Watch Business / BaselWorld 2014: An Uneasy Feeling...

April 2014

BaselWorld left us with an uneasy feeling this year … in the halls, more munificent ever, the impression was that the industry was cruising, ‘business as usual.’ But on closer scrutiny, we could sense some nervousness, a fair amount of timidity and a touch of anxiety.
It was as if we were coming to the end of a certain period, that there was a crossroads on the horizon - that things would never really be as they were before. ‘Before’? Yes, you know, when China was a veritable El Dorado, when the craziest mechanical machines sold like hotcakes, when we were amazed by every tourbillon and we had never heard talk of ‘smart’ watches…

Yesterday, in other words.

Withdrawal symptoms were apparent, like a conservative trend: fewer overcomplicated mechanical monsters, much more modest sizes, a notable classicism, more simplicity, more restrained prices.
A normalization, if you like.
The craziest pieces, the most ‘obscene’ such as the Graff ‘watch’ that boasted a 50 million franc price tag (i.e. the most expensive ‘watch’ in the world), served as a smokescreen. Behind these talking points, what changed ‘for real’ was the more discrete allure, as though watchmaking had bridged the chasm separating the super-rich and the others, all of the others.

The true star of BaselWorld 2014 was in fact the ‘mid-range’.
In itself, this is good news. Swiss watchmaking had headed into the stratosphere; now it was coming back to earth. This return to a greater realism is not voluntary and in full awareness, but rather under the pressure of facts: the drawers of retailers and the safes of branded stores stuffed to the brim, artificially inflated all the statistics; China launched its campaigns (largely hypocritical) against corruption in which, gradually, the ‘Swiss watch’ has become the most visible symbol.
Moreover, the recent discovery of dozens of empty watch boxes in the residence of Ianoukovitch underlines that this appetite of dictators for Swiss watches has been harmful to its reputation.

Wearing an elegant and costly watch has often become a sign of corruption and dishonesty rather than being, as it should, the sign of culture and refinement.
Moreover, the exceptional has become banal to the point of enhancing the desirability of less flamboyant creations, more reserved in character, with more delicate contours and with a simple, more sober distinctiveness.

Another point: BaselWorld lives up to its name, and Swiss watchmaking, which often lives in its own world, is now faced with the emergence of a whole range of brands and initiatives from across the world.
Fossil, for example, with its low-priced watches and an annual turnover of around US $3 billion, is now the 4th largest watchmaking group in the world. This year the Chinese brand Seagull presented a double tourbillon, imperfectly finished, but perfectly regulated. Armani is moving into Swiss Made watches, as is the Ice-Watch, etc. A sufficient number of statements and observations confirm that the market is restabilizing.
There remains an important unknown: while everybody shrugs their shoulders and awaits the probable unleashing of smartwatches – Apple foremost, nobody in the BaselWorld corridors said a word! The calm before the storm? As I said, an uneasy feeling.