Analysis: Lengbeau’s Top 5 Favorites from Baselworld 2017

​Yup it’s that time of the year again that sees flocks of visitors, business executives, bloggers and pretty much anybody with a tangential interest in the watch business heading to Basel for the biggest, baddest watch show in the world, aptly dubbed the Baselworld. For those who might not be familiar with this world class trade show, it helps to understand that a trip to Baselworld is kind of like the horology equivalent to a pilgrimage to Mecca. You will get to go hands-on with the newest creations from watch brands — from Patek Philippe to Edifice — from all over the world. You will get to see legendary industry figures and collectors whom you though only exist on Instagram. You get the idea.

And just like any previous Baselworld showing, Baselworld 2017 has proven to be a blast. With the dust well settled, it’s about time we recount our memories of the event. Of the slew of new pieces unveiled, here are Lengbeau’s top 5 picks (not in any particular order), and we can’t wait to explain to you why these watches in particular speak to us. What’s more, we’ll also name new pieces that made us go “meh.” for a myriad of reasons, be it a sheer creative laziness, or simply a head-scratching idea.

Let’s check them out.

#1: Hermès Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente

Yup, you’re reading it right: an Hermès watch! The Parisian fashion and luxury goods powerhouse has been making steady strides into the game of high horology and to earn a niche for itself in this highly competitive market, Hermès has turned to the philosophy of incorporating “poetic complications” for its timepieces — intriguing complications that serve more of a romantic function than a practical one — and we absolutely adore this principle, one that is perfectly embodied in the brand new Hermès Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente (it literally means “impatient hour”). Here’s what it is about.

The 40.5mm wide, rose gold-cased dress watch came into existence in the form of a mechanical hourglass (that is, on top of its usual function of telling time) which serves as an event reminder that begins to start counting down exactly 1 hour before an event — supposedly something that drives its wear “impatient” about (e.g. a much anticipated date, an important business presentation etc.) — to take place any time in the next 12 hours. You activate the “impatient hour” mechanism by pressing the button at 9 o’clock and set the event time using the crown at 4 o’clock, which moves the small 12-hour subdial near 4 and 5 o’clock. Once you’re within 60 minutes of the time of the event, the semi-fan shaped subdial near 6 and 7 o’clock kicks into motion, with its hand sweeping across the 60-minute scale, ending with a sweet chime as the hand lays above the musical note symbol, announcing the arrival of the big event. Now THAT’s innovative. And we can’t help but to feel a little mellow about how well this watch captures the human mentality of “I can’t wait to (insert important event here)!”.

#2: Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Chronograph

(Image courtesy: Haute Time)

The moment we saw the new El Primero 21 chronograph under the resurrected Defy collection (a collection in the 1990s with, let’s just say, questionable design language), we knew we were looking at something extraordinary. It’s the first new major Zenith wristwatch release orchestrated by Mr. Jean-Claude Biver, the energetic head of LVMH watch division that took the helm of Zenith as interim CEO recently, with a mission to rejuvenate the brand. If you’ve been following watchmaking, you could be forgiven for thinking Zenith is all about the El Primero movement, which made its debut in 1969 as the world’s first integrated, automatic chronograph movement. Having a calling card like the El Primero is all good, but Biver clearly saw a problem with how dependent the brand is on a creation that is almost 50-year old. And it is this sense of urgency that fuelled the making of the El Primero 9004 movement. Yup, that’s the movement powering the Defy El Primero 21 (meaning it’s the El Primero movement for the 21st century), generously visible under the skeletonized dial (there’s also a solid dial option).

The 203-part El Primero 9004 is designed to measure lapsed time up to an accuracy of 1/100th of a second. Yes, that basically leads to a chronograph hand spinning like crazy as the chronograph function is set off, taking exactly one second to travel around the dial once, having made 100 tiny advances that the human eyes could not capture. To achieve that, the movement makes use of 2 separate sets of balance wheels, gear trains and mainsprings, powering the chronograph and timekeeping functions respectively. Everything about the edgy and bold Defy El Primero 21 screams action, and we can only imagine it appealing to anyone who craves for a little mechanical fiesta on their wrist: everyone.

#3: Patek Philippe Aquanaut Advanced Research

The newly introduced Patek Philippe Aquanaut Advanced Research Ref.5650G (photo courtesy: www.lesrhabilleurs.com)

Here’s the thing people often get wrong about Patek: that they are so high up in the watchmaking echelon that, all they wish to do to safeguard their legacy is to keep on producing classically inspired, conservatively elegant timepieces only. While I have no doubt that’d still be a realistically sound commercial strategy, but Patek being Patek, is not going to settle for good, if better is an option. Yes, you won’t see Patek dishing out anything that remotely looks like a Richard Mille (a pilot watch from the brand was already enough to make the watch community explode), but what Patek does pursue, are incremental improvements upon the many aspects of its products. From material science to movement construction. And in Baselworld 2017, it released Aquanaut Ref. 5650G, the fifth brainchild from its “Advanced Research” program, marrying a Spiromax balance spring made of Silinvar (Patek’s proprietary silicon; it drastically improves the accuracy of the watch to -1/+2 seconds per day) and a “flexible-mechanism” for the second-time zone settings. And wow, that is Patek innovation done right.

Housed in a 40.8mm wide, 11mm tall white gold case, the latest addition to the Aquanaut lineage is poised to wear substantial on the wrist. And to make it absolutely clear that it’s not a watch for those who wish to fly under the radar, for the very first time in Patek history, the manufacture bestowed the watch with a semi open face, exposing the “flexible” time zone setting mechanism on the left side of the stunning, gradient blue dial. The mechanism is important in that it essentially replaces the need for pivots and leaf springs by turning to the elasticity of the material itself (stainless steel in this case) as a way of regulating the time zone setting functionality. It also eliminates the need for applying lubrications and prevents energy loss by friction. To understand more about the innovations that went into the conceiving of the Ref. 5650G, do check this video out.

And here it is, a Patek that looks marginally quirky, but totally capturing at the same time. I’d argue that this isn’t even a case of acquired taste: you either love it, or you hate it. And given how a faithful embrace of the tradition is core to the Patek identity, it is certainly refreshing to see the watchmaking giant step out of the line just a little to deliver something unique and relentlessly well crafted.

#4: The Omega 1957 Trilogy Reissue

Photo courtesy: ablogtowatch

Ok, I’m cheating a little bit here. Up next in the list are not one, not two, but THREE riveting reissue pieces from Omega — all of them inspired by their sought-after, yet elusive archetypal versions released exactly 60 years ago in 1957. They are respectively the Seamaster 300, the Railmaster and of course, the irreproachable Speedmaster.

The three pieces could either be purchased individually (limited edition of 3,557 each), or together as a box set (limited edition of 557, which by the way has the most endearingly nostalgic packaging ever). And what make these reissues so great is how they were modelled exactly and faithfully after their predecessors. Same case size. Same bracelet style. Bascially same everything except for the movements, which are rightfully modern. In the case of the Seasmaster 300 and the Railmaster, the movements are METAS-certified caliber 8806 which can endure magnetic field of up to 15,000 gauss, a feat not to be frown upon. Whereas for the Speedmaster, the trusty caliber 1861 is again deployed, just like the standard Speedmaster Professional currently in production.

The Omega 1957 Trilogy Box Set showcasing the paraphernalia that come with it.

It’s funny how many of the watch houses are reaching far back in their history book for inspirations here and there but only a handful (if any) ever does the obvious: faithfully re-creating their winners from the past. Perhaps it’s for the fear of being seen as unimaginative, or downright lazy. But with its 1957 Trilogy release, Omega took that very bold move and proved with authority that , the “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” adage still holds true to this day. Omega, thank you for being unapologetically “unimaginative”.

#5: The Rolex Cellini Moonphase

Photo courtesy: Monochrome Watches

Many joked about how Baselworld 2017 felt more like Baselworld 1957. And you know what, they are absolutely spot on. Nothing screams 1950s more than a Rolex timepiece equipped with a moonphase indicator. And that, is exactly what Rolex delivers to the world this year around — something that have not been seen on ANY Rolex pieces for about six decades!

The last references from the Crown that saw a moonphase indicator are the Ref. 6062 and Ref. 8171, both auction rockstars nowadays (such as this one that fetched north of CHF1,000,000) and were only in production for a few years in the early 1950s. So unless you have some HKD10,000,000 set aside for it, chances are you have never had the opportunity to own a Rolex moonphase. Until today.

The revived Rolex Cellini Moonphase is cased in a now-conservative 39mm rose gold case (kudos to Rolex for not crossing the 40mm mark) with a gorgeous, austere white lacquer dial, coupled with a date indicator hand and of course, the generous moonphase indicator at 6 o’clock. The moonphase disc is enamel-treated and the silvery moon itself is meteorite applique (let’s settle with meteorite as the material of choice here before moondust gets anywhere near ready for commercial use, shall we?) and man, tell me the contrast between the white and the blue on the dial is not capturing.

Rounding off the ensemble is caliber 3195, an automatic chronometer-grade movement, created completely in-house by Rolex, of course. For the longest time, the Cellini line has been somewhat overshadowed by its almighty sister models from the sporty families such as the Submariner and the Daytona. But with the moonphase indicator making a convincing comeback this year, one can only speculate that the rise of the Cellinis is around the corner.

Until next time!

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