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Report: Baselworld 2017

Category: Articles | Date: April 11, 2017

It's one month on from Baselworld 2017... What did WatchGecko think of the show?

Take four WatchGecko staff creatives, their procurement manager and a freelance copywriter, three of whom are Baselworld first timers. Drop them in the Swiss city during the 100th Baselworld Watch Fair, and then debrief them thoroughly on their return. Here are their impressions after hobnobbing with the good and the great of the watch industry – minus, of course, the brands that chose January’s SIHH over Basel…

We start with the team’s thoughts on Basel: ‘A beautiful city,’ said multimedia wizard Matt; ‘very quiet where we stayed; amazing mid-European Gothic architecture; and “a bit” pricey.’

‘A bit pricey?’ chips in design head Ben Adams. ‘Simply too expensive! £7 for a pint is just not on! But I liked checking out all the flashy cars around the city.’

‘We were lucky with the weather,’ adds marketing manager Tim, ‘and the pigeons were friendly. Basel lived up to everything I’d ever heard or imagined about Switzerland, and everyone was really nice.’

Welcome to Basel Watch Fair

Enough of the Basel background. If you want to see the pigeon, check out Tim’s thoughts on Baselworld here. But you’re probably not as interested in pigeons as Tim, so we’ll catch the green Number 1 tram from Basel Hauptbahnhof and take the short ride to the Messe Platz under Baselworld street banners, and shoulder-to-shoulder with watch fans from around the world.

It’s Monday, and as the Geckos arrive at the fair, copywriter Al is taking the long route to Baselworld via the 2,927 m Eggishorn, clear blue skies and perfect high-altitude conditions to show off the blue sunray dial of Geckota’s latest K1 40mm pilot watch. But that, like Tim’s pigeon, is another story…

Standout timepieces

So what impressed the WatchGecko team most? For Tim it was the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Steel and Rolex Cellini Moonphase: ‘I was aware of Cellini, but the moonphase complication was a complete surprise. And what a surprise – stunning!’

Like many Baselworld visitors this year, lensgirl Alice fell in love with the Jacquet Droz Loving Butterfly Automaton, a celebration of an original concept sketched by master watchmaker Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz nearly 250 years ago.

It’s a timepiece described by Quill & Pad’s lifestyle columnist Nola Martin as having ‘outstanding engineering and artisanal execution’. And in Alice’s words? ‘I loved it because it’s so intricate, delicate and it moves,’ she says as she contemplates a picture of the latest, limited edition, version of the Petite Heure Minute.

‘And at £101k it makes my Cellini Moonphase look like a real bargain,’ says Tim.

Frederique Constant’s sub-£4k surprise

Meanwhile, design-lead Ben enthuses about the Frederique Constant Flyback Chronograph Manufacture with its Caliber FC-760 movement and impressive sub-€4000 ticket price. ‘I love the chamfered lugs and the shaped pushers with their cleverly integrated protectors. And the sunburst dial and concentric sub-dial treatments are striking. The proportions are perfect and the curved radius of the crystal beautifully mimics acrylic – but with sapphire’s hardness. They’ve nailed it!’

What else caught Ben’s fine-tuned designer’s eye at Basel? ‘Seiko’s reinterpretation of their classic SLA017 62MAS diver has been impressively executed by designer Nobuhiro Kosugi. It exemplifies the trend we (and every other commentator) noticed for reissues of classic vintage watches – and reassures us that our approach is right. If Blancpain, Seiko, Omega, Rado, Braun and others are doing it, we must be on track!’

Look out for our new products over the next year

Procurement manager Simon spent most of his time in Switzerland with suppliers. For obvious reasons, the team are keeping these discussions close to their chests. All they’re saying, as ever, is that readers sign up for the WatchGecko newsletter and connect on social media such as Instagram and Facebook to find out what he was planning.

The rest of the team did report that Simon wasn’t Baselworld’s only attendee to be impressed by MB&F’s latest Legacy Machine LMZti, with its distinctive flying balances, Grade 5 titanium case, mesmerising green-blue dial and 18-piece production run. That makes the 3,557 pieces of each of the Omega Trilogy Speedmaster, Railmaster and Seamaster look like industrial-grade mass production.

Omega impressed

Not surprisingly, given his penchant for ‘Speedys’, it was an Omega that wowed WatchGecko’s Matt: ‘I loved seeing the three anniversary watches and how the classic 1957 design has been reinterpreted with the latest co-axial movements and other twenty-first century enhancements. These include the beautifully simple bracelet that Al, our copywriter raves about. Owning all three would be a dream come true and any of the three would tick all my boxes. But if I had to choose, it would have to be the Speedmaster Anniversary Limited Edition 38.6 mm.

A piece of the iconic Matterhorn

And what about copywriter Al, another Baselworld newbie?

‘I tried not to be swayed by the pre-Basel hype or what the experts raved about and concentrated on looking at everything I could in six hours to see what stood out for me. Among the first to catch my attention were Grovana’s blue Ref. 1547.1 GMT (‘if only they’d do an automatic’), Porsche Design’s Monobloc Actuator Collection, Seiko’s MAS62, Eberhard’s Scafograf GMT, Schwarz Etienne’s Roswell Voyage 1 with inverted microtor movement and encased piece of Matterhorn, and Patek-Phillipe’s 5131/1P-001 worldtimer in platinum. And for sheer stopping power, although I’m no fashion-watch fan, Welder’s photochromic watches certainly got me onto their stand.’

Most impressive stand?

The consensus here was that Hublot, Blancpain, and Patek-Phillipe stood out.

In the case of the former, the sheer impact and the ability to draw visitors in with their massive video wall and black Ferrari. (Did Porsche Design miss a trick by not having a car on their stand?) Then there was their use of interactive ‘swipe’ displays to engage booth visitors.

Warm welcomes from Blancpain and Patek-Phillipe

Blancpain got a thumbs-up for the openness of the stand, lots of interesting takeaways and a friendly, informative watchmaker who did demonstrations and answered questions.

‘I’d add Glasshütte Original for the same reason;’ adds Al, ‘their watchmakers were incredibly informative and patient with dozens of fascinated onlookers watching, photographing and asking questions from just a few inches away.’

And then there was Patek-Phillipe. There, the warm welcome and sense of physical and emotional openness that we all noted started with bubbly and well-informed front-desk team and continued with an open, welcoming booth. And not a hint of aloofness.

Given the value of their product, the contrast with the coolness (‘there’s Rolex and then there’s everyone else!’) at monolithic ‘fortress Rolex’ was noticeable.

What’s most relevant to WatchGecko?

Basel, and increasingly for many luxury brands Geneva’s SIHH, is the traditional indicator for the year ahead in horology. So what did WatchGecko’s delegation consider most relevant to their coming year?

The trends were reassuring

Ben Adams: ‘It’s always interesting to see what the brands consider as important for the year ahead. This year, one of the reassuring trends for us was the wealth of reissues and re-interpretations of classic watches by everyone from Seiko to Omega.

‘Similarly for the number of smaller dial watches (such as Zenith’s new Pilot Type 20 Extra Special and the 37mm versions of Rado’s HyperChrome diver), which confirmed that the Geckota brand is in the right place with its dial sizing.

‘And of course, we spotted a few interesting design elements that may find their way into Geckota products in due course. Readers need to make sure they connect with us on social media to be the first to hear about these. There is lots of good stuff in the pipeline.’

We’re on the right track

‘I’d second that, says Tim: ‘The reissues trend was very obvious. It bears out our approach since we started designing and making watches and reminds us that we’re on the right track. Watch this space!’

Multimedia creative Matt and photographer Alice highlighted the best of Baselworld’s graphic design and photography as inspiring factors for the brand over the next year. ‘We’re doing more hard copy publications now,’ explains Matt, so we had a close eye on these at the show. The minimalistic, very contemporary layouts and interesting print finishing on Tudor’s catalogue, and the photography in Glycine’s (now owned by Invicta) brochure, particularly caught our attention.’

Watch the mid-luxury sector in the year ahead…

Copywriter Al’s takeaway, apart from similar observations about reissues: ‘There are clearly pricing adjustments going on, with more luxury watchmakers making their ranges more accessible, such as Rolex with their new stainless steel Sky-Dweller. With one EuropaStar writerdefining the mid-luxury sector ‘between CHF 500 to CHF 3000 retail’, and WatchGecko likely to enter this market segment in future, this is something to watch.’

Surprises and disappointments

Baselworld is renowned for its surprises, be they well-kept or not so well kept secrets! They can be positive like the James C. Pellaton Royal Marine Chronometer that wowed Joshua Munchow of Quill & Pad, or the Rolex Cellini Moonphase that surprised and excited WatchGecko’s Tim. And then there was the two-tone Tudor Heritage Black Bay S&G that had Geckota founder Jon Quinn drooling as the rest of the team flew to Basel: ‘I’ve never been a fan of “blingy” two-tone watches,’ said Jon, ‘but the satin finish on the gold is excellent. I love it!’

Tudor’s missed chronograph opportunity?

Alternatively, there are surprise disappointments: the reaction of The Grey Nato’s Jason Heaton and James Stacey as they discuss the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono in their post-Basel podcast (a viewpoint shared by Quill & Pad’s Ian Skellern and others). Was this the biggest missed opportunity of the show?

Watch Gecko’s biggest disappointment

So what, be it a stand, or a watch, was the WatchGecko team’s biggest Baselworld disappointment?

Ben Adams kicks off: ‘The new TAG Heuer Autavia reissue; the oversized bezel kills it for me; and the Seiko Presage ‘Cocktail Time’ that we’ve talked about so much was rather underwhelming in the metal’

‘The bezels seem to have it,’ adds Al, ‘it’s true, that Tudor Black Bay Chronograph doesn’t look quite right. But I’d have to disagree over both the Autavia and the Presage; in my opinion, the latter may not be a drop-dead stunning watch, but I think it is nevertheless a very capable, attractive dress watch – especially if you go for the simpler SRPB43J1 without the power-reserve.’

Brands we missed

As for stands, and brand presence, the absence of Lange & Söhne, JLC, AP, IWC (no surprise as they left the Baselworld line-up before this year) and Bremont was a disappointment for all the team. And apart from the small flipover displays around the edge of their stand, which everyone liked, Breitling’s stand was universally considered disappointing.

‘And RJ-Romain Jerome,’ adds Alice, ‘who were at Baselworld last year, but not this time. They’re another brand that has fled the Messe for the shores of Lake Geneva and SIHH in January.’

As a Basel newbie, Al was disappointed by the Rolex monolith and Breitling’s reprised ‘fishtank’. That said, he wasn’t alone among the WatchGecko crew to like the simple, yet effective, use of clattering airport-departure-board-style displays around the outside of Breitling’s booth. ‘I guess my biggest surprise was the coolness of Rolex and the warmth of Patek-Phillipe and Schwarz Etienne,’ he adds, ‘particularly as I could, conceivably afford a Rolex that appeals, but I’m unlikely to ever buy the kind of Patek or Schwarz Etienne that took my fancy!’

Conclusions

Not only could this prove to be a vintage Baselworld, as many eminent commentators have suggested, but paradoxically, with the show losing two days in 2018 and the possibility of more brands switching to SIHH in January, the centenary Baselworld may yet go down in history as the event’s apogee.

Predictable optimism from the organisers

Exhibitor and ‘buyer’ numbers (-4% vs. 2016) may have been down this year. Still, in Baselworld 2017’s closing press release, Eric Bertrand. President of the Baselworld Exhibitors’ Committee said: ‘In the last week, we have experienced the value of this show for the entire industry especially in difficult times, which makes the show’s role as the global platform even more compelling at a time when all players are looking for secure values and stability. We know from experience, our new collections and creations will be the talk in the coming 12 months.’

In the fair’s booths, and myriad press packs, a clear trend for reissue and reinterpretation of classic watches was apparent. And about moves toward smaller dial sizes too – not least that tiny dial on Rado’s limited edition Hyperchrome Captain Cook diver! And changes are clearly afoot in pricing as new micro brands approach the mid-luxury sector for a piece of the action and super-luxury brands make themselves more accessible.

As for hybrid connected watches? The consensus among the WatchGecko team on their return from Basel was something like ‘interesting but it’s never going to usurp the appeal of traditional fully mechanical or quartz watches’.

Best of show?

And the team’s overall favourite, relatively affordable watch? Probably a tie between the latest Tudor Heritage Black Bay (but not the chrono) and the Anniversary Edition Omega Speedmaster – with Seiko’s 62MAS reissue close behind.

Predictable? Maybe. A safe bet? Probably. A stylish, practical everyday wear in a wide range of contexts? Definitely!

So that’s our Baselworld 2017 review. See you at Baselworld 2018, if we don’t see you at SIHH in Geneva first!

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