Baselworld 2010

Finally I have a little bit of time to finish by much overdue Baselworld report. Well at least I won't have to compete for eyeballs now :) As usual I arrived the day before the fair is opened to the public. At this point the town is still quiet. There are some press around and the buyers are beginning to trickle into town.

For those of you that do not know the town of Basel it occupies a unique geographic location in that it is actually “in” three different countries: Switzerland, France, and Germany. The airport itself is actually divided into sectors by country although the immigration desks now are rarely in use. The bridge leading to the town center

From an industry observers perspective I expected this show in particular to be interesting. At last year's fair one could scarcely believe that the world was in the throws of the worst recession in 60 years and that we were just emerging from the most serious financial crisis in decades. The watches were loud, bigger, and more expensive than the previous year. The only indication there was a recession plaguing the world was the fact that the mood was cool and you could scarcely find an American around. Given the size of the US market this was particularly striking.

Usually the first day of the show is still very quiet. The halls are actually cold because the temperature of the buildings are set up to compensate for the body heat of thousands of visitors. In 2009 the attendance was so low that by the 2nd and 3rd days the buildings were still chilly, reflecting the climate of the business environment. This year from what I could gather things started off slowly. The first two days of the fair were relatively quiet and I had a foreboding that 2010 would mirror 2009. It turned out that the attendance was actually up but spaced over a longer period of time. Usually the numbers spike over the first weekend and then trail off quickly. The numbers this year probably did reach a high peak on the weekend but attendance probably averaged a higher number of the following week.

Hall 1.0 and 1.1 are the heart of the show. This is where you find the Swatch Group, Breitling, Rolex and the rest of the tier 1 and tier 2 brands. Initially I was ecstatic about what the new offerings from Tudor, Eterna, and Zenith.

Here are some photos of my favorites watches released in 2010 that a friend with a press pass sent me from some press kits (now ubiquitous on the web):

Tudor “re-issued” one of the best chronographs they ever made and did a beautiful job of updating that classic.

You may be surprised to hear that I really liked this piece by Chanel. Its not my style but the design is fantastic! (Naturally this watch has some retro hands but otherwise it is new)

As you already know by now Eterna brought back the IDF Kontiki, complete with mesh bracelet. The Eterna chronograph was somewhat less interesting as they chose a winter-mint green colored lume for the dial and hands.

I was particularly relieved to see the watches from Zenith. I have been a big fan of Zenith since I first learned about the El Primero movement when I just started collecting. The first automatic chronograph I have ever owned was a Zenith El Primero, pre-LVMH. The watches were not yet available in the US and I actually ordered the watch from a dealer in the UK. The new Zenith watches go back to the roots of the brand and the classic styling that originally captured my interest in the brand.

After my initial excitement subsided something finally occurred to me. These watches were “recession” watches. The companies had dusted off their old designs because there were hurting and the classics were the watches that they knew they would sell. Better yet they required much less in the way of development and market research to bring to market. Even the new Zenith collection was actually recycled watches from the Defy collection. Different dials, hands, and cases but the layout of the dials made the movements unmistakable.

During one of my brief breaks I wandered over to Jorge Schauer's booth to take a look at what was new. There was a lot of evolutionary development resulting in richer more sophisticated designs. There may have been newer stuff but I missed an opportunity to meet with Jorge personally. Last year Graehme and I were lucky enough to sit down with Jorge for half an hour before one of his interviews.

There were some other visitors to the booth and by chance we left Jorge's booth at the same time and rode up the elevator to the ground floor. One of the three gentlemen, probably around my age, ask me "That's a nice watch...what year is it?" I responded that it wasn't a particular year but it was my watch, a Kingston prototype. After we reached the sidewalk I took off the Kingston to give them a closer look. One of them asked me if I was "Bill Yao", which I confirmed to some surprise. Then abruptly we went our separate ways. The encounter, while somewhat flattering, left me with a slightly "dirty" feeling as the three other gentlemen never volunteered their names (yes I am trying to be funny here.) :D

Among the half-a-dozen books I bought, I picked up a copy of "12 Faces of Time" by Elizabeth Doerr. This is more than a coffee table book. It really explores what drives the featured watchmakers and brings out the passion that they feel for their craft. I was lucky enough to Ms. Doerr and Vianney Halter to autograph my copy :D

On one of the last days of the fair I went to visit "The Palace" which is across the street from the main hall. This is by far the smallest hall but also the most interesting as most of the medium sized independents are here. This hall and the ACHI exhibition are two of the more interesting sections for real WIS.

One of the coolest things I like about Baselworld isn't just the watches (frankly I can't see most of the newest ones because those are held behind closed doors for review by the press and retailers) but seeing some of the biggest names in the industry just hanging out or taking care of business personally. The scale of the industry is small enough that you will see Gerd Lang, Vianney Halter, Max Busser, and once I saw Philippe Stern taking the tram. That is surprising only because most of the big companies use a car service to shuttle their VIPs around.

During my visit to The Palace I visited the company that developed the movement for the Christian Dior Mysterieuse quartz watch

The watch isn't for everyone but the effect is really stunning. There are motors positioned around the circumference of the case opening out of view that rotate the crystal plates that you see. The design elements of the “dials” rotate around the central axis. At certain points you can see through the entire watch.

Chance encounter with Peter Speake-Marin:

I met one of my idols Peter Speake-Marin. I really enjoy Peter's work in the same vein that I enjoy F.P. Journe's work. There is a deceptive simplicity to the pureness of both collections that speaks volumes of the amount of thought that went into the designs. I was taking a really, really close look (i.e. I bumped my nose once or twice on the glass of the box holding the Marin 1) at the Marin 1. It’s the one with the heat blued steel accents on the dial when the PR director, Mr. Marguerat, for the company came up and struck up a conversation. It was fascinating learning some of the finer points of the design such as the circular rotor on the watch. By chance Peter himself, between interviews, had a moment to speak with my wife and I about his watches. to right: Mr. Marguerat, Peter Speake-Marin, a Japanese journalist, me)

The case is made of polished titanium and consists of more than 15 parts by my estimate. Normally a standard case of this type only consists of 5 parts. What I love about this case is that it is deceptively simple and it is difficult to manufacture because it is so seemingly simple.

A view of the simple and clean snap-back case back, which requires a special tool to open. This is another example of a design element that looks simple but is hard to do well in practice.

This is the one I was just fascinated with. The dial is a combination of blued steel markers and enamel. I can only imagine what the dial must cost and the scrap rate to manufacture such a complex dial. The contrasting elements add an amazing depth to the watch.

The new manufacture movement is shown below. Note the completely circular rotor. It doesn’t look like it should work but a weight hidden on the underside of the rotor enables it to wind the movement.

Picture of some of the movement components. Speake-Marin uses German silver for the plates and bridges.

Peter was kind enough to autograph his book for me. Its a great book and available through the Watchprint web site.

After a few more last minute meetings with journalists my wife and I took a last tour around the halls before we went out to the entrance of Hall 1.0 to relax.

Show’s finally over. I just love the idea of being able to drink a good beer outside. If you haven’t been to the US it’s pretty much against the law to drink outdoors in a public space.

Hopefully the report for 2011 will be more timely. My wife and I have already booked our tickets and hotel for the next show....

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