Haute Time: Top 10 Collector’s Watches from Baselworld 2011

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#1 Harry Winston Opus Eleven

The movement for the eleventh instalment of Harry Winston’s annual celebration of independent watchmaking took 14,400 hours to engineer – “and that,” comments brand CEO Frederic de Narp, “is the essence of extreme luxury.” The Opus Eleven was easily the star of the show, clinching celebrity status for its inventor, watchmaker Denis Giguet. The movement works by deconstructing and then reassembling time every hour – instead of an hour hand, 24 placards revolve and rotate on a complicated system of gears that resemble an army of mini alien transformers, which work in unison to reformulate the time. Minutes are shown on a double disk system that, like the balance wheel, protrudes from the case side in its own subdial. “Harry Winston” is engraved on the flange. $229,000

Baselworld, the annual Swiss “fashion week” for watches, is Nirvana for collectors and connoisseurs. Hundreds of super watches make their debut during a glamorous week of launch parties and private appointments, but only a select few attain true Holy Grail status. Our top-ten list of most wanted watches in Basel represents some of this year’s most celebrated treasures, any one of which is worth selling the rest of your collection to own. Some are firsts in series, others are re-engineered versions of iconic lines that incorporate advances in technology and design, and some are simply never-before-seen inventions that redefine the way we measure time.

#2Christophe Claret 21 Blackjack

This interactive, high-roller watch is the ultimate expression of the notion that watches are toys for boys. Claret has taken the Jackpot Tourbillon he invented for Girard Perregaux four years ago one step further with this triple complication. The wearer can play “21” on the dial, going up against a dealer in any one of over 4,000 possible hand combinations, turn it over for a spin of the roulette wheel, which doubles as a rotor, or play a game of craps with three 1.5mm dice visible through the case side. The 21 gets extra points for most clever use of a striking function – when a button on the case side, marked “player,” is pressed to receive another card, it activates a hammer, engraved with the word “hit.” $200,000

#3: Hautlence HL2.0

Of the many super watches that reconfigure movements and display functions to reinvent the way we tell time, the HL2.0 is one of the most  aesthetically successful. Amidst a multitude of virtuoso displays of micro-engineering, with wheels and gears and belts in full view, the HL2.0 is a beautifully integrated combination of classic and avant-garde elements. A vertically positioned escapement and gear train lends a sophisticated, delicate look that offsets and yet somehow blends perfectly with the ultra-modern retrograde minute and jump hour chain. The result is a seamless integration of tradition and innovation. In a brilliant twist, the escapement pivots 60 degrees every hour, thus functioning something like a tourbillon, cancelling the effects of gravity. $240,000

#4: Patek Philippe Triple Complication, Ref. 5208P

If ever there was a watch born to immediate auction-darling status, this is it. The 5208P is the second-most complicated watch ever made by the brand that holds the record for creating the world’s most complicated watch, the Sky Moon Tourbillon (which sold at Antiquorum in 2007 for over $1.2-million, the top price achieved for a watch at auction). What makes 5208P even better than its one-of-a-kind counterpart is that it is part of Patek’s regular collection (if “regular” is the right word). The 5208P is a self-winding chronograph, minute repeater and instantaneous calendar. Reassuringly high-tech supercomponents include Pulsomax escapement, Spiromax balance spring and various silicon-derived materials. You can only get it at Patek’s Geneva salon, and it will be well worth the trip. $825,000

#5: Patek Philippe Ref. 5270

Just as collectible – and more acessible – is the 5270. After concentrating on the launch of several new chronograph calibers over the past two years, Patek has now taken the best of them – the CH 29-535 PS, surprisingly launched in a ladies’ model in 2009 – and added a perpetual calendar function. The new movement, the CH 29-535 PSQ, required the development of a totally new QP module, two years in the making. The result is an understated (despite the 11 different indications on the dial) superwatch, that runs more smoothly and reliably than any of its predecessors, and requires less adjustment over time. The Chrono/QP (Quantieme Perpetuel) combo is a Patek specialty, and long coveted by collectors. $145,000

#6: Jean Dunand Palace

The Palace is not only a high complication, but a watch with a high-concept narrative. Inspired by London’s Crystal Palce, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, it is also a nod to the Eiffel Tower, another of the era’s architectural highlights, and symbolizes the industrial revolution, with its imagery of foundries and steam engines. Its makers also reference the films “Metropolis” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” as inspirations. Fittingly, the case is high-tech titanium. The movement is a Christophe Claret manually-wound monopusher chronograph and one-minute flying tourbillon, flanked by uniquely oval power-reserve and GMT indicators. Only 20 pieces will be made. $465,000

#7: Hermès Arceau Time Suspended

Watchmakers, not satisfied with merely keeping time, have now progressed to the manipulation of time. Created for Hermès by celebrated independent watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the movement incorporates a “Time Suspended” module. At the push of a button, the wearer can stop the hour and minute hands, which operate on what is actually a 360º retrograde scale rather than the typical hour and minute wheels. Thus, time stands still during happy moments! Another push on the button restores hours and minutes to actual time, and simultaneously causes the date to reappear. The suspension of time is purely an illusion, of course, but it’s fun to mess with the clock once in awhile. (If you would prefer to accelerate time instead of suspending it, Hermès has a watch for that too – the Cape Cod Grandes Heures – but that’s another story). $38,000

#8Hublot Key of Time

Hublot also demonstrates its ability to suspend and accelerate time with the Key of Time, a concept watch that builds both functions into one movement. The movement demonstrates the brand’s newfound technological capability since its recent acquisition of the BNB watchmaking lab and 30 of its top watchmakers, including founder Mathias Buttet. Repositioning the crown causes the hour to either speed up (multiplying it by four) or slow down (dividing it by four), or return to real time. The watch is also a flying tourbillon, extended to the case side and anchored in the vertical position and incorporating a seconds track – a Buttet signature. $260,000

#9: Seiko Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater

Every once in awhile, Seiko politely tells the Swiss watchmaking establishment, “We can do that too,” and then does it either better, faster, or more inventively. The Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater is a case in point. Several things enhance the strike. First, Seiko refined its Spring Drive mechanism, already “tick-less” into complete silence. Then it developed a special steel case and gongs in partnership with Myochin, a Japanese steel company known for creating, among other things, high-end wind chimes. Seiko also reinvents the tradition of minute repeaters, striking at one-hour, ten-minute and one-minute intervals, rather than the traditional hour, quarter and minute system. $400,000

#10: Ulysse Nardin Alexander the Great Minute Repeater Westminster Carillon Tourbillon Jaquemarts

Named after history’s unstoppable conqueror, Alexander the Great, Ulysse Nardin’s newest model lives up to everything its name suggests. Just as Alexander the Great was a fearless in his expeditions, Ulysse Nardin is fearless its inventiveness. The company was one of the earliest manufacturers to fuel the rebirth of the minute repeater and each is flawlessly tuned. The Westminster has four gongs, each with a different tone so that when activated, the hour sound is Sol and the minute sound is Mi. Every part of the movement is decorated, angled, and hand-finished–the Jaquemarts on the dial feature handcrafted figures of Alexander the Great set against a charcoal-colored background and the 44 mm case of 18-karat gold or 18-karat white gold features a visible one-minute tourbillon escapement that has been integrated into the dial. Limited edition of 50 pieces in white gold and 50 pieces in rose gold.

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