The news coming out of Basel, the picturesque city on the Rhine river in northwest Switzerland — host to the century-old luxury watches and jewellery fair, Baselworld — is not too good. Some Indian watch retailers, who made their way to the recently-concluded fair, tell me that it is struggling to survive.
Until about five years ago, it was the toast of the luxury watch and jewellery industry. Some of the biggest brands have exhibited their innovations and new creations at Baselworld, and at its peak, in 2015, it attracted an audience of 150,000.
Over the last two years it has lost both participants and influence, and over 850 exhibitors have abandoned the fair. The 2018 edition saw about 650 of the earlier 1,300 brands pull out, including 90 Swiss watch manufacturers.
The Asian Luxury Market Slowdown
The reasons are manifold: Swiss luxury watch manufacturers have faced falling sales and plateauing bottom-lines after the Chinese luxury market went through a slowdown, and the Indian market just didn’t acquire enough gravitas.
Though Chopard’s co-CEO Karl-Friedrich Scheufele does believe “that the Indian market has immense promise,” the fact is that the sales haven’t been good enough. The brands were hoping to cover their losses in Asia by selling more in traditional luxury markets such as Hong Kong and the US, but according to recent data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, watch sales are down by 12.5% fall in Hong Kong and a whopping 26% in the United States.
Soaring Franc and Inhibiting Costs
Soaring Swiss Franc makes it terribly exorbitant to pay for accommodation and food in this already expensive Swiss town, because of which several beleaguered luxury watch brands, as well as retailers and journalists, especially from countries like India, have chosen to stay away.
Both Movado and Timex Group’s Swiss watch division, which owns Salvatore Ferragamo watches, decided to pull out of the fair because of the costs involved, with the latter claiming that it would save them almost $12 million. As for jewellers, Sameer Lilani, the director of Indian brand Amrapali’s British arm, says that over the years, there has been too much focus on watches and very little on jewellery, forcing several brands to opt out.
The New Launches
Despite a truncated version of its former glamorous editions, Baselworld 2018 did throw up some interesting new watches. The Breitling Navitimer Super 8 is inspired by Reference 637, a stopwatch that bombardiers strapped to their thighs in the 1940s. This bold wristwatch duplicates the size, placement of the crown, and bezel of Ref. 637, which, at 50 mm, is huge.
Omega’s new Seamaster Diver has a far smaller dial at 42 mm dial, and is crafted in titanium tantalum and red gold. The wave effect of the original dial is now laser engraved on to an enamel dial. The new Chopard Quattro LUC has a blue saffiano leather strap, 216-hour-power reserve, and is made from rose gold.
Patek Philippe, which has some of the most expensive watches in the world, put out a Golden Ellipse rare handcrafts in a limited edition of 100, with an engraved dial and onyx cabochon. Harry Winston’s flagship Opus 11 has 24 revolving, geared plates that meet at the centre, to display the hour.
Rolex’s new oyster steel GMT Master 2 has a bezel with a graduated two-colour Cerachrom insert in red and blue ceramic. The original GMT Master was meant to aid pilots in their navigation, and every new version of its emblematic bezel has been presented in either single or two-colour combinations. Due to a 24-hour graduated insert, it is possible to read the time in two time zones at once in the new version. Fossil’s Q Neely is a smartwatch with Bluetooth features and wireless syncing, and can be synced to any android or iPhone.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.