Watches: Baselworld 2012 Brings Proprietary Movements & Materials

Declarations of ­Independence

For stakeholders in the watch business, the mantra at this year’s Baselworld fair went something like this: “It’s a special year because we’re introducing our first in-house movement,” said Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Hermès, referring to the brand’s big introduction, the Dressage watch, a 9-year-old model redesigned for 2012 and fitted with a new proprietary movement, the H1837, named for the year the house was founded.

Over the past century, most watch brands have assembled their timepieces using movements and parts manufactured by outside specialists. Lately, however, scores of assemblers—like Hermès—have introduced proprietary movements into their collections, designed and manufactured either in-house, in sophisticated high-tech factories, or by suppliers in whom they own a stake.

Eager to prove their technical expertise to collectors, these brands are also anxious to demonstrate their independence from the Swatch Group, the company based in Biel, Switzerland, that supplies a majority of the Swiss watch industry with parts and movements. Starting this year, the group has indicated it will curtail supplies to brands not owned by the company, forcing scores of watchmakers to scramble to secure alternative sources of supply.

Transocean Chronograph Unitime in 18k red gold case; $28,575; Breitling, Wilton, Conn.; 877-BREITLING;

Many saw the writing on the wall nearly a decade ago, when the Swatch Group announced its strategic plan. “It was very clear to us that we had to verticalize production in-house in order to remain independent,” says Jean-Paul Girardin, vice president of Breitling, which introduced its first in-house chronograph movement, the Caliber B01, in 2009.

This year, Breitling added the Transocean Chronograph Unitime, a world timer incorporating the new Breitling Caliber B05, to its repertoire.

Meanwhile, brands that lack the financial or technical resources to create their own movements have aligned themselves with Swatch Group competitors like Sellita.

Only time will tell if other suppliers can fill demand in a booming market. But executives from the Swatch Group are confident their decision will help push the trade forward. “You have to invest in industry,” says Marc Hayek, president and CEO of Montres Breguet and a member of the group’s controlling family. Right now, “one guy has all the risk.”

Material Instincts

Seamaster in 18k Ceragold; $33,000; Omega, Hackensack, N.J.; 201-343-0057;

Seems great minds think alike. Both Hublot and Omega unveiled watches at Baselworld incorporating proprietary blends of gold and ceramic, a light, high-tech material prized for its scratch resistance, durability, and smooth touch. Omega is promoting its new Seamaster featuring Ceragold, in which 18k gold is bonded in ceramic, while Hublot has its Magic Gold alloy, made by fusing ceramic into molten gold.

The space-age material also appeared in a “smoky lilac” shade on a bracelet model in Movado’s new Cerena collection, and even in the jewelry hall, with British designer Stephen Webster introducing black and white ceramic bracelet styles into his fine jewelry line, where traditional precious materials like gold, platinum, and silver have had to make way.

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