The world’s largest watch and jewelry event returns to Basel, Switzerland, this week. And as was evident on the first day of the 2009 edition, this BaselWorld is shaping up to be the venue for watch-making’s most innovative designers and creative movement makers: world recession or not.
Elite Traveler’s editors are on site to review the most promising luxury collections out of the more than 2,000 exhibitors. The mood on Wednesday—officially a press-only day—was cautious as exhibitors worried about their retailers’ ability to make the trip to Switzerland, while trend-watchers feared that designers might play it too safe and promote ultra-conservative watch designs this year.
Leading off the day was one of the watch industry’s visionaries, Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, who never fails to pave new pathways in a tradition-bound industry. Today Biver launched a new web-based system for identifying every single watch that Hublot manufactures, and tracking it through its lifetime—all in the name of fighting counterfeit watch-making. “When I saw the first fake Hublot, I thought wow! We did it! But what started out as satisfaction is now a big worry because fakes are increasing in line with our success,” Biver said.
Biver’s invention, in conjunction with Geneva-based technology firm Wisekey, is a smart card that leaves the factory with each Hublot watch. When both arrive at a retailer, they are activated via web connection. And when the watch is sold, the consumer receives the smart card with his Hublot, and it records every detail of that timepiece, from its guarantee, to its service requirements, to the personal information about the individual who built the watch. Because each card has a unique number that matches its watch, it is proof of authenticity.
Also new today, to us at Elite Traveler, was the five-year-old watch company Nubeo, which has distribution in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, but will debut in the United States later this year. Led by the Castros, a husband and wife team from Madrid with an extensive background in jewelry design, Nubeo watches are about beautiful design more than complicated movements. Watch cases are curvy and sculpted, and most of the collections watches come on rubber straps (which often hold precious stones themselves). What is certain to capture the attention of sport watch lovers is the brand new “Black Mamba” line. NBA fans may recognize that name—it is also a nickname that belongs to professional basketball superstar Kobe Bryant. And Kobe himself contributed to this watch design, which is a strong black 48-mm chronograph with rubber strap and bezel. The case alone is composed of 131 different pieces. Versions are also being made with colored stones around the inner dial or bezel. Prices will range from $20,900 to $500,000 for limited editions.
At Chopard, plans are already in the works for the family firm’s 150th anniversary in 2010. But this year there is excitement too. In addition to enhancements to the L.U.C collection of complicated men’s watches and Mille Miglia sports timepieces, Chopard is introducing a new Elton John Watch Collection. All of the timepieces will be limited editions, and made of either white or rose gold. Measuring 42 mm, the ladies timepieces will come in a great array of colors for straps and stone treatments, and sales will support the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Corum is continuing its focus on four main lines within its collection: Admiral’s Cup, Golden Bridge, Artisans and Romulus. And the most exciting developments are destined for its extraordinary Bridge line this year. The Bridge is named for the elongated movement, shaped like a “baguette” or bridge, which is on great display through largely transparent cases. Now, a version will be made for ladies that has the movement positioned horizontally. Additionally, a new model called Ti-Bridge contains the brand’s second in-house caliber that incorporates titanium.
Laurence Graff has reigned as the “King of Diamonds” for decades. And now his empire includes diamond watches as well. Graff teamed up last year with industry leader Michel Pitteloud to create the first Graff watches, and in incredibly fast time the duo have introduced a very complete collection of timepieces for men and women that stay true to the Graff DNA. From high-jewelry diamond timepieces to classic gold watches to sporty rubber sporty pieces, all have a jewel-like faceted case and bezel, and a diamond-cut emerald at the 12 o’clock position.