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The Top 10 Watches Of 2016

The biggest draws at this year’s Baselworld – and why they are set to become future design classics

The two big Swiss trade fairs at the start of each year (January’s SIHH in Geneva, and Baselworld in March) are where the wrist action is as far as watch enthusiasts are concerned, because it’s there that the industry unveils its most desirable offerings for the 12 months ahead. All the big brands are represented, and most of the small ones, too, so whether you’re a fan of horological giants like Rolex and Omega, or a connoisseur of niche names such as Ressence and Nomos, these events demand the attention of anyone thinking about buying a watch over the course of the next year.

In design terms, the mainstream watch industry – thanks to its innate conservatism and reinforced by the current trend for vintage – seems happiest reworking its popular models. In some cases, like Omega’s handsome Speedmaster CK2998, these could almost be replicas of old watches, while in other cases, such as Rolex’s new Daytona, the update represents a new iteration that bears comparison to the development of Porsche’s legendary 911 – an ever-evolving icon. Younger brands are more willing to look towards the future.

Whether looking forward or harking back in terms of their design, here are 10 new watches we believe will stand the test of time.

01.

Mr Benoît Mintiens, the Belgian product designer behind Ressence, has reimagined what a mechanical watch can be. His new Type 5 is a diving watch that can, unlike normal divers, be read underwater from any angle. This is possible because the dial is oil-filled (it’s the air inside a normal watch that produces the mirror reflections that bedevil divers who need to check their timing). The oil also assists the smooth and regular movement of the unique hour, minute, second and temperature hands. This is a seriously impressive watch that must be seen to be believed. Design-wise, there is nothing else like it.

£25,000 ($35,800)

02.

Nomos, from Glashütte in Germany, is a baby among the venerable watch brands who show at Baselworld – it was founded in 1990. Free from the kind of history that sometimes seems to constrict the older brands, Nomos has created an instantly recognisable minimalist design language that’s been much imitated but rarely bettered, and with the introduction of the Tetra Neomatik, that language extends to a smart square case. No less important, however, is the fact that the watch’s DUW 3001 movement is produced in-house.

£2,420 ($3,860) 

03.

If the big Swiss brands can sometimes seem a little too rational, trust the French to come up with something esoteric. The first (1967) incarnation of the Crash was inspired by a damaged Baignoire Alongée timepiece, and only a few hundred were made. The watch is now back, and looks even more radical in the current skeletonised form, thanks in part to the way the numerals appear to be melting, Mr Salvador Dalí-style. Don’t let the eye-catching design distract from the quality of the hand-finished 9618 MC in-house movement.

£49,900 ($68,500)

04.

Following the introduction of last year’s well-received Divers Sixty-Five, Oris has clearly seen the potential in producing vintage-inspired watches. This year’s novelty is a bronze version of the Divers Sixty-Five, created in honour of the legendary African-American Navy diver Mr Carl Brashear. Mr Brashear’s lifelong display of physical and moral bravery in the face of numerous adversities was immortalised by Mr Cuba Gooding Jr in the 2000 movie Men Of Honor, and the watch’s bronze case (which will develop a notable patina over time) is a reference to the bronze diving helmets worn by Mr Brashear.

£1,900 ($2,800)

05.

Watch visionary Mr Gérald Genta’s extraordinary 1970 design for Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak is genuinely iconic. The original Royal Oak looks dainty next to this 44mm behemoth, which has a futuristic design that transcends the late Mr Genta’s work. However, its powerful form belies the nature of the movement, which is a minute repeater, as well as a chronograph and a tourbillon. The sweet chimes created by its hand-filed gongs call to mind the Biblical quotation that appears on the famous cans of Lyle’s Golden Syrup: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”.

Price on application

06.

The pendulum, to use an apposite metaphor, has started to swing back when it comes to case sizes. While big watches are still being introduced, there are two notable new watches with 36mm cases. The first of these is IWC’s pleasingly simple Pilot’s Watch (the other is Tudor’s Black Bay 36), which is the first Pilot’s Watch to be offered at this modest case size since IWC’s Mark XII was discontinued in the late 1990s. The versatile form blends the elegance of an everyday dress watch with the simplicity of a tool watch. It’s a beguiling combination.

£3,190 ($4,950)

07.

The closest thing mechanical watches get to apps are the appurtenances they possess – a date indicator is probably the simplest, a perpetual calendar one of the most complex. However, the tourbillon, which was patented in 1801 as a way to help regulate the time keeping of pocket watches, remains one of the highest expressions of the watchmaker’s skill. It’s a testament to the genius of Mr Jean-Claude Biver, TAG Heuer’s CEO, that his youthful, sporty brand has coherently introduced a tourbillon, and at a price far lower than any other in the market.

£12,100 ($15,900)

08.

If any brand has a right to trade on its past glories, it’s Zenith. The market for vintage steel chronographs is currently red hot, and Zenith’s famous El Primero movement hasn’t just been the most accurate chronograph since its 1969 introduction, it was the engine that drove Rolex’s Daytona from 1988 to 2000. This year, the El Primero 36,000 VPH (that number refers to Vibrations Per Hour, and alludes to the movement’s accuracy) has a new anthracite dial with brushed “Geneva stripes”, and a perforated calfskin strap. The results are exceptionally sleek.

£5,100 ($6,700)

09.

The Speedmaster is a legend. It’s the watch that went to the moon, the only watch Nasa certifies for space walks, and the only one with its own day of the week on Instagram (#speedytuesday). While vintage Speedmasters change hands for ever increasing sums, there’s much to be said for the peace of mind that comes from buying a new watch. Especially when it’s as appealing as this limited edition – the denim-friendly colours speak for themselves, but note the appealing “lollipop” second hand.

£4,100 ($6,500)

10.

The steel Daytona is one of the world’s most desirable watches. Until now, it’s only “regenerated” through three different incarnations since it was introduced in 1963, but Rolex has introduced a new model for 2016. The most obvious difference is the new ceramic bezel, while the black border around the sub-dials on the white face nods to the legendary Panda dial “Paul Newman” Daytona. The size remains 40mm, and the movement is unchanged. As demand is likely to far outstrip supply, this will be highly sought-after for years to come.

£8,250 ($12,400)

The essentials

  • Ressence Type 3 Titanium and Leather Watch

  • Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 42mm 1969 Rose Gold and Alligator Watch

  • Ressence Type 1 CH Titanium and Leather Watch

  • Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope 40mm Stainless Steel and Leather Watch

  • Kingsman + Bremont ALT1-B Automatic Chronograph Watch

  • Bremont ALT1-Classic/CR Automatic Chronograph Watch