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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Baselworld 2012 is a Smorgasbord of Horological Delights

Seiko’s Astron GPS Solar watch

A fractured arm kept me from attending Baselworld this year. Fortunately, I know some of the best writers and experts in the jewelry and watch industry. One of those folks is William George Shuster who has kindly agreed to take time from his busy schedule to write a few stories from the tradeshow. Below is his second report.

By William George Shuster
Special Correspondent

BASEL, Switzerland — Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewelry trade fair is like an annual smorgasbord for watch enthusiasts, offering up everything from popularly-priced mass market watches to exquisite haute horlogerie timepieces and the 40th annual edition of this ever-expanding trade event (which runs until March 15), is no exception.

Travelers’ tool. A number of new models cater impressively to world and business travelers.

One standout is Seiko’s new Astron GPS Solar watch (top picture), presented with great flourish at the fair by Japan-based Seiko Watch Co., one of the world’s largest watchmakers. The impressive timepiece, powered by solar cells in the dial eliminating the need for batteries, can adjust itself to the time and location of the world’s 39 time zones at the gentle push of a button, thanks to signals from at least four GPS satellites, which the watch is always in contact. It is the first timepiece able to adapt immediately to all of the world’s time zones, wherever the wearer travels. That’s why Seiko calls it “the first global watch.”

Another notable timepiece in this category is Rolex’s new Oyster Perpetual Sky Dweller chronometer. The timepiece has a dual-time zone and an off-center innovative 24-hour display operated and adjusted by the watch’s bezel. It also has an annual calendar (the first Rolex watch to have one), uses a new movement and is the start of a new Rolex family.

Exquisite masterpiece. Meanwhile, German luxury watchmaker Glashütte Original, known for mechanical masterpieces, unveiled an exquisite masterpiece. Its limited edition Grande Cosmopolite Tourbillon is a world-first for world travelers, claims the company, and the “most unusual and sophisticated masterpiece in [our] history.” The complicated marvel lets a global traveler track the time of day or night simultaneously at home and while on the road in any two of the 37 world time zones. It accounts correctly for Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time, and can travel forward ‘time wise’ (Eastward) or backward (Westward). All time and date changes made by the wearer are displayed by a perpetual calendar geared to do so.

Completing this unique combination of horological complications—a world-first for mechanical watches, says the company—is a flying minute tourbillion (developed in 1920 in Glashütte). One interesting side effect: Its dial design looks like a “winking” happy face due to the placement of its day, month and day/night sundials.

If you want it, however, act quickly: The 43mm platinum timepiece is limited to 25 pieces worldwide and costs 325,000 Euros ($426,500).

Hublot $5 million watch

Of course, that’s chicken feed compared to the world’s most-expensive watch unveiled at Basel: The “Hublot $5 Million,” created by the innovative Swiss luxury watch brand. Also a world first, the 44mm mechanical timepiece is covered with 1,282 diamonds, weighing more than 100 carats, including six square stones, each more than three carats. It took one year to select the stones, and another 14 months to create the watch. Why did Hublot make it? Because it can.

Innovation & fun. The focus isn’t all on travelers watches, quartz-based technology or example of craftsmen’s art. Many of the watch business’s technological innovations in recent years have involved watches with mechanical movements (both hand-wound and self-winding). One notable at BaselWorld is Swiss watchmaker Ellicott’s tribute to John Ellicott, a 17th century English watchmaker. The watch is the world’s thinnest minute repeater with perpetual calendar, with a hand-wind mechanical movement measuring in at just a wispy 5.1mm.

Ritmo Mundo’s Reflex

And watches can be just plain fun, too. Ritmo Mundo’s Reflex ($150) is inspired by the “slap bracelet” from childhood. Gently tap the futuristic tongue-shaped timepiece against a wrist and the snap curl design, in brightly-colored smooth silicone immediately wraps around it, whatever the size. Its parallel-line LED digital linear display shows time and date, with numbered dots that immediately light up.

Star gazing. If BaselWorld is like a horological smorgasbord, it is also—pardon the abrupt shift in metaphor—a stage for many of the world’s celebrities,

BaselWorld isn’t only the center of the globe’s watch and jewelry business for a week. It is also a magnetic for celebrities. Among those seen during the show’s first days were international movie star, former U.S. governor and avid watch collector Arnold Schwarzenegger (stopping by to say hello to his friend Ali Soltani, owner of Ritmo Mundo watches); tennis champion Roger Federer (a Basel native) for luxury watch brand Rolex; and movie actress Cameron Diaz, brand ambassador for TAG Heuer Swiss luxury sport watches.

Also smiling prettily for their fans were Melinda Bam, Miss South Africa (brand ambassador for Jet Set watches); Alina Buchschacher Miss Switzerland (brand ambassador for Balman watches); and Justine De Jonckheere, Miss Belgium 2011, visited the show’s gemstone halls.

William George Shuster is a multi-award winning writer—including three Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's highest honor. He has 40 years experience as a journalist, author and editor. He is considered one of the world’s top watch industry journalists, covering the world of timepieces for the past 30 years.