B aselworld 2017 revealed two things in March. The world’s biggest watch and jewellery fair showed how maisons are shifting from the spectacle and splash of the past decade - and that the industry faces challenging times.
There were fewer high complications and more simple designs at the show. The ultra-thin Classique 7147 by Breguet is a wonderful example, with a clean face of grand feu enamel and three simple and elegant hands. The seconds sub-dial at 5 o’clock is slightly recessed, adding texture to the
The move back to more realistic sizes and more elegant profiles is even clearer. This brings more aesthetic balance both on the watch and on how it is seen on the wrist. These smaller cases are increasingly being identified by size or number (the Tudor Black Bay 41, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe 38mm) which keeps the watch gender-neutral.
The vintage look and feel is also strong. Omega celebrated the 60th anniversary of its Speedmaster, Railmaster and Seamaster 300 models with limited-availability re-editions available as either a set or individually. Tag Heuer continues to offer re-editions, and this year brought out its Autavia Heuer 02. Indeed, limited-edition pieces that pay homage to the past are a strong force in the market.
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In general, there is a strong emphasis on producing watches that are accessible to a wider audience. Watchmakers are trying to show that they are offering more for money. The past decade has seen the move of brands to develop more watch making abilities in house, and this has increased costs to potentially unsustainable levels. Some companies have moved back to using movements from other calibre-makers, such as ETA. This could be an attempt to utilise production overcapacity in the industry or the desire of brands to help each other in tougher times, but it is also seen as a move to put more watches on wrists.
Steel looks solid, this year. The Patek Philippe Nautilus models and the Rolex Daytonas in steel have often been more sought after than those pieces in precious metals. Now even some high-priced independents are bringing out movements in horological steel. The final edition of the Legacy Machine No. 1 by MB&F is available in steel, all 18 pieces of them. And Beat Haldimann has for the first time used stainless steel for the classically beautiful watches he makes. But while watchmakers are generally playing safe with design, they are not afraid of experimenting with colours and there are new releases that go beyond the usual palette.
Blue is still strong, violet seems to be coming up again, but the willingness to move past the usual is clear.
Also, we are seeing quite a few moon phases becoming more accessible. There are some notable exceptions to the general trend, though. Patek Philippe released the 5170P manually-wound chronograph with batons of baguette diamond rather than the usual Breguet numerals and it looks surprisingly understated.
Rolex, meanwhile, moved against the tide and went big with the 43mm Sea-Dweller in honour of its 50th anniversary. Rolex insiders expected more discussion from the use of an Oysterflex bracelet on a Gold Daytona, but what transpired was the cyclops magnifying bubble over the date window. This became a talking point of the show, along with the use of red for the name Sea-Dweller, in a look-back to the first model.
There are movements in the industry too. One of the last few major independents, Breitling, was bought by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Another former independent, Frederique Constant, was bought by Japan’s Citizen this time last year.
Seiko meanwhile announced that its higher-end Grand Seiko line would henceforth be considered an independent brand.
This separation allows Grand Seiko to be more aggressive on its own while also allowing model lines that were formerly Japan-only (such as the Presage line) to start to develop and grow as well. Another surprise at Baselworld 2017 was
a complicated watch with a big grin on its face from independent maker Konstantin Chaykin, called the Joker, at under €7,000 (HK$61,000). A steel watch with a unique complication and a sense of humour may be the comic relief we need today.
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