After adding a cool one billion Swiss francs in sales in 2012 (+14 per cent), the Swatch Group clearly pleased its shareholders, who saw the value of their bearer shares jump by almost 50 per cent over the year and can look forward to an increase of 17 per cent in their annual dividends. When the Swatch Group’s CEO Nick Hayek announced these impressive figures in March, he also committed to a further investment of between CHF 400 and 500 million this year alone, to match a similar amount that the group invested last year. The group’s growth will also bring more new jobs, in addition to the 900 new jobs that it created last year in Switzerland alone. In the first of three articles about this veritable powerhouse in watchmaking, whose ETA division alone is now producing a staggering 14 million components per day, we take a look at what to expect from a number of brands in the Swatch Group at BaselWorld this year.
At BaselWorld this year we saw an entirely redesigned Swatch Group pavilion that housed, in various shapes, sizes and heights, the brands that make up the formidable watchmaking machine based on the shores of Lake Bienne. But the biggest surprise of all is that Swatch, the brand that revolutionised the industry thirty years ago and gave its name to the group, will for the first time be represented with a stand at the show.
The model that took pride of place on Swatch’s new stand was the “Swatch Est. 1983”, which celebrates the brand’s 30th birthday in the simple and playful way that has made Swatch watches so successful over the past thirty years. Many models and concepts have been seen from the creative minds at Swatch since the first 12 models were launched on 1 March 1983, including designs by famous artists, numerous limited editions and collector’s pieces, an attempt to establish Internet time (although BMT—Biel Meantime as the reference for the “Beat” never really went viral) and, more recently, touch screen digital models. But the 30th anniversary model goes back to the roots of the brand with the now iconic round plastic case that is most clearly identified with the brand and time indications on the dial replaced by each of the thirty years from 1983 to 2013. Although gold is usually associated with 50th anniversaries, we can forgive Swatch the exuberance of a gold finish to the movement, visible through a transparent dial, especially since the snappy “Celebrate” printed twice on a toothed driving wheel visible at 8 o’clock clearly evokes the trendy and upbeat image of the brand that revived the Swiss watch industry. Here’s to another 30 years!
As can be inferred from the year 1888 that figures beneath the logo on the dial of its watches, Certina will also be celebrating an anniversary this year, for it is 135 years since brothers Adolf and Alfred Kurth opened the factory in Grenchen that evolved into today’s Certina. “We want to mark 2013 as a milestone,” says Adrian Bosshard, CEO of Certina. “We will present a totally new corporate identity at BaselWorld and we will have some spectacular new products, in terms of both design and innovation in movements. We will also be launching various limited series in celebration of our anniversary.”
The brand’s strong motorsport credentials, built on an eight-year partnership with the Sauber Formula 1 team, were recently extended with a new agreement as the official timekeeper of the FIA World Rally Championship. But despite these strong sporty leanings, the brand is more than capable of producing timepieces that ooze classic elegance, such as the new DS Podium Square. At 38mm in size, this new case shape, in the form of a rounded stainless-steel square, is perfectly targeted to offer global appeal and comes with a silver dial with black Roman numerals and a matching black leather strap. True to its motorsport associations, however, Certina also presents a new, ultra-sporty DS Eagle Chronograph, with a brushed stainless-steel case and a screw-on bezel with carbon inserts. Three different models are available: steel and PVD, all PVD and black/rose gold PVD, all powered by the ETA G10.91 quartz calibre with chronograph and GMT functions. Gents’ watches have accounted for two-thirds of the brand’s collection for years and Adrian Bosshard expects this to remain so for the foreseeable future. “But ladies are also interested in Formula 1 and rally,” he says, “and many ladies like to wear gents’ watches.”
Jaquet Droz tops the Swatch Group’s anniversary pile, celebrating 275 years of existence—over twice as old as Certina and a staggering nine-times older than Swatch…. Delve into the company annals, however, and you will find a considerable gap in this history—a gap of over 200 years, in fact—between the time when Pierre Jaquet Droz the watchmaker set up workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds, London and Geneva before the French revolution and the much more recent date when Montres Jaquet-Droz, the brand, was set up in 1987. As a brand, Jaquet Droz only really took off when the Swatch Group took over at the turn of the millennium.
- PETITE HEURE MINUTE 35MM by Jaquet Droz
Nevertheless, today the manufacture based in La Chaux-de-Fonds makes a great deal of trading on the history of Jaquet Droz, recreating the unique automatons for which the watchmaker was also famous and maintaining his spirit in the decoration and fine movements of its timepieces, the latest of which is the Petite Heure Minute 35mm, the brand’s first ladies’ watch entirely in stainless steel (case and bracelet), with a bezel set with 160 diamonds and the signature off-centre hour and minute dial set onto a single disc of mother-of-pearl. It is powered by the Jaquet Droz 2653 self-winding calibre with a power reserve of 68 hours.
The cutting edge of research and development
Breguet proudly boasts the first series-produced mechanical chronograph with a 10 Hz movement. Fitted with Breguet calibre 589F, with a silicon escapement with a flat balance spring rated at 72,000 vibrations per hour—double that of the usual “high-frequency” movements—the new Type XXII 3880 in red gold claims to be twice as precise, since its central flyback chronograph seconds hand completes one revolution in 30 seconds rather than the usual minute. The problem of a double reading on the dial is elegantly solved by alternate red and white dashes on the interior of the dial below the seconds/minute scale. The red dashes are for the chronograph hand’s first 30-second revolution, the white indicators for the second revolution. The same red and white colours are used for the minute scale and are also replicated on the contrasting stitching of the brown alligator leather strap.
- TYPE XXII 3880 by Breguet
As part of the Swatch Group’s heavy-artillery public relations offensive in the week before the SIHH this year, Omega offered a teaser of what could be a breakthrough in volume watchmaking that will be presented at BaselWorld. Using a prototype Seamaster Aqua Terra, the top brains from ETA and ASULAB (the Swatch Group’s research and development arm), demonstrated a new movement that can resist magnetic fields of over 15,000 gauss. Anti-magnetic wristwatches are, of course, nothing new, with the Rolex Milgauss and the IWC Ingenieur being two prime examples. The IWC Ingenieur Reference 3508 is, in fact, perhaps one of the most resistant watches to magnetic fields ever produced, capable of withstanding a magnetic resonance tomograph generating 3.7 million A/m (46,500 Gauss, or over three times the resistance claimed by Omega). But what makes Omega’s new movement, which was launched at BaselWorld as the Co-Axial Calibre 8508, the more remarkable is that it does not use a separate inner cage to provide the protection but instead relies on non-ferrous metals used in the movement itself.
- SEAMASTER AQUA TERRA 15,000 GAUSS by Omega
As we wait for the full technical details of this new movement, which has been the subject of several patents, it is worth contemplating its importance in the wider context of customer service. With magnets of varying levels of power increasingly surrounding us in our daily lives (think of the speaker in your mobile phone, your TV or stereo system at home, or the more worrying MRI scanner you may have passed through to check out this season’s skiing injuries), their effects on a watch can be very damaging. Only days after Omega’s press conference, a colleague found her watch had been magnetised and was losing half an hour a day. Whenever this happens, the watch has to be demagnetised, which involves a cost and, more importantly, places extra pressure on already overburdened customer service departments. Europa Star enquired about Omega’s thoughts and expectations in this regard, but unfortunately our questions fell foul of the brand’s press spokesperson, who informed us that “it is not part of our strategy to communicate about our customer service.”
Rado has maintained an impressively unwavering attachment to its core values as one of the pioneers of high-tech materials in the watchmaking industry. Long before the Hublot Big Bang was even a twinkle in Jean-Claude Biver’s eye, Rado was already using high-tech ceramic to make sleek but highly-resistant timepieces. Despite the proliferation of high-tech materials now being used by dozens of watch brands, either for the case or bracelet, or for the movement itself, Rado remains true to its roots and continues to present elegant pieces whose designs have already proved that they can withstand not just the elements but the changing whims of fashion.
The latest incarnations in the familiar oval monobloc case of the D-Star collection present different hues of the high-tech ceramic. In addition to matt black, the case of the new D-Star Ceramic Chronograph is also available in a new plasma-treated high-tech ceramic that is produced using a patented treatment that is exclusive to Rado and creates the sheen of platinum, even though no metal whatsoever is used in the process. The unusual look is achieved using gases that are activated at a staggering 20,000°C and modify the composition of the high-tech ceramic without affecting its basic properties. The resulting colour is permanent and will not change or fade over the years, maintaining the same scratch-resistant sheen. In terms of high-end mechanical watchmaking, Rado is offering a rarity with the new D-Star Rattrapante Chronograph. This is only the second time that the brand has had a split-seconds chronograph in the collection and in this case the model in matt black high-tech ceramic is a limited edition of only 250 pieces, using the ETA 7770 self-winding movement.
A blockbusting sponsorship deal
The fact that Longines signed a “nine-digit” sponsorship agreement with the International Equestrian Federation tells you all you need to know about the health of the brand. This new partnership comes in addition to Longines’ existing sports partnerships with alpine skiing, gymnastics and tennis and covers the next ten years. It undoubtedly reinforces the Swatch Group’s dominance in sports timekeeping at international level. In order to help with the amortisation of this huge investment, Longines presents a new collection at BaselWorld that is dedicated to the race-goers who will attend the many equestrian events held across the world each year in the numerous equestrian disciplines.
- CONQUEST CLASSIC by Longines
The Conquest Classic comes in three different sizes—all with mechanical self-winding ETA movements—and in steel, 18-carat rose-gold or a combination of the two. The different sizes, movements (including the L688.2 column-wheel chronograph that is produced by ETA exclusively for Longines), case materials and classic dial colours give a wide range of possibilities that should help Longines achieve the sales volumes it will need to finance its huge sponsorship investment.
The foreign influence
Hamilton occupies its own niche within the Swatch Group thanks to its unique American heritage. Last year the brand impressed us with its Khaki Navy Pioneer limited edition model—a large marine chronometer style wristwatch with a removable case that could be fitted into the gimbals of a chronometer case or used as a table clock. In the same vein, the brand is presenting another timepiece with dual uses at BaselWorld this year. The Jazzmaster Face2Face combines two different movements (an ETA 2094 chronograph and an ETA 2671 three-hands calibre) with two different dials on opposing sides of a rotating stainless-steel case. The wearer of this imposing 53 x 44mm model, which is a limited edition of 888 pieces, can therefore decide whether to show the simple three-hand face with a classic silvered dial or a blue chronograph dial according to his mood or requirements. The movements are positioned side by side and both sides of the case are transparent, which means you can always see the rotor powering the time indication that is not visible.
- JAZZMASTER FACE2FACE by Hamilton
At the Swatch Group’s two outposts in the German watchmaking Mecca of Glashütte, the focus is on ladies’ watches at Union Glashütte and Glashütte Original. The former is launching the Sirona Date model with new leather straps in black or white to match two new dials adorned with diamonds. Glashütte Original, on the other hand, will present its new Pavonina collection, with a rounded square characterised by two central lugs that connect to a separate attachment for the bracelet. The new models are available in a variety of materials and colours (the name Pavonina is derived from the Latin word for peacock) and the central lugs lend themselves perfectly to a discreet diamond setting. This new collection is dedicated to the first “modern women”, which Glashütte Original traces back to the 1920s.
With 18 different watch brands under its umbrella, not to mention the industrial powerhouses that supply the majority of the mainstream Swiss watchmaking industry, even the Swatch Group cannot present all its highlights at BaselWorld (although Swatch enters the fray this year, Union Glashütte, for example, remains absent), so we must stress that this article is far from exhaustive. We will come back to other brands from the group and provide more detailed analysis of some of the above-mentioned brands in a future issue of Europa Star.
A billion more reasons to bank on Bienne
- The Swatch Group’s well-oiled watchmaking machine
- Tissot: The watch factory
- Blancpain: The farm next door to the factory
Source: Europa Star April - May 2013 magazine issue