It’s nearly halb zehn, as they say east of Switzerland’s Röstigraben. After an early breakfast at the Hotel & Restaurant zum Beck in Stansstad – no inflated Baselworld Hotel prices for me – I caught the 07:14 for Luzern. One change later, I’m walking under Hamilton’s suspended aerobatic plane and catching the little green tram to Basel’s Messeplatz. After collecting my press pass, I enter a somewhat downsized Baselworld 2018.
These are the observations of a UK-based watch industry copywriter on Baselworld 2018. It may not have been a classic year, but I certainly found plenty of interest. Maybe that’s because my horological eye remains unjaded, or because I’m looking for different things to many others. In any case, the fair seemed dominated by a focus on ‘modern vintage watches’, blue dials (again) and a continuing trend towards smaller case sizes.
If there was one consistent topic of conversation at this year’s Baselworld, it was probably the drastically reduced size of the show. Plus the missing brands and speculation about who would and wouldn’t be here in 2019 and beyond. I missed Movado, Invicta, Hermès, Welder, and Russian-backed Swiss-based Aviator Swiss Made Watches. With the latter, I was curious to see how their brochure had changed since last year. And whether the copywriting was better for this pilots’ watch specialist…
It was the show’s second day. I spoke to industry suppliers who swore that Breitling had gone on record that 2018 was their last show. Others speculated that some of the biggest names only had agreements until 2020. The clear implication was that Rolex, Patek Philippe or even Swatch Group might be about to pull the plug on Basel.
Was this a case of ‘no smoke without fire’ or just shrewd brinkmanship? Who knows? And as Hodinkee’s Joe Thompson wrote, quoting ‘a Swiss watch industry insider’: ‘If Rolex, Patek or the Swatch Group leaves the show, it’s over.’
The answer to my question above may well lie in Breitling’s post-show release. It confirms their plans to attend in 2019…
I’m a relative newcomer to the industry who has been writing about watches and the watch industry since 2015. As such, it’s fascinating – albeit sad – to see the industry’s annual celebration in such disarray. The future will be very interesting if more brands defect to SIHH. Or if, like Movado and Bremont, they do their own thing for a fraction of the cost of Baselworld attendance.
NOTE: added late in 2018 – so Swatch Group decided to pull out of BAselworld for 2019, the organisers have radically refined their approach for this year's show and from 2020, SIHH and Baselworld will segue neatly into each other for a massive April-to-May watchfest.
Within minutes of arriving at Baselworld, I heard ‘reliable’ reports that Breitling wouldn’t be here next year. That would be a shame, with nearly as much impact as Patek Philippe or Rolex leaving. Baselworld just wouldn’t be the same without the Grenchen-based team and their long history going back to 1884 – as detailed in the nice little A5-format 1884–1984 history being given away.
Phew! So Breitling will be back. And plus-one to George's Kern's call for more reasonable pricing (at Baselworld, if not for Breitling watches…). Five pounds for a small bottle of Shorley that you’d get for half that anywhere else in Switzerland... whoa!
Through a conversation with Breitling, and subsequent communication with advertising co-ordinator Monique Junker, I also found the answer to a question that’s tantalized me for ages. It concerns the location of the still and video photography in the Breitling Superocean Héritage II seaplane ads and videos. The aircraft registration (LN-NCC) had already told me that the aircraft was Cyprair’s Norwegian-based De-Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. A quick email to Monique quickly elicited location details – the 42km-long Lysefjord (aka Lysefjorden) about 25 kilometres east of Stavanger. The bridge in the background is the FV491, Lysefjord Bridge linking Oanes and Forsand. Thank you Monique.
And my Breitling favourite? My soft spot for world timers should give you a clue, but you’ll have to read ‘T’ to find out…
It was great to catch up with Niko and Eduardo on Certina's stand, not least for their insights on ‘Swiss Made’ and the Certina DS Action Powermatic 80 diver that I was wearing. Thank you both for taking time to share some DS Action Diver secrets. Not least that, apart from the sapphire crystal, all of the watch is made in Ticino, Switzerland. Special thanks too for the special goodie bag.
By the way, like my Geckota colleagues Tim and Ben, I also admired the DS PH200M, which revisits one of Certina’s classic watches. But I still prefer my 2018 DS Action Diver Powermatic 80…
With so many brands making the most of their environmental associations and credentials, I particularly liked Certina’s approach. For each limited-edition turtle diver sold, Certina will make a donation to Florida’s Sea Turtle Conservancy. Significantly, Certina isn’t charging a premium for this. That's integrity for you... Yet, as far as I could see, the copy on the stand didn't mention this... A missed opportunity perhaps?
There were no Glashütte Original watchmakers this year because the brand had a completely different stand concept. But over at Bucherer (albeit tucked away) and on Blancpain’s stand the watchmakers were certainly busy. Full marks to Blancpain’s demonstrator who was a real showman as he held forth on the finer points of the brand's repeater movements.
I’d been reading Estelle Fallet’s enjoyable The Story of a Watch Company on the flight to Geneva. Her book, written with Tissot to celebrate their 150th anniversary, reminded me that rolling out watchmakers and getting them to perform publically isn’t a new promotional concept for Swiss brands.
Fallet quotes a Tissot employee from the 1930s who was chosen, ‘along with two colleagues, to go to German-speaking Switzerland to do “demonstrations” in the retailers’ shop windows…’ ‘It was impossible to concentrate, she continues, ‘what with all the people who’d planted themselves outside the window to look at us! Sometimes we had a watchmaker with us sitting at his workbench.’ What did I say about Baselworld’s watchmaking demonstrations in last year's Baselworld article.
Think Oris and hammerhead sharks, Bucherer’s manta rays, Certina's sea turtles and even Schwarz Etienne's bees... They’re just some of the ways brands give back by contributing to worthwhile environmental causes related to their watches or their location. It's good for the brand and good for watch wearers to associate with a good cause. And it’s good for watch copywriters with a flair for storytelling... But does every brand really make the most of this storytelling opportunity… If you need help crafting engaging brand stories like Oris, Bucherer, Schwarz Etienne or Certina, we should talk…
Hands up, mea culpa and all that… I put my foot in it by asking whether it was FIYTA’s first time at Baselworld when it's actually their eighth or ninth. Sorry guys. Among other things, they have an interesting story to tell about their association with the Chinese space programme (two official watches), watches for the Chinese air force and timepieces for the PRC’s Olympic swimmers.
Apparently, FIYTA is one of (if not the) biggest Chinese watch manufacturers. However, in my humble opinion, FIYTA’s limited edition (10 off) watch celebrating a Chinese spacewalk looks as if it came out of a lucky bag. Put it next to Omega’s genuinely iconic Speedmaster moon watch and see what I mean... Or am I missing something?
What defines good writing? It’s the same for any copywriting, whether you’re writing about aerospace, the automotive sector, travel or luxury watches.
Good copy engages, plays on emotions, communicates effectively and persuades. As my fellow UK copywriter Andy Maslen wrote in the excellent Persuasive Copywriting, ‘Copywriting used to be an easy word to define. It was the text you saw in press advertisements, direct mail, brochures, posters and catalogues; and saw or heard on TV and radio ads. Words that sold.’
For the watch industry, that meant copy for the ads adorning the walls of Geneva Airport’s walkways and decades of glossy brochures and catalogues. And more than a century of the press ads that Marco Strazzi documents in his two-volumes of Watch Ads.
Nowadays, we live, write and buy in a totally different world of internet, social media and mobile communications. And of course ‘content marketing’. This embraces well-researched and well-written articles as well as cheap and nasty commoditised ‘writing’ thrown together for a few marketing dollars, pounds or Swiss francs.
Done well, good copywriting sells more than just features – and it does so without resorting to clichés as overworked as an overwound vintage Heuer. We love a story that we can engage with. It could be the tale of James Cameron and his descent to 10,908 metres (35,787 feet) wearing a Rolex Deepsea. Or the story of little Flores Delores and her father’s treasured Oris Chronoris…
With watches, whether a £100 Invicta ProDiver, a £15,000 Rolex or some quarter-million-dollar super-luxury timepiece, copywriting must engage with the tone of voice consistent with the brand and its values. And of course, good grammar and writing style really matters. Get that wrong, whether in copywriting or translation, and it’s like a silent assassin with a Barratt M82 – you won’t see the damage it causes to your product or brand before it’s too late.
I’m sorry to have to say that, yet again, Baselworld revealed examples of poor copywriting that distracts from the displayed timepieces. I won’t mention names, but they were there…
My show highlights this year? There’s the automatic Maurice Lacroix Aikon – and about time too. Then there’s the Patek Philippe 5968 Aquanaught Chronograph and the Oris Carl Brasher chronograph limited edition and Big Crown Pointer Date. What about Citizen`s mesmerising stand with its 97,000 painstakingly suspended watch movements? Or Schwarz Etienne’s Roswell 08 and Ode au Printemps trilogy. And of course, one of Breitling’s newest offerings…
The impressive interactive displays on Glashütte Original’s stand also caught my eye – and other people’s too. So did Laco’s Erbstück foursome and the Bell & Ross Racing Bird chronograph promoted all over Basel station beneath Hamilton’s single-seater…
And before anyone grumbles that not all were Baselworld novelties, I saw them there for the first time, so they’re my highlights…
I liked the new NOMOS Autobahn too. It’s NOMOS Glashütte’s first ‘motoring watch’ and seems to be something of a 'Marmite' timepiece that commentators either really love or dislike intensely. The stand team were certainly candid about the polarised response to Werner Aisslinger and Tina Bunyaprasit‘s creation.
In particular, I get the emotional and typographical connection with the German Autobahnen and their place in the German psyche. Maybe that encouraged Germany’s press to be almost universally positive about the watch while others struggled with it. For me, something about the watch’s blues and greys instantly evoked childhood memories. Above all, of the German Technofix Highway 298 Viaduct clockwork set that my father brought back from Germany in the early 1960s.
Oh how luxury watchmakers play with our emotions. In fact, this encounter with the NOMOS Autobahn set me on a nostalgic journey back to childhood, 1960s Germany and tinplate Technofix toys. As a coda to this story, I’ve just found one of the sets on eBay in excellent condition, complete with original box. I indulged and, suddenly, I’m five again.…)
This is where anything goes as I, in the broadest sense, describe what I found particularly interesting about Baselworld 2018.
There was, of course, my intense emotional reaction to the colours and design influences of the NOMOS Autobahn. Then there was the way Rolex and Tudor simultaneously launched new Pepsi-dialled GMT watches. It’s actually quite logical, given that the Rolex clearly wants to display mastery of the GMT complication at different price points. Thirdly, was the discovery that George Daniels, inventor of the co-axial movement, owned and wore Omegas. He fitted the prototype of the game-changing co-axial escapement to his personal Omega Speedmaster Mk 4.5.
Since 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to write extensively on the watch industry. From fliegeruhren to the relevance of ‘Swiss Made’ and the tourbillon’s magic, I’ve tackled a wide range of watch copywriting.
Being relatively new to the watch business, I bring curiosity, an insatiable appetite for knowledge and an unjaded approach to the business of time. I guess the area in which I’ve had most experience is in longer, immersive articles about watches and the watch industry. Writing articles such as these, to engage human readers and search engines, takes considerable research skill if one is to create something with genuine depth and novelty. Fortunately, the positive comments about several of the articles I’ve written are pleasingly validatory. You can read more here...
Visiting Baselworld to understand what’s happening in the watch industry has become an annual highlight. It’s a key preparation for the watch industry writing that I’ll do over the next year. Already, after two visits, I’m building valuable relationships. Maybe, all being well, these will lead to future writing work.
If you like my writing style and could use the services of an experienced watch industry copywriter with extensive experience in marketing, PR and technical writing, please contact me
Recently, I was chasing a deadline to get an article finished before going on vacation. I was writing about tourbillons and their history since Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the gravity-defying mechanism. How interesting then, to discover the Kerbedanz Maximus Ultra-Precision – the world’s largest tourbillon – in Hall 1.1, Booth L22 at Baselworld 2018.
At 49mm (with a 27mm diameter titanium tourbillon cage) the Kerbedanz is a giant among giants. And harking back to bygone days, I think ABBA would have liked the Neuchatel-based horologist’s use of a reversed ‘B’ in the name engraved on the case. Now that’s interesting. When Invicta do it on their budget divers’ watch, the world protests; but when Kerbedanz do it on their CHF 165,000 limited edition (x99)…
Yes, this is the watch that so engaged the Geckota team and many other commentators. Kudos to Tim and Ben for getting it onto their wrists and writing about it. Especially because, as I understand it, the watch wasn’t officially on display.
Now, I’m not saying it’s not a (very) nice watch, and I love those blued hands. But I’m really not sure about the modern trend for faux patina (or ‘fauxtina’ as Hodinkee’s Jon Bues wrote in his Baselworld 2018 review).
To my mind, there’s a lack of authenticity about a watch created to look like something from 75 years ago. I appreciate that there’s a place for this. And I’m sure lots of people will disagree with my view. But I think vintage should be genuinely vintage and modern should be modern. After all, a modern watch will acquire its own patina and witness marks during its life. Surely that is real authenticity.
Then I saw the Laco Erbstück (heirloom) collection and now I’m torn… Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to criticise…
I have a soft spot for Omega Seamasters (but since Baselworld 2018, not quite as soft a spot as I thought). When I entered the watch industry in 2015, it was Omega’s Seamaster Professional Diver 300m, automatic, in blue-on-blue, that captivated me.
So it was interesting to see Omega’s celebrations of twenty-five years of the Seamaster Diver 300M at Baselworld and the unveiling of a complete range facelift with 14 new models. They’re sized at 42mm now, with new bezels, a restyled helium release valve and, most importantly, Omega’s Master Chronometer Calibre 8800 movement.
One of the immediate benefits of the new movement is enhanced magnetic resistance. As for all Omegas using the METAS-certified Master Chronometer movement, magnetism’s curse has finally been lifted. It’s down to the Si14 balance spring, NivaGauss staff and pivots, and anamorphous material in the Nivachoc anti-shock system. That’s good and well, but there’s one thing that I’ve always struggled with on the SM300-P. It’s the helium release valve (HRV) that most buyers never use for its intended purpose. Sure, it tells a great story. But in my opinion the Seamaster has always lacked the elegance of the Rolex Sea-Dweller’s neat (flush) integrated HRV.
With the latest Seamaster, the helium release valve remains in the form of a truncated cone (a frustum). What’s more, the new, patented, valve design includes ingenious technology that, according to Omega’s press kit, allows it to be operated underwater.
The new Seamaster’s movement sounds lovely, as do the laser engraved ceramic dial and ceramic dive bezel with Ceragold or white enamel inserts. It just hasn’t grown on me yet. And with several divers in my collection, I found myself gravitating towards another well-established Seamaster as my new favourite Omega…
Looking around Omega’s Baselworld stand, then speaking with Lily di Bao at Omega’s Geneva Airport boutique, got me interested in another Omega. It’s the Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial GMT 43 mm (calibre 8605). Unfortunately, the tasty Master Chronometer movement is currently only available in the non-GMT version or the £36k Worldtimer. Much as I love world timers, I’m unlikely to be able to afford one anytime soon!
I’d heard the Favre-Leuba name, owned a 1970s Duomatic for a while, and occasionally ran into references to this second oldest Baselworld exhibitor. But this was the year that I explored the brand and its long brand story in more detail. What a story it is, given that watchmaker Favre-Leuba started business 281 years ago in Le Locle.
I like the ideas behind the writing in their product book. It exudes a friendly, yet confident style which projects genuine warmth as well as heritage, intelligent commentary on product language. Their copy also makes a clear connection between several 1960s watches (including the Sea Chief, Bivouac and distinctive orange and stainless-steel cushion-cased Bathy). In future, I’ll definitely explore Favre-Leuba’s history in more detail…
Not content with discussing the new Seamaster Diver 300 earlier, here’s more about Omega. I always watch out for their latest collaborations with the amazing Orbis flying eye hospital. This airborne wonder takes the fight against avoidable blindness around the world. In Orbis’s own words, their distinctive McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 is ’unlike any plane you’ve seen before.’
Since 2011, Omega has supported Orbis International and its Flying Eye Hospital in many ways – not least by providing distinctive, cuddly teddy bears for its young patients. And at least one bear was at Baselworld. Just imagine the storytelling potential of this Swiss-ursine partnership in the hands of a skilled watch industry copywriter…
Well, not completely paper-free. And to be honest it would be a real pain if it ever was because I often find it easier to work with printed reference materials when writing. Okay, so I’m old enough to be ‘old school, but at the same time, I’m also sympathetic to conserving resources. Maybe the answer lies in brands making some hard copy collateral available. And having USB sticks and links to online resources available for those who don’t need paper.
This year it was particularly noticeable that Baselworld (no Baselworld Daily News), the Swiss exhibitors and other brands made big efforts to conserve resources (or just save money).
‘Where do I find the Baselworld Brand Book 2018?’ I asked at press registration so as not to forget to pick one up, which is what happened last year. I was told that there wasn’t one. It was the same story up in the press centre where the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors weren’t doing hard-copy press packs as in 2017. Instead, all press packs were electronically downloadable from the Swiss Exhibitors’ Hub. That said, I got some some consolation from the New Models 2018 book by the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors. I preferred this year’s A5 portrait format to the previous A6 landscape book…
Quite a few Baselworld exhibitors went a stage further and dispensed with USB-stick press packs altogether. And then there was Bulova, who, on day two, didn’t have any brand information for me...
Apart from the obvious question about, ‘Why is everything so damned expensive here?’, the one that led to an answer that really surprised me was to one of the guys on Sinn’s stand. My question concerned the former appearance of telemeter scales on pilots’ watches. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and suppose that it might have been an agency person, but I’m not so sure. I was surprised when asked to explain what an acoustic telemeter scale was…
How did this come about? It’s a topic that’s fascinated me since I recently wrote about telemeters on military chronographs for a client. I’ve actually done a bit of digging into this. Telemeter scales originally appeared on military chronographs. Their role was to enable estimation of distances by comparing the ‘flash and bang’ of artillery gunfire. Later, most notably on timepieces from the likes of Hanhart and Minerva – including versions of the Sinn 900 – telemeter scales appeared on watches intended for aviation.
I struggled with this, because everything I found suggested that, except perhaps for pilots on the ground with a thunderstorm approaching, telemeters on pilot chronographs aren’t that useful. I even contacted Hanhart’s museum and their resident expert, Manfred Schwer, confirmed that telemeters don’t make functional sense on pilots’ watches. According to Herr Schwer, this feature is probably a legacy from before chronographs were adopted for aviation use.
So it’s back to Sinn at Baselworld and why, before drawing a complete blank, I ended up explaining what an acoustic telemeter does… I'll forgive them because they make gorgeous watches and I'd love one! But not this one! It's the SINN Duale Bandsystem for combining their analogue mechanical watches with the Apple Watch. OMG!
As if my digital and physical in-trays weren’t full enough with watch industry reading material before Baselworld, I still managed to fill a carry-on bag with reference material. For that I thank Baselworld’s Newscorner. And how, even with cutbacks, more hard copy publications remain available than anyone could reasonably carry.
As I’ve said before, I make no excuse for valuing printed reference material. Of course, electronic source material has a role to play. But as a watch industry writer, I often find it easier to work from printed materials. Besides, I find that printed brochures make it much easier to assess a publication’s copywriting as well as the integration of text and graphical material.
So what were the brochure highlights of my Baselworld visit? When looking at watch brochures critically, I start with whether I can understand a clear, distinctive, brand message. I look for whether brochures or catalogues are well written and free of typos. Also, if they’ve been translated, has this been done sensitively and accurately by a native speaker of the target language?
I also realise that if you simply want to arouse interest with images and help buyers on their customer journey, an image-led brochure may be appropriate.
I can only guess at the design and content rationale behind the TAG Heuer Swiss Avant-Garde Since 1860 brochure from this year’s show. Perhaps I’m old school because I like a brochure with more written content, but I found this brochure rather unsatisfying. In fact, apart from the sparse product titles – you can’t really call them product descriptions – the only copy of any substance in the TAG Heuer book is at the back. That’s where where the brand talks about its position as a responsible watchmaker. I get the notion of less-is-more, not giving everything away at first glance and driving buyers to seek more information, but...
I suspect that many watch aficionados appreciate something richer. Something more detailed that embraces brand history and brand stories, and goes into real depth about the brand and its products alongside photography. A picture may be worth a thousand words. But the words sell, communicate stories and complement images. As many brands demonstrate so well, combining both has potential for amazing synergy.
Historically, Breitling’s Chronolog brochures have been a favourite of mine for their combination of rich imagery, well-written copy and genuinely useful technical information. Arguably, they are a benchmark for watch brochures covering feature-packed tool watches with a long history and massive storytelling potential.
Unfortunately – perhaps due to the fact that Breitling is currently going through major changes under Georges Kern – there were no Chronolog catalogues at this year’s Baselworld. In fact, the best they could manage were some rather nice A5-format hard back copies of Breitling A History. However, although printed in January 2018, the history only went as far as 1984! This was, in fact, a history of Breitling’s first hundred years, mainly extracted from Breitling the Book. My guess is that it was a reworking of a much earlier publication from the heady days of the 1980s. So what of the last 24 years in the story of the Grenchen-based watchmakers? How interesting given that a major new phase in the brand’s story seems to be in its nascent state as I write. Maybe I should have put this under ‘I is for interesting’ above. It’ll be interesting to see how Breitling’s brochures change under the new Kern regime. And in the meantime, perhaps Breitling’s reign as king of the luxury watch brochure may be under threat…
So what were my top three brochures from Baselworld 2018? In third place, it’s the Hamilton Stories brochure; in second, the beautifully designed NOMOS Glashütte publication. And in first place – a brochure that reads as well, and with the richness of content, as an engaging reference publication – it’s The Collection 2018/19 by Oris.
Oris have produced what I consider to be good brochures for as long as I can remember. In Time (2015/16) and A Matter of Time (2016/17) put down a clear marker. They skilfully integrated engaging copy with excellent photography, illustration and technical illustration when describing functions such as world time capability. When attempting to combine these brochure elements, it’s too easy for one to be allowed to fall behind the others. Maybe the quality of the writing is weak, or ‘thin’ and lacking in volume. Alternatively, the quality of photography and illustration may lag behind the words. The result is the opposite of synergy because the elements can’t work together optimally.
This ability to work together and complement each other is what I really like about this year’s The Collection brochure. And a couple of earlier Oris brand books too. The design is clean and fresh and the use of typography is excellent. So is the well-written editorialised content and rich storytelling. All in all, these elements come together seamlessly. The result is a compelling – and highly ‘keepable’ – introduction to the Oris brand. Kudos to the writer. It’s a brochure any luxury products or watch industry copywriter would be proud to have in their portfolio.
Certainly, since 2011, UK-based design agency Northstar have been responsible for the new format with its intelligent use of editorial writing style, original photography and specially commissioned illustration. Given the stylistic similarities between the earlier publications and their 2018–19 book, it looks as if Northstar are still on the case. Good work guys!
By the way, my Oris highlights (in addition to the Oris Aquis that I challenge anyone to dislike), were as follows. Firstly, the Carl Brashear Limited edition bronze chronograph. Secondly, the blue-dialled Calibre 111. Thirdly (just like The Grey Nato’s Jason Heaton and James Stacey), I loved the 40mm Oris Big Crown Pointer Date in steel.
Baselworld also saw the launch of the extremely clever children’s book by veteran watch and jewellery journalist and watchonista contributor Barbara Palumbo (illustrated by Ann Marie Drury). Flores Dolores and the Oris ChronOris is quite a story. As such, it’s yet another attention grabbing contribution to the impressive Oris brand story. And perhaps a good excuse for a ChronOris limited edition too!
Yes, storytelling matters and this little book, which Oris kindly sent me, proves once more that powerful brand storytelling needn’t be predictable. Pleasingly, it works at several different levels. And it explains why a large bear stood in the aisle in front of the Oris stand!
After last year’s fair, I’d kept in touch with Valerie, Josef and the rest of the Schwarz Etienne team. It was great to catch up with them again this year and meet their communications manager Estelle d’Hubert. Amongst other things, she updated me on the new Roswell 08. And SE’s first metiers d’art trilogy box set. Called Ode au Printemps, this three-part triumph celebrates La Chaux de Fonds’ fascinating connection with bees.
On the subject of horological trilogies, did you know that La Chaux de Fonds is the birthplace of one Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, the influential Swiss-French architect who was known as Le Corbusier? Interestingly, back in 2012, Girard-Perregaux (who defected from Baselworld to SIHH in 2017) created a rather stunning (and expensive) 15-piece Le Corbusier Trilogy.[WU9]
No matter what else is happening at Baselworld, I always find myself drawn to world time watches. Of course, beautiful three-hand watches are a joy, but they can only ever tell you the time in one place. For anywhere else in the world, you or I, the wearers, must apply knowledge about time differentials and mentally compute the time. In practice, if I’m travelling in Japan, Europe or Alaska, it’s not that hard to calculate the time back home in the UK.
The addition of a GMT hand adds an invaluable extra dimension. Hence the appeal of the original 1950s GMT-Master developed by Rolex in conjunction with Juan Trippe’s Pan-Am. And their latest evolutions as brought up to date with Baselworld’s dual Rolex and Tudor GMT ‘Pepsi’ offerings.
But to completely embrace the world’s time zones, and make it a snip know exactly what is happening here, there and everywhere, takes a world time or world timer watch. At their simplest, these take the form of a manually set world time bezel. Adjust it to your current place and time and the relative times around the world are displayed. At their most sophisticated, not only do world time watches automatically (and constantly) reflect time around our planet. In addition, they can also take into account half time-zones. And make it a cinch to adjust time en route between one zone and another.
Thus I found myself drawn to the Patek Philippe 5531R-001 World Time Minute Repeater. It’s the bank-account busting one in rose gold, with hand-guilloched hobnail detailing, on alligator leather. What’s more, it’s an update of last year’s Ref. 5531 ‘New York Special Edition’. This stunning watch is built around one of Patek’s Grand Complications. Not only that, but it features an exquisite grand feu enamel image of Lac Leman and its surrounding mountains. Not only does this wonderful timepiece delight by evoking the magic of places near and far. Its patented mechanism even chimes in local time. And so it should for the best part of half a million Swiss francs – if you can even get hold of one!
At the much more affordable end of the scale is a world time watch that I consider eminently more practical. With its 100m water resistance (compared to the Patek’s ‘humidity and dust-protected only’ case), this is my favourite Breitling from this year’s show. It’s the new Navitimer 8 B35 Automatic Unitime 43. At first, it was the black dial version with its red accents that I found myself attracted to. But do you know what? With time, and the opportunity to think about this beauty, I’m coming around to the ‘Silver Mercury’ version on brown alligator leather…
For now, however, my preferred world time watch of choice is my blue-dial Orient-Star World Time. I love its mechanical city ring, super anti-reflective coating and Sallaz (aka ‘zaratsu’) case finishing. For little over one-tenth the Breitling’s list price, it’s amazing. But that COSC-certified Breitling with its 70-hour power reserve calls because it comes with a tradition an aviation heritage that Orient simply cannot replicate. With a big birthday coming up soon, we’ll have to see…
After a long, busy day at Baselworld, and a delicious supper back at my base in Stansstad, Nidwalden, I took the long way back to Geneva Airport, which gave me ample time to enjoy a still very snowy central Switzerland (a regular haunt of mine) and Wallis while gathering my thoughts on this year's show. Here's snowy Andermatt in Canton Uri as I took the long way back to Geneva Airport.
As an aside, Göschenen is located at the northern end of the original Gotthard rail tunnel. If you follow such things, you may be aware that a new Gotthard Base Tunnel (the world’s longest at 57.09 km) opened in June 2016, with public services beginning in the following December.
Well, last November, with a pre-launch example of Geckota’s Kickstarter divers’ watch on my wrist, I had the rare honour of being the first person to wear this stunning watch through the new tunnel. On the same day, we also travelled through the original Gotthard tunnel, built in 1882. That was, by the way, six years before Adolph and Alfred Kurth established the watch business that would later become Certina…
That’s my sense of humour for you. It’s in the tradition of a card I once saw in Brig railway station. The caption? ‘Grüsse aus dem Lotschberg Tunnel!’
M. Yves Vulcan is CEO at Darwel PR, the Lausanne-based PR and Media Relations agency that handles PR and media relations for the Swiss exhibitors at Baselworld. Not least at the Swiss Exhibitors’ stand in the Baselworld Press Centre. From media requests to all aspects of promoting Swiss brands from ArtyA to Yunik, Yves’ agency has been the PR force behind Swiss watchmaking for well over 50 years. As a copywriter, I can only guess at the watch industry writing that has flowed from the pens, typewriters and word-processors of Darwel’s team since 1969. Would I like to write for them and even just one of their Swiss watch industry clients? Are there bears in Bern’s famous Bärengraben? Or in front of the Oris stand at Baselworld 2018?
There are books about watches and books about the history of the watch industry, but scant few exploring marketing and, most specifically, the role of copywriting for the watch industry. The closest one gets are references to some luxury brands in books about marketing to the luxury sector, and books like Marco Strazzi’s Watch Ads 1900–1959 and Watch Ads 1960–2000. And that's about it...
Both of Strazzi’s books, as well as many others in my reference library (including Louis Nardin’s excellent Magic of Watches) are available through, if not published by, Fabrice Mugnier’s company, Watchprint.com Sàrl, based in Lutry on Lake Geneva.
I caught up with Fabrice at the fair and promised to give him and his business a plug in my post-Baselworld write up. Now, about that book on the history of copywriting and commercial writing for the watch industry. There’s a project for someone…
As in XL, or extra-large, watches. Okay, so there are still examples of super-sized cases for those with a 7.5-inch wrist or bigger. And, yes, they’re perfect for anyone wanting to make a seriously impressive statement with their timepiece (or emulate super-large dial pilot watches of yore).
Over on the Rolex stand, the latest Sea-Dweller Deepsea with its calibre 3235, as announced at Baselworld 2017, is a case in point: 44mm diameter; 5.5mm thick domed sapphire crystal; grade 5 titanium caseback; and a total weight of case and bracelet of 212 g. No wonder the innovative Rolex Ringlock System case architecture is good for waterproofness (not ‘water resistant, but ‘waterproof’) to 3,900 m (12,800 feet).
And then there are the Super Oversized pilots’ watches from local team, Zeno-Watch Basel. ‘Big was not big enough’, the website copy reads (before, rather unfortunately, referencing ‘the very fist observation watch design of the 30s.’).And big these watches indeed are, with timepieces such as the Super Oversized Big Date Black having a case diameter of no less than 55 mm! The same applies to Laco’s Replika Original Flieger-Beobachtungsuhr (also 55 mm) and its Replika 45 pieces (a modest 45 mm).
But things are a changing and it is clear, since a year or more, that average watch diameters are falling to more modest dimensions. Over at Laco, the gorgeous ‘Erbstück’ ('heirloom') Baumuster A (available in 42mm and 45 mm) moves towards what seems to be a new industry sweet spot of 38–40 mm. Of course, Laco has a particularly good reason to maintain these larger ‘XL-sized’ watches. Just look at their heritage and their authentic pedigree in this area. What’s this ‘Erbstück’ of which I write? Well, it is, in Laco’s own words, a range of handcrafted – each a unique timepiece – watches that are ‘…new, but [which have] the charm and patina of a timepiece that has experienced a great deal with its owner.’ What did I say earlier about ‘fauxtina’? Maybe I could make one exception to my overall disapproval for the Laco Memmingen, Münster, Westerland and Saarbrücken Erbstück pieces…
Overall, however, the 2018 show marked the clear re-establishment of a more modest watch size. Tudor had the new 39 mm Black Bay Fifty-Eight. And Breitling gave serious prominence to their Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 as well as the Navitimer 8 collection (first announced at SIHH in Geneva). Over at Longines, their mysterious 38.5 mm Longines Military Watch caught many an eye. Oris had its new Big Crown Pointer Date with a 36 mm case. And then there were Omega’s Seamaster 1948 Limited Editions.
For the sweet toothed among us, spending a day at Baselworld can easily turn into a waistband busting confectionary indulgence. And that’s not including any indulgences you care to admit to en route to and from the Messe… For me, this year’s highlights started with Porsche Design’s moreish individually-wrapped pralines. The sweet treats continued with Zenith’s mini Easter Eggs, a box of chocolate DS Action Sea Turtles that I was given by Certina and a delicious bar of dark chocolate from Schwarz Etienne.... Actually, I was very disciplined. I only ate a couple of the mini Easter Eggs and one of Porsche’s pralines. The rest returned safely to Gloucestershire. Once home, I presented them to Mrs H along with Breguet’s cool duffel bag and Tissot’s NBA ‘Knicks’ hat (see 'D is for DEMONSTRATIONS' above). That’ll be perfect for top-down days in her MX-5 as a change from her current Omega cap.
This little gem is on the same site and under the same management as Stansstad’s excellent Christen Beck bakery (other branches are in Buochs, Beckenried, Stans, Hergiswil and Engelberg). As last year, I avoided Basel’s high (who said extortionate?) Messe-week prices by staying on the shores of the Vierwäldstättersee in canton Nidwalden. It comfortable and remarkably convenient for Basel (about 75 minutes via Luzern. As well as that, my Friday night supper was one of the best I've ever had in Switzerland...
So that’s it for another year. As I write this a little later in 2018, the shape of Baselworld 2019 is emerging under new show manager under Michel Loris-Melikoff. Breitling will be there, but Corum, Raymond Weil and Swatch Group won’t –their space will be filled by a new ‘Central Plaza’ for media and hospitality. Hotels and food should be cheaper, but that won’t affect me because I’ll be back at the Hotel zum Beck in lovely Stansstad. And then there’s the return of the much-missed Baselworld Daily News – a Baselworld institution that was axed this year. Sadly, because Swatch Group pulled out for 2019, one Baselworld institution that won't be there next year, is the Hamilton plane that's hung over the Basel Hauptbahnhof concourse for several years... How does one follow that? Would something similar from Breitling be just too predictable?
Earlier in the year, LVMH’s Jean-Claude Biver was quoted as saying, ‘Nobody wants to be remembered as the brand that killed Baselworld.’ Will Marc Hayek’s decision to pull the Swatch Group for 2019 prove to be the decision that did? Who knows what will happen after next year’s show. Or even whether there will be a Baselworld 2020 and what its format will be.
But for now, we do have a show in 2019. So if you’ve never visited Baselworld, maybe next year is the year to get a taste for this venerable institution. Even if, as looks to be the case, it’s well and truly into its dotage 101 years after the first Schweizer Mustermesse Basel (MUBA) in 1917. Or, given the events that have transpired since Baselworld 2018, maybe not...
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