Swiss Watch Fairs Spotlight: Women, Sports, and Birthdays

The annual international watch fairs held each spring in Basel and Geneva, Switzerland, are not only stages for new products but also spotlight developing watch trends and provide forums to celebrate watchmakers’ achievements. Here’s a closer look at a couple of trends—the developing market in mechanical watches for women and the wave of new diver’s watches—plus a compilation of some of the many anniversaries leading brands are marking in 2004.

Time for Women The market for women’s fine mechanical watches (including those with complications) was already strong last year and kept growing at this year’s Swiss watch shows. “Research shows more women wear gents’-sized watches and that a watch’s mechanics are as important to them as its design,” noted Olivier Bernheim, chief executive officer of upscale Raymond Weil, whose automatic Don Giovanni for women features parallel tracks of 114 diamonds and two time zones. “Precious stones and mother-of-pearl dials are no longer enough for today’s women. They want watches reflecting today’s watchmaking skills and craftsmanship.”

Among 2004’s mechanical debutantes: Breitling’s Cockpit Lady chronograph, with diamond hour markers; Daniel Mink’s stylish Tonneau Femme, with 58 diamonds on a steel bezel on pink, red, or black alligator straps; and Breguet’s ultra-flat automatic Villeret, with interchangeable colored straps.

New women’s models from Maurice Lacroix include an entry-level automatic with open back and the Masterpiece Grand Guichet Dame with 50 diamonds on black, light blue, or pink leather straps. Zenith’s Star Open, with transparent sapphire caseback, displays its El Primero automatic movement through an off-center heart-shaped window on the dial. Luxury brand JeanRichard’s automatic gold TV Screen Lady comes in 29 mm, 37 mm, and 41 mm. Top-end watchmaker Pierre Kunz’s colorful complications for women include two (35-mm square and 37-mm round) with retrograde seconds.

Of course, quartz watches still dominate the industry, and among these were many eye-catching feminine debuts. They included fashion-forward Carrera y Carrera’s Avalon, with round hour-notched bezel on white strap with red stitching, and Van Cleef & Arpels’ Lady Swing, starring a subtly hinged all-diamond case and patented system of interchangeable watchbands. Audemars Piguet (which calls 2004 its “Year of Women”) debuted Deva, an ultra-feminine white gold square with diamond markers, and the 18k Lady Royal Oak, with 32 diamonds and matte white alligator strap.

Fendi’s Secret, with interchangeable straps, features a sliding case cover that transforms it into a fashionable bracelet or second timer. Festina’s new 18k Diva collection comes with diamonds on—or framing—the dials, while Delance’s 18k and diamond Infinity, with spiralled threads cascading from a sculpted case, commemorates anniversaries. Alfex’s Two-Time Bango for trendsetters and travelers has a tiny watch at either end of its bracelet made of super-elastic high-grade rubber. Clerc’s C-One is an elegant steel bracelet watch, numbered, with 100 diamonds on its octagonal case. Also notable: Bulova’s slim steel bracelet watch with geometric case; Versace’s vertical oval Faubourg de Paris, in steel or gold plate, with 30 diamonds and blue dial, on a semi-rigid bracelet; Movado’s Art Deco-inspired Eliro Majesta, in striking steel case with vertical tracks of diamonds and dials in black, pink, or blue under a cambered crystal; and Gucci’s distinctive “G” quadrangular watch, engraved on the back with serial number, style number, and Gucci logo, on black rubber.

The Sporting Life This year’s Swiss watch fairs fielded many teams of stylish sports watches, some for specific sports. For bicyclists, Festina (official timer of the Tour de France) debuted its Special Edition 2004 colored-dial chronograph collection, while Tissot added the T-Race (on bright orange rubber straps). In sailing, Corum’s streamlined automatic Admiral’s Cup Trophy 41 (for 41 mm) is that line’s new entry model, while Rado’s Sintra TopSpin chrono aims for tennis players. Ritmo Mundo’s oversized automatic Sport 2004 series spotlights five sports for “weekend sports enthusiasts,” and watches honoring the 2004 Athens Olympics are offered by Omega and Longines.

Less sport-specific watches include Bulgari’s 40-mm Ergon series—”a sports watch designed to be elegant for evening wear,” says a spokesperson—and top-end Roger Dubuis’s first-ever sports watch lines, the SAW (Sports Activity Watch) collections (limited per model to 28, 280, and 888 in gold, gold and steel, and steel, respectively). Swiss Army rolled out the SporTek (a rework of its former StarTek), a line of Swiss quartz chronos. Gerald Genta’s Arena Sport line adds three complications (including a tourbillon and 240-degree retrograde hour, and a tourbillon with perpetual calendar, moon phase, and GMT). Dubey & Schaldenbrand’s curved Aquadyn sports watches feature rubber and steel, enamel retro-look dials, and skeleton hands.

However, the diver’s watch is the sport watch du jour with brands at all price levels. Even trendy fashion names are offering new or improved versions. IWC—known for pilot’s watches—debuted its color-highlighted titanium Aquatimer series, aimed at young adults. Its Aquatimer Minute Memory is the first automatic diver’s watch with chronograph and minute flyback. Officine Panerai added several diver’s watches, including the 47-mm Luminor Chrono based on a 1940s model. It’s water resistant (WR) to 3,000 ft. and made of tantalum, one of the hardest metals known.

Also notable: Hublot’s automatic Subaqueneous, with an exclusive blocking system, WR 6,000 ft.; Clerc’s octagonal CXX Scuba Chrono, WR 600 ft.; Citizen’s light-powered titanium Eco-Drive Professional Diver, WR 1,000 ft.; Timex’s Reef Gear watches, with underwater Indiglo lighting; Nautica’s 46-mm BF46, with left-side crown; Seiko’s fashionable Contura diver’s chrono, WR 600 ft.; Hamilton’s Khaki Navy GMT Diver, the first with stitched rubber straps; Pulsar’s Tech Gear Diver; Oris’ 44-mm automatic titanium TT1 Divers Titan, WR 900 ft.; and Fortis’s diver’s version of its B42 Cosmonaut watch. Even fashion-forward cK added a diver’s watch, WR 900 ft., with a bezel and crystal that rotate together.

Happy Birthday to Us! For many brands, the 2004 Swiss watch shows doubled as birthday parties where they marked important anniversaries with new timepieces and promotions.

  • Timex, America’s best-selling watch (accounting for one-third of watches sold in the United States), traces its origin to Westbury Clock Co. of Connecticut, once the world’s biggest watchmaker. The brand is celebrating 150 years with a new under-$100 perpetual calendar line; the Xfactor Collection of limited-edition watches by three renowned industrial, art, and fashion designers; the Timex 2154 challenge to designers to imagine watches of 150 years from now; and a promotion in which Timex customers can earn movie tickets and DVDs.

  • Luxury jewelry- and watchmaker Piaget celebrated 130 years with several debuts at Geneva’s SIHH watch fair, including a Limelight jewelry cuff watch with snowflake motif; a round Antiplano XL (38-mm, ultra-thin movement); a limited-edition (22) skeleton of its Emperador Tourbillon; a men’s haute joaillerie white gold Polo Tourbillon (759 diamonds, 60.9 cts. t.w.); a women’s black satin cuff watch with diamond fringe and dangling multicolored sapphires; and for its iconic Polo watch’s 25th anniversary, a white gold all-diamond model for men and women.

  • Cartier celebrates the centennial of its famous Santos watch—its first wristwatch and the first-ever pilot’s watch, named for pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont—with three new Santos collections. They are the masculine 51-mm Santos 100; the slim, pink gold manual-wind Santos-Dumont; and the women’s Santos Demoiselle, named for Santos-Dumont’s plane.

  • Oris celebrates 100 years with its Centenary Gold pilot’s watch (available only in 2004); a limited-edition (1,904) boxed Centennial set containing Oris’s Artelier world timer (with an image of Oris’s 1904 factory engraved on back), a hand-wound eight-day clock based on a 1952 Oris model, part of a 1982 Oris movement, and a new book about Oris; and another limited edition (100), with the watch in rose gold, a 1949 Oris clock, the component, and book.

  • Swiza, the largest Swiss clockmaker (50,000 annually, under the names Swiza and Matthew Norman), marks 100 years with new, small heart-shaped alarm clocks.

  • Mondaine celebrates the 60th anniversary of its iconic Swiss Railways Watch with a limited edition. The Swiss Post Office also is honoring the Mondaine watch with a commemorative stamp.

  • Breguet marks the 50th anniversary of its popular Type XX, first made for the French Air Force, with the new XXI (42 mm) with flyback hand and day/date.

  • TAG Heuer celebrates the 40th anniversrary of its Carrera sports chronograph with the automatic 1964 Carrera Limited Edition, based on the original timepiece. Each caseback is engraved with the initial production date, anniversary date, the signature of creator Jack Heuer, and its individual production number along with the words “40 Years of Legend.”

  • Concord celebrates the 25th anniversary of Delirium, the world’s flattest watch (1.98 mm) with a revamped, slightly larger limited edition in pink, yellow, or white gold. Unlike the quartz original, it features automatic movements.

  • Korloff Joaillerie-Montres marks 25 years with the new K8 automatic chronos and K12 complications.

  • Breitling notes the 20th year of its classic Chronomat automatic chronometer with the Chronomat Evolution—a larger (43.7 mm), restyled version.

  • International fashion brand Guess Watches celebrated its first 20 years with a 2004 BaselWorld gala at which two young women—one from Malaysia, the other from Holland—were chosen by celebrity judges from 15 finalists (out of 20,000 contestants worldwide) as the new “Face of Guess Watches” for worldwide marketing. (See “Watch World,” p. 60.) The brand also unveiled an oversized “20th Anniversary Watch” with either “Guess” in script or the Guess question-mark logo in glittering crystals on the dial on leather straps in black, white, pink, or denim.

  • Marking their first decades were Baume & Mercier’s umbrella Hampton line with the women’s “Hampton 10 Years” series in white, and luxury brand De Grisogono with its new Instrumento Tondo Diamonds watches and a new book.