Beauty and the Rest: Watch Highlights from BaselWorld 2007

Watch vendors at BaselWorld 2007 say they had one of their best shows at the 35th annual trade fair on the Rhine in Switzerland. But the show—the world’s largest and most important watch trade fair—is never just about the amount of orders and visitors. For nine days each year, this is the center of the watch universe, with a variety of fascinating news, events and announcements. Here are some of them this year:

* Beautiful faces attracted much attention this year, and not just those on watches. Celebrity Paris Hilton officially launched her same-name brand watches (five collections, $100-$200) at a press conference with TV and print journalists and photographers, and autograph seekers—after keeping them waiting almost an hour. Model Natalia Vodianova, who has appeared for five years in ads for fashion brand Calvin Klein, was on hand at a crowded session celebrating 10 years of the label’s Swiss-made cK fashion watch (produced by the Swatch Group, the world’s largest watchmaker). Italian movie star and one-time “Bond girl” Maria Grazia Cucinotta graced the press conference of upscale Swiss watch brand Wyler Genève, which is being re-launched and also plans to move into the U.S. market this year.

* Diamonds are becoming as frequent on watches as mother-of-pearl dials, and not just on women’s timepieces. More brands offer men’s watches with diamond accents and/or a single circle of discreet diamonds on thin bezels.

* Familiarity, however, certainly doesn’t breed contempt, as demonstrated by the artistry and craftsmanship in a number of luxury diamond timepieces which could take a viewer’s breath away. Here are some of the examples at Basel 2007. Milus’ all-diamond Helios Triretrograde watch, designed specifically for the growing number of women self-purchasers who are watch connoisseurs. Hublot’s all-diamond One Million Dollar Big Bang, with tourbiullon, took 2,000 hours to produce, in cooperation with Bunter SA the Swiss diamond-setting workshop, and features a “totally invisible setting” of its diamonds. Harry Winston’s exceptional haute jewelry Ducesse, with pear-shaped cut diamonds. It wasn’t all white diamonds. Carl Bucherer unleashed its Alacria Fancy Diva Wildcat, whose exotic tiger strip design on case and dial is created with 2.5 cts. of black, cognac an golden yellow diamonds (962 in all).

* BaselWorld is also the stage on which unusual watches and designs are unveiled.

Oris—in a press conference held in a medieval Basel church—unveiled a limited edition watch with a Sudoku style face in a square case, for the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Basel mathematician Leonard Euler, whose work helped lay the foundations for modern technology. The dial’s square pattern mimics Sudoku, the popular number puzzle, and is based on Euler’s Latin Squares.

Reuge, famous for its music boxes, launched Primo 4, a limited edition grand complication musical wristwatch, produced by Mermod Freres, which Reuge  recently acquired.

Geneva watchmaker Romain Jerome unveiled one of the most unusual high end watches. His luxury-priced “Titanic-DNA” collection of gold, steel and platinum timepieces, contains alloyed pieces of the Titanic’s steel hull, and lacquered dials containing coal recovered from the doomed ship’s debris field. The limited edition (2,012, for the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking) is the first of an annual series of famous legends.

* Workers’ rights—and health—was also an issue at BaselWorld. Some organizations have demanded that BaselWorld oust or outlaw jewelry exhibitors whose firms produce gemstone jewelry in workshop conditions which promote silicosis. The deadly disease is caused by inhaling silica particles in gemstone processing facilities; there are reportedly 15,000 to 20,000 new cases of affected Chinese workers each year. While BaselWorld’s management says it can’t monitor the activities of its 2,100 exhibitors, vendors, its members visited Hong Kong in Fall 2006 to get more information on the problem and is in talks with the protesting organizations.

* Some firms announced new starts, or re-starts—at BaselWorld.
Concord, owned by the Movado Group, has completed revamped and reorganized its operations. It has moved its headquarters to Switzerland, gotten new presidents for the U.S. and international operations; radically revamped its lines, narrowing them to a single new collection (“C1”), moved is luxury brand higher on the luxury price scale, and is narrowing its distributor.

Victorinox, the company that makes the popularly Swiss Army watches, is changing the name of the company and the watches in the United States to avoid confusion about the relationship between the two and insure a unified global brand. Starting mid-year, the company will be officially known in the United States as Victorinox Swiss Army (as it already is elsewhere in the world), all its timepieces will be branded Victorinox Swiss. The new logo will appear on watch dials, packaging and all brand identification.

Family-owned and operated Cyma, a mid-priced brand especially popular in the U.S. Midwest, since January has had new management. Françoise Schürch took over as president from her father Claude Guilgot. In the United States, Florian Niculesco is the new president of Cyma USA (Hugh Glenn Corp.), succeeding Hugh Glenn who retired from the company last year.

Fossil officially opened its new European headquarters. It acquired the building, located only a few hundred yards from BaselWorld’s halls, in January.

* Among new brands launched at Basel were Erhard Junghans, by German watchmaker Junghans; Helix, intended for specialty retailers like jewelers, is the first in-house brand created by the Callanen Group, the Timex-owned group which until now has made and marketed only licensed brands (i.e., Guess, Guess Collection, Nautica, Marc Eck?).