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IF NOT FOR THE CLEAR reminders that you're at Baselworld 2018, you might think that many of the big brands at this pivotal watch fair were holding exhibitions of their museum timepieces.
You wouldn't be far wrong. Many of the prominent watches launched at Baselworld in Switzerland - still considered the world's biggest watch and jewellery fair despite its much-diminished size - were classic models, given just a few minor tweaks. But look inside and it's clear that the revamp is more than just a facelift. In many cases it's equivalent to giving these timepieces a new heart - installing new movements to make them more accurate and tick longer without rewinding.
Among the dominant Swiss brands at the show was Rolex, which unveiled its flagship Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II with a red and blue ceramic bezel, after its "heart transplant".
Except for a new bracelet and the stainless steel material employed to make the timepiece, Rolex's latest "Pepsi" (the nickname given to its red and blue bezel) two time-zone watch looks no different from the white gold version rolled out in 2014. Yet the latest "Pepsi" is fitted with a new high-precision movement that guarantees 70 hours' power reserve (that is, once fully wound, the watch keeps running non-stop for 70 hours).
Similarly, Rolex's Oyster Perpetual Deepsea with a D-blue dial, which also first appeared in 2014, has been given an updated movement which offers a power reserve of 70 hours. The lugs and sides of the new diving watch are slimmer than the first D-blue, while its bracelet is broader.
Omega's 1948 Seamaster watch is also reincarnated with a new movement, while staying true to the original post-war design. Two versions of the model are packaged and offered as the Omega Seamaster 1948 Limited Edition to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Seamaster line this year: one has a central hand and the other, small seconds. Both are powered by Omega's new Master Chronometer movements, supposedly the most accurate and magnetic-resistant in the market.
The watch is also a sideshow for the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Calibre 114. At its heart lies Oris's latest in-house developed movement which combines a 10-day power reserve, Oris's patented non-linear power reserve indicator, a date indication and, for the first time, a 24-hour second time zone with half-hour indication.
"No other mechanical watch in Swiss watchmaking combines these functions in a single watch," the brand boasts. Oris has made dozens of high-functioning second-time zone timepieces, but it says the latest watch marks a new high point. Its 24-hour time zone, indicated by a central pointer hour hand, offers local time adjustment to the nearest half hour.
German watchmaker NOMOS Glashutte made the extra gesture of teaming up with world-famous product designer Werner Aisslinger to design a sporty-looking watch, the NOMOS Autobahn (US$4,800), to showcase its new movement, the 11th NOMOS produced in-house. It's the brand's second highly complex neomatik caliber - now with a date, which is displayed in an elongated window on the dial. This shows three days at once - yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Japan's Grand Seiko went one step further than NOMOS. It turned Baselworld 2018 into a celebration of the 20th anniversary of its 9S automatic caliber. The creation of this watch movement in 1998 is perhaps the most important moment in Grand Seiko's history, after the launch of its very first timepiece in 1960. The 9S is the foundation on which the brand's reputation for high precision and durability was built.
While the highlight is the roll-out of three anniversary models, Baselworld 2018 also unveiled the sporty Grand Seiko Hi-beat GMT "Special" (limited to 350 pieces). This two time-zone watch, made from ceramic and titanium materials, is equipped with a high-beat 9s automatic movement - it boasts 36,000 vibrations per hour versus a more common 28,800 vph, making the timepiece more precise.