From Seiko to Schieffer, luxury watches have many faces at BaselWorld

Luxury has many faces—watch faces, that is—as amply demonstrated at BaselWorld2005, being held at the Messe Basel fair complex in Basel, Switzerland.

They include new faces, such as mid-priced Seiko which is expanding into luxury watches; beautiful faces, like supermodel Claudia Schieffer, the new ad icon for luxury brand Ebel, relaunched at Basel; vintage faces recaptured in new models, such Michele’s ladies Art Deco cocktail watches; and exquisite faces of the growing number of luxury complicated watches for woman.

Here’s a look at some of the many watch trends and happenings seen at Basel.

* Seiko, the Japanese brand best know for its stylish, technically proficient watches, is expanding into the luxury watch market in the United States and Europe. The new mechanical line called Spring Drive, which incorporates Seiko’s patented Spring Drive technology (based on a mainspring, and using electromagnetic energy, with continuously gliding, non-tick hands), will sell in the United States for $2,500 to $3,000 starting this year. It will only be sold in 50 to 100 U.S. stores, a third of the planned worldwide network of stores.

* Other technological advances include Swiss Army’s ST-5000 (with a one-button pathfinder technology in multi-function, analog/ digital directional compass) and Citizen’s application of its light-powered Eco-Drive technology to its Acqualand diver’s watches and a first-ever moon phase Eco-Drive.

* Luxury Swiss brand Ebel was officially relaunched at a press conference that was Basel’s hottest celebrity event. New brand president Thomas van der Kallen briefly detailed changes in marketing strategy, new ad concepts aimed at men and women, and redesigns of Ebel’s iconic collections, including Sport Wave (now Ebel Wave), Beluga and 1911. But the standing-room only crowd in the temporary glass-walled tent-roofed restaurant—and those outside with their faces against the glass—were waiting for supermodel Claudia Schieffer, the face of Ebel’s new black and white ad campaign aimed at women. “This is my first time at BaselWorld and I’ve never seen anything like it at any trade fair,” she said, as the audience, and dozens of paparazzi, surged forward, surrounding the stage to take pictures.

* Other celebrities at Basel included Donetella Versace, at the Versace watch booth; A.J. Azzarto, granddaughter of Frank Sinatra at Oris’ debut of its new Frank Sinatra collection in a 1960s style; and even a German prince (Prinz Wolfgang von Bayern) who debuted his own line of luxury timepieces. One missing celeb was Roger Federer, the world’s top-rated men’s tennis champion and new brand ambassador for Maurice Lacroix. The Basel native was at a Miami tournament and sent a videotaped greeting to the brand’s press conference.

* Milestone anniversaries this year are marked by artistic luxury brand Corum (50th), with a new version of its famous see-through Golden Bridge watch, and Bulova (130th) with its new Ambassador, designed for the international market.

* The vintage trend continues, with a number of brands debuting new models based on successful past models, such as Patek Philippe’s 1940s’ traveler’s watch, but with a touch of contemporary styling and/or movement technology.

* The trend of Ladies luxury mechanical watches is mushrooming. High end watchmaker debuting new models this year include limited edition watchmaker DeWitt (the colorful Alma series); Maurice Lacroix (the elegant Divina series); Bulgari (limited edition Assioma and digital Ipno); Patek Philippe’s (sporty Acquanat Luce, with flexible colored straps of rubbery composite materials); and Raymond Weil (Don Giovanni Cosi Grande Jewelry chronograph.

* The return to mechanical movements continues to surge, as seen in many new affordable models, such as those from Swiss Army, and complications offered by more fine brands, including tourbillons, chronographs and time zones

* Travelers and pilot watches remain popular. New ones Carl F. Bucherer’s 46.5mm Patravi TravelTec GMT, with three zones, and Flight Time, created by pilot John Reisman, with 37 time zones, seven flight timer systems and other features used by pilots.

* There are more square cases, such as Louis Erard striking Heritage model, with copper-colored dial and python strap. There’s more use of sport watch–inspired materials in cases and bracelets like titanium, silicon, and rubber, and more use of ceramics, such as Versace signature DV One, in ice white of jet black, and Lancaster’s white, pink and back chronographs for women.

* Yellow gold, already evident in popular luxury models last year, is much more wide spread this year in both cases and bracelets, in classical and contemporary timepiece pieces. Pink gold is also growing in use.

* Fashion watches in pastel shade, colored mother of pearl dials, and bright colored abound. The straps are a popular feature of this year’s high-end watch debuts. They include expansion of luxury brand’s Hublot’s iconic black rubber straps in the brand’s first color crocodile straps, with a flexible rubber base, and Raymond Weil’s colorful Tango series.

* Tourbillons (a feature in mechanical watches which compensates for the effect of gravity) are becoming so common among high-end watches, that brands now stress what makes theirs unique. Among literally dozens and dozens, are Bulgari (combining mechanical and quartz); Chanel (its first, with ceramic base plate); DeWitt, with new brand Jean Dunand (tourbillon moves around the dial every hour), Maurice Lacroix (retrograde date displays, can be personalized with owner’s on case and movement), De Bethune (its own perpetual calendar, moon phase). Ulysse Nardin (a dual Ulysse escapement made out of diamond); DeWitt (patented, miniaturized system speeds up winding so watch never depletes its power reserve

BaselWorld2005, the world’s largest watch and jewelry show will run till Apr. 7. It is being held in the Swiss city of Basel, which borders France and Germany.