WHEN THE world's most important watch and jewellery show, BaselWorld, opened at the beginning of last month, it was clear to manufacturers, dealers and watch lovers that time had entered a whole new dimension. Watches are no longer the utilitarian items we have been wearing for centuries to ensure we are on time - and that we keep track of time. Today, time surrounds us in new and multiple forms - on mobile phones, in art forms, in public and private spaces and in electronic and household equipment. In the meantime, the watch has become a serious luxury item. Timepieces are perceived as something altogether special, as an art object, as something designed to give us pleasure. The art of watchmaking has been described as an essential component of the new 'socioeconomic symbolism', representing 'pure pleasure and emotion'. Indeed, timepieces are playing a new role in our lives, and innovation has taken on a completely new meaning in the watchmaking industry. It is said that the first five years of the new millennium have seen more changes in the watch industry than the previous 20. The industry is seeing the arrival of the big names in the world of fashion, names such as Gucci, cK, Dior, Chanel, Armani, DKNY, D&G and Versace. This has stimulated some traditional companies to be more adventurous than ever. These past five years have seen European watchmaking move up a gear to cater for the demand for larger watches. And the trend is for men too to sport diamond watches. Companies that have long specialised in creating outstanding jewellery watches have perhaps wondered why the 'bling' factor has suddenly acquired such a powerful appeal for a new generation of customers - but they are not complaining. Even the borders between watches and jewellery are blurring, with more major jewellery makers - such as Bulgari, Harry Winston and de Grisogono - now making serious timepieces, and established watch houses such as Breguet and Omega starting to launch serious jewellery collections under the same name as their watches. Now, more than ever, watch manufacturers are focused on appealing to niche markets rather than offering watch collections that seek to appeal to everyone. The fashion brands probably started the trend, but well-established companies have come to appreciate the benefits of focusing on what they do best. Breitling is a perfect example of a Swiss watch company that does just that in making instruments for professionals. Oris has introduced a Frank Sinatra collection as a tribute to the legendary singer who loved watches. The company launched the collection in Basel with Sinatra's granddaughter invited to be present for the occasion. Oris specialises in good mechanical watches such as this - at affordable prices. The endless ingenuity that watchmakers display at the international watch exhibitions in Switzerland each year gives a new meaning to the adage 'time never stands still'.