Best of Baselworld: Part One

By: Jon Bues

Tudor and Breitling, Unlikely Partners

Our first fifteen minutes on the ground at Baselworld brought an unexpected announcement, the kind seldom seen at the world’s largest watch and jewelry fair.

In our first appointment, we learned that Tudor, a sister brand of Rolex, a leader in in-house watchmaking and international luxury brand recognition, had partnered with Breitling to make its new Black Bay Chronograph, a photogenic two-register chrono with more than a glancing resemblance to Rolex Daytonas of years past.

The new Black Bay Chronograph, whose movement is rechristened Caliber MT5813, is in fact a reworked version of the Breitling Caliber 01, produced in Breitling’s state-of-the-art movement making facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The new Tudor Black Bay chronograph
The new Tudor Black Bay chronograph

Tudor orders the movements, which come installed with its own proprietary escapement and oscillating mass—an arrangement not unlike Rolex’s famous former use of Zenith El Primero movements.

Working with Breitling on this synergistic partnership—Tudor will also be supplying Breitling with movements—has allowed Tudor to price its first manufacture chronograph right around $5,000, a key to Tudor’s strategy of proposing high-quality, even luxurious timepieces with approachable pricing and aspirational appeal. Today’s Tudor buyer just might be tomorrow’s Rolex collector.

According to Tudor, the partnership began over a year ago, when the company was looking for a well-made, accessibly priced, and scalable movement that would allow it to add a high-quality chronograph to its range. That means that the Tudor/Breitling partnership precedes the more recent announcement by Breitling that it is for sale.

The Tudor Black Bay Chronograph features a Breitling MT5813 movement.
The Tudor Black Bay Chronograph features a Breitling MT5813 movement.

According to a Tudor representative, this partnership is purely about sharing these movements, and nothing else. It remains to be seen which if any brand will emerge as Breitling’s eventual suitor.

Breitling did not take press appointments on Wednesday, so expect to hear about their end of the movement trade as early as Thursday.

Patek Philippe

At Patek Philippe, the Geneva stalwart presented two new innovations from its Advanced Research Department, responsible for pushing forward horological techniques and technologies in subtle but often very meaningful ways. It is Advanced Research, after all, that led one of Switzerland’s most conservative, family-owned watch companies down the road of employing silicon components in its watches long before many of its competitors.

This year, the two new innovations proposed were an all new silicon hairspring that improves on Patek’s existing springs—also made from silicon—by incorporating a second terminal curve in the inner part of the coil. It’s expected that this new spring shape will lead to greater chronometric precision and consistency in various positions.

The new Patek Philippe Ladies' Worldtimer
The new Patek Philippe Ladies’ Worldtimer

Patek Philippe’s second innovation is a 12-part stainless-steel system for changing the time, which sees its debut in a limited edition Aquanaut Travel Time Ref. 5650 G. By incorporating fewer parts and emphasizing those that bend, hence reducing the overall amount of mechanical “play” in the system, Patek has created a more reliable mechanism that can function without lubrication.

It’s the little improvements and milestones like these, accumulated consistently over decades and generations, that have earned Patek its estimable reputation as a watchmaking innovator.

On the product side, Patek Philippe presented 24 new timepieces in Basel; 16 men’s models and eight on the women’s side. The latter of these continues a recent trend of highly complicated timepieces for female collectors in the form of Ref. 7140, the brand’s first ladies’ perpetual calendar, priced at $93,000.

With 2017 marking the 20th anniversary of the Aquanaut, Patek paid this popular line a subtle tribute with a Ref. 5168 Anniversary model in a jumbo format. The Ref. 5168 measures 42.2 mm from side to side and features new white-gold applied indexes. Its richly textured dial transitions from dark blue in its center to black along its edges.

The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time Ref. 5650G.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time Ref. 5650G.

Other highlights included two new versions of the popular Ref 5960 Annual Calendar Chronograph, a black-dialed stainless-steel model arriving on a steel bracelet, and a sporty white-gold model that comes with decorated chronograph pushers.

Finally, a favorite of the Watch Journal team was the classic, 39 mm White Gold Men’s Calatrava with three different finishing techniques on its dial. Its play with tones, eccentric small seconds display, and central date hand give this watch a very appealing if slightly art deco look. It’s also slightly larger than the previous Calatrava. This, along with the aforementioned Jumbo Aquanaut, signaled an unexpected trend toward larger case sizes at Patek Philippe. Will this be part of a larger trend seen at Baselworld 2017? Stay tuned for more live reportage from Switzerland and follow along on our social media platforms.

Click here to read Part Two of our Baselworld coverage.

Click here to read Part Three of our Baselworld coverage.