BaselWorld 2010 – after the GFC

Martin Foster reviews watches and clocks at BaselWorld 2010 in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial meltdown.
BaselWorld 2010 opened its doors in mid-March for a week of fine luxury watches and timepieces from the top makers in Switzerland and around the world.
Optimism at the Fair was tempered to ‘cautious’ in the wake of the global cash problems with Greece and to a lesser extent Spain, Portugal and Ireland, teetering at the edge of insolvency, and the nagging possibility of a secondary sub-prime collapse or double-dip recession still lurking in the sub-conscious of buyers.
Nonetheless the Fairended on a high note, with organisers revealing a seven percent increase in visitor numbers (100,700) coupled with a rise in Swiss watch exports over the first months of 2010.
Swiss watch exports rose 2.7 percent in value this January compared to January 2009 and 14.2 percent in February compared to February 2009 – the first gains in 15 months.
The value of Swiss-made watches has followed global fortunes in the last few years – and indeed the country’s growth in watch exports over the last few years may even have been an unwitting beneficiary of the appalling global credit profligacy.
Switzerland is the watchmaker to the world in terms of class and quality and there are statistical ways of evaluating this.
But the questions frequently asked is: “Who buys all the watches?”
The answer comes from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) which collects this information from its members.
According to the Federation, Switzerland itself buys a liberal slice of its own production and much of what is exported to Hong Kong is re-exported.
This systemic on-selling means that an accurate assessment of who is buying the watches is less clear but nonetheless the 2009 export/destination of Swiss watch production is interesting, dominated as it is by Hong Kong.
Meanwhile inside the hallowed halls of BaselWorld a number of interesting watch trends were on display.
Wristwatches appeared in slightly smaller cases than in the past, with emphasis on materials and finishing, especially PVD and proprietary plating processes.
High-tech materials such as titanium and ceramics, previously reserved for select models, have become increasingly popular watchmaking materials across several price ranges.
And as far as complications are concerned, the majority of this year’s creations appeared with the addition of repeaters, tourbillions and annual and perpetual calendars.
Other features on display included the return of digital displays combined with mechanical or quartz movements as well as some extremely ingenious disc systems in the high-end specialities.
Sadly technological advances were less in evidence at this year’s fair as a direct result of the steady-as-she-goes policies that emerged following the 2009 crisis.
However the adoption of new silicon materials for the escapement components across the hi-tech brands continues apace and with the concomitant elimination of escapement oil, the 36,000 v/hr ceiling on balance wheel frequency has disappeared.
For example Breguet has produced a new chronograph utilising 72,000v/hr (10Hz) which provides higher accuracy and gives the perception of a gliding sweep hand as its individual movements are now imperceptibly small.
Other attraction at this year’s BaselWorld included:
The Opus X, created by Harry Winston and Jean-Francois Mojon, replaces a traditional fixed dial and watch hands with a system of rotating indicators mounted on a revolving frame.
The dials of each indicator turn in the opposite direction, ensuring orientation remains constant in any position in much the same way that the moon always presents the same face to the earth.
The indicators for hours, minutes, seconds and secondary time zone are set on the individual satellite wheels, which orbit around the central ‘solar’ wheel.
Nomos Glashütte added an elegantly flat automatic edition to its well known Ludwig collection. Due to the automatic caliber, the diameter of the Ludwig Automatik is bigger than its predecessors making it appear even flatter. It is available in two versions – with and without date indication
The much-awaited Patek Phillipe chronograph Ref. 5170 is equipped with the brand new hand-wound Cal. CH 29-535 PS with a column-wheel and horizontal toothed-wheel coupling.
Developed over five years, the watch blends tradition and innovation in a yellow gold case, recalling the magnificent Patek Philippe wristwatch chronographs of the 1940s.
Ulysse Nardin has combined its ‘Moonstruck’ case with the legendary perpetual calendar movement to create the new El Toro. Noble with its ceramic push pieces and bezel, the El Toro’s remarkable features include an exclusive fast-action time-zone system, permanent indication of the original time, forward and backward adjustment of all the date indicators, and the synchronised adjustment of these elements using the hour hand alone.
Chronoswiss has given its skeletonised automatic Opus Chronograph (pictured) and Grand Opus Chronograph a completely new look with an innovative black coating called Dianor (which belongs to the family of diamond-like carbon and is thus known in the industry as DLC).
So despite the GFC, the Fair certainly had more than enough new products and innovations to impress those in the watch industry looking forward to the recovery.
Next year’s Fair will no doubt be equally impressive.
This early Spring period in Switzerland can be variable but when the warm late afternoon sun shines on the plaza in front of Hall 1, the masses of obediently blooming jonquils fill the air with perfume, the Dixieland jazz band starts daily at the close of the fair and a cool beer nestles in the hand, then the daily turmoil evaporates into peace and tranquillity.
But actually it was cold and wet this year so the law of averages surely indicates warm weather for next year.
BaselWorld 2011 opens its doors on March 24-31.