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GMT Magazine - 20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine 20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

Anniversaries, larger diameters, ladies’ manufactured watches and limited series symbolise a new phase for a phase when luxury watchmaking is in search of identity.

In 2003, the Basel Messe was not yet called Baselworld and was in full expansion, seeking exhibition space for national pavilions as far away as Zurich. The jewellery industry then occupied three halls, suppliers occupied two, and watch brands had four: Hall of Dreams, Hall of Desires, Hall of Inspiration and Hall of Emotions. In specialised magazines such as GMT, advertisements featured watches by Charles Oudin, Japy, Jean-Mairet & Gilmann, Jean Perret, Le Marquand, Leonard, Magellan, Marina B, Rodolphe and Voltime. Ikepod sold tourbillons with transparent rubber straps, Gübelin still promoted Breguet and Jorg Hysek still owned his eponymous brand, as did Franck Muller, who designed his famous Crazy Hours. It was another era!

Celebrations

The watch fair called “Time” took place in Brussels at the same time as the Belux edition of GMT, both of which last only two years. Also new on the scene was DeWitt, started by Jérôme and Viviane de Witt, who christened their first creations New Empire and New Age. Although the Alpina brand was registered in 1901, it was in 2003 that Aletta and Peter Stas acquired it in order to revive its myth. Founded even further back, Breguet inaugurated that year its new ultra-modern iconic manufacture at l’Abbaye in the Vallée de Joux. Within the Swatch Group, Tissot celebrated its 150th anniversary (see François Thiébaut below). Among the major brands, Rolex went green to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Submariner, offering a Submarine Date with a green bezel.

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

The whole of Switzerland vibrated with patriotic pride at the achievement of Alinghi, which brought back the oldest sporting trophy in the world, the America's Cup, for the first time in Europe, enthroned for eight years at the Société Nautique de Genève. Its watchmaking sponsor Audemars Piguet rode the wave of this prowess and offered a limited series of 750 Royal Oak Commemorative Alinghi 2003.

The rise in diameters and limited series

Case, on the other hand, go through new materials and expand in sizes. Hublot had not yet designed the Big Bang, but claimed to have invented the double folding clasp for its rubber straps, smelling of vanilla at the time, and innovated with a 1910 Hublot tantalum with a meteorite dial. They do not yet belong to the same group and Zenith at the time was under the reign of Thierry Nataf, who set the diameter of the Grande Chronomaster Open at 45mm, and the size of the rectangular case of the Grand Port Royal Elite at 51x36mm.

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

At Jaquet Droz, the tonneau shape still prevailed with a GMT XXL in the Hommage Londres 1774 collection (“Londres” for London, where one of its three manufactures was located at the time). A watch with a strong personality, Panerai paid tribute to its origins with a 47mm Luminor Marina 1950. Along the marine theme, Corum added to its Admiral’s Cup epic with an eponymous Regatta Chronograph, limited to 999 pieces. And one more for Breitling, whose Le Mans chronograph indicated the hours over 24 hours for this 1,000-piece limted edition. Quantities are becoming more reasonable for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso Platinum Number Three equipped with a tourbillon, small seconds and power reserve indicator in 500 pieces, or its Master Antoine LeCoultre in platinum with 8-day power reserve, large date and day/night in 200 pieces. IWC is sailing in the same waters with its Portuguese Perpetual Calendar with 7-day power reserve in platinum (250 pieces), while the Bvlgari Bvlgari retrograde seconds in white gold comes in 99 and 149 pieces.

A certain idea of ladies’ watches

It’s worth saying right away: in 2003, there was already something for every taste in the segment of ladies’ haute horlogerie. Vacheron Constantin was inspired by the rich Art Nouveau period, an era very much present in its museum, and launched the Egeria, with the Poinçon de Genève trademark. In a radically different style, the trademark is also featured on Roger Dubuis’ Follow-Me, shaped after a cambered cross and available in 3 sizes, 3 gold colours and 5 dial colours. Still in Geneva, François-Paul Journe set the Octa Divine in platinum with diamonds for his female clientele. At Breguet, ladies were offered a Classique Grande Complication with a Tourbillon adorned with fine engravings and an eccentric dial. To finish off this geographical and geometrical overview, they could also choose the tonneau-shaped Richeville Lady from Girard-Perregeaux.

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

The lucidity of leaders

Interviewed in GMT in 2003, their words from the beginning of the millennium still ring true in 2020. As a member of the Swatch Group Management Board and President of CK Watch, Arlette Emch reacted to the crisis observed at the end of 2001 and 2002: “Let’s remain positive, we must learn to live with this new combination of unfavourable factors,” she says. “During the first half of this year, people were shocked. This has not been without consequences on consumption. Let’s compensate with efforts elsewhere, offer alternatives and new products, and let’s remain modest in the face of this new situation.” For his colleague François Thiébaut: “Watchmaking is a profession of humility and patience that also requires being in the field. We are neither prophetic nor alone, and nothing allows us to proclaim ourselves the best in the world. The competition is there, but it is stimulating. That’s why we love our job with passion.”

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

In the Richemont group, “all our customers have the same relationship with the pleasure that the brand and our products bring,” estimates Michel Nieto, Baume & Mercier’s then-CEO. “They are all equally in search of a product that is right for its time, creative and whose aesthetics are unique and innovative each time. Moreover, they are reassured by the notoriety and quality of this brand that is more than a century old... We are not moving up the range, Baume & Mercier’s positioning is very clear: we want to remain a brand that introduces customers to the world of luxury.”

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

Finally, on the LVMH side, TAG Heuer was then managed by a certain Jean-Christophe Babin, who was then starting his career in watchmaking: “Jack Heuer is the great-grandson of the founder of TAG Heuer, Edouard Heuer,” he declares. “You realize how lucky we are: we are one of the only brands in the world in this case! Indeed, Jack Heuer is not only Honorary President of TAG Heuer: he also participates in the development of new products and contributed in particular to the launch of the new Carrera in 2002, which he himself had launched in 1963. Jack coordinates the transmission and interpretation of the archives since he has personally lived through a third of these 143 years.”

20 years in watchmaking: 2003*

GMT Magazine, 2003 © GMT

Will wisdom and serenity be needed for a long time to come? Find the answer next week with the year 2004.

*To celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2020, GMT Magazine will summarise weekly, exclusively on WorldTempus, the essence of its content published year after year in the last 20 years. The information is by no means exhaustive and refers to excerpts. For a more in-depth view of the last two decades of watchmaking, order The Millennium Watch Book produced by GMT Magazine and WorldTempus with the contribution of over twenty experts, each of whom witnessed this incomparable period in our industry.

WorldTempus now offers the GMT Spring 2020 issue, available for download below.

L’épopée Octo Finissimo

Download GMT #66 for free

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