The message from Baselworld 2012, the watch and jewelry industry’s annual conference in the Swiss town of Basel, was that business is back on track after a few wobbly years. In 2011, Switzerland exported a record $21 billion in watch sales (nearly 30 million units), a 19 percent increase over 2010 due to growth in the Asian and Middle Eastern markets. China led the charge, overtaking the United States as the nation with the biggest demand for luxury watches. Overall growth projections for 2012 are 7 percent, up from 2011’s 5 percent.
Lebanese importers attended Basel and were not disappointed. “Brands seem to keep surprising us each year by developing more and more complications,” declared Mher Atamian, managing director of Ets. Hagop Atamian, using the industry term for features beyond the normal display of time. “There is just no end to the imagination and development of high-end complicated pieces that will keep the watch aficionados interested.”
According to Simone Tamer, marketing manager at the Tamer Group, the models at this year’s show were defined by quality, technology and price. “The main engine working behind the scenes of these developments are the research and development as well as the design departments,” she said. “Every company is seeking to become partially independent in creating their own movements from their old suppliers.”
There is also good news for female consumers. “In Basel we noticed a development in the women’s segment, where we saw wider ranges of female products in the collections, especially in brands like Breitling,” explained Tamer. “Today’s woman wants a man’s watch so brands are expanding their women’s collection to incorporate a masculine aspect in both design and mechanism.”
The watches that caused a buzz during March included the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Diver. Tudor is a brand that has long lived in the shadow of its parent company Rolex, but seems to becoming a high-end name on its own. Many of the previous models looked too similar to their Rolex cousins, but recent designs have been very refreshing, especially the Heritage Chrono, which many believe is destined for iconic status. The Heritage Black Bay Diver, with its stunning cherry red bezel and the achingly elegant snowflake hour hand, sits up there with the Breitling Superocean Heritage, also modern with a design nod to a previous age.
Zenith is another brand that hides its light under a bushel. It is known among watch aficionados for making the El Primero, the most famous chronograph movement ever made. This year, Zenith unveiled the Big Date Special, a pared down, understated aviator chronograph, which is sure to enhance the brand’s status even further.
Another impressive watch was Omega Speedmaster professional. With a manual wind mechanism and a Hesalite Plexiglas glass (so as not to shatter in space), Omega has introduced a limited edition model that resembles the Speedmaster pre-Professional worn in space in 1962 by Walter Shirr.
Elsewhere, TAG Heuer showed off its limited edition Carrera to celebrate the 80th birthday of Honorary President Jack Heuer, while IWC unveiled the Big Pilot’s Watch Muhammad Ali Edition with fantastic red lume in honor of the great man’s trademark gloves, a watch auctioned for the Celebrity Fight Night charity on March 24.
For those who love a bit of bling, Swiss watchmaker Hublot showed off the most expensive watch at this year’s fair. With a price tag of $5 million, the ‘watch’ was inlaid with more than 1,200 diamonds, including six weighing more than 3 carats. Call me a purist but I’d take the Tudor Black Bay Diver any day.