Despite the shaky emerging markets and uncertain geopolitics that unsettled the world of haute horlogerie in 2015, there was an upbeat atmosphere on the stands in Basel. After all, Swiss watch exports still hit €1.6bn in February. And there were 1,500 brands exhibiting here and about 4,000 journalists from the world’s press to trumpet the latest news.
If there was caution among the ranks it was in the form of a return to investment timepieces. Many of the larger brands opted for classic crowd-pleasing models, such as new versions of iconic watches unearthed from company archives. One of the highlights of the fair, for instance, was Rolex’s new Cosmograph Daytona, a reinterpretation of the popular 1963 watch featuring a sleek ceramic bezel.
Meanwhile, what’s been one of the dominant design trends of the past two years – the return of the blue dial – continued unabated. German brand Glashütte Original added a particularly fetching new model with a deep-blue face to its Senator Chronometer series; independent Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe got in on the act with an eye-catching new Perpetual Calendar model with a blue sunburst dial and white-gold case.
While established watchmakers went back to basics, brands at the more radical end of the spectrum continued to innovate. “The market for watches in the category above CHF40,000 [€37,000] is booming,” says Vincent Perriard, ceo of the Neuchâtel-based HYT. “Right now you need to have a point of difference and that’s part of the dna of our company.” Perriard’s brand, which uses pressurised liquids to power its watches, received €20.6m in new investment in February and has just opened its first standalone boutique in Kuala Lumpur.
Makers from outside Switzerland are also doing well: two major Japanese brands, Seiko and Citizen, were out in force at Baselworld. Seiko released several new heritage-inspired pieces in its Presage range, while Citizen made a big push with its Eco-Drive line of light-powered timepieces with what it says is the thinnest solar-powered watch in the world: the Eco-Drive One. “The domestic market in Japan is doing well,” says Citizen CEO Toshio Tokura. “A lot of this is down to the inbound tourists from China, who buy lots of watches in the higher-price brackets.”
So while many in the watch world prepare for a potentially turbulent year there are bright patches on the horizon. “A crisis always means that you think about things differently and reimagine what you are,” says Stéphane Waser, managing director of Maurice LaCroix. “It challenges you and then it is all about attitude. It is about survival of the fittest.”
Q&A — Ong Ban
CEO and executive director at Sincere, Singapore
Sincere was set up in 1954 and is Singapore’s oldest and most established name in luxury-watch retail. It operates more than 30 boutiques across the Asia-Pacific region, from Australia to Indonesia and Hong Kong. Ong Ban joined the business in 1996 and became CEO of the fine-watch division in 2008.
What are some of the more interesting trends at Baselworld 2016?
A lot of brands are launching entry-level watches at an affordable price point. In 2016, looks will remain a bit subtler and more humble. There’s a sense of going back to basics for a lot of brands.
Are you optimistic about the market’s prospects for 2016 and beyond?
I’m cautiously optimistic for 2016 after such a difficult 2015. A lot of it is down to macroeconomics and beyond our control, such as the slowdown in mainland China. As long as big brands continue to be creative, 2016 will be OK.
What were your picks from Baselworld 2016?
For a more affordable watch, the Tudor Bronze was very nice and will sell well. Cabestan, a small brand from Geneva, came out with a watch with a dragon design, which will sell well in Asia. I also liked the Bulgari Octo Minute Repeater, which is the thinnest in the world.
Top picks from Baselworld
01 Cosmograph Daytona
This new version of Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, an iconic watch dating back to the early 1960s, features a patented Cerachrom bezel in black ceramic.
02 Glashütte Neomatik
The Bauhaus-inspired German brand came out with several great new pieces in its Neomatik series. This Tangente model features Nomos’s new movement, the DUW 3001.
03 LUC XPS 1860 Limited Edition
To commemorate the 20th year since Chopard opened its new manufacturing workshop in Fleurier, the watchmaker has released this limited-edition timepiece as part of its high-end LUC collection.
Omega launched more than 100 new watches at Baselworld 2016 – an impressive haul. Our pick of the bunch is the new Globemaster, which is available with either a blue dial and stainless-steel case or the silvery opaline dial that features on the gold-case edition.
05 Generations Pendulum
This Amsterdam-based watch brand was at Baselworld for the first time in 2016. Each of its timepieces reference the Fromanteel family, the 17th-century Flanders clock-makers who pioneered the pendulum. We’d buy the mechanical Generations Pendulum model.