The world’s largest watch and jewellery show is currently underway in the Swiss city of Basel. Dubai Watch Week reflects on the big stories
Talk of Baselworld over the last few years has been of a watch show in decline. Falling numbers, particularly among exhibitors, suggest the industry has decided it has better ways to spend its money than on multi-brand events. Nick Hayek, Swatch Group’s chief executive, has been the cheerleader for publically chiding Baselworld’s organisers for not delivering value for money, intimating just last week that he’ll never take his 18 brands back to the show. Bridges are being burned.
But the fact remains that a show like Baselworld gives the watch industry momentum. There’ll still be more than 500 exhibitors at this year’s event, including watch industry behemoths Rolex, Patek Philippe and LVMH brands Bulgari, TAG Heuer and Hublot. Breitling are still there for now, too, although rumours abound that this will its last outing.
Together, these brands create not just the most important gathering point for the industry; they also set the temperature for the year. Dubai Watch Week has been in Basel since the show opened on Wednesday. Here are our findings.
The watch industry still needs watch fairs
This is a simple point, but an important one. No single brand, or even group, is bigger than the watch industry. The collective is more powerful than the individual. By coming together this week, Baselworld’s organisers and exhibitors have ramped up the industry temperature. There are luxury, business, design, fashion, manufacturing and watch industry experts and influencers from all four corners of the Earth here this week – the combined power they have to raise the profile of watchmaking is immeasurably larger than that of any brand flying solo.
There’s a lot to celebrate this year
Anniversaries are typically two-a-penny in watchmaking. This year feels like an exception, because the big anniversaries are genuinely worth noting. It’s half a century since the launch of Zenith’s El Primero high-frequency chronograph, and since the debut of TAG Heuer’s Monaco and its Calibre 11 automatic chronograph, a landmark movement created by Heuer, Breitling and the now defunct Buren. It’s also 75 years since Hans Hilfiker’s clock first appeared on the Swiss Railways (although only 33 since Mondaine secured the licence to reproduce it as a watch). There’s activity around all of these, as you’d expect. It is of course also 50 years since Omega’s Speedmaster Professional joined Buzz Aldrin on the lunar service and became the ‘Moonwatch’ – Omega, part of Swatch Group and so not at Baselworld, announced a limited edition ‘Moonrise’ gold piece with a new hand-wound Master Chronometer movement earlier this month.
Watchmaking is still getting better
The efforts by brands to improve the technical quality of their watches so they’re more owner-friendly continues. TAG Heuer is the latest to announce a significant movement upgrade. The Isograph carbon-composite hairspring that was first seen in the brand’s Nanograph at SIHH this year has now been put into the new version of Calibre 5 (based on ETA’s workhorse 2824 calibre) powering the reissued Autavia. TAG Heuer says it offers improved performance by being anti-magnetic and ‘virtually unaffected by gravity and shock’, and because it features ‘optimal thermodynamics’.
Brands are still in thrall to the ‘golden age’ of watch design
The so-called ‘golden age’ of watch design loosely spans the period 1940 to the mid-1970s, when the industry enjoyed significant growth, before the Quartz Crisis tore through it. It was between these dates that most watch icons were introduced, from the pilot’s watches of the Second World War to the sports watch paradigms introduced by Audemars Piguet, Patek and IWC. The so-called ‘vintage-inspired’ trend is easily decade-old now, and it shows no signs of letting up. Some say it’s because these designs offer reassurance in troubled times, others because they demonstrate provenance when transparency and trust are key ingredients in consumer choices, others because the industry has run out of new ideas. As it may be, buyers are likely to feed ravenously on pieces such as Patek’s new Ref 5172G chronograph (which replaces the collectible but now retired Ref 5170), Breitling’s Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Norton Edition, Carl F Bucherer’s Heritage Bicompax Annual, and Zenith’s Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver (actually based on an even older design).
The industry still has a problem with delivery times
Releasing a watch in March and delivering it in June, September or even just in time for Christmas is one of the industry’s worst habits, and it’s yet to shake it. It irritates consumers, creates scheduling challenges for publishers and can hamstring brand communications departments. But, to be fair, there’s a quandary here. The alternative after all would be to abandon the fairs and hold half a dozen international launch events during the year to coincide with product launch dates – but that would create it’s own problems. With next year’s SIHH and Baselworld running back-to-back in April and May, lead times will be longer, but don’t expect to see fashion’s ‘see now, buy now’ concept rolled out in watchmaking any time soon.