The Timepieces of Basel 2001: Colorful, Sparkling Women’s Wear

Three strong trends stood out in the new watch crop at Basel 2001, trends often converging in the same collection:

  • Many, many more watches designed specifically for women.

  • Strong use of color (including straps and colored gems).

  • Extensive use of diamonds, or a “diamond look” on watches.

This year’s fair also was notable for its innovative and unusual watch designs and horological marvels, the spotlight on tourbillon watches, and the number of watchmakers adding their own jewelry collections. In addition, several brands celebrated important anniversaries, marking the events with the introduction of new or collectible watches.

These highlights, plus the luxury watch shows held in Geneva, Switzerland, will be reported on in the July issue of JCK. This month, we look at the colorful and glittering trends in women’s watches at Basel 2001, the largest timepiece fair in the world.

“Ladies everywhere!” “There are ladies all over the place!” exclaimed one American watch vendor, and even a cursory glance confirmed that was true. He meant, of course, not just the many female visitors, but the unusually large number of watches for women unveiled at Basel 2001. As Hugues-Olivier Borès, the new president of the Committee of Swiss Exhibitors at Basel, noted, there was “a clear trend toward ‘feminine-style’ products.”

“Ladies’ watches were definitely the stars of the 2001 edition [of the show],” added a Swiss watch industry report later. Many brands enriched their collections with not only colorful fashion and diamond-set dress models for women but even new mechanical complications. Ironically, at a time when more women wear men’s watches, and “men’s” and “women’s” watch sizes are less frequently used (many vendors prefer “small,” “mid-size” or “unisex,” and “large”), more watches than ever are being produced specifically for women. The focus on women’s watches is so intense that some watchmakers even unveiled smaller versions of their successful women’s watches to fit smaller wrists. Examples include Patek Philippe (Twenty-4), Corum (mid-sized Bubble), Hermès (mini-Belt), and Bertolucci (Serena), and Swiss Army’s “extra-small” versions of its watches for women who “prefer a more traditionally feminine-sized timepiece.”

Ladies’ choice. Many new women’s watches appeared, of course, in collections that included models for both women and men, such as Bonneville’s new Bonspeed line of watches and Swiss Army’s broader, redesigned collections of sport, classic, and professional watches.

Other 2001 horological debutantes are downsized versions of—or complementary to—existing men’s models. For example, Jaeger-Le Coultre’s new Ladies Duo, a dual timer, is a feminine edition of its men’s Duo. Bonneville has added a women’s version of its “2.4.8” chronograph, on a shining red strap. Zodiac’s Ladies Astrographic is the distaff rendering of its popular Astrographic (revived last year), while Ventura’s sleek, stainless-steel Sparc Lady joins the two-year-old curved case Sparc collection, the world’s first watch driven by a micro-generator.

The influence of fashion also was evident in Basel, with many women’s timepieces doing double duty as jewelry. Elegant eye-catchers included Cyma’s supple Mystique diamond buckle watch in white or yellow 18k; Ebel’s steel Beluga Manchetta, now with straps in glamorous black satin (a popular material for many women’s lines this year); Tissot’s T4, with muted-color dial set with six diamonds and a graphic bracelet incorporating its signature “T”; and Omega’s new Constellation bangle series, in white or yellow 18k, with or without diamonds.

For the more fashion forward, there was Hamilton’s Gramercy, with its curved inward case and open links; cK’s slender Chain Link (with lacquered dial in polished rectangular case); Tommy Hilfiger’s Bar Harbor collection with petite double-H case and open link bracelet, all of stainless steel; and Dior’s Diorific Trailer cuffwatch bracelet, with perforated white leather strap and red reflecting dial.

For women only. But many of 2001’s women’s watches are neither downsized versions of men’s nor petite jewelry watches. These timepieces were designed with women’s lifestyles and fashion preferences in mind. Examples include the new mid-priced Gabriele Sabatini Timepieces collection (made for the Argentinean tennis star/businesswoman by Swiss watchmaker Delma), which offers both classic and fashion-styled watches. Designer Henry Dunay’s steel Medea Ladies Sport watches come with colorful grosgrain straps and matching color dials. Fendi’s colorful Selleria line—a nod to Fendi’s top-stitched leather bags—features sleek steel cases and a bottom hinge on a top-stitched leather strap, and Coach’s equestrian-inspired Signature collection uses buckle-shaped cases hinged to a brushed steel contoured bangle or a leather strap.

Examples further up the price ladder include Rolex’s new round Lady Datejust, with self-winding mechanisms and oscillators (innovative in women’s wristwatches); a slightly rounded crystal; dials of black, white, pink, or yellow mother-of-pearl; and Oyster bracelets in 18k white, yellow, or pink gold. Swiss luxury watchmaker Frédérique Constant debuted his “extra-flat” quartz stainless-steel Highlife Ladies Round. Luxury jeweler Harry Winston paid homage to women with the gorgeous quartz Lady Premiere—an elegant white 18k case set with 108 diamonds, anti-glare crystal, and a dial with 76 near-colorless diamonds set as half-circles on either side, on a black saddle-sewn crocodile strap.

A feminine focus. Many new watches for women come from companies better known for their men’s, pilot’s, or sport lines. They recognize women’s interest in multifunctional watches and mechanical complications but design these new women’s watches, as one watchmaker put it, with “trendy feminine aesthetics.”

Luxury brand Blancpain, for example, known for its exquisite horological complications, is “putting more focus on women,” says a company spokeswoman. The new self-winding 18k Pastel Flyback chrono, bezel-set with 32 brilliant diamonds (2.6 cts. t.w.) on a light-gray satin strap, “is sized and styled especially for women who enjoy wearing chronographs,” she says.

Fortis, known for its pilot and cosmonaut timepieces, this fall will introduce a line of square-cased women’s watches with diamond bezels on light-blue crocodile straps. And Omega, whose Speedmaster has long been used by auto racers and NASA astronauts, debuted the Speedmaster Automatic with diamonds—a new series of mid-sized (35.5 mm) chronos with “a feminine interpretation of traditional mechanical watchmaking,” said a spokesman. Chase-Durer, known for its chronos and pilot’s watches, offered two new chrono collections for women—Windstar and Ladyhawke. Both offer vibrant Popsicle-colored polymer straps, diamond bezels, and prices ranging from low mid-market to luxury.

The increased focus on style and fashion also is evident in Japanese brands, traditional leaders in high-tech watches. Seiko issued new jewelry bangle watches with eye-catching “cross-weave” metal bracelets, while Citizen introduced Firenza, a collection with 12 diamonds on stainless-steel bezels at Citizen’s highest-ever price point ($595).

Innovation. Many of the women’s watches are innovative as well. St. Honore’s Lunatik (in steel or gold plate) is “one watch, two options,” according to its designers: One side is a bracelet with square links and smooth case for daytime; the other is a dressy bracelet of small links and a case set with 40 diamonds. A crocodile cover is available to protect the side not in use.

One of the most innovative women’s watches seen at Basel 2001 was Delance’s “My Mother’s Watch,” by designer Gisèle Rufer. Birthstones of a woman’s children can be set on the 18k or steel diamond-shaped case at the hours of their births. A second ring can be set for grandchildren, and a third for great-grandchildren. A portion of each sale is donated to the Women’s World Summit Foundation, which helps women in developing countries create their own companies.

The interest in women’s watches—and small thin watches—extended to new calibers, too. The Swatch Group’s ETA debuted its Flatine “autoquartz” lady 8¾. Ronda AG, an independent Swiss movement maker, presented its new 1.9 mm-wide slim calendar movement, the world’s first with date and second hand in so small a caliber. The overall height of the watch is less than 2 mm. (Ronda also is providing the movements for the new Tommy Hilfiger watch line of the Movado Group.)