Baselworld Worldtempus Discusses the Week
#wtbasel/ Did you ever wonder what it would sound like if you could listen to a conversation of four well-known watch journalists as they discuss their adventures during a busy fair week? Well, listen in as Elizabeth Doerr, Kristian Haagen, Miguel Seabra, and Carlos Torres discuss the week that was Baselworld 2012.
WORLDTEMPUS - 3 April 2012
Elizabeth Doerr: I don't know about you guys, but going into Baselworld, I was very excited to see what's new there. And to spice it up, one of the companies pulled a cool pre-show PR stunt. I had some mysterious correspondence from a “Samoan” that had me wondering if we weren't going to see some funky complicated date change mechanism. Meeting the Samoan on the first day, I followed his treasure map and ended up at the Technomarine booth with a (fairly nice) ladies watch. The PR stunt was great, but I was a little disappointed that the “treasure” at the end wasn't a complicated piece of horology dealing with the date line. I ended up finding what I thought this should have been at Glashütte Original in the Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon, which cleanly shows 37 time zones and a tourbillon that is not visible from the front.
Miguel Seabra: Coming to Baselworld, I'm usually always looking for innovative technical solutions and pay a lot of attention to independent watchmakers or brands that provide new ways of showing time. But this year I surprised myself not being too terribly inclined toward what I call “technorology.” Conceptual watchmaking is quite admirable and may represent the future of mechanical timekeeping, but overall I was more attracted to pure lines on affordable watches that are more wearable than obscenely expensive ones that look freakish on one's wrist. I mean real watches for real people for a real price. Maybe I was a bit biased because right before coming to Basel, I had had a lengthy conversation with some friends that actually are watch aficionados but not the kind of geeks that would buy the latest millionaire sci-fi timepiece with a zoological-sounding name: yes, most people just want a simple mechanical timepiece that is elegant and looks good on the wrist and is not just a mind-set caused by the recession – sometimes we in the specialized media forget that the average aficionado that won't pay thousands for a technical prodigy. Actually, it's not that simple to make a simple timepiece with the purest of lines – just ask Eric Loth, who says his new classic looking Graham Chronofighter 1635 was his biggest challenge design-wise.
Kristian Haagen: Good that you say that, Miguel, because I must admit I was rather impressed by the ceramics of Rado. This company is able to make ceramic look just like gold thanks to its CeraMos technology – one that they have used since 1989. The real “newness” here is the colors now on offer.
ED: Just incredible stuff, Kristian, and retails for something like $3,000.
KH: The Tudor Heritage Black Bay was also a showstopper: incredible dial work. Tudor re-launched its extremely popular Monaco Chronograph last year, and the Heritage Black Bay diver is another example of Tudor moving further away from the shadow of big sister Rolex.
MS: Tudor's Heritage Black Bay (a/k/a “Snow Flake”) with some sort of artificial patina on the dial numerals was definitely a favorite, though this year's most controversial and talked-about timepiece was doubtlessly Rolex's Sky-Dweller. The general opinion among the media and aficionados was that it isn't a successful design and I agree, even though one can feel the quality on the wrist and when working with the functions.
Carlos Torres: To the lucky few who actually had the chance to see and try the watch, TAG Heuer definitely presented one of the most remarkable technical creations seen at Baselworld: the Mikrotourbillon S is still in its development phase, but I already predict a bright future for it with its high frequency tourbillon powering a chronograph – at least in terms of press coverage.
MS: There are always watches that steal the show – one way or another. The remarkable high-frequency Mikrotourbillon S was revealed “on the side” and was sort of embargoed, but then the news “leaked.” A public introduction by TAG Heuer would undoubtedly have made it one of the stars of the show...and it was, but in veiled way.
ED: I absolutely did not understand that tactic. Do you want publicity or do you not? It would be interesting to find out what the strategy on that was. There was also more “human” news at TAG Heuer, wasn't there, Kristian?
KH: Yes, I felt a little teary-eyed saying goodbye to Jack Heuer. He's turning 80 this year and steps down from his official duties at TAG Heuer. Jack is not only a man with a fantastic understanding of horology, he also gave me some of the best lines and stories in the ten years I have known him. Not least, “We don't need watches. But please don't tell anyone.”
MS: The Carrera Jack Heuer 80th Anniversary was one of my favorite watches at Basel this year, mostly because it has the Heuer spirit of the 1960s/1970s and I consider Jack the father of the sports chronograph. I will miss him a lot when he's gone.
CT: The new avant-garde watches were led in terms of innovation by the debut of HYT with its H1. This watch introduced a new watchmaking term to the horological world: hydromechanics. For his part, Christophe Claret presented the X-Trem-1, an incredible watch integrating magnets to drive metallic spheres along transparent tubes and that are responsible for the indication of hours and minutes on two separate linear scales. Harry Winston revealed another breathtaking Opus watch, this year developed with master watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet, which transforms the traditional analogue indications of time using a complex mechanical movement.
ED: In fact, the entire Palace Hall was filled with innovation: Badollet surprisingly making waves with an extremely simple concept that was hard to arrive at. Working with the creative watchmaker David Candaux, formerly of Jaeger-LeCoultre and the brain behind the Hybris Mechanica, the brand has created a superbly intoxicating timepiece called Ivresse (pun intended!). Ressence showed a concept watch called Le Scaphandrier under the table, and I absolutely cannot wait for this to become reality. But for me, the absolute standout – also found in the Palace – was Peter Speake-Marin's Serpent Calendar: gorgeous, (relatively) affordable, mechanically sound, and a real Speake-Marin with all the exciting details that entails: a dream watch!
MS: HYT and Christophe Claret created a lot of buzz, and I loved Heritage Watch Manufactory's Firmamentum as well. But, in the end, I'd probably go with De Bethune as my favorite high-end brand from Baselworld: I admire this company's way of mixing sculpture with architecture and loved the feel of the new DB28 and the more affordable DB27 Titan Hawk on the wrist.
ED: The Titan Hawk is De Bethune's new “entry-level” timepiece and retails for a remarkable 37,000 Swiss francs. This is a huge step down from the previous entry-level price of 50,000 francs and marks the beginning of a whole new line of timepieces for this amazing watchmaker. However, I must admit my feminine side and briefly gush over the DB25S Jewelry with its amazing night sky-look in addition to the typical complicated mechanics. Another dream watch.
KH: Don't forget another of your areas of expertise, Elizabeth: high frequencies. Breguet and Chopard showed serial-ready, high-frequency movements. Breguet's second timepiece beating at 10 Hz and Chopard's C.O.S.C.-certified masterpiece that reliably runs at 8 Hz. Chopard has now arrived at its goal of actual production pieces with this timepiece. However, it doesn't matter how long Breguet will spend coming out with its ultra-fast critter, it is certainly worth waiting for. Good to see that precision is still important in the world of watchmaking!
Pilots and more trends
KH: Pilot's watches were the plat du jour from quite a few brands. Beside the obvious aviation players such as Bell & Ross, Hanhart and Breitling, Alpina, Zenith and Hamilton also embraced this distinct watch design that fits the interior of a cockpit so well.
MS: It's been highly interesting as well to witness this year's “battle of the skies” between some major brands that are investing a lot in the military-chic appeal of so-called pilot watches and focusing their new products around the theme. IWC (who doesn't exhibit in Basel) claimed rights and advised Breitling they have the “Top Gun” label, while Jean-Frédéric Dufour disclosed to Elizabeth that Zenith has the rights to the “pilot” designation. I like the way Zenith is revamping its collection in the post-Nataf years, particularly the new pilot watches. And I also enjoyed Bell & Ross' amusing timepieces inspired by aeronautics, providing good taste and originality at a good price.
ED: Agreed: I must stress how impressed I was by Bell & Ross in total, and Zenith as well. I absolutely adore the directions those brands are currently taking: smart, fashionable, stylish and good prices. Just perfect for the modern consumer in so many ways.
KH: But don't forget our birthday boy, guys! Longines celebrates its 180th anniversary with some of the fair's best looking retro-inspired pieces. The large, oddly angled pilot watch with monopusher is only one of these, but also the rose gold column wheel chronograph inspired by a Longines design of 1913 is quite the looker.
CT: Another big “trend” was that of dual timers, world time indication watches and perpetual calendars: H. Moser & Cie. and Blancpain led the haute horlogerie way here with a dual timer and a complex Chinese calendar timepiece respectively.
KH: Yes, worldtimers were definitely en vogue this year: Breitling, Ball, Alpina, Fortis and Frédérique Constant showed their takes on this complication, but of course Patek Philippe won this race with its stunning worldtimer in rose gold with a brown dial and luxurious bracelet with almost teardrop-shaped links.
CT: And I also loved the confirmation that 40 is the new 42 or 43: back to more classic case diameters. Though Europe and the Americas still have to confirm this trend, for the new affluent Asian consumer the size is, of course, very welcome.
ED: One mini-trend that I noticed was the re-emergence of erotic watches! I saw three…the one that blew my mind was found in the most unexpected place: Jacob & Co. Another was that of purpose-built women's watches, which I could not have been happier to see. Beside Patek Philippe, who is doing a marvelous job on this front, and De Bethune, who I mentioned above, there was also Corum's Mystery Moon. This timepiece represented the first movement that Laurent Besse worked on for Corum, and I am so pleased it ended up in this 38 mm beauty. In fact, I was incredibly impressed altogether with Corum's very round, very elegant collection. This brand is really coming on!
CT: Baselworld opened with everyone interested in seeing how the buyers would react after an incredible, record-breaking 2011 in the watch industry, and also in several luxury sectors worldwide. Although there are no figures available, the general sentiment among the booths I visited was positive, even though many industry captains are still trying to figure out how they will exceed the remarkable results of last year. Asia, of course, will definitely play a decisive role in the solution as was already apparent by the number of professionals from this part of the world visiting the fair. But besides the number of Asian visitors this year, the focus was clearly on the comeback of the American buyer, whose absence was sorely felt in the last couple of years. Overall figures released at the end of Baselworld stated that it was a record year with some 104,000 visitors walking the corridors.
MS: Before the show started, we could trace numerous trends: colors, complications, sizes. These days, there are so many brands at so many price levels vying for so many different niche markets that I don't think there are as many immediately identifiable trends as in the past, especially if you went from one hall to another in succession you realized how different the offerings are. One thing is for sure: China continues to loom large on the horizon of the mainstream brands, but I don't know anymore whether it's the Chinese market demanding conservative timepieces or the Western market reacting to both the past years of oversized/nutty watches and the economic recession.
ED: Excellent observation, Miguel. I felt there was a prevalence of both sentiments. For my part, I noticed a lot more American retailers present than the last few years, which is an excellent sign. I also noticed a ton more Chinese press in the press room, and numbers released after the show confirmed 9 percent more journalists than usual present at Baselworld. You could really feel this.
MS: It's funny, but my last thought coming back home actually had to do more with next year's edition than how this year's went: how will Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron rebuild the buildings we've known for the past decades and give next year's Baselworld a whole new outlook? I guess it's something we won't really know until we step into the new facilities on April 25, 2013. I'm curious to see how different the ambiance will be and also if the press room will have more of those precious lockers – and, most importantly, better wi-fi throughout the premises. This year the lack of a good wireless connection really affected our work, besides the embarrassing paradox of a temple of luxury not being able to provide a simple reliable internet connection.
ED: Bravo! If you followed my tweets this year – or lack thereof, thanks to the wireless situation – you will see that this was a huge topic throughout the fair. The world's biggest luxury watch fair should be capable of providing good wireless to its visiting journalists, and it should be a priority! Despite this, I'm pretty certain immediate coverage was fair and I do know that the Worldtempus micro site created in conjunction with Jaquet Droz providing a real-time Twitter feed was a huge success. By the fourth day, the site had logged more than 10,000 tweets.
CT: Because Baselworld took place sooner than usual due to the necessary building plans, all the new models presented in January at the SIHH are still being digested by the industry. As ever, the last to make a presentation can usually also make the best impression. This was my feeling with this year's Baselworld, not only because of the size of the event and sheer number of exhibiting brands, but mainly because as a specialized journalist one has the chance to talk to more industry professionals and spend more time evaluating change and evolution in the sector. Personally, I came away from Basel more confident than ever that the watchmaking sector is well prepared for the year (and years) ahead.
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