So Baselworld didn’t turn into a showcase for the latest electronic watches. Granted, given the pre-fair hype surrounding the Apple Watch, the dozen or so brands that came to the city-on-the-Rhine with their own connected watches inevitably became a focus of attention. TAG Heuer in particular had everyone on tenterhooks, although many were left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. We now know that the LVMH-owned brand will be working with Intel and Google, who incidentally are also partners to Fossil, but the big reveal stopped there. In a word, the smartwatch revolution we were promised is still a long way off and the leave-’em-reeling effect largely hypothetical. So much for an object which, ultimately, is seen as another piece of consumer electronics.
A "reasonable" offering
For the rest, Baselworld stayed true to tradition which remains first and foremost mechanical watchmaking, a still thriving business although one that has toned down past exuberances. It would, indeed, be difficult to ignore an economic climate marked by a strong Swiss franc, an uncertain future for the euro, falling oil prices and recession in Russia. All of which is weighing on Swiss watch exports and causing inventory to accumulate, pressuring brands into finding an adequate response. Which they have. Never before the latest Baselworld have watchmakers been so “reasonable”, putting on a spread that the less well-furnished wallet can afford. This even extends to new in-house movements and complications.
It used to be that whenever a brand developed and produced a movement in-house, prices shot up accordingly. After all, not everyone can claim manufacture status. Not so today. Now when a brand produces a calibre within its four walls, the consequences are more marketing than directly financial. Similarly, watchmakers wanted it to be known that this command of production potentially gave them better market penetration. The product gains in value for the same price. Numerous brands have taken this tack, beginning with Tudor which presented its first in-house movement, and Rolex, on a winning streak with its new-generation calibres. Zenith came with the latest addition to its movement family, the Elite 6150. Further examples include the Heuer 01 from TAG Heuer and the H1950 which equips the new Slim d’Hermès collection, not forgetting Oris which moves up a gear with its Calibre 111, or Omega and its Globemasters. Each of these base movements has its specificities; all show that brands are taking an aggressive approach to the market.
Skeleton and extra-thin
The lesson is that a watch can get noticed without putting on a show. Earlier in the year, in January, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie already demonstrated the power of classicism, which thrives in sober, functional settings. The new “it” watch is round, its case now smaller and slimmer having shaved millimetres from both diameter and height. Bezels keep a low profile or disappear from view entirely. Traditional materials, steel and titanium relegate special alloys to the rank of curiosity. Darker shades set the tone.
Still in the classic vein, one trend to stand out since the year began has been the proliferation of extra-thin timepieces, always a symbol of elegance. The new Slim d’Hermès collection leans in this direction, as do the anniversary watches in the Bulgari Roma collection, the L.U.C XPS from Chopard, and Shakudo, part of Blancpain’s Villeret collection. Skeleton watches are provoking the same enthusiasm among brands, from Hublot (Big Bang Chrono Perpetual Calendar) to Perrelet (First Class Double Rotor Skeleton), Girard-Perregaux (Minute Repeater Tourbillon with Gold Bridges) or Chanel (J12 Skeleton Flying Tourbillon).
What women want
After a period of lean pickings, the women’s segment is enjoying rich pastures, particularly now that brands have identified this as the most promising market. The artistic crafts are out in force: constantly in search of new ideas, this year they explore scarab beetle elytra, quail egg shell and pigments from butterfly wings. Women’s timepieces are flexing their mechanical muscle too, and are spared the indignity of “making do” with movements carried over from men’s watches. Breguet, Harry Winston and Jaquet Droz are leading the field with features developed especially for a female clientele: moving diamonds at Breguet (B Crazy Haute Joaillerie), retrograde displays from Harry Winston (Avenue Dual Time Automatic) and Fabergé (Lady Compliquée Peacock), automata at Jaquet Droz (Lady 8 Flower), but also an inverted rotor from Dior (Grand Bal Envol) and a rotating dial from Blancpain (Women Jour Nuit).
Which leaves complications, although the excitement which inevitably greeted the most complex timepieces just a few years ago has died down. Even so, brands’ creativity in this field remains intact, as demonstrated by Urwerk and its UR-1001 Titan, Melchior the robot-table clock from MB&F, Christophe Claret’s Allegro and the Ulysse Anchor Tourbillon incorporating Ulysse Nardin’s innovative escapement. Is it because they prefer not to push this type of product too hard in these austere times? Just as customers seem currently more inclined to choose a simple, classic watch, useful complications and functions take precedence. Think finely-crafted chronographs, such as Breguet’s Tradition Chronographe Indépendant 7077 which, astonishingly, is wound by the chronograph reset function, or Breitling’s Transocean Chronograph 1915 which has a completely new in-house monopusher calibre with a double column-wheel system. Calendars are also in demand, both simple – the likes of the Day-Date which Rolex has completely revisited – and annual, such as the Annual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5905P from Patek Philippe. Not forgetting timekeeping indications: the Senator Cosmopolite from Glashütte covers 37 time zones while Louis Vuitton’s Escale Minute Repeater Worldtime is unusual in putting a world time function inside a striking watch. These same striking watches that appear to have claimed the (unofficial) title of queen of complications. Something we perhaps shouldn’t say too loud!