The Talk of Baselworld 2015

Another Basel bites the dust. I’m writing this on a bus bound for Zurich airport. After two and a half weeks of travel, including five days in Switzerland, where I attended my 13th Baselworld fair, I’m finally heading home to Los Angeles. And not a moment too soon. My head is busting open from seeing too many watches and talking far too much shop.

It should come as no surprise that most of that talk centered on the impending wave of smartwatches about to flood the industry. From my very first appointment at Kenneth Cole, whose new Connect smartwatch boasts a “selfie control” feature that allows you to snap selfies remotely—think of it as virtual arm-lengthening—to the scores of brands breathlessly rushing to enter the connected category (TAG Heuer, Bulgari, Breitling, Gucci, Frederique Constant, and Alpina all staked their claims in Basel), the future of the watch industry was the subject of much debate.

The most provocative thing I heard all week was at the Patek Philippe press dinner at the historic Three Kings Hotel on Friday night when William Massena, the moderator of TimeZone’s Patek forum, argued that in 10 years, the Basel show would be irrelevant. He said the trade would by then be divided into two camps: a coterie of high-end mechanical brands that would show in Geneva and the smartwatch brands, which would show somewhere in California.

Is the idea ridiculous or prescient? I’m not convinced that Massena is right—but given the pace of change, and the ever-quickening advance of technology and digitalization in our world, I do expect the watch industry to go through some dramatic changes over the next decade, and I don’t expect that everyone will survive. The lower end, in particular.

For now, however, while the traditional watch industry is still kicking, I’m excited to share a few of the new products that wowed me in Basel:

De Bethune DB25 Quetzalcoatl

Named after the divine feathered serpent worshipped by the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica, the new DB25 Quetzalcoatl watch from De Bethune is among the most interesting timepieces I’ve ever seen. Its solid gold dial, which features a coiled serpent at its center—its head indicates the hours and its tail the minutes—offers a powerful example of how the age-old art of engraving can be used in unexpected, unconventional ways. Conceived by brand cofounder David Zanetti and brought to life by the talented engraver Michèle Rothen, the DB25 Quetzalcoatl is both visually stunning and philosophically intriguing. If only I had $120,000 lying around…

Courtesy De Bethune

The mesmerizing DB25 Quetzalcoatl watch from De Bethune

Georg Jensen’s Gemfields Collaboration

After a five-year absence from Baselworld, the Danish design brand Georg Jensen staged quite the return. Not only did the brand announce a partnership with London-based mining company Gemfields, it also debuted a striking new collection of ruby and emerald jewelry inspired by the pioneering work of Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, a midcentury designer who created some of Georg Jensen’s most iconic pieces. The Dune bangle, a Modernist bracelet in a chic pairing of rose gold and rubies, was among my favorites.

Courtesy Georg Jensen

The ruby-lined rose-gold bangle from Georg Jensen’s sleek new Dune collection

Fabergé Lady Compliquée

I wasn’t expecting to find one of the fair’s most interesting complicated ladies watches at Fabergé—but then again, I didn’t know that the brand was working with the charming and talented Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of the respected Geneva-based movement developer Agenhor. Featuring an exclusive movement inspired by the story of two Imperial Eggs—the 1908 Peacock Egg and the 1913 Winter Egg—the ladies model reveals the progressing minutes with a fan that opens slowly across the dial. Available in two versions—one with a blue mother-of-pearl dial, and another with a spectacular snow-set diamond dial studded with colored gemstone cabochons—the timepiece marks the entrance of a serious, and unexpected, new player in the watch industry. (I accidentally shipped the press kit home before rescuing the USB key with images; check out a video of Fabergé’s new watches here.)

Shinola Gomelsky Moon Phase

The Gomelsky, the ladies model from Detroit-based Shinola that bears my last name, now has a pretty new moon-phase version that was unveiled at Baselworld. Still encased in a shapely 36 mm cushion-shape case, but now on a wider strap, the new version of my namesake watch will launch in both a two-tone stainless steel case with a gold PVD-plated bezel and cream dial with a leather strap, as well as a black dial and strap with stainless steel case. I’ve got my eye on the latter, pictured below.

Courtesy Shinola

The new Gomelsky Moon Phase by Shinola retails from $595 to $650.

My flight is boarding in 10 minutes…look for a full rundown of the season’s newest watch introductions in JCK‘s May issue and more of my thoughts on Baselworld in next week’s blog. See you on the flip side!