Most years after our annual pilgrimage to BaselWorld, we look back at the watches we have seen, admired, laughed at or simply ignored and try to make head or tail of the effect these thousands of timepieces will have when they suddenly appear in retailers’ display windows, illustrated in the various specialized magazines or splashed across the pages of our local and national papers as eye-catching advertisements.
Also, we invariably underline the ‘optimism’ that we were informed reigned throughout the Swiss exhibitors and that there were ‘excellent results’ and ‘the order books are full’. Confirmation this year was underlined by François Thiébaud, the President of the Swiss Exhibitors Committee and member of the Swatch Group Executive Group Management Board responsible for Tissot, Mido, Certina, Swatch Group Brazil and the Swiss market: “2011 appears to be following in the footsteps of 2008, the industry’s benchmark year for its remarkable results. The question no longer seems to be one of sales, but of keeping up with production over the year.” He concluded with, “This was an excellent show for us. We achieved splendid sales, and we feel a great sense of satisfaction. BaselWorld’s global reach has played a key role in this over the past few days.”
This year there were 627 watch brands exhibiting, 307 of them Swiss. These figures not only underline the international status and import-ance of BaselWorld but also emphasize the competition the Swiss brands are confronted with by 320 non-Swiss brands mainly in the lower and mid-price ranges. It also explains why, even with the best of intentions, it is impossible to write about each and every exhibitor.
Sifting through this year’s offering I tried to be selectively objective but quickly discovered that in the final analysis my selection is purely subjective: they were watches that I liked or admired for either their beauty, simplicity or their mechanical complications that I found meaningful and, importantly, could comprehend – not technically, but their raison d’être. Moreover, the people associated with the timepieces are inextricably a part of my selection.
Consequently, I haven’t been scathing about any of the myriad timepieces that I didn’t like or appreciate – why waste time and words. Having said that, I will admit to an horological aversion: I am not usually enamoured with skeleton watches no matter how clever or technically brilliant they are, espec-ially anything that appears to have been assembled from a re-usable Meccano set. I can handle models with a small aperture that shows the ‘heart’ of the watch as it has been dubbed and I love the sight of a tourbillon toiling to tranquilize the effects of gravity, but when it comes to trying to discern the hour, minute and seconds hands through a mass of nuts, bolts, trains and bridges instead of on, for example, a beautiful white enamel dial, there’s a stumbling block. I probably need psychoanalysis.
After the usual cup of coffee, croissant and innumerable handshakes at the BaselWorld Press Conference, the speeches began. Mainly self-congratulatory and heavily sprinkled with so-called meaningful statistics with more percentages and numbers than Fermat’s Last Theorem, journalists from around the world either began to nod, mumble amongst themselves or fiddle nervously with their headphones in the hope that one of the simultaneous language translation channels would tune in to a local FM music station.
Jacques Duchêne, Chairman of the Exhibitors’ Committee, rightly extolled the benefits of BaselWorld (more of that later) and Gaetano Cavalieri, the President of CIBJO, The World Jewellery Confederation, summed the industry’s situation up with the pertinent phrase, “… the only constant in our business is change.’
My first visit of the day was to the newly formed company Antoine Martin. Founded only in the autumn of last year it unites Martin Braun, a brilliant watchmaker who needs little or no introduction, Antoine Meier an entrepreneur who also provided the other part of the brand name and Bruno Jufer as CEO.
Jufer, who possesses an impressive curriculum vitae – Maurice Lacroix, Jaquet Droz, Zenith and Carl f. Bucherer – explained the company’s objectives. “Our watches are a distillation of all our expertise, the desire to create technically innovative movements and a passion for unique design. There was no question of purchasing a name from the past and renovating it since we have the know-how and talent to develop and create watches that are the products of our own watchmakers and we are not obliged to follow a pre-defined path. Our independence can already be seen in our first collection and will continue to be seen with all of our future products.”
Martin Braun was not around when I was visiting, but in a recent communiqué he stated, “We set out every day in search of new ideas and ways of incorporating them in watch movement design: we aim to go beyond existing boundaries and to give unconventional ideas a chance.”
The first offering, a Perpetual Calendar, is in either 18-carat rose or white gold, or in a black DLC-coated stainless steel. The powerful looking case fits very snugly on to the wrist and comprises 84 components and the dial combines a modern guilloché with applied numerals and day, month and leap year indications, all of which contribute to the watch having a three-dimensional appearance. The movement designed and produced entirely in-house, is a manual winding Calibre AM 30.001 with twin mainsprings to ensure a 6-day power reserve, with innovations such as aerodynamic amplitude stabilization, a newly developed silicium Swiss lever escapement and an eye-catching titanium balance measuring a full 17.5 mm in diameter.
With prices ranging from 48,000 Swiss francs for the stainless steel version and 72,000 for the 18-carat gold versions, Antoine Martin watches have daringly been launched directly into the upper echelons of Swiss timepieces. Although the price may be justified, one can’t help wondering whether or not the economic environment will be friendly enough, soon enough to ensure that the brand enjoys the success it merits. One can only hope.
Bell & Ross
I like Bell & Ross watches. I liked the Space 1 and 3 models, the Bomb Disposal Type and the Vintage 123 Heure, but I must admit having had doubts in 2005 when they first introduced the BR 01 model, not because of its audacious military-style design that was in keeping with the brand’s DNA, but because I wasn’t convinced that the watch public were ready for it’s imposing dimensions. How wrong can you be? Not only were they ready, but also it has taken on an iconic status within the industry to the point where the idiom ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ can be applied.
This year I bumped into Carlos Rosillo going to his stand dressed in an elegant light grey flannel suit with a pocket watch in his top pocket attached to a chain running through the buttonhole of the lapel of his jacket. With a smile he lifted the Vintage PW1 (49 mm) from the pocket, as he proffered his wrist for me to see the Vintage WW1 Réserve de Marche (45 mm) wristwatch proclaiming, “ From the pocket to the wrist.”
The Vintage PW1 pocket or fob watch is in polished steel with a black dial and photoluminescent hands, indices and numerals and is equipped with a manual-winding mechanical ETA 6497 movement. The Vintage WW1 wristwatch has the same features with a power reserve indicator at 7 o’clock. Both timepieces are in keeping with the Bell & Ross styling and philosophy representing in this case military neo-classicism.
Later on I met up with Christel Kadian, Bell & Ross’s press relations lady, and was a little surprised by the innovative BR 01 Red Radar, a Limited Edition timepiece that was inspired by air traffic control radar screens. Using three independent concentric discs instead of hands, the time is read via luminous beams that indicate hours, minutes and seconds. With its mat-black dial and red discs it is reminiscent of a radar screen and is a technically interesting addition to the brand’s collections. Surprisingly, the time is easy to decipher.
Next came the BR 01 Tourbillon Airborne, an impressive timepiece that combines the expected military symbolism associated with the brand and genuine watchmaking prowess since it has a tourbillon set beneath the skull and crossbones, a precision indicator, a regulator and a power reserve indicator. The case is in ‘phantom black’ titanium and is equipped with a self-winding mechanical ETA 2892 movement visible through the sapphire caseback. It measures that characteristic 46 mm but is easy on the wrist.
The new Aviation BR S Heritage and BR S Steel are two new models that I predict will be a commercial success. The S in the reference refers to ‘smaller, sleeker and smarter’, and will appeal to a whole new generation of watch aficionados since the watches measure 39 mm but look deceptively larger. The Heritage model is in mat black ceramic inspired by the instrument panels in the cockpit, has sand-coloured hands, indices and numerals and a sand-coloured natural leather strap to maintain that desired military look.
The BR S Steel on the other hand is pure el-egance: polished satin-finish, black dial with photoluminescent white hands, indices and numerals and small seconds at 6 o’clock. The models I saw are equipped with a quartz ETA movement making them much slimmer and lighter for the wearer. It should be a very good year for the brand.
Official Opening Day
HD3 launched its Slyde claiming that the timepiece ‘was a revolution in universal time.’ So it was with a certain eagerness that I met up with Jorg Hysek who had already presented Slyde in Geneva in January and Pierre Maillard had mentioned it in his report on the week’s revelations in Europa Star 1/2011.
Slyde is a fascinating concept that brings all styles and mechanical complications to a single case using brilliant and very sophisticated technology that allows the user to surf through various watch applications by sliding one’s finger across the tactile screen either vertically or horizontally, much like you would do on an iphone or the various smartphones.
Basically what this means is that you can have a ‘watch computer’ on your wrist and change its appearance to suit your whim or the occasion. Additionally, via Internet you can recharge and download customized models.
I like Jorg Hysek. He is an original in the watch world and he has had to overcome many difficulties and disappointments over the last few years that would have destroyed a lesser man.
Having re-built his business and then faced yet another crisis when his movement manufacturer went bankrupt, Hysek turned to the avant-garde, the creation of a virtual watch – ‘whose only limits are the boundaries of the imagination.’ The illustrations here show the creative concept and the finished timepiece and I sincerely hope that it is successful – there’s certainly been great interest in Slyde. However, I can’t help feeling that watch aficionados want something mechanical rather than computerized. If the target audience is the younger generation of computer whiz kids, then I’m not sure that they will be prepared to spend the type of money that HD3 is asking for Slyde when they have a similar styled tool that not only gives a visual reading of the time, but also acts as a telephone, a Global Positioning System (GPS) and encyclopaedia. So who’s left – overpaid bankers, millionaires, the man that already has everything? I can certainly see it being used at Wostep or other horological schools where it would have obvious educational advantages in training young watchmakers. But what worries me most of all is that by this time next year, someone in China will have come up with a clone that will be priced low enough to attract the kid next door.
Champagne and a sarnie
Lunchtime on the opening day means the annual press conference at the stands of Frédérique Constant and Alpina with champagne (orange juice for the abstemious) and canapés during the presentation by Peter Stas, the brands’ CEO.
Frédérique Constant is very much involved in various classic car events such as the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, consequently it came as no real surprise that the brand introduced a Vintage Racing Chronograph (43 mm) in stainless steel with different dial options. Equipped with a Calibre FC-396 movement which is visible through the caseback, it has the Peking to Paris logo engraved on the watch’s rotor. A Junior Ladies Collection was also presented with very elegant 26 mm stainless steel watches with guilloché and mother-of-pearl dials, or even one with diamond-set indices.
The new Alpina Startimer Pilot Collection however, was what I personally found the most interesting. Inspired by the original Alpina designs from the 20s and 30s of the last century, the first model in the collection is a basic three-hand date with an automatic Calibre AL-525 movement; then there is a model with an off-centre date hand using an in-house Calibre AL-710 automatic movement; there’s an automatic chronograph model with a Calibre AL-860 movement and finally the watch that caught my eye, the Startimer Pilot Regulator (44 mm) with a circular date counter situated at 6 o’clock and the hour indicator between 9 and 11 o’clock. Equipped with an automatic Calibre AL-950 movement with a 42-hour power reserve, this handsome timepiece is destined to a great future – well at least to the 8,888 pieces of the Limited Edition.
‘L’ for Elle by Ebel
Breakfast at Ebel , sounds like a movie but in fact it was a press conference, five or six tables, each with an Ebel representative: coffee, croissants and watches. The croissants tasted fine, the chronographs gave me heartburn!
Marc Michel-Amadry, Ebel ’s former amiable President and Creative Director made the presentation of the new models at my table, two of which made a very strong impression on me, the new Chronograph in the Classic Sport Collection and a sumptuous pendant watch called ‘L’.
The Chronograph has a more modern look than its predecessors, but it remains clearly in the Ebel mould – elegant, easy-to-read - with the added bonus of colourful rubber straps – khaki, beige, brown, coral pink and navy blue.
The first in the series has a khaki green strap with a distinctive design with a matching central seconds hand and a striped central dial pattern evocative of that of the strap. Equipped with a Swiss quartz movement (Ebel 503) the case is in stainless steel (41 mm) with a silver-toned dial and three different sized counters for hours, minutes and seconds, a date aperture at 4 o’clock and facetted hands coated with Super LumiNova complete its appearance.
For me though, it is the stylish ‘L’ for Elle as Ebel refers to it, that won the day. This oval pendant watch (30.8 x 33 mm), with anthracite or camel-coloured dial and matching leather cord, has a pebbly touch about it with its brushed and polished surface. Water-resistant to 30 metres, the ‘L’ is fitted with a Swiss quartz movement.
It was a very understated celebration of Ebel ’s 100 years of existence.
Gc, Smart Luxury and Sequel
The rest of the day and evening was taken up with Gc. There are a few stands at BaselWorld that are busy, but none in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the combined Guess and Gc stand where literally dozens of buyers queue up for attention, scores of visitors stroll around the showcases admiring the latest watch collections and numerous vivacious young ladies try to keep things organized. I was lucky my appointment was with Cindy Livingston, the President and CEO of Sequel AG, and this lady is a consummate professional who keeps to her schedule of dozens of daily appointments.
For those readers still unsure about Sequel, the company is a member of the Swiss Watch Federation FH, with its headquarters in Zug and offices in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Toronto and Norwalk in the USA. The company is a part of the Timex Group and is responsible for the production and distribution of Gc watches with a 15-year licensing agreement giving it the exclusive distribution rights for Gc watches worldwide (70 countries and counting) through a network of 60 distributors and 5,000 retail outlets including Gc boutiques. Sequel AG also holds the license and distribution for Guess watches.
After we’d caught up on who’d been where since last year and that business is genuinely booming, we made a tour of the latest collections. In the Gc men’s collection there’s now a Gc-4 Executive chronograph (44 mm) aimed at the young executive that requires class, elegance, precision and is looking to make a statement. There are several models ranging from the stainless steel model to the PVD rose-gold model which sports a carbon fibre dial. The model that I found the most tempting has a slate-grey dial with a central sun-ray textured dial and a matching grey leather strap, three counters – 30-minutes, stop-second and 1/10th of a second – a date aperture between 4 and 5 o’clock and hands coated with Super LumiNova. Equipped with a Swiss Ronda quartz movement, the watch has a screw-down crown and it is water-resistant to 100 metres. The prices are very reasonable: 590 to 790 euros.
If skeleton watches are your thing, the Gc Skeleton Heartbeat (44 mm) is for you. Equipped with an ETA 2801 mechanical movement it comes either with or without diamonds (48 diamonds weighing 0.384 carats), Roman numerals, alligator strap and a million dollar look. The unadorned stainless steel model (Limited Edition of 150 pieces) is priced at 1,990 euros and the Limited Edition of 25 of the diamond-set version is competitively priced at 3,890 euros.
The other eye-catcher is the Gc Slim Class (42 mm) in stainless steel with a seconds counter set at 7 o’clock and the crown unusually positioned at 4 o’clock. It has blue hands and is equipped with a Swiss Ronda quartz movement and priced at 380 to 450 euros depending on the model.
Finally there is the Gc XXL Phantom Set. A box set of two chronographs that includes an all-black Gc Sport Class and an all-white ceramic version equipped with Swiss quartz movements featuring three counters – 30-minutes, 60 seconds and 1/10th of a second – screw-down crown and screw-down caseback offering water-resistance to 100 metres. These two timepieces are accompanied by two matching lacquered Gc pens from the new accessory collection that were manufactured in Germany. The recommended retail price of the set is 1,990 euros. The very attractive ladies’ watches are to be seen in the article by Sophie Furley in this edition.
A little later I met up with Paul Marciano, the founder of the Guess fashion and lifestyle empire and creator and spokesperson for Gc, who was chaperoned by Cindy Livingston and Virginie Riot-Billet, Gc’s Vice President, to ensure he gave away no state secrets.
“I love watches,” he told me, “and the Gc brand came about because I had many ideas about creating a brand for people like myself who want something modern and elegant, a watch that is of Swiss quality which implies precision and value for money.
I asked Paul if he was satisfied so far with the results of Gc versus Guess. With a very knowing smile, he countered with, “We sold seven million Guess watches in 2010 [Guess watches were launched in 1984] and last year, after just a few years of existence, we sold several hundred thousand Gc watches so I think we’re heading in the right direction. [Gc watches were introduced in 2007 and in terms of unit sales they are ranked in the top ten Swiss brands]. Our concept for Gc is to offer designer-style, sophisticated Swiss watches, both quartz and mechanical, many of which are Limited Editions sold through our own network of Gc boutiques. Smart Luxury is the essence of the brand – an intelligent way to embody luxury. Gc offers a unique blend of colour, workmanship and contemporary designs at competitive prices and I feel that the value is there.
“My own personal luxury comes from doing what I love every day, constantly creating new things and pushing the boundary of what is possible. Watches are one of my great passions and I wanted to create a statement of luxury that would be an extension of who I am. As such, the creation of Gc was one of my moments of Smart Luxury. Gc timepieces embody the Smart Luxury concept – fabulous design, excellent quality, attention to detail and all at a remarkable price point – that makes me feel good when I wear them. Gc expresses a part of me and makes a statement of my personality.”
The smiles in the photograph say it all!
Source: Europa Star June - July Magazine Issue