Despite the subdued mood at Baselworld 2016, a consequence of the weak demand for luxury watches, there was a silver lining for watch buyers, since watchmakers are now working harder, introducing what buyers will like at more affordable prices. That might go some way in reviving mature collectors’ interest in watches. In fact, one of the obvious trends at Baselworld was the generous and pliant stance of watchmakers in giving customers what they want. What better way to pull clients back in than to give them exactly what they want.
Please, sir, I want some more
Watch brands, even the biggest and most powerful of them, are putting their money on safe bets, essentially making bestselling watches even more appealing. Take for example Patek Philippe whose flagship new launch combines two popular complications, the world time and chronograph. More significantly, of the 28 new references Patek Philippe introduced at Baselworld, 15 of them have Breguet numerals (count them below). That tally includes the annual calendar ref. 5396, a middle of the range complication, as well as the regular collection Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300G, which might be a disappointment for those who bought the 175th limited edition last year.
Italicised Arabic numbers are a crowd pleaser, being reminiscent of pricey vintage Patek Philippe watches. But historically they have typically been limited to limited edition watches, like the annual calendar for Tiffany & Co. and the 175th anniversary London collection, or truly expensive ones, like last year’s split-seconds chronograph ref. 5370P.
Ditto the jolly green giant, whose flagship product was the stainless steel Daytona with a black ceramic bezel (ref. 116500 LN). It’s hard to imagine a more populist combination than that. Except maybe for the Black Bay Bronze, which combines Tudor’s hit vintage remake (accounting for some three quarters of sales for the Heritage line) with a bronze case, a material that has exploded in popularity since Panerai’s Bronzo. And for good measure Tudor also introduced the Black Bay with a black PVD coating.
Further into the cavernous Baselworld hall the same could be said of Omega, which unveiled new iterations of its saleable Speedmaster and Planet Ocean watches, most with minor tweaks and a few with the impressively magnetism-resistant Master Co-Axial movements. Though the least technically novel amongst the line-up, the Speedmaster CK2998 will prove to be one of the best liked, being a remake of the second Speedmaster model.
And make it cheaper…
Beyond easily marketable iterations of bestsellers, even complications were more aggressively affordable. The most obvious candidates to make more accessible are the tourbillon and perpetual calendar, both complications that are relatively easier to industrialise and streamline. TAG Heuer grabbed the headlines when it announced the Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T last year, a chronograph with tourbillon for under SFr15,000. The watch finally arrived in the metal this year, starting at SFr14,950 – the cheapest tourbillon ever.
Even Chopard conceded to the desires of the market with the L.U.C Perpetual Twin, a simplified version of its perpetual calendar. Functionally identical to the top of the line variant, the new perpetual is in stainless steel with a less elaborate base movement, priced at US$25,000. That’s less than half the price of the gold version with a fancier base movement. And for even less, US$7500 to be exact, Frederique Constant also introduced a no-frills, in-house perpetual calendar.
Now that’s interesting
Not everything was elementary and economical. Having been hushed for some time after the passing of Rolf Schnyder and the company’s subsequent sale, Ulysse-Nardin proffered one of the most intriguing watches of the fair with the SFR280,000 Grand Deck Marine Tourbillon. Cleverly inspired by nautical rigging, the Grand Deck uses tiny pulleys with ropes made of synthetic material to advance the retrograde minute hand; though it has to be said the movement is built by Christophe Claret rather than in-house.
Equally interesting but tremendously more affordable is the Hamilton Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II, a swivelling watch with double-face chronograph that’s an improved sequel to the first one from 2013. The front is a conventional time and stopwatch, while the rear features a central seconds hand mounted on the rotor’s axis and triple scales for tachymetric, telemetric and pulsometric measurements – all that for under US$5000.
To boldly go…
Intrepid bets instead came from surprising corners. Two brands better known for being Parisian purveyors of leather and fashion did well in this respect. Chanel’s first watch conceived for men is remarkably well conceived and crafted, but the Monsieur de Chanel will suffer from being branded with a name that is not an established watchmaker. Ditto for the gorgeous Slim d’Hermes with a fired enamel dial.
One of the most valiant products is the Breitling Chronoworks, a watch with an incredibly interesting movement but also one that is comically expensive with a price tag just shy of US$39,295. The Chronoworks is an ingeniously souped up version of Breitling’s in-house Caliber 01 movement, equipped with innovations that offer tangible performance improvements.
Features include silicon gear trains wheels and escapement parts, as well as bridges in ceramic, eliminating the need for jewelled bearings and boosting efficiency. And the Chronoworks also uses wheels with built-in springs on the teeth of the chronograph coupling, so no energy-consuming friction spring is needed.
And perhaps the most improbable is the baroque Seiko Credor Fugaku Tourbillon. Lavishly decorated with almost every conceivable artisanal technique – encompassing marquetry, maki-e, gem-setting, hand-engraving, skeletonisation – the Fugaku is Seiko’s first tourbillon. And it is ¥50 million, or about US$442,000. This stands in graphic contrast with the Seiko Presage 60th Anniversary chronographs, which probably clinches the prize for best value at Baselworld 2016.
Title image credit Baselworld
Amendment March 27, 2016: Added credit for title imageBack to top.