an appeal to younger customers with more (relatively) entry-level pricepoints; and a growing market in pre-owned watches, mostly on the internet.

Rolex launches are always closely-guarded, highly-anticipated secrets with killer wait-lists well before release time. This year, the buzz was all about the GMT-Master 11 (aka the Pepsi bezel GMT) with a 24-hour graduated two-color Cerachrom insert in red and blue ceramic (for a subtler look, we loved the bezel in black and brown). Equipped with a new caliber 3285, this watch boasts exceptional performance in terms of precision, with a power reserve of 70 hours. Also creating much buzz (and busted bank accounts): the cosmograph Daytona with rainbow bezel in 18 karat Everose (a Rolex-developed alloy that precludes fading). This magnificent bezel features a gradation of 36 baguette-cut sapphires in rainbow hues and 11 baguette-cut sapphire hour markers; the case is also embellished with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds set into the lugs and crown guard. With very limited production (based on the scarcity of these gems), the watch will retail for close to $100,000.

Asked if limited production is the secret to the Rolex mystique, a spokesperson explains that it’s more about evolution. “We find ways to improve on our classics without reinventing the wheel. Our core is continuity, so our customer never feels a purchase will become outdated. Another key factor: our exceptional mechanical movements: we use the strictest criteria and a second round of rigorous testing that enables us to offer our five-year warranties.”

Other fabulous watches revealed at Baselworld 2018: Patek Philippe’s World Time Minute Repeater reference 5531r. This amazing watch combines two grande complications: the minute repeater and world time, so that the repeater chimes the local time where ever you are. Harry Winston celebrates the Chinese Year of the Dog with two very limited editions: the Midnight Dog Automatic 42 mm and the Premier Dog automatic 36 mm. With only eight pieces per model, this is a very rare wristwatch indeed.

Hublot introduced its Big Bang Unico Red Magic in gleaming red ceramic (an extremely difficult to achieve patina), which is not only beautiful but also uncommonly durable. And Corum showed a watch with a sub-layer of sapphire crystal onto which is printed an excerpt from the original score of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony!

In addition to the major brands, smart retailers were scouting out independent watchmakers for exclusivity and value. Our favorite is a watchmaker we discovered a few years ago at Baselworld: Nomos Glashütte, a German brand with limited distribution in the United States that offers exceptional quality classics. Both the movements and designs of these beautiful watches are developed in-house; prices average from $2,500 to $4,000. And for stores that want to offer a truly opening pricepoint, check out Victorinox’s auto-mechanical pilot’s watch with leather or canvas strap at $995.

Bottom line: there’s something for everyone at Baselworld. And even with fewer exhibitors at this year’s show (but with the same number of visitors), there was more interest than ever in luxury timepieces that honor the past with a definite nod to the future. Mark your calendars for the 2019 edition: March 21-26.