Baselworld 2011 is probably the industry's largest annual shindig, home to hundreds of brands, all showcasing their brand new models. It happens each March, at about the same time, in Basel, which is why I'm sat here in Finland (or Lapland, to be exact) instead of in a hotel room on the outskirts of Basel. This gives me the opportunity to sit back, and let Baselworld wash over me, like a warming wave of horological goodness. Or not. I guess that depends on what comes up. In this, the first part of a series, I'll be looking at two of the biggest announcements from day one - the TAG Heuer Concept Mikrotimer 1000 and the new Rolex Explorer II.
|The TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000|
Now, the first of these is an incredible piece. Just a concept at the moment, TAG Heuer has built on the wonderful Carrera Mikrograph of last year, which boasted an incredible 1/100th mechanical chronograph, and leapt straight up that logarithmic scale to produce the truly phenomenal Mikrotimer Flying 1000, capable of measuring 1/1,000th of a second. It does this by beating a furious 3.6m times an hour - or approximately 125 times faster than a Valjoux 7750. Rather than trying to explain how this marvel operates, I'll instead link straight to the Calibre 11 website, uber-watchnerd and Heuer-expert par excellence, to explain things. Suffice it to say, this is an incredible piece. Truly amazing, and demonstrates TAG Heuer's determination to push the boundaries of what is possible in a mechanical timepiece. This is what Baselworld is all about - a new, totally stunning, original take on time.
|A classic orange-hand Explorer, by 小丹尼|
And so to Rolex, who have shown at least five new models at Basel. I've chosen the New Explorer II (Rolex's capitals). Returning to the orange arrow-shaped GMT hand of the 1971 version, this is the Rolex for which aficionados and fans have been clamouring: iconic, daring, but understated, the original '71 Explorer is a true classic. The photo on the left is by 小丹尼 (Denny_Jr) and is used with permission. It shows the stand-out orange GMT hand on a black dial, subtle Rolex branding and that rather odd font they used for the date. Oh, and of course, a cyclops. For me, this is one of the few Rolexes that I would actually like to own; it seems to sum up all that is good about classic Rolexes.
|The New Explorer II|
The new model takes the the "current" Explorer II, exposes it to the now de riguer jumbo-fication with which Rolex seems so enamoured, and beefs it up to 42mm. In doing so, the boys and girls at Rolex appear to have increased the flair on the lugs, widening them significantly, and lending them the same, heavy shouldered look that was so evident in the supersized Explorer from last year. It now looks squatter than ever, as if it's carrying too much weight and has spilled out over the top of its impeccably-tailored hiking trousers. For me, the orange hand looks similarly mismatched; a sore thumb against a polar white background. The black-dialled version (which is strangely missing in the official Rolex press pack) looks slightly better. But only just... The New model does, of course, have a new movement, the calibre 3187, which includes probably one of, if not the, best quick-setting GMT mechanisms on the planet, so it's not all bad (I also like the time-setting pushers on the Ulysse Nardin, but that's another story).
For me, at least (and I am definitely in the minority on this based on Twitter comments received so far), this is lazy design. There is nothing ground-breaking about this (or any other of the models Rolex has released). They are updates to the existing range, but no more than that. I'm sure there will be a great number of very, very happy customers for this watch, but for me, this was yet another year in which Rolex failed to impress, yet alone surprise.
Of course, I'm probably wrong. I usually am...