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A Smaller Baselworld 2019 Offers Big Opportunities

With brands leaving the industry’s biggest exhibition, this year’s Baselworld offered new opportunities for both big brands and smaller ones. Keith Strandberg reviews the highlights of the show and talks to Watches of Switzerland CEO Brian Duffy about the UK-based retailer’s U.S. expansion.

Baselworld 2019 Vortic The Vortic Springfield 181. Vortic, a Colorado-based company, was one of many smaller watchmakers at Baseworld 2019. All photos courtesy of brands

The watch industry is in a bit of an upheaval, with brands leaving Baselworld, the biggest exhibition of all, for other shows, their own show or no show at all. The result was that this year’s Baselworld was quieter than usual. But that gave attendees the opportunity to dig deeper into established brands and explore some of the smaller, fringe brands. Here are the highlights from both categories.

Big Brands

Patek Phillippe Ref. 5172

Patek Phillippe Ref. 5172

Among other things, Patek Philippe introduced the beautifully classical manual-wind chronograph, Ref. 5172. Clean and stylishly elegant, Ref. 5172 showcases Patek’s in-house capability, with its manufacture movement (introduced in 2009), and its excellence in finishing. $73,710

Contact: Gearys, 310.887.4250, gearys.com, patek.com

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Heritage Bicompax Annual in rose gold and steel

Carl F. Bucherer Heritage Bicompax Annual in rose gold and steel

Staying in chronographs, the Lucerne-based Carl F. Bucherer brand introduced the Heritage Bicompax Annual, a chronograph and an annual calendar timepiece. This watch combines the vintage feel so popular right now with a big date. Available in two-tone rose gold and steel and in steel, limited to 888 pieces each. $11,000 (bi color); $7,200 (steel)

Contact: Lauren Heller, Tourneau Time Machine, 212.758.7300, tourneau.comcarl-f-bucherer.com/en

Jacob & Co. Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti Edition

Jacob & Co. Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti Edition

One of the big stories of Baselworld was the announcement of the partnership between Jacob & Co. and Bugatti. To celebrate, Jacob & Co. introduced the Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti Edition, a twin triple axis tourbillon timepiece with a column-wheel chronograph and a decimal repeater decorated with the colors of the French flag and the Bugatti logo. Only 36 timepieces will be made, each individually numbered: 18 in carbon fiber, 18 in rose gold. $527,000 (rose gold)

Contact: Craig Rizzieri, NYC boutique, 212.719.5887 or Mathieu Faure-Brac, Geneva boutique, 41.22.316.0096, jacobandco.com

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Smaller Brands

A slower show means that there is a more time to see interesting brands doing things differently. Here’s a sampling of the most interesting pieces.

Artya Son of Sound Black Sunday

Artya Son of Sound Black Sunday

The brainchild of Yvan Arpa, Artya this year presented the Son of Sound Black Sunday, a unique piece using 18,000-year-old mammoth tusk for the skull, surrounded by hand-carved water buffalo horn. The engraved silver bezel completes this stunning automatic timepiece. $24,900

Contact: Bastien Borjon, b.borjon@artya.com, 41.22.752.4940, artya.com

Mondaine Official Swiss Railways set

Mondaine Official Swiss Railways set

Quintessentially Swiss, Mondaine is the Official Swiss Railways (SBB) watch, the dial of which uses the design of the iconic clocks in every Swiss railway station. This year the clock, designed in 1944 by Hans Hilfiker, a Swiss engineer and SBB employee, celebrates its 75th anniversary, and Mondaine has produced a special set that includes the watch and two bands: one in genuine leather and one textile strap using recycled PET. $249

Contact: Customer service, 917.522.3600, info@mondaine.ch, mondaine.com

Vortic Springfield 181

Vortic is a small Colorado company using refurbished vintage pocket watch movements in new watches, to great effect. This year, Vorticis introducing CNC-milled black diamond-like carbon (DLC) titanium cases in the Springfield 181, making the watch look modern while using these vintage engines. This 46mm model features an antique movement, dial and hands originally manufactured by the famous Illinois Watch Company in 1932. $2,995

Contact: R.T. Custer, info@vorticwatches.com, 855.285.7884, vorticwatches.com

Favre-Leuba Raider Bivouac 9000

Favre-Leuba Raider Bivouac 9000

A company with a strong heritage dating back to 1737, Favre-Leuba is committed to developing useful “tool” watches for explorers, divers, adventurers and more. This year, the Raider Bivouac 9000 and the Raider Harpoon are the standard bearers, with a new black Bivouac measuring altitude to 9,000 meters (and for the first time using a RECCO strap, a rescue technology that electronically alerts first-responders of your location in case of an emergency) and a gunmetal version of the Raider Harpoon, water resistant to 500 meters. Raider Bivouac 9000, $7,500; Raider Harpoon, $4,850

Contact: Reema Vazirani, marketing manager, 41.76.788.5528, favre-leuba.com

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Q&A: Brian Duffy, CEO, Watches of Switzerland

Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy. Photo by Beth Walsh

Watches of Switzerland is one of the leading retailers in the UK, and they have recently ventured across the pond to take on the American market, opening up stores in New York and Las Vegas and acquiring Mayors in the southeast. I caught up with Brian Duffy, CEO, during the hustle and bustle of Baselworld.

Why are you so optimistic about brick and mortar stores in the face of so much retail moving on line?

People will always want an experience and will want to try on the watches. Trust is what drives people and that means a need for a personal experience. We are successful in online retail, with a 42 percent share of the market, but it’s only 5 percent of our total business. We get 20 million visitors in our online shop, but less than 1 percent convert into a sale. People today are getting their information online, then buying in the store.

The exterior of the Hudson Yards Watches of Switzerland store

You have acquired Mayors but left the name the same, while other stores are badged Watches of Switzerland. Why?

We have Watches of Switzerland stores, in Hudson Yards [in New York], in the new American Dream [in New Jersey], out in Vegas, and others. But with Mayors, they have such a strong and loyal customer base, it made sense to keep the name. We are in the midst of a relocation and refurbishment program with Mayors. We have thoroughly transformed the business but kept the tradition and the heritage.

All our stores will have common characteristics—open and inviting and browsable. We want the experience to be fun and engaging, keeping everything that is wonderful and eliminating anything that gets in the way of the experience.

For example, many retailers don’t display the prices with the products. Why force the customer to ask for help? This makes for an intimidating experience, and you can lose customers. We do everything we can to make buying a watch pleasurable and easy.

The critical thing for us is to have the scale and the resources. We manage everything centrally and we do what’s best for the customer.

The Hudson Yards store

How do you feel about the state of the watch industry?

I am optimistic about the world of watches. There’s never been such a disparity between supply and demand, which is great for retail. We really have to spread the watch word in the U.S. market, which is undeveloped. I am doing an educational podcast called Calibre, where we explore a number of different topics important to the watch industry.

With all your stores, you must amass a treasure trove of information on buying patterns.

We track what watches are bought and all their attributes—dial color, case material, mechanical vs. quartz and much more. We share this information on overall trends with our partner brands, and we can tell them where they are over- or under-represented. For example, in the UK, the big trend is bracelet, and white dials have definitely declined. Green dials are certainly a trend.

How was Baselworld this year?

I think the decline of this show is a real pity. I’ve only been to five Baselworlds so far, but it was the biggest thrill of my life to come here the first time. This year, there is definitely reduced traffic, but business is still being done. It’s a shame that the organizers haven’t kept up with the times. I don’t think the show is going to go away anytime soon though, as the industry needs it. The retailers who aren’t here aren’t the big players.

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