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Best in Show

Cigar Aficionado picks the top watches from the 2006 Swiss watch fairs
Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Haysbert, Nov/Dec 2006

Walking down the broad, carpeted walkway of Hall 1 at Baselworld, the world's largest watch fair with some 2,100 exhibitors, feels a lot like taking a stroll down Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Marble structures with windows abound to the left and the right containing brightly lit steel and gold, along with other precious metals and jewels. These are not run-of-the-mill timepieces lying in the vitrines. These are the best, brightest and newest of the coming horological year, examples of the advancements that manufacturers have sometimes been working on for several years, presented every spring to an eager public.

The extravagant booths lining the halls are almost as exciting as the new products, perhaps best exemplified in 2006 by Corum's avant-garde model covered in stingray. Not to be outdone, however, were Rolex's Japanese rock garden and Patek Philippe's triple-storied marble and glass structure.

A tour of the spring watch fairs would not be complete without the refined luxury of the Salon International de Haute Horlogerie (S.I.H.H.) in Geneva, which plays host to 16 of the industry's most innovative brands, not to mention the splinter shows that satellite both of the spring's main events.

After seeing thousands of new timepieces and being duly impressed by the overwhelming million-dollar booths, choosing a new favorite watch can easily become akin to looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. All that glitters is not gold, and telling the difference is really no mean feat.

Cigar Aficionado picked through the new offerings for you with a fine-toothed gear wheel—er, comb—choosing 10 of the best and brightest for the coming year. These illustrious wristwatches are currently available to watch enthusiasts and collectors everywhere.

Under $10,000
Most of the watch industry's products sell for under $5,000. It's a hotly contested segment of the market that can also turn into a jungle for the buyer. Plus, it can be difficult to find a great quality watch with a unique look and innovative mechanics for less than five figures, much less under $2,000.

Alpina Regulator Extreme Avalanche
Alpina's Regulator Extreme Avalanche is a remarkable specimen that stands out from its competitors in this price class. Its unique dial visuals are based on the traditional look of the regulator, which was created before the advent of electronic and atomic time for its precise arrangement of displays. The regulator ensured that the hour, minute and second hands did not interfere with one another. In the Extreme Avalanche, the hours are indicated by a subdial at 11 o'clock, the minutes by a sweep hand from the center and the seconds by a subdial at 6 o'clock. Alpina's clever sports watch takes the visual intrigue a step further, incorporating a stainless steel case of stately dimensions that is especially dressed up in its all-black PVD incarnation. This manually winding timepiece on a rubber strap is reasonably priced at $1,990 for both the all-black version and black with rose-gold-plated variations. A rose-gold plated version with diamond bezel is $4,290.

Just kicking into gear in the United States, BRM was founded by French designer Bernard Richards. As the name suggests (just say it out loud three times really fast, and you'll see what we mean), BRM—short for Bernard Richards Manufacture—is all about embodying speed. The new WL 02—so named because some of the brand's WL models truly look like wheels and steering wheels—departs from Richards' usual engine-block look, but exudes true originality in displaying dual time zones. The large stainless steel case houses two small automatic movements placed side by side and visible through the transparent case back. Indeed, the whole watch is characterized by transparency, making the two little displays of time—just the size of each of their movements—seem more like dashboard apparitions than timekeepers, which is the intended effect. Retailing for $5,450, the WL 02 has recently been joined by a reversible version that features one inverted time display (so that each side of the watch shows one time zone and one movement) and a two-colored strap that can be worn on both sides.

Paul Picot Le Plongeur C-Type Chronograph Carré
Taking the brand's classic timepiece, Le Plongeur C-Type Chronograph, and redesigning its case shape was a bold move for Paul Picot, but one that ultimately paid off. The new C-Type Chronograph Carré is an individualistic timepiece that makes a statement both at the yacht club and in the boardroom. Though the bezel no longer rotates as on the original diver's watch, the embossed numerals have translated very well to the square bezel of this automatic timepiece; the numbers frame the black dial, which is peppered with both luminous and yellow elements. Note the canary yellow rubber strap (it also comes in black), whose theme is continued on the gasket of the screw-down crown as well as on the seal separating the bezel from the body of the 42 x 42 mm case. This exceptional chronograph comes with both the rubber strap and a folding stainless steel clasp. Though this incarnation is part of a limited edition of 999 pieces, retailing for $7,200, other color variations are sure to come, judging from the model's success following its presentation at Baselworld.

Corum Admiral's Cup Competition 48
Continuing the aqueous theme, Corum also presented a revamped timepiece at Baselworld 2006 that was originally invented for use during regattas. Displaying the hours with nautical pennants instead of numerals is only one of the retained design traits typical of this classic. The case, which has mutated over the years to a prominent dodecahedron (12 sides), is now massive in size at 48 mm, though kept light and comfortable on the wrist through the use of the light metal alloy titanium. The case is jazzed up on some versions by the addition of a solid 18-karat rose gold bezel—a stunning contrast to the broad navy blue dial and its nautical theme. The crown protector both protects the screwed-in crown from unwanted shocks and adds a striking design element, being the same color of vulcanized rubber as the watch's strap. The Admiral's Cup Competition 48 is available for $4,995 in a solid titanium case and $8,295 in titanium featuring the rose gold bezel.

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