Basel 2002: The Colorful Facets of Time

The watch fair of the 30th Basel World Watch and Jewelry Show was the most colorful and most glittering in the show’s history.

Color in watch designs, from mass-market to luxury timepieces, was in full bloom on straps, dials, accents, and gems and crystals on bezels. Diamonds sparkled on many more watches, even men’s, than in previous years.

Colorful. In the late 1990s, upscale brands like Breitling, Omega, and Girard-Perregaux launched the current color trend with bold colored dials and straps, but it’s never been as widespread or innovative as now. Almost every brand—European and Asian, mass-market to upscale—debuted lines or models with colored dials (often mother-of-pearl, like ESQ’s Priva), and straps in a variety of hues. Many sported color accents on dials (like Fortis’s B-42 with blue strap and dial accents), inside case rims, even on strap edges.

Pastel pinks and blues were the most commonly used hues, not only on fashion models like Dior and cK but also on upscale choices like TAG Heuer’s Exclusive Lady Automatic, with lacquered flinqué dials; Longines’ Amore and Ebel’s diamond Beluga (both with blue and pink mother-of-pearl); Pierre Balmain’s Square Pastel and Eberhard’s Gingi Date, with blue and pink straps. Shades of orange, yellow, green, lilac, and sand were seen as well.

Spectrum. Some watch brands are bringing colors and styles in line with fashion namesakes, like Coach or Fendi (which also initiated a “perpetual warranty”). Other watches even change colors: Fossil’s Kaleido lets wearers switch its dial from green to blue, and Rado’s limited-edition Carpe Diem offers new color combinations on its dial every minute for over a year.

Enhancing the spectrum is the extensive use of colored gems—especially colored sapphires, such as Sarah Fabergé’s luxury series with yellow sapphires and white diamonds in the St. Petersburg Collection or Ebel’s Beluga with blue sapphires—and of colored crystals, primarily on women’s watches. One eye-catcher is Cyma’s Prism, with faceted crystals (blue, pink, or yellow) center-set in steel bracelet links. Guess’s Romantic Decadence uses faceted pink or blue dial crystals, while those on Boss Hugo Boss’s Maxx are pale blue or have orange grid lines.

Providing effective counterpoints to all this color were more watches in black and white, like Maurice LaCroix’s Masterpiece Globe, Hamilton’s triangular Ventura MiB2, TAG Heuer’s Carrera Chrono, and Glasshütte’s Panograph.

Diamonds. High-quality diamonds sparkled on more timepieces than ever, often as hour markers; on lugs, like Zodiac’s oval Extravagante with extended rectangular lugs; on crowns; and as dial-framing “tracks,” like Fendi’s Classico or Movado’s Elliptica Diamonds. They were used, too, in colorful ways—for example, Chopard’s “chocolate” diamonds or Harry Winston’s union of yellow and white diamonds with yellow gold in its Golden Aurora. Other brands effectively used black diamonds.

Among the many white diamond timepieces were Michele’s sparkling CSX Pavé; Breguet’s 18k Classique, whose off-center dial is half-enclosed by a crescent of diamonds; Chase-Durer’s Ladyhawke Silver Chrono, with 56 full-cut diamonds; Oris’s Lady Rectangular Diamonds; Façonnable’s Dome, with diamond-set off-center letters, bezel, and buckle; and the sophisticated Corum Joaillerie, a stylized butterfly with diamond-set bezel and dial on a curved elliptical case.

Concord’s La Scala Steel Chronograph Square strikingly combines major design elements with diamonds on the bezel, attachments, hour markers, and dial (lilac, green, or yellow, with matching straps). Impressive, too, is watchmaker Antoine Preziuso’s Star Dust tourbillon, with 2,036 small diamonds, each with 57 facets, on the movement, case, crown, and even the folding clasp.

Men and women. While diamonds are expected on women’s watches, a surprise was the number of men’s watches with diamonds. Long sold in the Near and Far East, men’s diamond watches are less common in the United States—but that may change. Among those unveiling men’s watches with diamonds were Omega (Broad Arrow), Zenith (its “resolutely masculine” ChronoMaster El Primero Full Diamonds), Concord (Saratoga), Cyma, Longines, Corum, and cK (Bold). Some vendors are testing the market; others say these also appeal to women who enjoy wearing men’s watches.

Speaking of women, many new watches for them are smaller, like the Fendi Baby series or Hublot’s Chrono Lady, and thinner. A number of brands also added their first watch lines for women, including Boss Hugo Boss, Fortis, Wenger, and luxury brands Glasshütte and Breguet.

While many new fashion and women’s watches use satin straps (often dark blue or black), there’s an increase in patent leather straps, many in white. Rubber straps, once a novelty, are now used in men’s and even women’s watches in all major price points.

Unusual strap materials this year include Plexiglas (cK’s translucent Discretions bracelet watch), aged denim (Movado’s SE Denim Museum watch), Kevlar (Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33), sharkskin (de Grisogono’s Instrumento No. Uno), and injected rubber on top of leather (Zodiac), allowing the use of any color.

Case in point. The shape of things at Basel was predominantly square, often with rounded corners and softer lines. Examples include Corum’s Buckingham, Breguet’s new women’s line, or Citizen’s El Kapitan Largo (its first square perpetual calendar) and women’s Elektra. Zodiac, the Swiss brand recently bought and redesigned by Fossil, has even made the cube a signature element in its design, packaging, and marketing. There are also more rectangular and tank watches, and more tonneaus—Daniel Mink even has a series called Tonneau—as more brands look to watchmaking’s past.

Contrasting with squares are more oval watches, such as Bertolucci’s elegant Serena Steel; Grimaldi’s oval-only watches; Seiko’s Vivace with diamonds for women; or Hermès’s addition to its round Clipper series.

Also notable: more watches curved to fit comfortably around a wrist, whether round (Maurice LaCroix’s Sphere) or angular (Jorg Hysek’s rectangular Anegada).

While still a niche market, sales of oversized watches (most 40 mm to 45 mm) for men are building in the United States among both men and women. New models were unveiled—and not only by traditional vendors of big-diameter timepieces like Oris (XXL Pointer Day, 44 mm) or Glycine (Airman 7, with three self-winding movements showing four time zones, 53 mm). But other watchmakers are offering big watches, too, including Hublot (Chrono SuperB, 42.5 mm), Delma (Verona Automatic, 40 mm), and Raymond Weil (Don Giovanni Large, “for men who think big”).

Golden. Stainless steel remains king of timepieces—every fourth Swiss watch is steel—but there’s a noticeable increase in yellow gold and gold-plated watches. (Swiss gold watch exports in 2001 rose 14.9% to $1.69 billion.) That’s more apparent overseas than here, where popularity of gold and two-tone watches has remained strong.

Among the brands adding 18k yellow gold watches are Festina (with a new factory in Spain for gold cases and bracelets), whose Century line marks the brand’s 100th anniversary; TAG Heuer (in its Alter Ego, 2000, and Monaco); Tutima; ESQ; and Longines. Even Rado, known for its high-tech ceramic watches, has added 18k accents to its Sintra Bicolor. Others with two-tones include Alfex (which until now produced only steel watches), with a gold-plated line, and Delma’s bicolor Versailles Cube.

But all that glitters isn’t yellow. There are notable pink 18k timepieces, like Raymond Weil’s Othello Or, and others in rose gold, like Dubey & Schaldenbrand’s elegant automatic Lady Celebrity, with 173 brilliants.

Another metal, lightweight titanium, is seeing more use by watchmakers and more acceptance by U.S. consumers. Newcomers in this arena include Breitling’s Avenger Seawolf; models in Swiss Army’s Alliance line; Junghans’ Spektral Mega Titanium; Ventura’s redesigned V-matic; Tissot’s T-Touch; Oakley’s Bullet; Chopard’s Jacky Ickx chrono; and Citizen’s Blue Angels Skyhawk.

Mechanicals. Also evident at Basel were more mechanical watches. This indicates consumers’ growing fascination with fine watchmaking, say analysts—a result of strong sales in recent years of multi-function watches (especially chronos) at all price levels, more watch auctions, and wider marketing of luxury watches.

Raymond Weil, for example, is increasing its range of mechanical watches (for “clientele who appreciate mechanical timepieces,” says a spokesman). Movado, Maurice LaCroix, Hamilton, and Omega, among others, debuted mechanical models, while upscale newcomers to the U.S. market included Martin Braun. Zenith, one of the few Swiss firms still making its own watches, debuted four new mechanical movements.

Significant, too, was the announcement by Seiko—which in 1969 launched the quartz revolution that changed the watch industry—of its own quasi-mechanical movement, Spring Drive, a handwound spring-driven quartz movement. A limited-edition version will be sold in Europe at US$10,000 each. Seiko is testing market acceptance for a Japanese luxury watch.