Industry firsts are a hallmark of the Baselworld watch fair. Companies are eager to show off their latest complications, materials and designs. Innovation can be found in all corners of the market, and here are a few that we think merit notice.
We saw movements made from wood and dials made from Icelandic volcanic ash, but the all-ceramic OMEGA Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon is our favorite material innovation. Ceramic is a recent addition to the watch scene and many brands are using it in various ways, but no one has taken it to the level OMEGA has. Nearly everything, other than the movement and hands, is made from their new Zirconium Oxide ceramic—the dial, case, pushers, bezel, strap buckle and even the crown. It's quite an accomplishment. The watch will be available in fall 2013 with a retail price around $12,000.
On the display front we loved the mesmerizing, levitating second hand that rotates on an invisible axis in Maurice Lacroix's Masterpiece Seconde Mystérieuse. In an industry first, there is no mount for the seconds hand. It marks out a linear reading of the seconds via alternating 15-second cycles, appearing to float independently. This "mystery" delivers an optical illusion when viewed from the side. The face also features a skeletonized dial and the brand's signature off-centered hour dial. This limited edition series features black and white styles, 125 watches each, and will be available in late 2013. Pricing has not yet been announced.
"Simplify and innovate" has long been the Swatch mission statement. Their groundbreaking Quartz automatic movement minimized the individual pieces required for a watch, brought Swiss movements entirely made by machine at a never before seen price point to the to the industry and led them to a mass popularity that few brands have achieved since their launch in the early 1980s. With the Sistem51 they've made a similarly groundbreaking innovation. This time, they've simplified a mechanical (or manual) movement down to the same number of components—51. Anchored on a single central pin, all of the movement's components are made from a new nickel, zinc and copper alloy called ARCAP. It's assembled entirely by machine, tuned by a laser, and sealed, never needing to be serviced. When you understand that mechanical movements typically include multiples of the 51 pieces (at least a hundred, and in high end custom movements with many complications this can be more than 600) it's a huge and impressive engineering accomplishment. The first watch featuring the Sistem51 movement will be available late 2013 for around $150.
Bulgari's animatronic Commedia dell'Arte series represents the opposite spectrum. Animatronic complications are among the most complex in watchmaking. Watch movements featuring them are assembled entirely by hand by a single watchmaker, and each can take a year or more to make. There are, by some accounts, fewer than ten Swiss watchmakers capable of creating these complex movements. Here, the movements include a two-hammer Cathedral gong mechanism that chimes the hours, quarter hours and minutes, activating the animation. Depending on which of the three watch styles either five to seven moving pieces then come to life, enacting movement inspired by the comedic arts of Venice, Naples or Bologna. It may not be everyone's taste, but don't let that distract you from the art. Each is available in a limited edition of eight pieces, and will set you back around $800,000.
There is one watch that stood out to us even more than this very small group, and that is the first watch by a new brand called Breva. In a theme common to our readers, the company was started (by a non watchmaker) when he couldn't find the kind of watch he desired to wear. Their Génie 01 features complications that show the weather; it does so by sensing altitude and barometric pressure in isolated chambers within the movement that can be opened to let air in (a Teflon membrane keeps the rest of the movement safe). Our friends at Hodinkee have a great hands-on with the watch and explain in detail how it works. Limited to only 55 watches each in white and pink gold, the Breva Génie 01 drops fall 2013 for around $150,000.
Images courtesy of the manufacturers