Baselworld 2019: Reflections and further thoughts

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We reflect over the 6 days at Baselworld 2019 this year, and try to make sense of the madness and the rush over the frantic days. Here are our thoughts on the show and the future.

The general mood was a more subdued in Baselworld than in SIHH this year. In January, we saw several going all out to bring on horologically interesting and big pieces. Like the Traditionelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar from Vacheron Constantin, the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetual from Jaeger-LeCoultre just to name two.

The total number of exhibitors at Baselworld 2019 reduced. Michel Loris-Melikoff, Managing Director of Baselworld reported 520 brands exhibited at Baselworld 2019. 81,200 visitors attended this year’s edition of the show, 22% fewer than in 2018. At 3,300, the number of media representatives present was slightly down on previous years

Baselworld Closing Press Conference

And it was apparent in throughout the show. But we kept our appointment books full, and had some 40 meetings, presentations and photoshoots. And we had the luxury of mostly one hour meetings instead of the 30 min rushes we have had the past years. This allowed us to get a better in-depth understanding of the watches and to write the Live from Baselworld articles on the go.

While this Baselworld lacks no beautiful watches, I feel the industry is kind of stuck in a rut.

A summary of novelties

Other than the top picks from Baselworld published yesterday, here is a summary of the other big and smaller boys at the show.

The King of the industry – Rolex has settled on face-lifts this year, with no significant watches. Close sources within the company, who are famously tight lipped, hinted that this is a year for Rolex to consolidate, perhaps for manufacturing to catch up with the enormous demands on their watches. Hopefully this translate to shorter waiting times for genuine collectors, and the elimination of the black market trade for highly desirable Rolexes. So we had content ourselves with a new Batman (GMT-Master II in black and blue bezel, now ceramic and with the Jubilee bracelet), a two tone Sea-Dweller, and a Yachtmaster 42). Among a slew of Day-Date and Datejust models.

The Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman”.

Sister company Tudor‘s showing was even more pedestrian. With only facelifts to the strong Black Bay collection – a new bronze model and a new steel and gold chronograph. Perhaps the Black Bay P01 tantalize a bit with its unusual shape and somewhat interesting history.

As mentioned, Patek Philippe played it safe with line extensions. The story is one of adding complications to the existing base calibers. We liked the Weekly Calendar (in the Chief Editor’s and Frank’s lists) and the Pilot Alarm Travel Time (in Chester’s list). The ever popular Nautilus received an Annual Calendar, while the Calatrava line was extended with a Regulator. Also, a new dial colour was announced for the Aquanaut, now in a khaki green dial and strap. The ladies Nautilus line also was refreshed with 5 new models in 3 sizes. All featuring self winding movements.

Patek Philippe Weekly Calendar Ref. 5212 in SS.

Zenith commercialised the Defy Lab with the new Defy Inventor. A rather eye catching design based on the experimental Defy Lab which we covered in detail several times at launch. Sister company Hublot extends their successful collaborations with artists – Sang Bleu and Orlinski. While TAG Heuer showed some technical edge with their carbon hairspring which debuted in a new Autavia and Carrera 02.

Perhaps more interesting was the ultra thin story line offered by Bulgari, breaking yet another record. In addition the Roman company, which is also part of the LVMH empire, also released a huge range of new faces for their ladies Serpenti line.

The stakes for ultra thin is raised once again with Bulgari showing the Finnissimo Chronograph GMT, another world record for thin-ness under their belt.

Breitling had the impressive Navitimer 608 1959 Re-Edition which wowed everyone with the faithfulness to the original. And several other models, including a series with airlines. Interestingly all the three airline related watches are of carriers which are currently defunct – SwissAir, PanAm and TWA.

Breitling Navitimer 806 1959 Re-Edition.

The Japanese boys were active too. With Seiko re-creating the Turtle, and Grand Seiko with several Handwound Spring Drive models. Citizen was particularly impressive and made the Chief’s list with the incredible caliber 0100, now incarnated into a series of 3 limited edition watches. They also released a prototype of a static electricity watch for their Bulova brand. Casio was not to be let down either, and announced a number of new carbon cased watches.

The Citizen Eco-Drive AQ6010-06A in white gold, with the Caliber 0100 movement.

The independents too are not resting, but no mind blowing stuff. We saw the very nice Vingt-8 Invert from Kari Voutilainen, and a new tourbillon from the Gronefeld brothers. Also an ultra complicated Quadruple Tourbillon with GMT from Greubel Forsey. And a new upstart – called The Alchemist showed an interesting watch, which is reminiscent of Bovet, where some of the founders hail from. Hajime Asaoka showed a dial variation of his Tsunami, and we saw the production sample of the Daizoh Makihara watch.

The Voutilainen Vingt-8 Inverse. A beauty.

Opinions on the show

So overall, I thought Baselworld 2019 was a fine show. Of course the absence of the Swatch Group, left a gaping hole. Both physically as Hall 1.0 had to room to house a new Press Centre and some restaurants in its place. But also spiritually, where the novelties from the group offer additional watches to spice up the show.

The Press Centre is expanded and services improved over last year and took over some of the space vacated by the Swatch Group. The lockers for the media attendees are now remarkably larger than previous years’.

But we will be attending the Time to Move for Media in May, and will attempt to bring you the news live from Switzerland. This might prove to be a tall order, as we hear rumours that we will not be allowed to take photographs. In any event, photograph or not, we will be doing Live from Time to Move, if only with texts. Watch out for our reports from May 13-16.

The death of Mega shows?

I am in total support of the Mega shows like Baselworld. Afterall, I have personally attended 21 of these, and found them to be incredibly beneficial. It provides a unique opportunity for the entire industry to meet and exchange ideas. This once a year global meeting of minds cannot be underestimated for its usefulness to creativity and well being of the industry.

But I also think that Brands doing their own separate shows is advantageous for all. For the brand, they get undivided attention. They are no longer one among the 500 (in the very shrunken Baselworld 2019). And for most parts doing their own thing is actually less expensive than participation in the Mega Shows, as Swatch Group has pointed out.

Georges Kern speaking at the Breitling Summit, offsite from Baselworld this year. Georges held these Summits regularly across the globe. I have attended both Summits in Shanghai and Beijing in 2018, and no doubt there will be more this year.

For the media, it gives us more time to spend with the novelties and with the management as we saw in recent events held by Maurice Lacroix and Breitling Summits in Shanghai and Beijing (2018). It means more travel, but I think its a good trade for better quality. And for the watch enthusiast, it means more and higher quality reports from the brands you love.

The famous skylight at the entrance to the halls at Baselworld. We will be back next year.

Quo vadis?

And 2020 will be interesting. But tiring…both SIHH and Baselworld will meld into one, with three days in Geneva followed by another three in Basel. I have attended the shows when they overlapped from 1996 to 2009. And it was exhausting. And those days, I attended the shows as a collector enthusiast. But next year, I will have to come up with the goods, so to speak, as a professional journalist covering the events. So we see what happens next year. We do know that Swatch Group will still be out, and 2020 might still see a separate show for Media by them.


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