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Watches To Watch For

Cigar Aficionado Scours Switzerland's Watch Fairs to Find the Best New Timepieces
Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007

Weave your way through the crowds in front of the Rolex booth; go around to the exhibition windows at Patek Philippe to see what's new with one of the watch industry's premier manufacturers. Gawk through the glass at Zenith's defiant new offerings, then make your way back to the Swatch Group's gargantuan complex of showrooms set up for the group's 18 famous brands, while passing TAG Heuer and Japanese giants Citizen and Seiko on the way. After that, continue exploring the more than 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries debuting watches at Baselworld, the world's largest watch and jewelry fair, in Basel, Switzerland.

When you've seen as much of Baselworld as you can possibly muster, head to Geneva's Salon de Haute Horlogerie (S.I.H.H.), the luxury-class fair that features watches shown by 18 of the industry's top leaders in technology. And don't forget the city's satellite exhibitions, which just may be home to some of the most interesting timepieces of all. But you'll never know until you get there.

Needless to say, choosing the spring's 10 best new watches is a difficult task. But Cigar Aficionado visited every corner of the Swiss spring fairs and found 10 watches to make your heart tick a little bit faster.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team Chronograph
In 1972, avant-garde freelance designer Gérald Genta designed something that turned the established watch industry on its head: the world's first luxury sports wristwatch. What's more, the watch, designed for Audemars Piguet, was made of stainless steel, which was unheard of in that price class at the time. The Royal Oak's octagonal bezel design can be described as nothing short of iconic and continues to be one of the industry's leading wristwatch models in its various evolved versions.

Combining this legendary design with a feel for the new materials and technologies now available to manufacturers, Audemars Piguet has created the ultimate Royal Oak. Three new versions of the watch commemorate the company's sponsorship of Alinghi Team, champions of the 2003 and 2007 America's Cup. It is available in a platinum or 18-karat rose gold case complemented by a carbon fiber bezel, or forged completely from carbon fiber.

But the luxury doesn't stop there. The back of the case is crafted in black PVD titanium, with an engraving of Alinghi Team, and black ceramic buttons and a crown top each version. Eight beveled screws holding the carbon fiber bezel to its case are made of black PVD-coated steel, while the black dial boasts Audemars Piguet's own Mega Tapisserie pattern, as well as luminous numerals. Completing the ultra-cool look is a rubber strap.

Naturally, this chronograph stops the time, but it also offers some extra perks: not only does the watch have a flyback function, allowing it to be reset without having to first stop and start, but it also features regatta start and countdown functions that correspond perfectly with its nautical theme. All in all, an iconic watch model with a unique look is an unbeatable combination. The Royal Oak starts at $23,100.

Bell & Ross BR O1 Instrument
Since its debut almost two years ago, Bell & Ross's unique BR 01 Instrument has been stealing the spotlight—and wrists—of not only aviation fans, but of guys who want something different. This timepiece grabs the attention and directs it to your wrist with its 46-mm circle-in-a-square case, which can be removed from its frame to serve as a small desk clock should you wish.

The watch was inspired by the instruments found in the cockpit of a small aircraft; it took guts to transfer the design to the wrist, and a lot of skill to do it right. Since its introduction, the BR 01 Instrument has been available in steel and rose gold, but it was this year's phantom and blue versions that have really made it an alternative for the regular guy—one who doesn't want to stand out too much, but who sometimes thinks, "Yeah, why not."

Bell & Ross's Instrument Phantom combines the subtlety of an all-black dial (a reoccurring theme in this season's timepieces) with the supersharp legibility of a photo luminescent dial, which is entirely in keeping with the original concept of aviation instruments. The brand's designer, Bruno Bellamich (the "Bell" of the brand's name; his partner and general manager, Carlos Rosillo, is the "Ross"), says that he was inspired to create this all-black model by stealth bombers: elusive, yet not totally invisible. This is in great contrast to the blue and orange models, whose faces are prominently visible and entirely legible with their uniquely colored photo luminescent numerals, markers and hands.

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