In the Eye of the Storm – A Letter From Geneva

A view from inside the watch industry.

Switzerland has declared a state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Almost everything is closed, including schools, shops, and restaurants, with only businesses offering the basic necessities, like banks and supermarkets, being allowed to open. There is bad news from Switzerland’s neighbours as well; the virus has spread fast in Italy.

A recent poll showed that only 8% of the Swiss population feel they are in great danger. I can assure you that 100% of watch brands are feeling the pressure. Many watch factories, particularly the privately-held brands, have shut down completely or are about to. That includes Rolex, which just closed all its facilities for two weeks starting March 17.

Watch sales are falling all around the world, with some brands suffering drops of 30-40% in February, and duty-free sales – which are substantial for the watch industry – falling by up to 90% in major airports. We have seen many crises, but this is unprecedented.

But the biggest blow to the industry so far – the cancellation of the major watch fairs, Watches & Wonders (W&W) and Baselworld. Even though very little is actually sold at the fairs, they were universal events that brought everyone together, almost like an annual reunion of old friends (and competitors). The fairs were a major, major part of the larger imagination, so the cancellations feel like a massive blow for everyone in the industry.

The accelerating fallout

First, the timeline of the virus’ impact on the industry. On February 3, Swatch Group cancelled Time to Move, the launch event for the year’s new products that was scheduled to start on February 28, making it the first event to be abandoned. Though the virus hadn’t reached Europe yet, the Swatch Group anticipated the problem.

On February 27, W&W announced that it would not take place. A day later, the Swiss government declared a ban on events with over 1,000 people. A few hours after that, Baselworld “postponed” itself to late January 2021.

On March 2, a brand-new event was announced. Geneva Watch Days (GWD), an initiative led by Bulgari, is planned for Geneva during the same period W&W would have taken place. Intended as a grouping of small events in hotel suites and boutiques, GWD is mainly meant for media and retailers in Europe. By March 13, the Swiss government closed schools and encouraged firms to let their employees work at home. 

The broken dream

Sometime last year, the organisers of W&W and Baselworld, struck a deal to schedule both events so that they would happen concurrently for the following five years; W&W (which was formerly known as SIHH) essentially made itself happen later in the year to coincide with Baselworld. This was good news for the industry, since visitors to the fairs – who come from all corners of the world – would only need to make one trip to Switzerland, instead of two trips barely a month apart.

By “postponing” Baselworld to January 2021, its organisers broke the gentlemen’s agreement. In fact, the “postponed” Baselworld is now slated to take place at the same time that W&W historically happened, until W&W changed its date to coincide with Baselworld.

For the organisers of W&W, it was a betrayal. So now the two fairs have stopped talking to each other, which is bad news for the watch world.

This decision ended the hope that one day, the industry would work in harmony and join forces for one big event. Perhaps that was a pipe dream all along, but when the two announced concurrent fairs, the dream seemed to inch closer to reality. Today, reality has set in, and it is not inconceivable that only one will survive – or neither.

Baselworld in better days. Photo – Baselworld


The real question on everyone’s mind now is straightforward – are the fairs still useful?

Opinions are divided. On one hand, people need to meet, talk, show and see the products. What better than an event that gathers all of the industry players? On the other hand, it’s easier, cheaper, and greener to do it digitally. After an initial launch online, brands can then present the new watches locally in each country or region. The answer is not yet clear, but with COVID-19 coronavirus threatening the world, the industry will have to adapt. 

This year will be a test. Now that all the fairs are no longer taking place, how will brands launch their new watches? All brands have worked hard to ready the novelties for launch at the end of April, and now what?  Will brands unveil new products as and when they want on whatever platform they prefer?

As GWD makes clear, Bulgari has its own ideas. But is that a good solution? Bulgari and the other brands that signed up for GWD are trying to make the best of the situation. But with the Swiss government declaring a state of emergency, that is no longer feasible, and GWD’s organisers haven’t responded publicly yet.

But the organisers of the two major fairs have not been standing still.

W&W is reputedly trying to do something online that encompassed all Richemont brands, which make up the bulk of the exhibitors at W&W. Being owned by a single group helps them stand together, especially since Richemont in particular owns more boutiques than its rivals, making it cost efficient to have well-timed, local events in stores. Though some elements of the plan are easy to predict – a worldwide, digital effort to kick things off is certain – what exactly the brands are planning is still under wraps for now.

Baselworld, on the other hand, is not doing a physical event in 2020. Instead its organisers gathered the exhibiting brands in Geneva two weeks ago, though Rolex declined to attend, and presented an online platform to launch new models. The platform included the usual, namely live streaming and social media.

The goal of both organisers, surely, is to be the first to announce, so stay tuned. If either of their digital efforts is bears fruit, we will probably see this – combining the online and physical – becoming the standard in the years to come.

A big influence on how things unfold will be the decisions of the biggest watch brands – Rolex. The Geneva giant, as usual, is saying nothing. Industry talk points to a launch in May or maybe later, in its New York boutiques. Not much is known at the moment, but fear not, the market will have its fix of steel-sports watches (yes, I’m looking at you, Submariner).


It’s not the big brands, or even the small ones (sorry, RJ-Romain Jerome), which will suffer the most from the pandemic-induced crisis. The real victims are the suppliers, the specialist firms across Switzerland that makes the components necessary to build a watch.

Suppliers will be the first casualties of the virus, and that will have a knock-on effect on the industry supply chain. When a supplier goes bankrupt, brands that rely on that supplier will need to find other solutions – either buying the supplier outright or acquiring the capacity to produce the part. Either way, the solution will cost a lot, and can only be afforded by brands that have enough cashflow.

Predicting the future is impossible, but the industry is heading into a recession for certain, and only the smartest will survive. Alain Marietta, the owner of Metalem, the large dial maker based in Le Locle that counts Breguet, Audemars Piguet, and Chopard as clients, summed it up an interview with Le Temps [a Swiss newspaper] that was published in early March.

“We have work until May, then we have no idea. It’s simple: to survive, we need to make 7,000 dials. But since January 1, we have only 1,500 orders. Our clients know that the Chinese are not travelling and not buying,” said Mr Marietta.

“For us, 2020 will be a bad year, one to forget about. We have to be strong and hope that the Swiss government will help us survive. If not, unemployment is certain.”

United we stand 

As I write this, I’m on the tram, heading to buy groceries in downtown Geneva. It’s usually crowded during rush hour, but now I have plenty of space – and even the luxury of a seat. It’s not mass panic, but something feels wrong. I can feel the tension in the air, which is not only because of the coronavirus, but also because of the looming recession.

I stand up to let an elderly lady take my place (though she should be staying at home), and she smiles at me. In civilised society, people always try to help each other; it’s in our nature.

I don’t understand why the watch industry is not putting aside petty rivalries so that we can face this crisis in solidarity. Maybe even organise one great, big digital event for everyone. And please stop making announcements about events without letting your peers known. Let’s fight this battle together. It really is all about what we love, to make and sell – beautiful watches.

Andre Meylan is the pen name of someone who is very much an industry insider. He lives in Geneva and works in the watch industry for a widely-known name. Because of his job, he is unable to publish under his real name. He is certain that his wish for an industry united against the coronavirus is one shared by most of his colleagues in the business.


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Breguet Introduces the Classique 7137 and Classique 7337

Historically grounded, tastefully updated.

Perhaps the quintessential modern Breguet watches, having been in the line-up for decades, the Classique 7137 and Classique 7337 have elegant proportions and classical dials that showcase the exacting art of traditional engine-turning.

And they have just been face-lifted, retaining the traditional look while getting sleeker engine-turning and a streamlined moon phase. Though the changes are slight, the watches differ significantly in look and feel from the initial versions.

Unusually, the new dial is also offered in dark blue (with a white gold case), historically an uncommon colour for Breguet. The other combination is the conventional rose gold with a silver dial. Both models feature a slim, 39 mm case with straight lugs and a reeded case band.

Mechanically, they are identical to the earlier generation versions. The movements of both watches vary in height and calendar complications, but they share the same ultra-thin cal. 502.3 as the base.

The Classique 7337 in pink gold with a silver dial

Before going on to the details of the two, it’s worth a quick look at their history.

The two models are descended from the refs. 3137 and 3337 respectively, both watches designed by the independent watchmaker Daniel Roth when he helped create the modern Breguet identity in the late 1970s. Mr Roth, in turn, was inspired by important, 19th century Breguet pocket watches; he successfully translated Breguet’s glorious past into the modern era.

Being small watches by modern standards, the two were replaced by the Classique 7137 and Classique 7337 in 2014 and 2009 respectively.

Classique 7137

As with many Breguet wristwatches, the Classique 7137 features a dial that was adapted from a historically-important pocket watch – the Perpétuelle no. 5. One of Breguet’s rare self-winding watches, hence the “perpetual” moniker, the no. 5 featured a toc, or dumb, quarter repeater where the time is struck by a hammer against the inside of the case rather than on gongs, producing a muffled sound.

The Perpetuelle watches – there were a handful made – were important enough that the company recruited master watchmaker Michel Parmigiani to build a series of approximate replicas in the 1990s, and today Breguet itself produces an exact replica in limited numbers.

The Perpétuelle no. 5

The Classique 7137 adopts the asymmetrical yet balanced dial of the Perpetuelle no. 5. Though not exactly identical, the Classique 7137 is close enough it is as classically beautiful as the pocket watch.

The Classique 7137 in white gold with a blue dial

The dial, made of solid gold, is finished with guilloche executed with a hand-operated rose engine as well as a straight-line engine, while the chapter rings and scales are finished with concentric brushing.

Just as on the first generation 7137, the dial guilloche is in three distinct patterns – panier maillé, or basket weave, for the power reserve indicator; damier, or checkerboard, for the date display; and clous de Paris, or hobnail, for the rest of the dial. But in contrast to the first generation that combined three starkly-different patterns, including a radial floral motif, the patterns on the new watch model blends together harmoniously.

Engined-turned dial with blued steel pomme hands and Breguet’s secret signature on either side of 12 o’clock

In addition to the revamped engine-turning, another major update is the moon phase display. It now features a lacquered disc inset with a solid gold moon that’s engraved to resemble the real lunar surface, replacing the traditional, man-in-the-moon motif of the first generation.

In terms of proportions and mechanics, the watch remains unchanged across generations. The case retains the same slim profile that’s just 8.65 mm high.

Inside is the ultra-thin cal. 502.3 DR1 movement, based on the cal. 502.3, itself derived from the Frederic Piguet calibre 70 introduced in 1970, and later known as the calibre 71.

While it has been substantially upgraded over the years to include a free-sprung balance as well as a silicon lever and hairspring, the cal. 502 still retains its distinctive architecture, namely an off-centre, solid-gold rotor that occupies three-quarters of the movement plate as well as an open barrel, all in the name of thinness.

The white-gold rotor engine-turned with a barleycorn motif

Classique 7337

Like its sibling, the Classique 7337 was derived from an important, original Breguet pocket watch – the quarter-repeating watch no. 3833 featuring a calendar and moon phase. Notably, the no. 3833 was one of Breguet’s garde temps timepieces, built to be a precision chronometer.

Breguet no. 3833

The dial layout of the Classique 7337 is a faithful reproduction of the no. 3833, channeling the feel of the original without being an exact remake. The hour and minutes are indicated in a large sub-dial with an off-centered small seconds. At 12 o’clock is the moon phase, which is flanked by a day and date display.

The Classique 7337 in pink gold

The 7337 has received the same makeover as the 7137, again dispensing with the contrasting guilloche. The dial is finished with a trio of guilloche – grain d’orge, or barleycorn on the periphery; clous de Paris for the hours and minutes sub-dial; and damier for the seconds.

And like on the new 7137, the moon phase disc features a lacquered sky with a gold moon, instead of the moon with a face.

Hand-guilloche dial executed with a rose and straight-line engine

The Classique 7337 has a thickness of just 9.9 mm, with the cal. 502.3 QSE1 inside based on the same cal. 502.3.

Key facts and price

Breguet Classique 7137
Ref. 7137BB/Y5/9VU (white gold)
Ref. 7337BR/15/9VU (pink gold)

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 8.65 mm
Material: 18k white or rose gold
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 502.3 DR1
Functions: Hours, minutes; date; power reserve indicator; moon phase
Frequency: 21,600beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Alligator leather

Price: US$40,000, or 57,400 Singapore dollars

Breguet Classique 7337
Ref. 7337BB/Y5/9VU (white gold)
Ref. 7337BR/15/9VU (pink gold)

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 9.9 mm
Material: 18k white or rose gold
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 502.3 QSE1
Functions: Hours, minutes and small seconds; day and date; moon phase
Frequency: 21,600beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Alligator leather

Price: US$43,000, or 61,800 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit

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