Burn, Basel, Burn



The heat is on in the luxury business

The Baselworld watch and jewelry fair was on fire. Literally.?

On three successive nights of the show—held March 24–31 in Basel, ­Switzerland—flames shot through the rooftop of the Hall of Elements as Swiss watch brand Breitling commandeered the space for one of its legendarily risqué pyrotechnic parties.

As a metaphor, the blaze made its point. Business at the luxury show was brisk; some might even have called it sizzling. Although the mood did not recall the carefree decadence of 2007, it marked such an improvement over the darkest days of the crisis that most exhibitors declared a de facto recovery.

The exuberance was not, however, reflected in the newest watches. Conceived a few years ago at the peak of the recession, the models unveiled in Basel were remarkably sober?: Classic, thin, and unadorned styles reminiscent of timepieces from the 1950s—the golden era of watchmaking—found favor among brands hoping to convey a respect for heritage and timelessness.

Lancelot wide hammered bangle in silver with 24k gold; $1,694; Gurhan, New York City; 646-230-1122; gurhan.com

“People aren’t going to buy crazy things that have no lasting value,” said Patek Philippe USA president Larry Pettinelli, alluding to the brand’s big Basel introduction: the Ref. 5270G, a classic round perpetual calendar chronograph.

Elsewhere at the show, jewelers were bullish about the ­coming year. In addition to championing the look of oversized pendants and pink gems, they embraced precious metals.

“This season, it’s all about gold for David Yurman,” said public relations director Elizabeth Reid, as she showed three new collections, including Black & Gold, a collection of drapey bib necklaces and shoulder-duster earrings.

Even when making concessions to price point, jewelers remained committed to the look of pure gold. At Gurhan, the new Lancelot silver collection is topped by a layer of 24k gold. “It gives a strong gold face, but it’s a silver piece,” said Fiona Tilley, Gurhan Orhan’s wife and business partner.

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