Every spring for about the past century, the watch world has focused its attention on Basel, Switzerland, where hundreds of international brands set up booths to display their latest wares. And while Baselworld is shrinking in the face of a changing industry and evolving marketing models, it’s still the biggest show of its kind and a can’t-miss event. Those who don’t travel to this city on the Rhine River compulsively refresh their Instagram feeds to see all the new releases from brands big and small. I attended Baselworld for four days the week before last and sifted through the good, the bad, and the ugly to winnow a list of horology’s best and brightest, with a particular eye toward watches that can stand a little abuse in the name of fun. These seven were the best that I found. Warning: some are priced high enough to decimate your bank account.
Zodiac Aerospace GMT ($1,695)
Hands down my favorite watch of the show, the Aerospace GMT is a pitch-perfect homage to a watch Zodiac sold in the 1960s. Updated to the more modern diameter of 40 millimeters, the watch boasts a self-winding Swiss movement, water resistance up to 200 meters, and a colorful rotating 24-hour bezel that tracks a second time zone in coordination with the fourth hand on the dial. Limited to just 182 pieces of each colorway, this watch is already sold out. But if you’re lucky, you can grab one from one of Zodiac’s retailers or secondhand, just in time for summer travels.
Tudor Black Bay P01 ($3,950)
Easily the most controversial watch of Baselworld, the P01 is a riff off of a prototype piece called the Commando that Tudor built for the U.S. Navy in the 1960s. Its dial and hands are classic Tudor diving watch, but the feature causing the purists’ kerfuffle is the hinged end-piece that locks down the rotating 12-hour ring, which gives the watch its unique look. I am still on the fence with this one but mention it because it was all the buzz around Basel.
The Aquis family has been a proven and durable line of diving watches from Oris for years. To freshen things up, this GMT version adds a smart way to track three time zones at once, utilizing the rotating, ceramic 24-hour ring and a separate 24-hour ring on the dial, which, in addition to the main hands, can keep you on schedule at home and on the road. Oris’s usual high-quality straps round out this versatile sports watch.
Seiko SNJ025 ($525)
Forget the unimaginative official name for this Seiko, and instead call it by its nickname: the Arnie. In 1980s movies like Predator and Commando, Austrian action star turned California governator Arnold Schwarzenegger was seen sporting a black Seiko diving watch with both analog and digital displays on the dial and a rotating timing ring protected by a shroud. While this watch is something of an acquired taste, Seiko aficionados have been waiting for a reissued version for years, and there’s no denying that it’s a go-anywhere, rugged ticker. The new one adds the zombie-apocalypse feature of solar charging, in case you’re on the run for a long time.
Citizen Promaster Aqualand 30th Anniversary Edition ($775)
In 1989, Citizen introduced a line of sea, air, and land watches it called Promaster. This year marks the 30th anniversary of that first family of so-called tool watches, and the brand has released a tribute trio in commemoration. The most iconic of the three is the Aqualand, which sports an electronic depth gauge, just like the original. Unlike the original, however, this one’s battery is charged when the watch is exposed to natural or artificial light.
Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition ($8,600)
If you’ve been following along here, you’ll notice that watch companies like anniversaries and special editions. Breitling is no exception, and the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition looks back to, you guessed it, 1959 and the brand’s most iconic timepiece. With a slide-rule bezel that pilots used for calculating airspeed, remaining fuel, and anything else imaginable, it looks complicated but is a masterpiece of mechanical functionality. The reissued watch, limited to 1,959 pieces, is a dead ringer for the original, right down to the honey-colored dial markers.
Sinn Arktis ($3,760)
We’ve covered watches from Switzerland and Japan, but let’s not forget that Germany produces some pretty bomber timepieces as well. Perhaps none are more rugged than Sinn, the Frankfurt-based brand known for its aviation and dive watches made from hardened submarine steel. The Arktis is a reappearance of a watch Sinn made for many years, which, as its name implies, is designed to be used in cold places. Sinn claims the Arktis will keep ticking down to minus 45 degrees centigrade (negative 45 degrees Fahrenheit), thanks to special lubricants that resist the cold. Perfect for next winter’s polar vortex.