Technology is order of the day – but not as you may think
Rob Nicholas, MD of Concierge, shares his thoughts on Baselworld 2016
Fewer novelties and real world application appear to be the order of the day across Baselworld 2016. While we are used to seeing innovation demonstrated as a hallmark of brands in various limited-edition timepieces, often with new calibers and multiple complications, the focus this year is commercial, producing fewer items developed to perform well at boutique and distributor level – rather than simply to garner attention.
It was with certain trepidation that the watchmaking industry entered Basel this year. It is no trade secret that things were difficult in 2015, especially so for brands that had invested heavily in China expecting its upward trajectory to continue to rocket, but now finding themselves off-course as the thrust is taken down a notch or two.
I have been amazed at the fanfare surrounding Tag Heuer’s presence at the show. Their Tag Heuer Carrera Connected smart watch has been out-performing even their wildest expectations with 80,000 units sold. The only problem for the manufacture has been coping with demand as it has reportedly outstripped supply by four times – and that was before the show. With a price point of US$1,500 this is new territory for luxury brands that simply don’t expect to see volume on this scale for a single reference.
I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of this particular model. The aesthetic is akin to the tourbillon model costing many times the price (and for obvious reason). Gone is the mechanical heartbeat of the watch, swapped for Intel and Google technology that sees it work efficiently but with no ground-breaking functionality or tech that separate it from the growing crowd. The raison d’être is to have technology on the wrist that looks luxurious and Tag Heuer’s bold approach sees it stealing first mover advantage.
Technology is a buzzword throughout the show but is more about materials than smart watches. With less focus on the complications (there are exceptions that I will come to later), it comes down to the simple matter of appeal.
Leading from the front on this are Omega and Hublot. The former does this conservatively with stylish and tactile improvements across its range. Planet Ocean now has a ceramic bezel with a liquid metal and rubber insert – materials fused together for the first time – while the greatest stroke of genius was to graft a slice of meteorite onto the face of a moon watch (Omega Speedmaster Grey Side of the Moon Meteorite), which will greatly appear to the many collectors of this range, while bringing in new enthusiasts.
Hublot, in the meantime, continue their ‘Fusion’ approach of taking almost inconceivable materials for watches and putting them together into products that capture attention and delight in a way that is taking watchmaking by storm. From precious metals to tungsten, and from carbon fiber to linen, now this year we are talking leather with a jaw dropping partnership with Berluti.
The brand has really changed the way that watchmakers innovate and it is impossible not to love the new two model range that is served up in a faux wooden shoe box and sees a leather dial and matching strap arriving in black-grey (Classic Fusion Berluti Ceramic) limited to 500 pieces; or brown leather with a unique appearance owing to the trademark Berluti tanning technique (Classic Fusion Berluti King Gold) limited to 250 pieces.
For straightforward appeal, Zenith caught my eye at the show with their new Pilot Heritage Café Racer model. As a motorcycle fan, the Triumph Thruxton at the stand entrance already did a good job of drawing me in. Their approach this year is all about tapping the passions of classic car and café racer enthusiasts, and while the novelties are minimal they appear well conceived and competitively priced.
Bulgari is a stand that really impressed me this year as they have taken the opportunity to steal the limelight, being one of very few brands that have really innovated in 2016 with record-breaking complications that are also highly desirable and competitively priced.
I adore the The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, which is the thinnest minute repeater ever made with a movement that is 3.12mm thick. Its slim line form is maintained with a titanium case at 6.85mm thick and is water resistant to 30m. As titanium can accentuate the sound of the mechanism, Bulgari has cleverly cut out the hour markers with a delicate slice to allow sound to escape, adding to the chime of the repeater.
Fabergé has also earned the badge on innovation this year. Their novelties include the Visionnaire DTZ (Dual Time Zone), which is the watch I want this year. It looks stunning and the approach to displaying the second time is brilliant.
The multi-layered dial gives no hint towards a second time zone at first glance, but a little more study reveals a 24-hour jump hour in a window at its centre. Look to the back of the timepiece and the tiny Arabic numerals are difficult to spot and the magnification on the dial is achieved by specialist optics that allow appreciation for both the depth of the watch movement (as it is a hollow core) and the clear identification of the hour marker.
At the other end of the spectrum are mass appeal manufacturers that have also been at the sharp end of materials technology, but as I am running out of time before today’s appointments, I will save these for another post.