Basel 2002: The colorful facets of time

The 30th anniversary Basel World Watch and Jewelry Show was the most colorful in its history: The use of colors in watch designs was in full bloom at this year’s show. Indeed, some suggest that if the industry’s strong use of color hasn’t peaked, it is about to do so.

Diamonds sparkled in abundance-and in various colors-on many of those watches, more so than in previous years. While that might be expected for ladies’ watches, the surprise at this Basel show was the number of new watches for men with diamond bezels, lugs, and/or accents. Although they’ve long been sold in the Near and Far East, diamond watches for men are uncommon in the U.S. market. Some vendors were even reluctant to talk about their men’s diamond watches-often just a single model-saying that they are still testing market acceptance for them.

Others noted that such watches would also appeal to women who already enjoy larger-sized men’s watches. In fact, the wearing of men’s watches by women is now so common that a number of vendors say they no longer use the terms “women’s,” “men’s,” “gents’s,” or even “unisex” to describe their watch sizes, preferring instead “small,” “medium,” and “large.”

The use of color wasn’t confined to dials, straps, or even cases, but also appeared as a design accent on dials, the inside rim of cases, and even as contrasting color lines along the edge of straps.

Pastel pink and blue were used in most collections, from mass market to prestigious luxury brands. But there was also strong use of orange, yellow, and lilac, as well as “sand” colors.

This widespread use of color was a noticeable counterpoint to new watch models in black and white-another growing tendency, if not an outright trend.

While many fashion and ladies’ watches use satin straps; there was a noticeable increase in patent leather straps, many in white.

The dominant shape of things at this Basel watch fair is square (and rectangular and tonneau), but not sharply angular. This year’s cases are softened, with rounded corners and supple curves.

Getting down to cases, size remains an important factor in watch design and purchases. More vendors added larger or oversized watches. Many of these are in the 44-mm range, but one Swiss firm, long known for its larger-sized watches, unveiled one at 50 certainly the limit for oversized watches.

Stainless steel remains the king of timepieces-one in every four Swiss-made watches is made of the metal-but the industry’s love affair with gold watches heated up again at Basel. There was a noticeable increase in new gold or goldplated watches, although this probably will have more effect in Europe and Asia than in the United States, where the popularity of gold and two-tone watches has remained strong.

If color and diamonds were in abundance at this Basel show, innovation was less so. Still, there was enough to keep any watch-technology enthusiast in any price category interested. Among these were Timex’s new GPS watch (linked to a satellite navigational system); the new spring drive (mechanical movement) from Seiko, a brand identified exclusively with quartz movement since it launched the use of quartz in 1969; and Patek Philippe’s exquisite Celestial complication watch, which accurately shows sidereal time including the correct position of the stars at night over the wearer.