The watch industry has been negotiating challenging times, to say the least. Currency exchange rates have generated numerous headaches, as brands deal with rising costs in Switzerland but diminishing purchasing power in the eurozone, contrasted with a significant rise in the US dollar. This has had an impact on the Asian market, one of the industry’s largest; Hong Kong prices are affected because of the currency’s link to the US dollar. If that weren’t enough, another challenge looms that may have a significant effect on the market: the smartwatch, led by Apple’s new device. It was against this background that Baselworld, the globe’s largest watch fair, opened its doors in March.
As I now reflect on Baselworld, the Apple Watch is in stores, but for demonstration only, with the first shipments about to start. And it seems it will be a few weeks yet before you can walk into a shop and buy one, given the number of orders already placed. The majority of the watch industry will pay the Apple Watch little heed, saying it simply won’t affect them. It will be interesting to observe over the next few months and years as the Apple Watch and its ilk evolve. Speculation on the future certainly drove much talk at Baselworld as the latest collections were unveiled.
The new collections did not disappoint. Let’s start with Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a watch have such a polarising effect. The first reaction on seeing an image of the Calatrava is frequently one of surprise. Many didn’t believe the brand, the very image of classical watchmaking, would produce such a sport watch and presumed it wasn’t genuine. While the Calatrava grabbed the limelight at the Patek Philippe booth, the rest of the collection was also very impressive.
Omega continued its exploration of the dark side of the moon with several iterations of its popular ceramic Speedmaster, and the Globemaster has become the brand’s first collection to be submitted to the Master Chronometer certification. Breguet highlighted the 10-year-old Tradition collection, its first after the Swatch Group took over the historic brand.
Women’s interest in high watchmaking was also catered for, as many brands continue to introduce mechanical watches specifically for ladies, such as the Jaquet Droz Lady Flower 8, which features the automata the brand is known for but in a very feminine, delicate timepiece. Fabergé has also taken the plunge and entered the watch market with its Lady Compliquée collection.
The crystal ball is still cloudy on the potential impact of connected devices
The watch industry certainly didn’t hold back for this year’s Baselworld. It’s as if it was spurred into proving that these mechanical marvels are a cut above, which they definitely are, both as timepieces and as works of art. In the background, though,there was much talk about smartwatches and what various brands were doing to address that segment. TAG Heuer announced a partnership with Google and Intel for a smartwatch to be unveiled later this year. Breitling showed off its Cockpit B55 connected concept, where the watch is not an extension of the smartphone but the main focus, and the smartphone is the device that provides the additional functionality.
The industry is taking all the challenges in its stride. Prices notwithstanding, there is still a high demand for timepieces and numerous beautiful collections to cater to it. We are, indeed, in a much more global marketplace than ever, and an increasingly connected world, but the industry will adapt and evolve as it always has. While the crystal ball is still cloudy on the potential impact of connected devices, the following pages reveal some of the mechanical and bejewelled marvels from this year’s fair.