Watch Industry Copywriter at Baselworld 2017


A to Z of a watch industry
copywriter’s Baselworld

by Al Hidden


After my first visit to the Mecca of horology at Baselworld 2017, I wanted to capture my impressions of the fair. And of the watch industry in spring 2017 – as the snow on the Blauberg and Gempenplateau melted for another year and the horological world enjoyed its annual gipfeli-fest. You like pastries? Try Confiserie Bachmann on Basel’s Central Bahnplatz...

Last year, Edinburgh copywriter Jamie Thomson wrote a lovely piece on how to sell a luxury watch like a copywriter after his first visit to Baselworld with Police Watches. He covered all the obvious fundamentals (less on features, more storytelling’, tug the heartstrings, avoid clichés and so on).

Now, why would I reference another copywriter – a competitor – when I too write for the watch industry? Why wouldn’t I? I guess it’s down to the confidence that comes from being a freelance copywriter since 2006. And from working in copywriting, technical writing and PR before that. And knowing there’s lots of work and plenty of great clients out there – enough for everyone. I’m also aware that it takes a combination of Brand New Copys and Gloucestershire Copywriters to meet the copywriting needs of the luxury and affordable watch markets.

So, after my Baselworld induction, I wanted to do something different. While I’ll inevitably touch on themes that ‘How to sell a luxury watch like a copywriter’ addressed, I took a different approach – a Gloucestershire watch copywriter’s A to Z of Baselworld…


Baselworld 2017 - view towards the OMEGA stand



In particular, watch advertising, and specifically copywriting for the watch industry that gathers at Baselworld.

Looking at the advertising prevalent in watch industry magazines and newspapers around the time of Baselworld 2017, the contrast with watch industry advertising of, say 50 years ago, is noticeable. A quick review of QP, Watch Around, Revolution and Europa Star on the train from Luzern revealed a preponderance of copy-light conceptual watch ads. These ranged from Chopard’s ‘Timepieces of Distinction’ to A. Lange & Söhne’s ‘We Assemble Every Single Watch Twice. Because Perfection Takes Time.’

Even where these straplines are supported by typically minimal body copy, most of today’s luxury watch ads don’t come close to the long-form storytelling of the 1960s and 1970s. That was a time when the likes of Rolex, OMEGA and Heuer regularly featured long copy, story-rich, ads.

Classic watch industry advertising copy for Rolex


I’m not surprised. Since the 1970s quartz crisis, Swiss watchmaking has polarised. At one end of pricing, there’s the high volume, low cost, mass produced Swatch. And at the other, high-end, the re-invented Swiss watch industry. This is a world of mechanical watches marketed as luxury products rather than just utilitarian timekeepers.
In fact, much of today’s conceptual advertising, as brilliantly exemplified by Patek Philippe’s ‘Generations’ campaign, has moved from exposition of product features to sparse, copy-light, luxury copywriting. This is the writing defined by Cristina Black in ‘The Five Pillars of Luxury Copywriting in the Digital Age.' Thus, when you read your Chronos or WatchTime, the long copy is in the articles, not the ads. What would the late, great David Ogilvy have made of it? After all, didn’t he write the following in Ogilvy on Advertising:

‘All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short…I could give you countless other examples of long copy which has made the cash register ring, notably for Mercedes cars. Not only in the United States, but all over the world…I believe, without any research to support me, that advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not. Direct response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.’

Believe this or not, something else from the same pen is incontrovertibly true and that’s the importance of ‘doing your homework’ before writing.

Ogilvy on Advertising book and Universal geneve Polerouter Super

Whether for advertising copywriting, as Ogilvy was describing, or any other copywriting, you must first study the product, brand and industry you’re writing about. Ergo, for watch industry copywriters, one of the things you do is visit Baselworld. And that leads us to the letter ‘B’…


Even with the ascendency of SIHH Geneva, and Hong Kong’s Watch & Clock Fair being the world’s biggest, Baselworld remains the granddaddy of watch industry fairs. It’s a must-visit for any watch industry copywriter.

The show dates back to 1917 when it was the Schweizer Mustermesse Basel (MUBA). MUBA was a ‘sample fair’ for Swiss industry. With a section for watches and jewellery at a time when (driven by adoption of wrist-worn timepieces during WW1), the wristwatch we know today was in its ascendency.

Later, the show (Switzerland’s oldest publically accessible trade fair), which at its peak, in 2011, attracted 2,000 exhibitors and around 100,000 visitors, was renamed the Schweizer Uhrenmesse (Swiss Watch Show). In the 1980s it became BASEL 83, BASEL 84 and so on. A decade later, it was BASEL 95 – The World Watch, Clock and Jewellery Show, before, in 2003, becoming Baselworld, The Watch and Jewellery Show.

Porsche Design at Baselworld 2017


C is for CATALOGUES and brochures

In particular, for the plethora of luxury watch catalogues available at Baselworld – from the moment you enter the Pressezentrum (you’ll need press accreditation) to the smallest, exhibitor’s booth. And of course, let’s not forget the two catalogues produced by the show organisers: the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors guide and the mighty Baselworld Brand Book.

Not surprisingly, some brands’ catalogues are better produced and written than others. To avoid the ‘silent assassins’ that can undermine the effectiveness of your copywriting investment, it’s vital to hire professional copywriting skills. And for translation to be done by a native speaker of the target language – or edited by a native speaker like myself.

At Baselworld 2017, I loved the rich detail and powerful combination of text and images in the Breitling Chronolog. With their history and brand story, there’s no excuse for Breitling to produce anything but a superb catalogue. Similarly for Glasshütte Original and Oris, whose A Matter of Time catalogue, like Breitling’s catalogue, has a book-like quality that demands to be properly read – and kept for reference. That’s exactly what brochures and catalogues are about in the digital age of short attention spans and skim reading. Catalogues and brochures demand very different copywriting skills to websites or adverts – a brochure that simply reproduces website copy is a missed opportunity.

On the other hand, in my opinion, Glycine’s Be an Airman brochure celebrates style over substance. In my opinion, it falls between the profoundness of well executed conceptual advertising and the rich interaction of meaningful text and stunning images that Breitling, Oris and others achieve. It’s a shame. Surely Glycine’s long, illustrious heritage deserves better storytelling than is actually delivered.

Watch Copywriter's bag packed with brochures and catalogues


D is for Product DESCRIPTIONS

Product description copywriting is another specialism where, particularly on ecommerce websites, opportunities are easily missed. Of course watch product descriptions must describe timepieces and their features. But enlightened brands also use product descriptions to tell product and brand stories and engage readers’ emotions. As we know, customers buy primarily on emotion, before rationalising decisions with facts, features and benefits. That’s why effective product descriptions go beyond mere feature listings. Do your watch product descriptions do this or could they be written better? A professional product description copywriter can help…

When writing product descriptions for websites, another important factor is their role in engaging search engines as well as potential watch buyers. For retail websites featuring the same products as other sites, make sure to avoid the pitfalls of duplicate content. These include the possibility of penalisation by Google as happened a few years ago. Smart retailers of new or pre-owned watches are well advised not to rely solely on brands’ supplied product descriptions. Instead, hiring a professional copywriter to rewrite these into a unique product description is good practice. And at the same time, they can work your brand’s unique magic and emotion into the descriptions…

Example of typical watch product description

E is for EMOTION

Whether on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse, Cheltenham’s Promenade or at Baselworld appealing to potential buyers’ emotions is everything. Ultimately, that’s the purpose of all the displays, sales personnel, sample watches, brochures, videos and ‘retail theatre’ (such as Glasshütte Original’s watchmakers or Hublot’s Ferrari) that go with them. And, of course, the copywriting required for these and other promotional tools.

On the Breitling stand at Baselworld 2017, different devices at different scales appealed to the emotions. The now familiar aquarium was there again, to spark emotions associated with submarine exploration (‘Make mine a Superocean Héritage please!’) or commercial aviation. In the case of the latter, Breitling succeeded with their attention-grabbing dynamic devices redolent of airports’ once ubiquitous split-flap Arrival and Departure displays. Copy-light, they were, but perfect for firing nostalgic emotions given Breitling’s long association with commercial aviation. ‘I’ll have a Navitimer please!’

Breitling display at BAselworld 2017



In the very loose definition of copywriting on which I’ve built my freelance business since 2006, I include PR writing. It’s not a huge conceptual leap from the journalism in, say, the Financial Times, with its ‘How to Spend it’ section and special reports on the watch and jewellery industry.
There are important differences between journalists and copywriters. That said, for much promotional writing, the fusion of journalistic writing and copywriting skill is invaluable. Quite simply, copywriters with strong PR writing skills, such as press release writing, newsletter articles, think pieces or company profiles, offer far more than a conceptual advertising copywriter.
Your organisation may not be a newspaper such as the Financial Times. But look back at last year’s Baselworld Special Report, and read articles such as Ralph Atkins’ ‘Industry hopes worst is behind it, at last’ or Tatjana Mitevska’s ‘Striking twelve’ product comparison. Articles such as these are well within the capability of a copywriter with my background, skills and experience. I could even help create advertisement features such as the ‘Patek Philippe celebrates the Perpetual Calendar’ wrap that swathed the FT’s Special Report at Baselworld 2017.

Financial Times and Patek Philippe advertising Wrap at Baselworld



Respect goes to Glasshütte Original's team who caught my attention with one of Baselworld 2017’s most engaging live demonstrations. Watching their technicians working with tiny watch components under show visitors’ intense scrutiny was amazing. It impressed me almost as much as their horological skills – especially when they described what they were doing and answered questions at the same time. The idea of writing at a major international show with dozens of clients and other onlookers peering at me over the top of my computer screens scares me! I love you all, but, when thinking creatively, planning, researching, writing and editing copy, I need to concentrate. As my client, that concentration is one of the things you are paying for…

Glasshütte Original watchmaking demonstration at Baselworld 2017



I think of a hero product primarily as the main featured product on a multi-product catalogue page. It’s the one typically highlighted with a ‘hero shot’ (or ‘hero photo’) and more detailed copy than other products shown.

However, at Baselworld, my take on hero products is a combination of Baselworld novelties and classic watches that, by virtue of time and their role in the brand’s line-up, are unlikely to be unseated by ‘this year’s model’. For Rolex, it has to be the (both genuinely iconic) Submariner or the Oyster Perpetual Explorer featured at the start of the Baselworld Brand Book 2017. For Breitling, it’s the Navitimer. For OMEGA, surely no question about it being the Speedmaster.

But what about over at Maurice Lacroix where Pierre-Frederic Von Kaenel, their country manager for Switzerland, took time out to update me on their latest developments? Historically, the Aikon has been Maurice Lacroix’s hero product. It’s been their their flagship collection since it was launched to reprise their acclaimed 1990s Calypso timepiece. It’s a quartz movement, which is interesting, given that the company currently manufactures 14 mechanical in-house calibres. These are mainly for their Masterpiece collection which includes the intriguing Gravity, Square Wheel, Mysterious Seconds and Retrogrades timepieces. I’d say that their striking, yet simultaneously understated, Masterpiece Double Retrograde was the real hero of the Maurice Lacroix presence at Baselworld (image: Maurice Lacroix Baselworld Press Kit 2017).

Maurice Lacroix Hero Product - Double Retrograde


I is for INGENIOUS press packs

No matter how well your press pack is written, how you physically deliver the information supports your brand. Baselworld brings out the best and worst of press pack and press release presentation. Most brands use USB sticks for their press releases, background information and official images. I particularly liked Porsche Design’s cute 1:72 scale 911 Carrera S USB Stick, Breitling’s cockpit-instrumentation themed kit and NOMOS Glasshütte’s spring metal wristband.

This watch copywriter's favourite USB press packs at Basel 2017



This is just one of Basel’s many sightseeing attractions if you have spare time, want to escape Baselworld’s horological overload or your partner is engrossed at the show. The shimmering silver of the building and its gleaming green neighbour, the Peter Merian Haus are unmissable near Basel’s main railway station. They’re worth visiting, as are other attractions, ranging from the Tinguely Brunnen to the Basel Paper Mill Museum where my wife happily spent hours while I was at Baselworld.

Basel's paper and printing museum is great for those who aren't watch fans



When writing for online media, SEO copywriting integrates semantically related page keyword sets into your copy. Of course, it’s vital for engaging search engines – especially Google. But it also has another important role. You see, Google expects to see certain keywords on a page about a given topic and so do human searchers. Thus, including the ‘right’ words and phrases reassures them that they’ve found a relevant page when they reach your website article, product description or homepage.

Come March each year, Baselworld is undoubtedly the right place for watch industry insiders. Just like the ‘Wow! I’ve arrived at long last’ feeling you get when you’re at Baselworld for the first time, seeing the right words on the page signals that you’ve reached the right place online.

Luxury watches on display



Luxury watch writing is primarily about emotion, heritage and history. Of course, the rattrapante function on the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante at Baselworld 2017 function greatly enhances a classic watch. However, despite superb engineering and features, Navitimers are no longer bought for their practical – but completely unnecessary for modern pilots – circular slide rules or chronographs. They’re bought because we want to associate with international air travel. And because we want to make recognisable personal statements about being in the ‘aerospace club’, even if the closest we get to a Boeing cockpit is Microsoft Flight Simulator! (Or as I was able to do recently, in a professional Boeing 737 cockpit simulator…)

Gloucestershire copywriter in Boeing 737 cockpit simulator



As Fratello Watches pointed out after Baselworld 2017, the micro brands were out in force. I look forward to when Geckota Ltd, for whom I’ve written since 2015, have a ‘proper’ presence at Basel rather than just visiting to meet suppliers. If high quality copywriting is important for major brands, it’s doubly important for ambitious micro brands. They have their work cut out to gain share of voice in the busy, noisy, world of affordable watches.

Geckota K1 40mm en route to Baselworld 2017



In my dreams, I’d love a Richard Mille RM 50-02 ACJ Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph, developed in conjunction with Airbus Corporate Jets. The $1m watch is the one Richard Mille that catches my imagination, largely because of the aerospace connection. But back down to earth in the real world of watches that I’d buy and feel comfortable wearing. The classic Breitling Navitimer, maybe a Navitimer World A24322 rather than the Rattrapante shown below (IMAGE: Breitling Baselworld 2017 press kit) is on my list of ‘one-day, someday’, wears. In fact, not long ago I wrote about my fondness for the Breitling and its story. With Breitling’s rich aviation heritage to draw on, it’s a watch industry copywriter’s dream…

Breitling Rattrapante Chronograph


O is for OMEGA

Baselworld 2017 was perfectly timed for OMEGA’s celebratory 60th Anniversary Seamaster, Railmaster and Speedmaster troika. The horological Trinity Set looked amazing in its presentation box. Yet, despite the beautiful symmetry of the anniversary offerings, my personal preference is for OMEGA’s Seamaster 300 Professional Co-Axial or the Seamaster Planet Ocean 'Big Blue' (see image below, courtesy of the OMEGA Baselworld 2017 press kit). The Seamaster, like the Breitling mentioned above, has a long history and massive storytelling potential. I particularly enjoyed the ‘OMEGA Seamaster Old vs New’ feature on – now, writing for Watchfinder would be a great gig if anyone there is reading this….

OMEGA Seamaster Planet Ocean 'Deep Blue'



For any brand able to attend Baselworld, and in particular for the Swiss brands represented in the press centre, well-written press packs and press releases should be a no-brainer. There’s no excuse for sub-standard output. A properly written press release, whether printed or in PDF format for online use is, after all, the stuff of ‘public relations 101’. Alas, in my opinion, the quality of the Baselworld 2017 press releases that I saw was, let’s say, variable. The seriously underwhelming ones left me feeling that their writing had been left to the last minute. Grovana, you really could do better. And I could help you…

In the above example, there really isn’t a story. That seems inexcusable for a brand that’s been around since 1924, when it was established in Tenniken, near Basel. However, many releases bury their main story under the hubris of yet another another ‘XYZ watch company is proud to exhibit at Baselworld again’ exposition. It’s a shame, and such a missed opportunity, to see major brands – seriously important names in the watch world – apparently disregarding established press release writing principles.

The release for NOMOS Glasshütte’s Graduates Club is one of the better examples that I have to hand as I write. As NOMOS say: ‘The watch for alumni, for life: NOMOS Glasshütte presents the Campus series, luxury mechanical timepieces and yet accessibly priced – perfect for those looking forward to a bright future.’ That’s ‘Who, What, Where and Why and When’ in the first three lines of the release – the correct way to write such communications. So why can’t everyone do the same instead of forcing time-pressured readers to dig for the main story?

Not the most inspiring press release available at Baselworld 2017



For many Baselworld attendees, the 1970s quartz crisis will be something they’ve only read about in books such as Amy K. Glassmeier’s Manufacturing Time or History of the Swiss Watch Industry by Pierre-Yves Donzé.

According to industry statistics quoted by Donzé, the quartz crisis (aka ‘watchmaking crisis’) nearly destroyed the Swiss watch industry. Between 1970 and 1980, it reduced the number of Swiss watchmaking enterprises from 1618 to 861 and caused the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

At Baselworld, I was interested to see how some brands that were active before the quartz crisis have survived and evolved into modern businesses. Now part of major watchmaking groups, brands such as OMEGA and Certina (Swatch), Hublot and Zenith (LVMH), exhibit alongside modern re-incarnations of names such as Grovana and Invicta. Sadly, some of the greatest, such as the once-mighty Universal Genève, are now just names locked away in the IP files of far-eastern organisations. It’s enough to make you weep when you strap on a vintage Polerouter, remember its Gerald Genta associations, and recall Universal’s former influence.

The watch industry on display at Baselworld 2017 has changed hugely since the quartz crisis. Over 40 years, it’s seen polarisation of Swiss watchmaking: at one end, the ubiquitous Swatch fashion watch; at the other, the luxury, ‘watch as luxury-product-rather-than-utilitarian-timekeeper’. It’s also a period that’s seen the rise of Chinese watches, micro brands and redefinition of ‘Swissness’ with January 2017’s new laws. With the industry’s evolution come challenges and opportunities aplenty for copywriters. And of course, over this period we’ve seen the rise of game-changing technologies such as the internet, World Wide Web and mobile phones.

Classic 1960s Universal Geneve Polerouter Super


R is for ROLEX (and Patek Philippe)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rolex at my first Baselworld. And I was even less prepared for the contrast between Rolex and their show neighbours Patek Philippe across the aisle in Hall 1.0.

According to Wikipedia, Rolex is now the best known luxury watch brand, ranked sixty-fourth of the world’s most powerful global brands (Forbes, 2016). Furthermore, according to international consultancy Kantar Millward Brown’s June 2017 BrandZ report, it’s the world’s most valuable luxury watch brand with an estimated value exceeding $8bn…

Now back to that contrast. There was Rolex, with their giant monolithic stand, which I have to say exuded aloofness. Even talking to the promotional team, lines such as ‘…there are other watch brands and then there’s Rolex…’ were dispensed with absolute conviction.

There’s no doubt about Rolex’s importance – their position at the start of the Baselworld 2017 Brand Book says everything. But here’s the thing. Arguably, Rolex is built on a more overtly ‘in-your-face’, luxury, action tool-watch approach. The name alone says. ‘I’m successful, earned this and want the world to see that I’m wearing the world’s most recognised watch brand’. And with prices up to around 200,000 Swiss francs, Rolex wearers are certainly prepared to pay. But so are Patek Philippe’s fans…

Patek Philippe’s more restrained aesthetic contrasts interestingly with Rolex. These are more refined watches for the boardroom or special occasions. They’re hand-made wristwatches for elegant, understated watch lovers seeking timepieces that primarily speak to them – and aren’t necessarily for the world to see. And many of their products make Rolex prices look positively ‘entry level’.

I’d expected Patek to be the less approachable of the two. However, it was soon obvious that Rolex’s Baselworld presence was polite, reserved, but ultimately less accessible – unless, perhaps, you were waving those 200,000 Swiss francs. Yet Patek, I was pleasantly surprised to find, was much more relaxed, openhearted and genuinely welcoming to a Baselworld first-timer. To my surprise, Patek encouraged me to spend time on the stand – and even enjoy some refreshment. That stood out and a special mention goes to Nora and Fiammetta for being so helpful and welcoming…

Nora and Fiammetta on the Patek Philippe Stand at Baselworld 2017



I’d heard the name, but knew little more about this manufacture before my Baselworld visit. My hour spent with the charming Valerie Chauveau came about through a serendipitous encounter with her colleague Josef Ernst, whom I’d asked for directions to the tram stop!

What a lovely team Schwarz Etienne has and what gorgeous products with such amazing storytelling potential. I particularly liked the creativity that had gone into the press pack for their Roswell Voyage 1 Limited edition watch. It’s a clever, well executed concept executed with words and graphics working in perfect harmony. Yes, I think I could have polished the copy further, but there’s raw passion and joie de vivre in those words that simply engages.

Imagine my excitement on discovering this Swiss manufacture with 115-year history, UFO references and even sealed-in Matterhorn-shaped shards of Switzerland’s most iconic mountain. For a copywriter who’s a lifetime Swissophile, this is a joyous union of everything great about Swiss watchmaking. Schwarz Etienne even make their own balance springs in-house – a month-long labour of love and something that is still rare among Swiss manufactures. Yes, ‘Swiss Made’ still matters, especially when exemplified by such a lovely team and three superb collections (the Roswell, Roma and the La-Chaux-de-Fonds tourbillon). Are you surprised that, along with Patek Philippe, Schwarz Etienne gets my vote as the friendliest, most welcoming brand to a Baselworld newbie.

Schwarz Etienne's Roswell Voyage 1 includes a piece of the Matterhorn



This year was the centenary of the first MUBA fair in Basel in 1917. There’s tradition inherent in that alone, but of course many of the brands at Basel go back even further. Take Schwarz Etienne, for instance, which was founded in 1902, Breitling (1884) and Longines (1832). And these are mere youngsters compared with the likes of Blancpain (surely the oldest brand at Baselworld), which was founded in 1735.
These brands’ tradition is key to their marketing and the associated copywriting. Drawing on this long tradition and the stories that go with it is vital for pulling successfully on the heartstrings of prospective buyers. When you can buy a very accurate quartz watch for a few pounds, super-luxury watches aren’t just (or even) about timekeeping. For many watch lovers, it’s about buying into the tradition of brands that have defined the watch industry since its earliest days – and been part of unfolding world history.
Take OMEGA’s Speedmaster for example, the ‘moon watch’ celebrated at Baselworld 2017 in its sixtieth anniversary manifestation. I can still remember following Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon at 02:56 GMT on 21 July 1969 from a German campsite. Many OMEGA Speedmaster fans at Baselworld 2017 weren't even born then. But they, just like my colleague Matt Lipski at Geckota, who bought a Speedmaster in 2017, can share in the tradition of this iconic watch  whenever they wear theirs.
At the same time, new brands, such as Geckota, will have to work hard to build their own traditions. Some may become the future’s big brands, while others will fall at the wayside. However, whatever their destiny holds, skilled copywriting will be vital for building that tradition…

The genuinely iconic OMEGA Speedmaster Moon Watch


That would be upstairs in the Baselworld Pressezentrum, the nerve centre for anyone media-related at Baselworld – including watch industry copywriters.

It’s my first stop after arriving and collecting my press pass. I’ll grab a few press packs, plan my day and prioritise my stand visits. And, if I haven’t already read the FT Special Report on Watches & Jewellery, I’ll grab a copy. Then, maybe after scanning the good, bad and ugly of Baselworld’s press releases over a coffee, Baselworld awaits…

V is for watch VOCABULARY

Just as the dust was settling after Baselworld 2017, the stands and booths were being dismantled for another year, Felix Scholz wrote a great article in Time & Tide. It was titledOPINION: The 6 most overused words in the watch industry’. Starting off the article, his observations about how watch industry press releases all sound the same ‘thanks to the seemingly limited vocabulary of most marketing departments’ really resonated with me. Read his article and think twice before using ‘icon’ ‘DNA, ‘In-house’, ‘innovative’, ‘heritage’ and ‘passion’. Then hire a watch industry copywriter who will use this vocabulary with care – and bring some originality to your brand’s marketing vocabulary.

By the way, on the subject of watch industry vocabulary and making sense of it, I recommend Louis Nardin’s excellent The Magic of Watches, that I read just before Baselworld.

Louis Nardin's excellent book The Magic of Watches


W is for Welder

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Photographers would agree; copywriters will say that pictures attract but words inform, persuade and sell. Of course, the answer, whether marketing watches or anything else, is to combine professional copywriting with professional imagery. That’s why I often work closely with professional designers and photographers.

That said, I must say that as I wandered Baselworld’s aisles, the striking photochromatic glass of Welder’s Moody – and the witty ‘since 2075’ strapline – caught my attention. And I’m not one of the millennials that they are so clearly targeting either… There’s some very thoughtful copy on their website too. I love their cookie notice and the intelligent integration of the brand into a required piece of micro copy:

‘This website has continued to develop while Governments have been Moody about cookies, and while we hate the “cookie law”, we must comply with the current flavor of the regulation. Please feel free to continue exploring our site, and by doing so you consent to our usage of cookies. If you are wondering what all the cookie fuss is about, then click here.

Thank you again to Welder’s charming PR executive Gözde Akman for taking time to talk me through Welder’s aspirations once those moody changing colours had seduced me.

Welder Moody Photochromatic Watches at Baselworld 2017


R is for RADIO X in Basel

Since 1998, Basel’s Radio-X has offered a 24-hour non-commercial service to the city and its surrounds including nearby Liestal. The connection with Baselworld? None that I know of, but after hours, ‘Welt in Basel’ and the rest of the stations multilingual programming await…

Radio-X in Basel


Y is for ‘Y’ do we buy luxury watches

As the title of the excellent book by American design guru Del Coates says, ‘Watches Tell More Than Time’. Since working in the watch industry, I’ve realised that the reasons why people buy luxury watches are diverse and often highly irrational.

Nowadays, accurate timekeeping is a glance away on Smartphones and other appliances. And with even the cheapest quartz watch being more accurate than most luxury watches, there’s no logical reason to spend £100 or £1m on a mechanical watch. But we do, and Baselworld is packed with appeals to our emotions. All backed up by the rational arguments of investment value, patrimony, durability, reliability and useful complications.

In an idle moment during my Baselworld trip, I brainstormed some of the reasons why people buy expensive watches. On a block of white space in my newspaper. They range from appreciation of fine workmanship, to reinforcement of insecurity, buying into long watchmaking heritages and being more attractive to potential mates. Arguably one of the most honest reasons is because [insert watch brand name here] is very good at persuading people to think they want an [insert watch brand here]…

There’s doubtless truth in everything I thought of. Behind the data sheets describing workmanship, precision and reliability, Baselworld, its brands and their marketing ultimately comes down to something much more primeval – appealing to human emotions. People don’t buy things they don’t want. Provided we do it ethically and truthfully, and that the product and brand behind our marketing and copywriting is reputable, it's a privilege and a responsibility to write for a brand. It’s the same whether it’s a growing microbrand like Geckota, a million-pound-watchmaker such as Richard Mille, or centuries-old elder statesman of Swiss watchmaking, such as Blancpain.

The brands are different, but the challenge to marketers and copywriters to hook those emotions and twang those heartstrings is similar.

A Copywriter's notes on why people buy expensive watches - and Certina DS Action Diver


Z is for ZENO Watch Basel

I love aviation almost as much as I love anything to do with Switzerland. So imagine my joy one autumn in the late 1980s when, while travelling in South East Switzerland, I hooked up with a heli-logging crew and spent a week riding shotgun in an Aerospatiale Lama… But I digress. The connection is that I loved the myriad aviation, or ‘pilots’’ watches at Baselworld 2017 – ranging from Breitling’s classics to Glycine’s Airman, the latest Rolex Sky-Dweller, Longines’ 90th Anniversary Hour Angle Watch and the Russian-backed, but Swiss Made, Aviator Timepieces Collection.

Being interested in aviation and watches makes it easy to ‘get’ the storytelling potential of timepieces such as Cartier’s legendary Santos, Breitling’s Navitimer, Geckota’s K1 pilot watches and ZENO’s oversized pilots’ watches.

ZENO-WATCH BASEL is another independent watchmaker that’s successfully endured the trials and tribulations of the Swiss watch industry for over a century. In 1868, the business was originally founded by Jules Godat in La Chaux-de-Fonds, before becoming ZENO in 1922. They’ve been at Basel since 1949. By then, time the brand’s reputation for crafting high quality timepieces with military-related features such as chronographs, acoustic telemeters and slide rules was well established.

In 1960, with temporary relocation of the business to Biel, the first mechanical airmen’s watches were created. When writing about watches, storytelling must be underpinned by authenticity and that’s something ZENO has plenty of – as you can read in the introduction to their brochure. However, I was surprised that after the brief introduction on the company, the brochure contains barely any copy – not even the usual product descriptions, which are to some extent addressed with standardised icons. Maybe Zeno had good reasons for this approach. But in my opinion, they missed a great opportunity for storytelling at collection or individual watch level.

ZENO WATCH BASEL - lovely, oversized pilots' watches


My Baselworld 2017 picks...

So there we have it, a copywriter’s perspective on Baselworld, based on my inaugural visit in March 2017. After the show, my wife and I enjoyed several idyllic days at Vevey on the shores of Lac Leman. Relaxing next to the lake’s azure waters gave me the perfect opportunity to review my first Baselworld. And to choose a few watches that I’d love to have brought home. Not necessarily the most expensive, but watches that ‘spoke to me’. Watches that I’m sure would give lots of pleasure, would align with my interests, and weren’t already in my collection. Read on to find out what they are...


Relaxation on Lake Geneva after Baselworld 2017


The watches

Here are my picks from Baselworld 2017.

For affordable accuracy

Grovana GMT Mens Stainless Steel 2nd Time Zone Watch - Blue Face Brown Leather Band Analog Swiss Quartz Classic Dress Watch For Men 1547.1535; and any Welder Moody in blue!

Grovana GMT Quartz watch at Baselworld 2017

Aviation-related (And the best story. Period.)

It has to be the OMEGA Speedmaster '57 Chronograph 38.6 mm, seen on the right of the 1957 Trilogy that OMEGA presented at Baselworld (IMAGE courtesy of OMEGA press kit).

The impressive OMEGA 1957 Trilogy from Baselworld 2017


The best story (moon visit excluded)

Schwarz Etienne Roswell Voyage 1, Reference WRW20TJ40SS01AA (IMAGE: courtesy of Schwarz Etienne Baselworld 2017 press pack).

Schwarz Etienne Roswell Voyage 1


Sports or Divers’ watch

The OMEGA Seamaster Planet Ocean ‘Big Blue’ mentioned earlier, Breitling's SuperOcean Héritage II or, for sheer value, quality and affordability, the ORIS Aquis – all in blue, of course...

ORIS AQUIS at Baselworld 2017


A sheer, unadulterated Luxury watch

Oh, go on then, how about Patek Philippe's 5930G-001 World Time Chronograph in blue and white gold. I rather like World Timer Watches and this is an absolute cracker… in fact, I got so excited taking a picture that it didn't come out even remotely usably, so here's the Platinum 5131/1P-001 instead...

A watch copywriter's dream - Patek Philippe 5131 1P-00


See you at Baselworld 2018

So that’s my take on Baselworld 2017 and, with a little bit of divergence here and there, what it made me think about the role of a watch industry copywriter. Next year’s event will come around fast and I’m already looking forward to it. And of course, to all the glitz, exuberance, technical mastery, sheer excess and amazing stories that we find at the high alter of the horological world.

From A to Z, Baselworld is a must for any self-respecting watch industry copywriter. See you there in 2018!


One last thing; could my copywriting skills and growing knowledge of the watch industry benefit your company, brand or watch collection?

If so, let’s talk about your watch copywriting. If you're based in Europe or the UK, please call
+44 (0) 1242 520 573 or email me


Al Hidden - UK-based Watch Industry Copywriter


PCM Member

Member of the Professional Copywriters' Network

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