This was a most splendid BaselWorld, even if the number of watches that made your jaw drop were few and far between. Still, there were many eminently buyable watches on display. And that is, after all, what matters.
In fact, BaselWorld is gearing up to expand. Next year, visitors will be welcomed by reconfigured and expanded exhibition halls. In addition to the Swatch Plaza, one of the nerve centres of the annual event, there will also be an LVMH square.
Everything seems nice and rosy. Yet, there is a sense of impending doom in the Swiss watch industry. Of course, no one from the industry will admit to this. But in the next 12-24 months, the mid-range brands may undergo a bloodbath. Unless there is an explosion in the supplies of Swiss third-party watch movements, several brands that currently thrive on supplies from makers such as ETA will suddenly find themselves in a fix.
With the Swatch group deciding to reserve ETA movements for “family use”, many high-end brands have already begun investing in new suppliers and in-house production. But for smaller players, the future is going to be very bleak. Recently, the CEO of one major watch company told me that mid-range firms were left with two options.
Either they could scramble for the few suppliers available in the market, thereby paying higher prices. Or they could source from abroad and lose their “Swiss Made” status.
Both options offer little comfort.
Meanwhile, at the high end, business is booming. All the major groups have shown robust performances. The rich of the world are buying again. The only blip is perhaps the Chinese market. But even there, the general sense is that once the government transition in Beijing is complete, business will resume.
From a product perspective, there has seldom been a better time to be a first-time luxury watch buyer. From Bulgari to Corum to Omega, brands have all unveiled excellent, elegant, uncomplicated timepieces that are comparatively easy to buy. Recently, Bulgari unveiled the new Octo men’s watch. It is probably the most surprising new launch I’ve seen all year. Instead of the complicated Octo we have all come to expect, Bulgari presented one of the best three-hand wristwatches you’ll see all year. The steel version is an absolute steal.
In many ways, that watch is symbolic of BaselWorld this year and perhaps next year as well. Right now, the Swiss watch industry is all about elegant, high-quality timepieces that delights you with their aesthetic and functional efficiency.
Good times indeed.