THE BABELWORLD LABYRINTH


Europa Star WorldWatchWeb, 22 June 2015    Español 中文
Pierre Maillard

Entering the hall where the official opening of Baselworld 2015 is to take place, amid the hubbub of journalists taking up their usual places, and greeting each other as from one continent to another, it is immediately clear that something is not quite right.

THE BABELWORLD LABYRINTH

On the rostrum are René Kamm, CEO of the MCH group, the organiser of Baselworld, Managing Director Sylvie Ritter, and François Thiébaud, CEO of Tissot and chairman of the Swiss exhibitors. But someone is missing. René Kamm is unable to hide his emotion as he informs us of the death, the previous evening, of Jacques Duchêne. A pillar of Basel, the former Rolex boss was about to celebrate his sixtieth consecutive Baselworld and twenty years as Chairman of the Exhibitors’ Committee. He was also a man of conviction, and an indefatigable opponent of the counterfeit industry. Basel city hall had even planned a ceremony in his honour. However, he collapsed as he finished his evening meal. And so, at the request of René Kamm, Baselworld began with a solemn minute of silence.

But business swiftly resumed – how could it be otherwise? – and after the usual and less usual speeches, question time brought up the issue on everyone’s mind that first day: the smartwatch. Is it a tsunami or an insignificant trickle? Will the much-vaunted timelessness of mechanical watchmaking defeat built-in obsolescence? Or will the power of marketing finally smash that dream? Will the two universes end up peacefully coexisting in a symbiotic relationship? Is it a crisis, or another development opportunity? You get the picture. On this subject we will hear everything and its opposite. But, curiously, and tellingly, all the buzz and nervous excitement over smart technology basically blew over as the days passed. True, there was no avoiding Jean-Claude Biver, ever the showman, who struck his table with a sonorous fist, and announced with great fanfare TAG Heuer’s partnership with Google and Intel. He pushed the provocation to the point of unveiling a large lit panel on the front of the booth, bearing the three logos together – the first thing visitors see when entering the prestigious Hall 1. As a TAG Heuer executive later confided to me, this strident announcement, despite lacking any associated product, secured the brand in a single day a level of worldwide media coverage that was worth its weight in tourbillons. And a good thing too… because, just half an hour earlier, very quietly, Fossil group had announced exactly the same thing: an agreement with… Google and Intel. (Malicious tongues are suggesting that although this year we are seeing a lot of TAG Heuer/Google/Intel, next year the order will be Google/Intel/TAG Heuer.)

For other brands seeking connectivity, a number of approaches are emerging. Bulgari’s strategy, which is intelligent and wholly in keeping with its image, is to transform the jewellery watch into a virtual vault, while Breitling, logically, is using smart technology to support professional pilots. Because, when you think about it, anyone who can’t survive without checking their pulse, their calorie intake or output, or the number of steps they have taken, is already spoiled for choice. [On the subject of smartwatches at Baselworld, see Serge Maillard’s analysis later in this issue.] But, curiously, this topic, which everyone thought was so pivotal before the fair opened, rapidly evaporated from discussions. No doubt it will return.

The Tower of Babel that is Baselworld never fails to excite even the most jaded observers and journalists. Thousands, tens of thousands of timepieces are all lined up for inspection. On either side of the ‘Champs-Elysées’ of Hall 1 rise the luxurious façades of the great houses. Between these impressive piles open innumerable avenues, roads and alleyways, lined with a gallimaufry of edifices and booths dressed up to the nines to bring in the punters. And so the question arises: how can we even begin to give an account of it all, even a partial one? Is it even possible to draw any general conclusions from this mass of disparate information? In order to navigate through this horological labyrinth, we shall opt for the subjective ramble, giving no thought to hierarchy, pausing as the mood and serendipity take us. It’s as good a way as any to try to make sense of it all. As we are all by now abundantly aware, smartwatches aside, watchmaking is certainly at a turning point: a societal, geopolitical, generational, economic and technological turning point. Here is one example: why did we see so few Chinese journalists and retailers at Baselworld? Will China’s clampdown on ostentatious luxury, coinciding as it does with the release of the Apple Watch, cause even greater turbulence in this gigantic market? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s go and take our stroll.

 A NOVICE’S VIEW - MOVADO GROUP

There are times when nothing beats the fresh eye of a novice to help rediscover what familiarity has clouded. The amiable Ricardo Quinteiro is the new president of the Movado group. His acquaintance with the world of watchmaking dates back only to July 2014. Before that, he worked at Estée Lauder. So this is his first Baselworld, and he is completely gobsmacked. Never, in any industry, has he seen anything like it, such a debauch of luxury, such glittering multi-level booths. He still can’t get over it, but equally, he can’t hide his excitement. “I’m still in a learning phase. First, you should try to understand, and then you can act on the knowledge of exactly what needs to be changed, improved or transformed. I have travelled all over the world to find out about the brands’ status, their hierarchy, their respective strengths and weaknesses, and I’m still not finished. You have to learn from the consumer, keep learning…” The Movado Group is primarily Movado, Ebel and Concord, but many people forget that it also includes a small empire of licensed brands: Lacoste, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, ESQ, Coach, Scuderia Ferrari Orologi and Juicy Couture, a cohort that posted a turnover of USD 587 million in 2014, a 3.3% increase over the previous year.

Movado's 2015 collection
Movado’s 2015 collection
Some 95% of Movado’s 2015 collection is directly inspired by the Museum and its iconic dot, which has become a signature feature. From left to right, either side of the Museum Classic, are the 1881 women’s and men’s automatic, the Movado Sapphire, the Movado TC chronograph and the colourful Sport Edge.

SEE THE COMPLETE 2015 MOVADO COLLECTION HERE

For flagship brand Movado, Ricardo Quinteiro is hoping to capitalise on the Museum, a deservedly iconic timepiece that can been seen in more than twenty museums around the world. The watch with its pared-down dial, featuring a solitary ‘sun’ at 12 o’clock, was designed by Horwitt back in 1947 and has not dated in the slightest.
“The same should apply to every brand,” notes Quinteiro. “They should be immediately recognisable, without the shadow of a doubt, and without a logo.” That is what he is hoping to build on. Particularly so for Ebel: “We need to return to the essence of this beautiful brand, rediscover its truth, reconnect with its codes and its amazing comfort in wear. Ebel is a jewel, and we intend to put it back in its rightful place. Ebel will become strong again,” he concludes. On the subject of Concord he is unwilling to commit: “I’m trying to understand the deep-seated reasons for Concord’s reputation in certain regions of the world, like the Middle East, for example, where it has a very strong resonance with several generations of consumers. Once I have thoroughly understood its raison d’être we will be able to act more effectively.” Does he have a figure in mind? Given that he is currently in the black-out period that precedes an earnings announcement he is unable to say too much, but is willing to admit to a target of USD 750 million by 2017. In passing, he notes that in the USA one watch in three in the $500–$1500 price bracket is a Movado, along with one in five in the $300–$3000 range. And… smartwatches? Let’s leave that for another time.

 A SHEER MARVEL FROM DE BETHUNE

De Bethune - Quetzalcoatl
De Bethune - Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl might well be the most unpronounceable name of the salon, but it is certainly one of its most beautiful watches, inspired as it is by the famous feathered serpent that was believed to govern the cycle of time in the pre-Columbian era, the divine protector of goldsmiths and artisans and inventor of the calendar. Nestled in the centre of the dial, the serpent points its head towards the hours and its tail to the minutes. Thus it coils and uncoils perpetually over an aerial view of the temple ruins of the city of Tenochtitlan, painstakingly carved in relief. Following the designs of David Zanetta, engraver Michelle Rothen has accomplished a masterpiece of subtlety and delicacy, further enhanced by the sophisticated play of light, whether sparkling off the guilloché motifs or glowing from the matte surfaces. Twenty examples of this marvel are available (CHF 110,000).

 STOPOVER - LOUIS VUITTON

Louis Vuitton - Escale Time Zone
Louis Vuitton - Escale Time Zone

After last year’s Escale Worldtime caused such a stir, Louis Vuitton is continuing in the same beautifully coloured vein by offering, at the top end, a Worldtime with minute repeater that strikes home time (€280,000) and, at the lower end – if one can say that – a rather lovely Escale Time Zone in steel at €5,300, which is bound to sell like hot cakes. Tambour Escale Time Zone, steel case, 39 mm in diameter, discs with transfers produced by hand by a craftsman from the La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton Manufacture, central hour disc in circular satin-brushed anodised aluminium, calibre LV87 self-winding La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton movement. Functions: 24 non-synchronised time zones, grey strap with stitched alligator lined with yellow calfskin.

 AN APARTMENT IN THE PALACE - LOUIS MOINET

Leaving the Movado Group stronghold, we slip into the tent of the inappropriately named but bustling Palace, which brings together some of the most interesting new faces, to meet Jean-Marie Schaller in his booth, intricately designed to resemble a cabinet of curiosities. The 19th century ambiance is entirely deliberate, as we are in the premises of Louis Moinet. The brand’s ten-year history reads like a masterclass in independent watchmaking. It is watchmaking of the highest order: original, inspired and coherent.
At a rate of two timepieces completed each day, Louis Moinet has come a very long way, leaving some impressive milestones in its wake: the Tempograph with its 10-second retrograde mechanism; the space-themed collections like the Astralis, a wrist-mounted planetarium complete with meteorites; and a number of other creations that expertly combine classical inspiration with contemporary execution. _ It therefore gave us great pleasure to discover the company’s latest offerings, stored on the most beautiful USB key at Baselworld, in the shape of the dial of the famous Louis Moinet 1816 Chronograph. The timepiece that is most emblematic of the brand and its approach is without doubt the Memoris, a tribute to the invention of the chronograph by Louis Moinet himself.

LOUIS MOINET MEMORIS
LOUIS MOINET MEMORIS

“For the Memoris, we couldn’t draw inspiration from what had gone before; everyone else worked from the premise that the chronograph was an additional complication on top of the time function,” explains Jean-Marie Schaller. “Our starting point was the opposite: sweeping away the past and making the chronograph the heart of our design; the central component to which we then added a time function, rather than the other way round.”

Read our Cover Story on Louis Moinet

But Jean-Marie Schaller has turned the concept on its head, and what we hold in our hands is no longer a watch featuring a chronograph but a chronograph featuring a watch. The first of its kind. Here, the complication is no longer the chronograph function, but the time function. The chronograph occupies the whole of the central area, the current hours and minutes being relegated to a small white enamel subdial at 6 o’clock. This technical somersault required all the constructive genius of Concepto, the movement manufacturer who has accompanied Louis Moinet from the outset. As a result, the chronograph mechanism has been switched entirely to the dial side, where it has plenty of room, along with the column wheel and monopusher release, while the balance wheel, hidden behind the time dial, is visible only from the back, under the oscillating weight. The entire exterior of this 46 mm piece in pink or white gold has been reworked, and is executed with great classical finesse, punctuated with ultra-contemporary details such as the black zircon screwed chatons that adorn the lugs. It is an unqualified success, and the vindication of a remarkable creative and entrepreneurial approach.

 THE COURTESY OF ROMAIN GAUTHIER

Since we are in the company of some of the most creative independents, let us not deprive ourselves. Let’s spend a little more time appreciating their different approaches. First, Romain Gauthier, who is also celebrating his tenth anniversary this year. His faultless track record began in 2005. In 2007 he produced his first watch with hours and minutes; in 2010 he followed up with hours, minutes and seconds; and in 2011 we saw the now famous Logical. This year’s HMS Ten celebrates a decade of creativity. As Romain Gauthier himself explains: “With HMS Ten, supreme legibility was paramount. My idea was to have a dial with completely unobstructed views. Once the eye is drawn to the hour-minute subdial, it is then naturally attracted to the sectorial seconds. Nothing disturbs the wearer’s reading of the time. Such a timeless, elegant dial came to me naturally because I was born in the heart of Swiss watchmaking, the Vallée de Joux, and was constantly exposed to classic, historical dial design as I grew up there.” With his roots in the watchmaking universe of the Valley, Romain Gauthier pursues his uncompromising quest for horological purity, working not just on the readability of his timepieces – which is the essence of watchmaking ‘courtesy’ – but also manually refining the perfection of his hand-finishing, as befits the spiritual heir of Philippe Dufour.

Romain Gauthier - HMS Ten
Romain Gauthier - HMS Ten
HMS Ten is available in three limited editions of 10 pieces each: platinum 41 mm case/blue dial, white gold case/anthracite dial and red gold case/light dial. Off-centre hours and minutes subdial at 12 o’clock. Sectorial seconds at 4 o’clock. Dial open 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock to reveal balance wheel and seconds gear. Multi-level, multi-textured dial featuring smooth and Clous de Paris finishes. Hand-finished in-house movement visible through display back. Flat crown on caseback for ergonomic winding. In-house manufacture movement Calibre HMS. Power reserve: around 60 hours. Balance frequency: 28,800 bph / 4Hz. Fine hand finishing including hand-polished screws and jewel countersinks, hand-polished bevels and bridges.

The HMS Ten has all the hallmarks of a great classic: it’s perfectly round and seemingly innocent of any crown, which is nevertheless concealed on the caseback but, thanks to its imposing diameter, can be wound while the watch is on the wrist. We should add that, apart from the mainspring, balance spring and jewels, all of the components were developed and produced in Romain Gauthier’s own workshops. After ten years’ building and development, Romain Gauthier now believes he has a strong enough collection to begin large-scale communication with the world’s most discerning watch collectors.

 ONE DAY OR AN ETERNITY - MANUFACTURE ROYALE

“To have lived an eternity or to have lived a day amounts to precisely the same thing,” declared the giant Micromégas in the eponymous book published by Voltaire in 1752, 18 years before his creation in 1770 of the Manufacture Royale to take on the rival Genevan watchmaking industry. The venture fizzled out, but in October 2013 the Gouten-Guten family, well known in watchmaking circles, bought the name with the intention of rebuilding the prestige of this brand with its historical resonance. On the strength of an associated manufacture now located in Vallorbe, which is extremely well-equipped and has around forty experts in situ, they succeed in designing, producing and finishing all of their exquisite movements.

Manufacture Royale - MR03
Manufacture Royale - MR03
Manufacture Royale also cultivates the art of Haute Horlogerie through the care devoted to the finishing and decorating of each individual component by hand. This is expressed in the MR03 by the fine-sandblasted bridges and mainplate, which are also hand-chamfered and black-polished with satin or perlage finish, and by straight-grained flanks on the inside and outside.

Following on from the first Androgyne collection, with its complex and polarising design, they called upon Eric Giroud, an excellent designer well known to our readers, for their newest range. The result is extremely successful. Very discreet, very pure, the 1770 Micromégas features a pared-down flying tourbillon that drives two bold sword-shaped hands, with arrow-type indices and a small power reserve indicator. A domed crystal emphasises the perfect circularity of the watch, and is echoed by the slim lugs, which all contributes to the exceptional legibility of the watch. Through the caseback it is possible to admire the rigorous architecture of the perfectly finished and decorated movement. In the space of a year and a half, the Manufacture Royale seems to have found its path.

 GLOBEMASTER OFFENSIVE - OMEGA

Let us for a moment leave the poetic world of the independents and return to Main Street, where battles continue to rage on a rather different scale. Here, new products are scrutinised not just for what they actually are, but also for what they might reveal about current strategy. Omega, not previously known for inviting the press corps to its cocktail receptions, welcomed journalists to its chic digs in the suburbs of Basel, which had been entirely redecorated for the occasion. Charm offensive? Quite possibly, and also an attempt to prepare the best possible backdrop for the launch of the Globemaster. This is the first watch – coaxial, as is now the case of “99% of Omega watches” according to CEO Stephen Urquhart – to be granted the famous Metas certification, launched last autumn.

The eight criteria for the Globemaster certification process are:
The eight criteria for the Globemaster certification process are:
1. The function of the movement during exposure to a magnetic field of 15,000 gauss 2. The deviation in the running time of the watch in six positions 3. The deviation in the running time of the watch between 0 and 2/3 power reserve 4. The function of the watch during exposure to a magnetic field of 15,000 gauss 5. The deviation of the average daily precision of the watch after exposure to a magnetic field of 15,000 gauss 6. The average daily precision of the watch in tests replicating daily wearing conditions (six positions, two temperatures) 7. The power reserve of the watch (autonomy – functioning without winding) 8. The water resistance of the watch (tested in water).

The Master Chronometer certification is one of the most rigorous: as well as the usual demands in terms of accuracy and reliability, it guarantees that the watch is almost perfectly insensitive to environmental magnetic fields (up to 15,000 gauss). This is clearly a substantial offensive, and one aimed squarely at Rolex, with whom Omega is jostling for position in certain territories. Everything points to that hypothesis, including the slightly vintage look of this appealing watch, inspired by the Constellation models of the 1940s and ’50s, with its pie-pan dial and fluted bezel which, in the words of Omega, “makes it immediately identifiable to future generations.” As the brand’s executives point out, “The Globemaster will be known forever as the very first watch to bear the Master Chronograph certification.” And that says a great deal about the ambitions that lie behind this new certification (which the Swatch Group officially wants to open up to all brands). At the end of the day, it’s the customers who will decide: will they take this new certification on board as the new ultimate reference, or will they just not care? A strategy is being played out.

 THE IMPERTURBABLE AND UNCONQUERABLE GIANT - ROLEX

Is Rolex even bothered? Is it slightly miffed? Or does it take more than that to upset the Crown? Activities in 2015 are proceeding inexorably along three axes, we are told: the new flagship product is a new generation Day-Date, the big news is the launch of the 3255 movement, also new generation, and the third innovation is a new Oysterflex technical bracelet. The rest of the world might be running around like headless chickens, but Rolex proceeds majestically along its royal road. The new Oyster Perpetual Day-Date is emblematic of this unflagging march forward, step by step, without missing a beat, which is one of the remarkable characteristics of the company. Subtly modernised, equipped with the new calibre 3255 which, on the strength of its 14 patents, is proud to call itself the new ‘Superlative Chronometer’, the watch remains triumphantly an Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, the Presidents’ favourite, as the timepiece’s backstory has it. Why make a radical change to something that is self-evidently capable of maintaining its own course on autopilot? Having said that, however, the new 3255 movement bears witness to the uncompromising work ethic of the house’s R&D division. The movement, driven by the new Chronergy escapement for high energy efficiency, offers significant improvements in accuracy, autonomy, shock resistance and magnetic shielding. Tested in the box, its performance is astonishing: plus or minus two seconds per day, far better than COSC (-5 to +6 sec/day).

Rolex - The Oyster Perpetual Day-Date
Rolex - The Oyster Perpetual Day-Date
Rolex is introducing the new generation of its most prestigious model, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, featuring a modernised design with a 40 mm case as well as a new mechanical movement, calibre 3255, which sets a new standard for chronometric performance. The new Day-Date redefines the status of Superlative Chronometer, established by Rolex in the late 1950s, with criteria for accuracy on the wrist that are twice as exacting as those for an officially certified chronometer.

And while we’re on the subject of Rolex, who else could generate such a buzz around a new strap? Well, this is certainly the case with the new Oysterflex bracelet that is fitted to the Yacht-Master. A series of flexible metal blades at its heart are enclosed in a black high-performance elastomer. Just the ticket for waterproof comfort in stormy weather (at sea or on the stock exchange).

 PATEK PHILIPPE SPRINGS A SURPRISE

A change of direction? Rolex might not care to try it, but no less traditional a house than Patek Philippe, guardian of the watchmaking temple, showed no hesitation. The curious and questioning expression on Thierry Stern’s face as he watched the journalists’ reception of the completely unexpected pilot watch said it all. What is this? Sacrilege! A Patek pilot? And it will take a great deal more than a historic reference or two, such as the “two hour-angle instruments” on display in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, to change their minds. Amused, Thierry Stern says he did it “for pleasure. I had a lot of fun and I’m pretty happy with the result.” Indeed, sometimes it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch. Having said that, Patek Philippe is by no means a stranger to changes of direction. Remember the launch of the Twenty 4? At the time, lots of comments were made about this ladies’ watch, which in fact proved to be a huge success. The naysayers can keep their carping to themselves: the now famous Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time reference 5524 seems already to be a hit with retailers. And rest assured, it retains all the qualities of purity, legibility and functionality that are the hallmarks of the house.

Patek Philippe - 5524 Pilot Travel Time
Patek Philippe - 5524 Pilot Travel Time
The Ref. 5524 Pilot Travel Time enriches Patek Philippe’s venerable Calatrava collection with a large-format, decidedly masculine model that evokes images of the classic aviators’ timepiece, while details such as the blue dial, white-gold case and time-zone function place it in a category of its own.

A further illustration of Patek Philippe’s mastery, if one were needed, is the new Split-seconds Chronograph Reference 5370, unmistakeably stylish with its deep black enamel dial, and the forerunner Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Reference 5905P with a reworked design. In short, all is as it should be.

 HERMÈS, A HAVEN OF PEACE

Baselworld is noisy, its crowded aisles jostling with impatient and self-important delegates. How delightful it is, then, to find a haven of peace where you can take a little time to talk, about… typography, for instance. “Typography is all but invisible: it’s there, it’s omnipresent, and yet we pay it very little attention.
But where creativity is brought into play, you suddenly notice it, you feel a pull. But true greatness in typography is in the most subtle details.” The speaker is Philippe Apeloig, one of the best contemporary graphic designers and a master typographer. Philippe Delhotal, creative director of La Montre Hermès, asked him to create the typeface for the dial of the new Slim collection. It’s just a detail, you might say, a needle in the huge haystack of Baselworld! And yet the entirely convincing result has something of the miraculous about it. Perhaps a future icon has been born? A blueprint would seem to have virtually nothing to it, but this ‘nothing’ is the starting point for a rarely-encountered delicacy and elegance. “I used just a single stroke width,” explains Philippe Apeloig, “The weight of the line doesn’t change, but I added some ‘silent’ places, some gaps, as I traced the numerals, as if time had stopped for an instant. The design avoids any optical ‘knots’ for optimum legibility. And the originality of this rhythmic and lively design gives the watch a strong identity, evokes a particular emotion. Yes, typography can be emotive…”

Hermès - Slim Watch
Hermès - Slim Watch
The numerals designed by Philippe Apeloig emphasise the pure lines and understated elegance of the Slim watch’s case, which is available in steel or rose gold, with or without diamonds, in three diameters: 39.5 mm, 32 mm and 25 mm. At the heart of the 39.5 mm model beats the Manufacture Hermès H1950 ultra-thin movement. The integration of a micro-rotor serves to slim down this self-winding calibre, which now measures just 2.6 mm. The 39.5 mm model can also be fitted with a perpetual calendar mechanism. The 32 mm and 25 mm models have quartz movements. Browse the entire Slim collection on europastar.com

The subtlety of this approach contrasts strongly with all the clamorous and ostentatious timepieces, so many of which fill the display cases of Baselworld, seeking to make the loudest noise possible. We were therefore genuinely delighted to discover the hushed Slim collection which, we are convinced, will mark a discreet but important chapter in the watchmaking annals of La Montre Hermès, of which Laurent Dordet, a company man who has moved over from leather goods, has just been appointed the new CEO.

 CHANEL AT THE PINNACLE

Nicolas Beau, international director of Chanel Watches since 2002, is in a good position to say it, but that’s rather beside the point as it is clear to everyone who has eyes to see: Chanel is becoming a watchmaking power. All the collections are evolving, improving, gaining more depth. The 3rd dimension beckons: tourbillons explore the concept of depth and the play of light and shadow, while the superlative craftsmanship of the Mademoiselle Privée Coromandel collection introduces a consummately artistic dimension whatever the technique used – sculpted gold, enamel, mother-of-pearl or embroidery. “These timepieces have a meaning because they connect with our history and our heritage. And everything is done on the basis of personal encounters, discovering talented artisans. We hear a lot about métiers d’art these days, but Chanel, which has its own network of small artisanal businesses, has been immersed in them forever. Watchmaking can feed off that, too.”

THE BABELWORLD LABYRINTH
Chanel - Mademoiselle Privée Coromandel Sculpted Gold

…Until next June, the launch date of the new Boy Friend collection, apparently a rare example of a masculine ladies’ watch. “A Première with a little masculine seasoning…” according to Nicolas Beau. We’ll wait and see.

 INFECTIOUS ENTHUSIASM - FABERGÉ

Fabergé - Lady Compliquée
Fabergé - Lady Compliquée

I have never before seen Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, creator of Agenhor, the multiple award-winning and celebrated movement manufacturer, and a specialist in retrograde and poetic movements (notably for Van Cleef & Arpels), so excited and enthusiastic. “I find I am free to create as never before, it’s fantastic, I can start to implement my craziest ideas…” What is this golden opportunity? “Fabergé of course! The watchmaking department has been taken over by a young woman, Aurélie Picaud, and it’s just fabulous…” And it’s true that the buzz around Fabergé’s new watchmaking creations continued to mount over the course of Baselworld. The first object of Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s enthusiasm is named simply Lady Compliquée. And what a ravishing complication it is. Ultra-feminine, it consists of a fan that gradually opens over the course of 60 minutes, at the end of which it snaps shut, before beginning the cycle again. This watch, with its ever-changing face, currently exists in two versions: a fan of ice that opens across a snowy mother-of-pearl landscape, and a peacock spreading its tail before closing it again. This stunning timepiece has singlehandedly launched a new era of Fabergé watchmaking. Europa Star will return to Fabergé at a later date.

 POETIC RIGOUR - NOMOS

Since we are talking about subtlety, let us extend the topic a little further in the company of the excellent German brand Nomos. Not many people know that Nomos, created in 1990 by Roland Schwertner in Glashütte, not only makes its own calibres from start to finish (it currently has 11), but it is also Germany’s market leader in watches between €1,000 and €4,000. And it achieves this with the most pure and simple aesthetic possible, and a graphical efficiency that manages to be warm and poetic despite its rigour, expressing the fundamental values of this business which is a model both in watchmaking terms – extreme care is evident in the creation and production of the in-house calibres – as well as socially and environmentally. And also in terms of price, as the brand’s executives are fond of saying: “Nomos watches must be as expensive as necessary but as cheap as possible.”

Nomos - Metro
Nomos - Metro

This ‘less is more’ philosophy is genuinely embodied in Nomos’s products which, rather unusually, successfully marry Glashütte’s secular watchmaking tradition (take, for example, the latest DUW 3001 movement, a “very slim but not very expensive” automatic, with the typical German three-quarter plate) with the avant-garde modernism of Berlin, where the creative teams are based.

We shall no doubt see a great deal more of this uniquely positioned brand. We will come back to it in more detail in a forthcoming issue.

 THE SLIGHT DISSONANCE OF THELONIOUS MONK - ORIS

Oris - Thelonious Monk limited edition
Oris - Thelonious Monk limited edition

As far as subtlety is concerned, Oris goes in for such minute details that only an extremely well-trained eye is likely to spot them unaided. For years Oris, as part of its Oris Artelier collection, has regularly paid tribute to the giants of jazz. This year it’s the turn of Thelonious Monk, the pianistic genius who would always introduce judicious touches of dissonance into his melodic and rhythmic lines. How can you bring dissonance into a watch? Look carefully at the dial! More specifically, count the minute indices from 50 to 60. How many are there? The usual ten? No: in fact, there are eleven. Now that’s subtle.

The other news at Oris is the launch of a new, entirely industrialised, in-house mechanical movement, the Calibre 111, which we shall come back to in our next issue.

 SHINJI HATTORI WANTS A “MORE FUN, MORE LIVELY” SEIKO

Let us change continent, and spend a few moments in Japan, beginning with Seiko. Shinji Hattori is in fighting spirit as he sketches out the landscape of the great Japanese firm. “I took over the management of Seiko thirty years ago now. The crisis of 2008 had some positive and some negative effects for us. The good thing was that it forced us to explore new avenues, and we are seeing the results today. Firstly, with the Astron line we invested in hi-tech GPS coupled with solar power, which we have mastered perfectly. Then, we launched our historical mechanical Grand Seiko collection internationally, although hitherto it has been confined to Japan. It is now available in 30 markets. To achieve this we invested heavily in our manufacturing capacity. And finally, the Prospex has made the sports watch our biggest business. Overall Seiko has improved and consolidated its position. Our plans for the future are to continue with GPS technology, to continue to invest in Grand Seiko and go full speed ahead with Prospex, with the help of our ambassador Novak Djokovic. We have opened new boutiques, notably in New York in 2014, and we will pursue this strategy. I want Seiko to be more fun, more lively. I want us to move forward and touch people’s hearts.” There is nothing much to add to this speech, except to say that, having seen and touched the timepieces, I have to concur: Seiko is going upmarket.

Seiko - 62GS
Seiko - 62GS
In 2015 Grand Seiko returns to 1967 and its first ever automatic watch, the supremely accurate 62GS. The design, too, established a style that has been passed down the years to today’s Grand Seiko. The 62GS had a mirrored, multi-sided case and a wide dial opening, achieved with a bezel-free construction and Grand Seiko’s unique Zaratsu polishing. The crown was recessed and placed at the 4 o’clock position to dramatise the fact that hand winding was not required. The 62GS also had the long razor-edge hands that have always been part of the Grand Seiko signature. There are eight references in the new 62GS collection: four are faithful recreations of the 1967 original with an automatic calibre and four are modern reinterpretations featuring Grand Seiko’s most advanced movements, including the Spring Drive. All are limited editions.

 CITIZEN PLAYS THE GPS CARD

Here is another quick overview, with Citizen this time. The Japanese powerhouse’s star for Baselworld 2015 is the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F900. According to the brand’s publicity, it is “the world’s thinnest light-powered GPS satellite-synchronised watch with the world’s fastest reception speed (3 seconds).” The driving concept behind this entirely analogue watch is speed: its new high-speed motor is designed specifically to enable the hands to spin very fast, improving the performance of its various functions, such as displaying a second time zone (which can easily be switched) and a chronograph. Its very thin case (13.1 mm) is made in Super Titanium™, which incorporates a proprietary surface hardening technology. This makes the titanium resistant to scratching (we tested it with a metal brush) and five times harder than steel, while remaining 40% lighter.

The Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F900
The Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave F900

On the advent of smartwatches, Citizen’s executives say they are open to all possibilities, provided that they offer a genuine advantage to the consumer. They are also determined to remain entirely analogue; incoming messages, emails or calls could be indicated with a needle or hand, for example. As far as the mechanical sector is concerned, Citizen is apparently thinking very seriously about the best way to promote and boost this side of its business, following the purchase of Lajoux-Perret in 2011. Watch this space.

 BLUETOOTH: A GAME-CHANGER FOR CASIO?

Casio is also investing heavily in analogue, and particularly the connected analogue, with the new Edifice Smartphone Link. “This watch could be a real game-changer for Casio,” we are told at the booth. “We have done a lot of work on Bluetooth linkage, taking on board both positive and negative experiences. We are closely following technological developments in the smartphone sector, while keeping our DNA intact. In fact, this watch is water resistant to 100 metres, whereas water resistance is a real problem for current smartphones.

The Edifice Smartphone Link and the G-Shock MRG Special Baselworld 2015
The Edifice Smartphone Link and the G-Shock MRG Special Baselworld 2015

Powered by solar energy, this robust and elegant watch can display the time in more than 300 cities around the world on a secondary dial, by means of a smartphone link and a dedicated app. It automatically adjusts the time to the previously specified home and international locations (correcting for daylight saving if necessary). Alarms, notifications and other settings can be easily reset. Its other functions include a stopwatch, countdown, full auto-calendar, aeroplane mode, LED light and a hand-concealment feature.

Casio is also heading resolutely upmarket. Take its remarkable G-Shock MRG Special Baselworld 2015: it is made of a special alloy of 90% titanium, 6% aluminium and 4% vanadium, hardened by a re-crystallisation process to reproduce the characteristic finish of traditional Japanese swords known as nie. This influence is carried throughout the watch’s design, without compromising on technology such as the hybrid GPS and radio-wave time-calibration system.

 THE VERDICT OF FRANÇOIS THIÉBAUD - TISSOT

It has become a ritual that one of our final meetings at Baselworld is with François Thiébaud, boss of Tissot, chairman of the Swiss exhibitors and likely future chairman of the Baselworld exhibitors’ committee, following the sad loss of Jacques Duchêne (see beginning of this article). Together, we return to the smartwatch issue.

In his opinion, “The Apple effect has really thrown the spotlight on watchmaking in general, and on the T-Touch in particular. This year at Basel everyone wanted one, although they represent just 5% of our timepieces. But, as you know, Swiss watchmaking is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it has a total turnover of almost 60 billion, but with just 28.6 million watches, 50% of which are by Swatch and Tissot. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the 2 billion or so watches made each year. But given the growth of the middle classes around the world, the Swiss industry has enormous potential in the mechanical sector, and I am convinced that 10 or 15 years down the line it could represent 20% of total watch volume. The ‘terroir’ of Swiss watchmaking is truly exceptional, and I use the word ‘terroir’ as one speaks of the ‘terroir’ of Bordeaux, for wine. It is irreplaceable. When you make a watch you make more than just a way of telling the time: you contribute to the identity of the person who will wear it, you provide a lasting emotional connection. Smartwatches, however, have one major problem: obsolescence. But we will show that Switzerland is not about to give up. Swatch Group has great expertise, not only in tactile technology, which we pioneered, but also in terms of access, security and connectivity. Apple arrives with its apps and generates enormous media hype, but what do people actually use, and what will they actually use in the future? You’ll see, simple quartz watches will start to feature simple, basic ‘smart’ functions, such as switching to daylight saving time, for example.”

Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar
Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar
The new Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar features 20 tactile essential functions for everyday use, such as a perpetual calendar with indication of day and week number, two alarms, two time zones, weather forecast with relative pressure, altimeter with altitude difference meter, chronograph lap and split with logbook, compass, timer, azimuth, regatta function and backlight, changing the face of watchmaking forever.

In terms of putting this into practice, the first stone, or rather “the start of a lot of things” will be the ‘Tissot beacon’ that the group hopes to begin installing in the network of high mountain cabins in the Swiss Alps. Via a connected T-Touch, climbers will be able to receive invaluable weather information. What is more, in terms of autonomy, the sky is (literally) the limit as far as solar power is concerned.

The battle lines have only just been drawn up. Baselworld draws to a close, and once again, the name of Apple is on everyone’s lips. It would appear that the subject is far from closed.

Source: Europa Star June 2015 Magazine Issue



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