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BaselWorld 2013: The Old, The New and The Revolutionary

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Sulabh MadhwalAnalyst Insight by Sulabh Madhwal, Personal Accessories and Eyewear Analyst, Euromonitor International

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The latest edition of BaselWorld came to a close on 2 May, thus ending an 8-day event which attracts the highest number of watch players from around the world. Several global groups such as Swatch, Fossil, Richemont and LVMH use the event to generate new and cultivate existing partnerships with retailers, suppliers and the media. Although value growth for watches in 2013 is expected to be lower than in 2012, the annual event saw the total number of attendees rise by more than 15% to 122,000 visitors. A closer examination of new launches reveals three approaches adopted by the major watch brands.

The old - building brand heritage

Several global brands dedicated new models to their historically well-received collections at BaselWorld 2013. Bulgari’s Bulgari Roma collection, which was first seen in 1975, has been modified from the original quartz digital mechanism to a mechanical analogue display. Swatch Group’s Omega made a few changes to the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, famous for being the first watch to be approved by NASA and worn on the moon. Although the Speedmaster ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ does not draw directly from the music or lyrics of the Pink Floyd classic, it sports a black ceramic dial case adding to an all-black strap. Rolex celebrated the 50th anniversary of its well-known Daytona collection by featuring models in blue and brown, both different from the classic green and gold associated with Rolex. LVMH’s leading brand TAG Heuer also introduced new models on the 50th anniversary of the TAG Heuer Carrera. First launched in 1963, the Carrera was eventually phased out but resumed sales in 2004.


Source: BaselWorld 2013 Press Photos (Impression)

Most of the models listed above and others which strive to extract value from the heritage positioning of old watch collections are released in limited editions. While these do not account for a major proportion of annual sales for their respective brands, they provide luxury players with a degree of recognition and engender a nostalgic connection among loyal customers.

The new - experimenting with design and materials

Some collections at BaselWorld 2013 exhibited an investigative approach to watch design and materials. One of these was the Chopard LUC Engine One H, modelled on an automobile driver display. The new watch collection compares a motor engine to the watch’s hand-wound mechanical movement, and the car cockpit to the horizontal watch design. Another car-inspired model is Hublot’s MP-05 LaFerrari, designed in the shape of limited edition car LaFerrari. The watch’s open dial displays time through an analogue display mounted on vertical cylinders. In addition to featuring more parts than any other Hublot watch, the model is wound with a small power drill.


Source: BaselWorld 2013 Press Photos (Impression)

While individual motor-inspired products are not likely to have any long-term impact on global sales, the global portfolio of brand Ice Watch could see major changes after it announced an undertaking to add to its design process. Currently focused on the basic price segment for quartz watches, the company is looking to explore the mid-priced segment with Ice-Swiss, its Swiss-made collection. Each model in this collection features Swarovski crystals and the national flag of Switzerland in some form.

In terms of the raw materials used in watch and jewellery manufacturing, Gucci and Hublot presented some products deviating from the norm. Gucci’s jewellery collection added palladium-coated silver jewellery for men, while also using rose, white and yellow gold in conjunction with bamboo jewellery for women. Luxury watch brand Hublot presented its ‘Jeans’ collection which uses denim for both its dial and strap. The denim dial face also features diamonds, while the strap is stitched on to black rubber.


Source: BaselWorld 2013 Press Photos (Impression)

The revolutionary - leaders in innovation

A number of technical innovations at the annual Basel event marked some firsts in their respective functions. Breitling unveiled Emergency II, a watch with an in-built personal locator beacon (PLB). The model is capable of sending a distress signal on satellite-monitored frequencies, thus upgrading the reach of version I, whose signal could be detected by aircrafts flying at 6,000m. Another function-driven innovation is Omega’s first non-magnetic watch mechanism. Omega Seamaster > 15,000 Gauss strives to resolve the magnetic disturbance in watches caused by electronics, appliances and even some handbag materials, thus increasing the accuracy and performance of mechanical watches. The movement uses non-ferrous metals instead of a special dial casing in order to achieve the purpose. Commenting on the buzz surrounding smart watches, Casio revealed plans to focus on near field communication technologies such as Bluetooth. As such, it is hoping to integrate watches with smartphones rather than producing independently functioning smart watches.

Swatch, which leads global sales of quartz watches, exhibited for the first time at BaselWorld 2013. It managed to capture global attention by announcing Sistem51, an economically-priced mechanical movement to be released later in 2013. The Swiss-made movement has 51 components which are assembled completely by machine, in stark contrast to a few hundred components and the manually assembled nature of most mechanical watches. Expected to be priced at around US$150, the watch is an interesting take on mechanical watches and is likely to make the category accessible to middle-income consumers who find the product too expensive. However, it remains to be seen whether Swatch can replicate the prestige associated with global mechanical watch brands.

Impact on 2013 and beyond

The exhibition hall for ‘Global Brands’ at BaselWorld further divides watch brands into floors, with the best recognised brands such as Rolex, Swatch, TAG Heuer and Patek Philippe located on level one. Relatively smaller brands such as Seiko, Hermès and Citizen are represented on level two, thus creating a competitive environment which inspires level two exhibitors to strive for level one.

The several brands and models discussed above highlight the willingness of global players to experiment with dials, technology and materials. The heritage factor associated with luxury brands continues to be their major selling proposition, and is attracting more mass brands such as Ice Watch and Seiko to follow a similar path. As such, technical innovation to counter the possible introduction of smartwatches and mass brands striving for premium price collections are likely to be the two key trends leading up to the next BaselWorld, which opens on 27 March 2014.

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