WatchPro’s BaselWorld 2012 report

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BaselWorld is on the precipice of change as it plans to roll out a new floorplan in 2013 and the spirit of stepping into new territory was shared by its exhibitors at the 2012 show. Rachael Taylor reports from Switzerland on the key trends from world firsts to innovations in materials and markets.

2012 was a landmark year for BaselWorld: not only did this year’s exhibition attract a record number of visitors, it marked the final show in its current format before major construction works will rip up the floorplan and revolutionise it.

And while buyers might have been wandering round the stands with a sense of nostalgia prompted by the changes to come, the fresh wave of product on display should have proved intriguing enough to rip them out of the past and push them forward into the future of watch sales.

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Of course the expected reissues and simple line extensions were rife throughout the halls, reminding us of an industry that has been burned by economic firestorms in the recent past, but there was also encouraging evidence of brands chasing after newness; be that new customers, materials, mechanics or aesthetics.

GIRL POWER
Following on from last year’s awakening, the watch industry has strengthened its commitment to creating complicated watches for ladies in 2012 with brands further developing mechanical offerings designed specifically for the ladies.

In 2011 Patek Philippe broke the mould when it unveiled its first minute repeater timepiece made for ladies in modern times. After a positive reaction to the launch, it has followed up this year with its First Ladies Perpetual Calendar Ref. 7140 in rose gold with an ultra-thin self-winding movement that correctly displays the 29th of February in leap years – the same one used for its men’s models – with moonphase and a bezel set with 68 flawless Top Wesselton diamonds weighing 0.68ct.

Patek Philippe has also extended its First Ladies chronograph collection that first launched in 2009 with the addition of three new colourways, including the still-popular blue colour.

Meistersinger, the German brand that has become synonymous with modern single-hand watches, has also invested in the ladies market for 2012. The brand has a sleek, minimal aesthetic that could almost be unisex but it has never before targeted female shoppers in its first decade as a watch house, but at BaselWorld the brand presented a collection of fully automatic two-hand watches called, quite simply, Neo F.

MeisterSinger has been producing two-hand watches for the international market but has not brought any to the UK, where it is still a fledgling brand, for fear of confusing consumers so early into its launch. However, the two-handed ladies’ Neo F will be made available to UK retailers. The Neo F models have Swiss automatic movements, a sunburst dial and are available with either Milanese or leather straps.

“As increasingly more women are discovering mechanics as a way of measuring time, MeisterSinger developed this range exclusively for women,” says the brand. “Its rounded casing is a throw-back to the watches of the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than flashy glitz, it’s simple, elegant shape and equilibrated clock-face dial radiate perfect poise.”
And the investment in women was not only evident in mechanical watches, but quartz also.

Raymond Weil’s biggest launch of the year, according to brand manager Craig Leach, is for the ladies market – the Jasmine. The quartz watch officially launched in the UK eight months ago but its distribution was limited due to an exclusivity deal with Ernest Jones but this has now come to an end and distributor Swico will be offering the watch out to its Raymond Weil stockists.

The watch is a simple, classic design with round face, diamond-set bezel and choice of leather strap or stainless steel bracelet. Some designs feature a black mother of pearl dial with an engraved Jasmine flower in the centre.

Swico bedfellow TW Steel is also focusing on the ladies this year. Back in December the brand announced a partnership with popstar and The X Factor judge Kelly Rowland; not only did Rowland become an ambassador for the brand she also signed a deal to collaborate on the design of a collection of ladies watches under her name.

At BaselWorld TW Steel’s stand was decorated of imagery of the popstar, but the watches – just prototypes at the time of BaselWorld – were kept hidden from view in the back room in order to keep them safe because the models at the show were the only samples in existence but WatchPro was granted a sneak preview.

There are three key elements to the Kelly Rowland designs – sparkle, colour and size. Rowland is said to be a fan of oversized watches and so has stuck with a chunky design but has given the watches a feminine finish with a choice of two colour schemes – pink or blue – realised with coloured alligator straps, coloured cubic zirconia detailing and coloured mother of pearl dials.

TW Steel said that it will test the market with these two initial watches but if they prove to be a success then the brand will roll out further collaborations with Rowland.

WORLD TIMERS
Another key trend at BaselWorld, and this is definitely one for the men, was the explosion of chunky world timers. As reported in last month’s issue of WatchPro, a number of houses from IWC to Timex are investing in models ranging from £99 to the tens of thousands of pounds as our increasingly globalised lifestyles have made world travellers of us all – be that through physical travel or just dealing with alternative time zones through work contacts or friends and family overseas.

Frederique Constant unveiled its first mechanical world timer at BaselWorld. The brand, which positions itself as affordable luxury, has previously created quartz world timers but has developed its own movement in house to create this upmarket model. Despite being fitted with an in-house manufactured movement, the watch retails for just £2,600, which distributor Argento Fine Products describes as a low price for that quality of watch.

Nomos also presented its world timer at Basel, the Zurich Weltzeit, which is slightly more pricey than Frederique Constant at £3,620. This watch has already been out on the market but the dial had been rejigged for BaselWorld 2012 with a new cities disc to reflect the recent time zone changes introduced in Moscow in Russia and Pego Pego in Samoa. For consumers and retailers who have already bought the watch, they can be returned to Nomos to have a new, up-to-date time zone wheel fitted for £170.

Breitling’s main launch at BaselWorld 2012 was its Transocean Chronograph Unitime, a world timer chronograph equipped with a new caliber – Caliber 05 – that has been entirely developed and produced in-house. The watch has been fitted with a double disc that allows it to indicate the time simultaneously in all 24 timezones and it has a patented mechanism that allows for a smooth move between time zones with a simple turn of the crown.

Prices for the Transocean Chronograph Unitime start at £8,000, hitting £20,000 for a gold version of the watch. These prices reflect the 10% drop in prices that Breitling introduced shortly before the BaselWorld show.

MINI CASE SIZES
As the fervour for world timers shows, the world is getting smaller, and so it would seem are some case sizes. Over the years, trips to BaselWorld have left retailers with eyes as big as saucers as case sizes have expanded, and expanded some more – the U-Boat Classico Titanium at 52mm was a particular plus-size highlight – but this year the watch houses have not been competing to see who can make the largest watches, but rather who can make the smallest case sizes without their wares falling into the realms of the throwaway novelty.

Italian watch brand Giuliano Mazzuoli showed off a scaled-down version of its signature Manometro watch, aptly dubbed the Manametrino; a stylish small watch perfect for a modern metrosexual male.

Across the halls, one of the highlights at the Ebel stand was its new Brasilia Mini model, a smaller version of its popular Brasilia style that measures in with a case size of 23.7mm. Rather than being about the novelty of miniaturisation, this smaller model is more about a timeless elegance with a rectangular face and diamond-set bezel. The watch has an Art Deco style with central guilloché motif on the dial, blue hands and classic Roman numerals.

Victorinox has also created a classic silhouette in a smaller case size with its Victoria ladies model that measures 28mm, offering a more genteel watch than last year’s chunky ladies offerings.

Rado also minimised its wares, showing off a tiny timepiece with a casesize of just 22mm. The watch is a miniaturised version of its new Specchio model, which is alternatively available in a 40mm case size. As well as being small, the watch is super light thanks to the use of Rado’s exclusive Ceramos material, a mixture of ceramic and metal alloy that creates a metallic finish, in a rose gold colour achieved by a highly pressurised injection moulding process that modifies the composition of the elements, forming a unique rose gold-coloured Ceramos that gives a natural golden colour shine.

GROUNDBREAKING MATERIALS
The use of such innovative materials as Rado’s Ceramos was an exciting element of the freshness on show at BaselWorld, with a host of brands investing in developing new and often exclusive materials designed to mark the brand out with a point of difference, as well as offering customers a superior finish.

The new rose gold-coloured Ceramos was not the only materials innovation at Rado; it had two other ceramics variations to offer: an ultra-light, comfortable material called silicon nitride that has been used to introduce a new limited-edition True Thin Line slimline ceramic watch, and gold- and platinum-coloured ceramics achieved by placing white high-tech ceramic with gold or platinum in a vacuum plasma treatment that results in a full colouration of the ceramic so that it looks like a precious metal but has the qualities of ceramic.

But the real superstar in Rado’s 2012 BaselWorld offering was the R-One, a futuristic watch that invoked a Tron-esque vibe with its sleek automobile-inspired shape and blue glow-in-the-dark superluminova details. The six-hand automatic chronograph, which has been limited to 300 pieces and has an RRP of £15,000, claims to have taken “modern materials to new physical limits”. The watch uses black matte ceramic, Ceramos for the pushers and a dome-shaped crystal sapphire glass dial that Rado head of research and development Christian Verdon describes as “quite a piece of art to put together”.

Rolex also played with ceramics for its 2012 collections and on its stand it unveiled a new Submariner that has been fitted with a black ceramic bezel inset that the brand has dubbed Cerachrom. The material is virtually scratchproof and is unaffected by ultraviolet rays, meaning that the colour of the ceramic will never fade in the sun. The watch also has Rolex’s Chromalight hour markers that have been designed to be extra luminescent.

Bell & Ross has played around with new materials, introducing Vintage WW1 Heure Sautante jumping hour timepiece in platinum, but it has also worked with more unusual alloy named Argentium – a premium silver alloy that replaces the copper content of sterling silver with germanium that results in a tarnish-resistant metal – for the Vintage WW1 Argentium manual winding mechanical timepiece. This Argentium design will hit the market at the end of 2012 with a retail price of £3,600.

Slightly less cutting edge than high-tech ceramics and vacuum processes was the new material used in Gucci’s 40th anniversary watches – bamboo. While the material itself is of course ancient, the way in which the watchmaker has used it to form handcarved bezels was fresh; an innovation introduced by Gucci creative director Frida Giannini.

FUTURE TECHNOLOGY
While the outsides of watches at BaselWorld 2012 were getting smarter, so were the insides as a number of brands introduced timepieces that pushed the boundaries of technology.

After a nostalgic year at BaselWorld in 2011 that explored the brand’s traditional Japanese heritage, Seiko catapulted itself into the future for 2012’s show with the Seiko GPS Astron. The watch was one of the brand’s hero launches this year and taps into the vogue for world timers but does so with a technological edge as the first world timer controlled by GPS.

Once a day the watch connects to four or more satellites to ensure that the time on the watch is precise in your local time zone, and when travelling all a wearer has to do to change to a new time zone is press a button and the GPS technology will work out where in the world the watch is within 30 seconds and will then automatically update to the local time. The real painstaking process with this watch has been to combine Seiko’s GPS technology with its solar-power technology – a feat that has resulted in more than 100 patents.

Fortis, which unveiled its first world timer in Basel this year, was also pushing boundaries with what it claims is the world’s first mechanical chronograph alarm chronometer C.O.S.C with GMT indication and two power reserve indications. The watch, which is part of the brand’s F-43 Flieger family, is one of the anniversary launches for the German watch company, which is celebrating its centenary this year.

The watch has been limited to 200 pieces worldwide and distributor Jaw Fine Products said it will be made available to UK retailers.

Omega, meanwhile, got clever with quartz for the launch of its Spacemaster Z-33. The pilots’ watch separates its day-to-day timekeeping from its professional functions ergonomically, using some state-of-the-art technology.

Floating above the digital dial is a set of analogue timekeeping hands that are adjusted by the crown at 3 o’clock. Surrounding the watch are four pushers that, along with the crown, allow full control over the array of digital features. For keeping track of the time these include date, UTC and two time zones – in 12-hour or 24-hour displays – an alarm and a perpetual calendar. Elapsed time is measured with a chronograph function and a countdown timer.
Alongside these features are self-programmable professional pilot functions to log up to 10 flights and visualise those logs with date-hour indications. Some impressive stuff for a quartz.

TAG Heuer, which last year unveiled the 500hz Mikrotimer Flying 1000 capable of measuring and displaying 1/1,000th of a second increments, doubled its frequency for this year’s BaselWorld launch with the new Mikrogirder movement to 1,000hz, delivering the ability to measure 1/2,000th of a second with a mechanical watch.

The latest movement from TAG Heuer’s R&D division follows several innovations over the past few years that have challenged mechanical watch design assumptions that have stood since the 17th century. The team has encroached on sacred ground with its latest invention by reimagining the regulator at the very heart of a mechanical movement. Engineers working to smash through this ceiling started with a blank piece of paper and created a complete regulator system. In the Mikrogirder the hairspring is replaced with a vibrating bar. As TAG Heuer explains: “A coupling blade/girder and excitatory blade/girder system work with a linear oscillator (versus a spiral shape in a classical hairspring) that vibrates isochronously at a very small angle, as opposed to a traditional watch, which vibrates at an angle of up to 320 degrees.”

IN-HOUSE MOVEMENTS
Another jump forward concerning the inner workings of watches was the continued rise of watch brands creating their own movements in house, spurred on in a lot of cases by Swatch reducing the availability of ETA movements to brands outside of its own house.

Hermés is celebrating 100 years of wristwatch design this year and marked the occasion with the unveiling of its very first movement made in house. The brand recently bought over the Vaucher movement house that had historically been creating its movements. And the watch chosen to hold this movement? The ladies Arceau – another win for the girls at BaselWorld.

While not creating movements in-house, Oris has taken significant steps to establish its independence from ETA, and is now using Sellita, an independent movement maker. “We have been preparing for this for five years so we’re ready for it,” says Oris UK sales manager Paul Thurlow.

ALL EYES ON CHINA
While new design directions might vary from brand to brand, one thing that had all houses in agreement was the importance of the Chinese market for watch sales, and the influences of Eastern demand were felt strongly at the show with many watchmakers creating models with symbols important to the Chinese such the colour red for prosperity, the number eight for luck and the dragon to represent 2012’s Year of the Dragon.

While some brands went all out on this theme with engraved dragons on the cases and dials – Blancpain even had a live demonstration of this process – others such as Chopard chose to incorporate these elements in a more subtle way.

A new launch for Chopard at the show was the diamond-set Happy 8 watch. The timepiece has a circular dial with a secondary, much smaller, circle set at the top of the case framing a single diamond that creates a covert eight. The watch should translate for the Western market too as it can also be sold as the sign for infinity.

While watch brands at BaselWorld were evidently chasing new markets – be that demographic or geographic – there was little emphasis placed on talk of the economy. Of course its weight could be felt, but in that silence perhaps lies the most exciting newness of all that suggests the market is ready to move on with an air of optimism, if not quite bullishness.

 

This article was taken from the April 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. To read a digital version of this issue online click here.

 

 

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