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Rolex returns: Baselworld 2019 predictions

Rolex returns: Baselworld 2019 predictions

John Wallis

From Coke GMTs to steel Yacht-Masters, what do we see in the future for Rolex at Baselworld 2019? Those who have been predicting the demise of Baselworld have yet more reasons to feel smug this year, as the international watch fair's woes continue to mount. After major changes last year that saw the show reduced in length and exhibitor numbers, new problems have emerged for 2019.

SWEXIT

Forget Brexit - watch fans will be much more concerned about Swexit. This is the major news of the departure of Nicholas Hayek's Swatch Group. The 18-brand company, which includes names as big as Breguet, Blancpain, Longines and - yes - Omega, has announced it will not be exhibiting at Baselworld this year, and has established a rival show for itself in Zurich on the very same dates. Other big names like Raymond Weil and Maurice Lacroix have also decided not to return to Basel.

Rival Geneva-based watch show, SIHH, will see big exits of its own, including Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. In 2020, the two shows have agreed to coordinate their dates, allowing visitors and journalists to visit both in a single trip to Switzerland. But will this be enough to stem the feeling that physical exhibitions are increasingly obsolete in a virtually connected world?

Rolex to the rescue

Don't fear, the End is not yet Nigh. Baselworld remains by far the biggest watch show in the world, and it continues to attract giants like Patek PhilippeBreitling, and the LVMH brands (TAG HeuerHublotZenith). But of course the real giant - and increasingly Baselworld's cornerstone - is Rolex. Since Baselworld is more or less the only time when Rolex makes announcements, it remains a must-follow event for the majority of watch fans and industry observers.

Last year, the Crown made seriously huge waves when it used Baselworld to unveil the new GMT-Master II in steel with a Pepsi bezel, alongside other exciting new timepieces, from Daytonas to Deepseas. Thanks to announcements like this, fans have been well-trained to wait for Baselworld with baited breath. So what can we expect this year?

Broken dreams

Every year, watch fans make predictions about what Rolex and others will launch at Basel, and every year the majority of these guesses are wrong. Last year, for example, there were several major predictions that never materialised:

The continued march of the cerachrom bezel. Rolex seems to be very proud of the ceramic inserts it has added to several major models (including the fabled Pepsi GMT, mentioned above). There were many who predicted that cerachrom would be rolled out to yet more pieces, such as the Explorer II. But would overuse of cerachrom threaten to erode the unique identities of the separate watch series?

Coke. Ever since 2014's gold-cased Pepsi GMT, many have thought Rolex was sure to follow up with a new version featuring a black and red "Coke" bezel. Instead, we got another Pepsi in 2018. Is Rolex committed to a single-soft drink GMT formula, or is there room for the revenge of the cola? Surely the demand is there, but since when has Rolex ever listened to such petty concerns as market forces?

The Cellini question. One of the least talked-about watch families still sold by Rolex, the Cellini is nevertheless a beautiful watch and much in need of attention. It has been many long, hard years since it received a significant upgrade - could 2019 finally be the one?

Visions of things to come

Could these failed predictions from years past finally come true in 2019? It's impossible to say - Rolex has become increasingly unpredictable in recent years, and while it largely sticks to its mantra of very gradual, almost glacial change, it has also been known to surprise with somewhat larger jumps. So what are the best educated guesses?

Milgauss mileage. Aside from Cellini, Milgauss is perhaps the Rolex family in most dire need of refurbishing. As a professional series tool watch, with steel cases, this anti-magnetic dreamboat particularly sticks out - all its peers have been granted new editions that have passed it by. This seems odd when the most advanced 32xx movements have a lot of anti-magnetic parts of their own.

The rhyme of the ancient Submariner. The Sub is perhaps *the* most popular Rolex watch and it has enjoyed the lion's share of attention from Rolex design teams in the last decade or two. But it was curiously absent from the 2018 roster, with no significant changes to the family at all. Perhaps the firm was gearing up for major Submariner activity in 2019 - new 3235 movements would seem to make sense for a start.

GMT has to "steel". Did the 2018 GMT signal a new willingness to offer (comparatively) affordable steel versions of major watches? Watches like the Yacht-Master spring to mind, as well as families that received gold or two-tone models last year, such as the Datejust 36. Dare we even dream of the Day-Date?

One for the ladies. A case could be made that Rolex has not been strong on women's watches in recent years, and some believe we'll see an attempt to cater to the fairer sex in 2019. Will the Crown follow the market trend of offering sporty timepieces in women's, or unisex sizes?

It's a mouthwatering menu if ever there was one. Whatever happens, CHRONEXT will be there to report on it. Stay tuned and let the excitement build!