Baselworld 2018 Round Table: What We Liked And What We Didn’t Like At The World’s Largest Watch Fair
Please join our traditional Quill & Pad round table discussion on Baselworld 2018, where we discuss what we did and didn’t like at the world’s largest annual watch exhibition.
Our participants are:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder of Quill & Pad
JM Joshua Munchow, resident nerdwriter at Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector at Quill & Pad
MG Martin Green, Quill & Pad’s resident gentleman
IS: I have to confess to beginning Baselworld in a pessimistic mood due to the news of a more “focused” (read: “smaller”) exhibition, which was reinforced by significantly lower visitor numbers on the pre-opening press day (Wednesday) and (relatively) low attendance again on Thursday, the official opening day.
However, it quickly became apparent that those missing were not the brands and visitors I usually see anyway, and the general mood was the most upbeat I’ve seen for a few years. Brands across all market segments reported strong sales, as they always do no matter what the reality, but this time their noses weren’t growing as they spoke the words.
I do not rate 2018 as a vintage Baselworld, but it was certainly a strong year. While there were not very many wow-factor watches, there were many very good watches.
ED: As I said in Parting Thoughts (22 Of Them) From Baselworld 2018, I believe this was not the fair to end all fairs, but it was a solid showing by a large group of watch manufacturers at a variety of retail levels. I came away from the exhibition feeling like the industry just may have caught itself in time with collections that made sense, down-to-earth watches, lower prices where it makes sense, continuing extreme creativity among the independent watchmakers, and a positive outlook.
JM: The 2018 edition of Baselworld was an interesting affair, with large areas gone and brands condensed into tighter quarters. But even with the downsizing, there were a lot of big reveals from some brands, and the vibe still felt like there was energy buzzing through many booths.
It may be a different show than it was before, and it might continue to change, but I still felt like Baselworld delivered on what I wanted: a good collection of watches at different price levels and pieces that made me stand in awe of the craftsmanship on display. While I don’t know what the future holds for Baselworld, this year was still an enjoyable and rewarding show.
GG: For me, the Basel fair this year was more “about the people” than about the watches. I had a wonderful time catching up with friends, meeting other members of the watch community, and raising a glass or two, which was great fun but was also driven to some extent by my general lack of fervor about the watches that were on offer. With so many of the independents showing at SIHH, the new indie offerings were pretty thin on the ground in Basel, and many of the majors didn’t seem to bring anything startling.
ED: You mean you weren’t startled by Rolex and Tudor bringing out virtually the same watch on the same day? (laughs)
GG: For the first time in a long while, I left a major show without a “must have” piece among the announced new watches firmly in mind – although I did take delivery of one new piece, check on the progress of another prior commission, initiate a third potential project, and commit to a new piece for MrsGaryG – all from the indies!
ED: I have the same feeling as you, Gary. There were few clear leaders anywhere in any category. But that makes for a different kind of excitement, doesn’t it?
MG: As Frank Sinatra sang so famously, “It Was A Very Good Year” – at least for the brands, which, almost without exception, showed strong additions to their lineups. For Baselworld, the fair, it was a different story.
While I didn’t miss any of the brands that didn’t attend this year, other changes didn’t go unnoticed. The new entry system definitely needs some sorting out as it is cumbersome, but finally, the big book of exhibitors is discontinued! That saves at least a couple of acres of fine forest a year. Also gone, for the most part, are the “Baselworld Girls,” whose sole purpose was to look pretty and hand you your Baselworld Daily News newspaper, which now is digital!
ED: Baselworld announced on the final day of the 2018 fair that the newspaper is slated to return for next year, though, Martin. I wonder if the brands missed it somehow?
MG: The brands put on a strong show, and many were well in touch with their DNA, but also seemed to have finally figured out what the market wants. I saw many beautiful, but most importantly, sellable watches at sensible price points.
Best of show: a watch of exceptional merit
GG: My top watch was one that I had the pleasure of previewing in January at SIHH but that had its formal introduction at Basel: the Greubel Forsey Vision 24 Secondes in pink gold with flawless enamel dial. I haven’t yet seen an image that truly captures just how lovely this watch is, and its combination of Greubel Forsey technical excellence, flawless finishing, and stare-all-day dial side beauty took it to the top of my list.
MG: It was a great edition of Baselworld, the performance of the brands was very consistent. This is a good thing for the industry, but it also means that there were few watches with a very high wow factor.
ED: Something I noticed about two days in, Martin.
MG: There was for me one watch that made me hold my breath and exhale slowly, and most surprisingly . . . it was a ladies watch! The Giberg Niura is among the sexiest watches I have ever seen, yet what makes this watch best of show is that it achieves all this without any compromise. The exceptional diamond and ruby settings also adorn a lug system that is among the most clever I have ever seen, which ensures that no matter the wrist size of the lady, the Niura will wear not only comfortably but also look perfect! Combine that with an exquisite double-barrel flying tourbillon movement that is also skeletonized beyond belief and you have a watch that is simply out of this world, and the absolute best I have seen this year at Baselworld.
IS: I’m with you Martin. I did not realize I had chosen this watch until I started writing the words, but my watch of the fair is one that not only would I never wear, I don’t expect that its intended owner would wear it very often either: the Giberg Niura Flying Tourbillon. I love the fact that it is such complete piece of sensational jewelry and a very functional wristwatch. Rarely have I seen those two oft-conflicting aspects of a ladies’ watch in such harmony.
ED: As we’ve just established, there were no clear leaders in terms of wow-factor watches at the fair – not like the way A. Lange & Söhne led the pack at SIHH with its Triple Split. But I do have a handful in mind that really deserve to be nominated in a category like this even if I can’t choose between them: H. Moser & Cie’s Swiss Alp Minute Repeater Tourbillon and Urwerk’s AMC atomic clock spring immediately to mind.
JM: This is always hard for me to decide, mainly because I love so many things that I see during the fair. This year I was torn between two blue beauties, one from Greubel Forsey and one from De Bethune. It goes without saying that both brands are among my favorite independents.
Greubel Forsey stunned me with the Quadruple Tourbillon Blue with a black polished, blued dial, something that photos struggle to do justice. The deep hue that changes based on viewing angle is superb, and since it is Greubel Forsey the surface is perfect. Black polishing any surface is difficult, but achieving it on such a large surface is incredible. It really stood out as something worth celebrating!
But to give it a run for its money, the De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Blue is a strong contender. I absolutely love the aesthetic of De Bethune and I love the blued titanium that the brand is so famous for. When a watch is nearly completely blue except for the skeletonized steel wheels, the watch becomes even more of a stunner. The two watches wear very differently, but in the end I love them nearly equally, so I have to say that both are nominated for my best of show.
Most disappointing watch given its potential
GG: The “Great Rolex/Tudor Pepsi Mess” of 2018 was my big disappointment of the show. There must have been some reason to come out with Rolex and Tudor blue/red bezel GMTs at the same time, but it’s lost on me – and the concurrent decision to discontinue the black-dialed, white-gold Rolex Pepsi in favor of one with an unattractive blue dial is a further head-scratcher.
ED: You missed the explanation, which we kindly received at Tudor, Gary. It was about showing the Rolex group’s mastery of the GMT complication across a range of price points. The use of the Pepsi bezel on both brands was meant to strengthen that message.
IS: Agreed, Beth, the Tudor explanation of the double Pepsi launch made much more sense (and lent more credibility) than what we heard at Rolex, which was very little.
MG: Imagine that you have a beautiful movement equipped with a tourbillon and a minute repeater, and you put it in a hand-engraved gold case. For the dial, you do something even more extraordinary and cut it from a real ruby heart. It sounds like an amazing watch doesn’t it? Perhaps even best of show?
Not when the design looks like it was made by Gianni Versace on an acid trip! There is no other way to describe the Dolce & Gabanna Federico II. It is so sad that such amazing ingredients lead to such a very, very disappointing watch. The best thing about it is that it is, fortunately, a piece unique, and its price tag will keep it out of my social circles.
ED: And imagine, Martin, you have one of the most beautiful boutique brands in the world, a brand that has for decades built its reputation on the finest finishing available and making some of the rarest complications possible. Then you buy that brand and slowly let it disintegrate into another meaningless example of mediocrity in the name of lowering price by way of wanting to make it something it can never become. I am talking about Urban Jürgensen.
When we visited this brand at Baselworld, and I looked through the loupe at not one, but two separate watches and saw the inexplicably low degree of finishing as its new owner simultaneously explained to us how no one else does such fine finishing save a handful – such as Kari Voutilainen – I could barely contain myself. Before the sale of this brand three years ago, it was Voutilainen’s company that did the finishing on the handful of watches produced each year at Urban Jürgensen. It was woefully evident that his team no longer does the finishing here.
Later we learned that one of the watches we inspected was supposed to be a prototype, but I feel that should have been explained as we were looking at it the first time. It was perhaps the tirade against others’ degree of finishing while simultaneously selling us a subpar product that particularly raised my ire, I don’t know. But it certainly did not sit well with me, and I came away incredibly disappointed.
Then again I am not sure what I expected of a watch that the owner called a “marketing exercise” costing 15,200 Swiss francs (I’m sure that’s probably only the day rate for an expert finisher à la Voutilainen!). I guess I am not the target audience for this type of marketing exercise.
IS: I have to disagree regarding the Urban Jürgensen Alfred prototype, Elizabeth: we see lots of poorly finished prototypes at the fairs and usually judge them as such. I thought the production model Alfreds were nicely finished.
That said, my most disappointing watch was the Vianney Halter Classic Anniversary, which I also thought deserved a better finish. It wasn’t so much that there was anything wrong with it, but I feel Halter went down in quality when he should have gone up. My feeling is that an anniversary piece with Vianney Halter’s signature on the dial deserves exceptional finishing and while good, I didn’t feel it was exceptional. I have no doubt demand for the piece will be strong as there is much to like about the Anniversary Classic, but I would have liked even more.
JM: My biggest disappointment of the fair isn’t a watch, but a brand. It isn’t even the brand per se (well, maybe), but more specifically where it was found during the show. In the past few years, Speake-Marin had a booth in Hall 1.1. At the SIHH in January, Speake-Marin could be found in the Carré des Horlogers, an awesome location for independent watchmakers of exceptional ability.
But this edition of Baselworld found the previously impressive Speake-Marin stuffed into a corner in the back of Les Ateliers, relegated to a single small desk surrounded by very small brands that often have only one or two watches to share, startups that are looking to become bigger, and other micro brands. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being in that location, but for Speake-Marin, a brand boasting Pierce Brosnan as an ambassador, it feels like a great tragedy. Ever since the brand’s eponymous creator left the company, I am unsure about the future of such a beloved independent. Speake-Marin is my biggest disappointment this year, and I hope that the future will prove me wrong.
MG: Disappointed is perhaps too strong a word, but when it comes to Omega, I am a Seamaster guy. It was my very first high-end watch, and I had high hopes of the watches the brand would bring out for the 70th anniversary of this model. While the two re-editions are beautiful, the redesigned Seamaster Professionals are less to my liking. I know that Omega needed to change something as, in essence, the previous generation was still a 1990s watch, but the increased diameter and reworked bracelet are just different but not an improvement. In fact, I prefer the older style bracelet over this new one, and the same with the helium escape valve, as the new conical shape is just not it.
ED: if you’re naming two, Martin, I will also go that route and nominate the Freelancer AC/DC watch by Raymond Weil, which I had the misfortune to see in a window as I passed by the booth. I may well be even more disappointed over that than Urban Jürgensen’s new style of movement finish.
Throwing the late David Bowie’s name on a watch dial last year was already bad enough – he obviously had no control over where his brand was being placed – but using the logo of some of the hardest rockers in the world on a watch dial that – I’m sorry – looks cheapened with a bar across the balance opening at 6 o’clock in the style of knockoffs wanting you to believe it is a tourbillon is anything but pleasing for someone who is both a watch and rock-and-roll enthusiast.
And I also blame AC/DC as the band must have given its okay for this limited edition of 3,000 pieces (!), each of which “will be presented with a specially designed watch case and a corresponding certificate of authenticity,” according to the press release. What is it authenticating exactly? The “in-house” Sellita movement?
The lack of actual design direction makes this watch looks look like it should cost about $10, and that’s not right for either of the brands participating in this cooperation (and, in a final outrage, as I write this AC/DC comes on the radio to taunt me).
Watch you would buy with your own money
GG: There wasn’t a piece that I actually held in my hands that was a mandatory must-have with my own money. But from photos and the testimony of friends who did see it, as well as my personal inspection of the platinum example, the red gold/black dial version of the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronometer from Akrivia may meet this test once I have an opportunity to see it in person.
GG: I also quite liked the Czapek chronograph – if I sprung for that, it would be the one with black reverse panda dial and rubber strap, as I also loved the blue-dialed one but am a bit over-subscribed on blue pieces at the moment!
MG: This year there were quite a few watches that I would buy with my own money and could even afford. For a quite some time I have wanted to add a Chopard Mille Miglia to the collection, and this year’s edition in two-tone was especially tempting!
However, this was before I met Brendan Horneman, founder and owner of Kneijnsberg & van Eijk, who showed me the prototypes of his very first watch. Captivated not only by the story behind it but also by the poetic complication of the watch, I could simply not help myself.
JM: Nomos. Oh, Nomos, Nomos, Nomos: why must you always release things I like so much! The watches by Nomos over the past few years always tempt me, and this year is no different. The new Nomos Autobahn is a fun and different take on a Nomos timepiece, something that instantly grabbed my attention.
It comes in three variations and features wickedly awesome lume across the dial, not to mention a sumptuous, curved dial and an aesthetic that tries something new. Of course some may feel it isn’t “Nomos” enough, but sometimes something different is a winner for a different reason.
IS: I was happy to see the Nomos Autobahn at Baselworld, which I found pleasing to both the eye and the wallet and would happily strap on my wrist.
ED: The Nomos Autobahn also captivated me, Ian, but this year I would go for the Glashütte Original Excellence Perpetual Calendar or the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon version with a stunning aventurine dial – what a pair of winners!
Object of desire: the watch you buy if money were no object
GG: You missed them if you didn’t take the tour of Artistic Crafts works inside the Patek Philippe booth, but I still can’t believe how gorgeous these pieces were. If you’re buying, my first pick is the Reference 982/185J “Leopard on the Watch” pocket watch with its case back leopard portrait, a micro-marquetry masterpiece comprising 632 tiny pieces of wood from 21 separate wood species. The leopard jasper base with its acacia motif isn’t so bad itself, by the way.
If we expand our definition to include other types of timepieces, please also send me the Reference 20059M “Savannah at Sunset” cloisonné enamel dome clock!
ED: Again Jaquet Droz captivated me with a stunning aventurine dial, but this time as a line extension of its amazing Loving Butterfly automaton introduced at Baselworld 2017 (see Awesome Aphidae: Jaquet Droz’s Loving Butterfly Returns As An Exquisite Automaton). But, if money were no object I would most certainly take two watches, and the second one would be the new De Bethune Steel Wheels Blue.
MG: Andreas Strehler talked about his new Transaxle Tourbillon with remontoire as if he were presenting a simple three-hand watch instead of this complicated masterpiece. While I shouldn’t be surprised anymore about his capabilities – or his modesty for that matter – what he achieved gave me goose bumps. The technical execution of the watch is not only perfect but also creates a unique kind of beauty, with each individual part of the Transaxle Tourbillon a brushstroke of this masterpiece.
JM: This is sure to ruffle some feathers, because my choice here is Phenomen, a watch from a brand-new brand only launched at Baselworld at a very small stand (basically just a desk) in Les Ateliers – and I am leaving out some truly incredible (seriously incredible) watches from dozens of brands. This isn’t the only watch I would buy if money were no object, but right now, it is one of the ones that excited me the most.
It clearly has an Urwerk-meets-MB&F vibe, though it remains to be seen what will come of the brand. But the style and outlandishness of it intrigues me, and since Urwerk and MB&F haven’t released something like this in a while, I am sent looking elsewhere. The concept was designed in France, produced in Switzerland, and assembled by a former Greubel Forsey watchmaker, so there are some interesting facts behind the piece. Since I don’t actually have the funds, I have the luxury of putting my support behind the idea without risking any major loss. Glad to see new brands are still going down this aesthetic road!
IS: As an unabashed fan of Urwerk and MB&F, I quite liked the Phenomen watch too, Joshua; however, I have not one, but three, objects of desire, none of which are wristwatches and they could not be more extremely separated in concept and execution.
- Ultimate horology for the technical geek: the atomic clock-controlled Urwerk AMD, which admittedly does come with a fully mechanical wristwatch.
- Ultimate horology for the artistic geek: Jaquet Droz Parrot Repeater, which was mind-blowingly beautiful from every angle . . . and it has a lot of angles.
- Zero horology for the Game of Thrones geek: the Giberg Dragon, crafted from five kilograms of gold and 7,739 diamonds.
A patronage watch
GG: For me, patronage is closely tied to the promotion of independent watchmaking, and this year I thought the embodiment of independent inventiveness was the new tourbillon with remontoire by Andreas Strehler. I’ve long admired the technical excellence and quality finishing of Strehler’s watches and lusted after a piece in his distinctive Sauterelle case, and this year’s offering both builds on and for me rises above the prior references in this line.
ED: I would just have to go with Beat Haldimann’s new H1 version for women. It is just like the original watch with central flying tourbillon, but has the flawless addition of just the right amount of diamond sparkle: one gemstone on each of the hands and one in the crown – as well as a darkened sapphire crystal to allow only some of the sparkle to become obvious. It is just exquisite!
MG: My last appointment of the fair was with Lang & Heyne, who finally launched a tourbillon watch. It was worth the wait because the Anton Flying Tourbillon is a beauty, and one of the few tourbillons currently available in a rectangular case. The movement and the tourbillon as well are in the traditional German style.
It was Marco Lang himself who didn’t want to do a tourbillon for a long time as every brand already has one, and he preferred more complicated watches to flex his considerable horological muscles on. But popular demand pursued him after all, and the result is beyond stunning.
IS: Andreas Strehler’s smooth Swiss-German charm, app-controlled color lighting, and superlative watchmaking skills had me drooling over his Transaxle Tourbillon. In case you are wondering, “transaxle” is Strehler’s word for “co-axial,” a word he wants to avoid using to describe an escapement for understandable reasons (Omega/Swatch Group).
JM: Am I a fan of Andreas Strehler? No, I am nearly obsessed with him! His style, skills, and the watches he produces (for himself or for others) make Strehler worthy of having a fandom. And his latest piece, the Transaxle Tourbillon, is proof positive that Strehler isn’t even getting warmed up yet. The mechanical creativity of putting a remontoire d’égalité in a coaxial position mounted to a tourbillon is more than inventive: the result is something never before seen and a timepiece that showcases his incredible watchmaking ability.
And that doesn’t even touch on the aesthetic and wearability of the piece, which is always something I enjoy from Strehler. If I were to buy a watch “to help” an independent watchmaker, this year that watch would be the Transaxle Tourbillon.
A fun watch
GG: This time I’ll lean heavily toward the “guilty pleasure” end of the “fun watch scale” and pick the Rolex Everose GMT Master II CHNR with the “root beer” bezel. It was for me an unexpected delight and looked even better on the wrist than in hand.
MG: By light years, the most fun watch at Baselworld 2018 was the collaboration between Svend Andersen and Konstantin Chaykin: with the Automaton Joker. The two A.H.C.I. members’ sense of humor is hysterical as the front looks like Chaykin’s Joker watch and the back has an automaton with a version of Andersen’s “Dogs Playing Poker” (see Worldtimers, Erotic Watches, And Poker-Playing Dogs: A.H.C.I. Co-Founder Svend Andersen Has (Semi-) Retired, But His Brand Lives On).
This watch is SO corny if it doesn’t make you smile you must be a Vulcan.
IS: Chaykin’s Joker in partnership with Svend Andersen’s automat put the biggest smile on my face too, Martin!
ED: You read my mind, Martin! But if I were to nominate a second watch in this category, it would definitely be the Chopard Happy Snowflakes, made in honor of the 25th anniversary of Chopard’s Happy Diamonds line. I adore not only how the diamond-encrusted snowflakes swirl freely around the dial, but also how they twirl in place once they come to rest. I could watch that for hours.
JM: I have recently begun singing the praises of Schwarz-Etienne (see Schwarz-Etienne Roswell 08: Extraterrestrial Inspiration), and with the release of the Ode au Printemps boxset I have reason to do it again.
Taking three popular models from Schwarz-Etienne and decorating them with honeybee-related themes, the brand created a trio that begs us to notice the plight of the honeybee – and to care. The three different models are sold as a set and come in a fantastic box that is more lamp/sculpture than actual watch box. Each watch takes the theme of honeybee in a slightly different direction, though all feature honeycomb patterns and hand-cut stone inlays.
All of the micro rotors have a hand-carved and -painted honeybee attached, and the variety of color is a lovely and refreshing path. Since there are three watches that make up the set, I am not calling any single one out but instead the trio as a fun and whimsical way to help some bees. And of course, you get three super cool watches that everyone will likely ask you about.
GG: In the run-up to this year’s edition there was a lot of talk about the potential collapse of Baselworld, but I for one didn’t get the sense of a dying institution at this year’s fair. Of course, if Patek Philippe, Rolex, and others decide to move their show operations to Geneva in January in future years that could easily prove lethal, but for now my instinct is that we’ll be going to Baselworld for some time to come.
ED: On the last day of the show, another press conference was held during which journalists were allowed to pose questions to René Kamm, CEO of MCH Group, and Sylvie Ritter, Baselworld director. It was explicitly said here that none of the big brands are leaving the show for the 2019 addition, in particular Chanel and Breitling, who have been strongly rumored to be leaving the show.
One other thing that the fair organizers said during the press conference was that attendance was the same as last year (this I personally have a hard time believing as I felt that particularly on Wednesday and Thursday that attendance was much lower than in past years). The length of the fair is set to stay the same at six days. Additionally, Richter said that there will be new formats offered for smaller exhibitors with less money that are being developed throughout the coming year. This is interesting, and it does point toward the organizers listening.
Baselworld 2019 will take place from March 21 through March 26, 2019.
Also published on Medium.