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Watch aficionados meet at Basel World

Every year the world of watchmaking and jewelry happens in Basel where more than 1’500 exhibitors and over 150-thousand visitors meet. It is the most important fair in the world and a must for everyone in the business. Already last year, such giants as Patek Philippe adjusted its prices, especially due to the slacking economy in Asia which lead to an over stocked market, hence buyers are hesitant. Nonetheless — there are big brands that are still growing amid the hard times and there are boutique labels such as Vulcain, HYT and Louis Moinet that are steady and in collector’s circles on the top priority list. Some of the smaller labels know where their limits are and priority is not endless scaling and growth, rather innovation and new development are on top of their lists.

So we went for a peek during the Hublot press-conference where the grand patron and head of LVMH watch division Jean-Claude Biver talked about the new “all Black watch” with his trademark smile; pointing out that this watch is not made to read the time, after all it were way too hard, it’s a pure statement of our Zeitgeist so to speak. The demand for this gem limited to 250 pieces was ten times that — but those orders could not be fulfilled due to limited production capacity, as Biver affirms. Overall it seems that even Hublot has very attractive entry level prices such as with the super sleek Classic Fusion Racing in titanium which will set you back around ten thousand Swiss Francs. Or the ladies «Pop Art» Big Bang that comes in flashy colors and with three different straps that can be switched with one single click for the occasion, priced between 13-25K. Hublot is doing just fine, they keep the buzz hot and deliver less than what retailers order to keep them from overstocking. Oh of course and then there is the partnership with flamboyant Lapo Elkann and his Italia Independent sunglass label, he apparently co-designed three of the watches and they are delivered together, guess what, with a pair of sunglasses.

At HYT «the Hydro Mechanical Horologists» – we are presented with two novelties. First the «H1 Iceberg» which has an enamel dial, titanium case and an all white movement and the «H2 Tradition» where as in the Alinghi edition it contains black opaque liquid, a power reserve of stunning eight days and lacquered varnish. HYT is probably one of the most innovative brands that evolved in the past few years. Their approach is a mix of high tech haute horlogerie, paired with an enthusiasm to figure out new ways of looking at watchmaking. Let alone their R & D team consists of about 20 people and that is impressive given the small size of the company. Its yearly production is slightly over 400 pieces and there are no plans to increase production, given the impressive price tags starting at 50’000 to anywhere north of 200’000 Swiss Francs — 400 units seems like a proud figure.

Not far from Neuchâtel’s HYT sits Louis Moinet in the tiny town of St. Blaise. The small manufacture has been around for ten years and was founded by creative director Jean-Marie Schaller, a seasoned watch enthusiast with a tendency to pay tribute to history. Schaller tells me that a couple of years ago he auctioned a chronograph by Louis Moinet and it was probably the first one ever built. In fact, 2016 marks the 200-year anniversary of the invention of the chronograph, initially designed to measure the movement of the stars. In it’s ten years on the market, the Louis Moinet has come up with an astonishing collection to say the least. Each watch is a piece of art and Schaller loves to play around with materials that have never been used in watches such as a fossilized palm tree or a meteorite found in Qatar. It’s a good combination of heritage and playfulness and the only reason why Schaller is capable of offering such a highly skilled product is because he had found two of the best partners in the industry that can deliver that kind of quality.

At MB&F (Maximilian Büsser and Friends) everything is set under the star of performance art, their so-called collection that is produced in collaboration with artists that have not necessarily anything to do with watchmaking. This time with Canadian native James Thompson who developed a signature style of solid blocks of brightly coloured and high-efficiency lume has been merged with the HMX Black Badger – the colors not anything we’ve seen before.

Lebeau-Courally may not yet be known to watch collectors, but they have been in the business of crafting the most high end hunting guns that take hundreds of hours to manufacture and cost well above the hundred thousand mark for one gun. A couple of years ago they applied their craft to watchmaking and in 2015 acquired IMH which allows Lebeau-Courally to manufacture virtually every component in-house. Their main market as of now is still Belgium and their trademark is the “clef de fusil” which is a locking lever at 9 o’clock, derived from the hunting gun.

In the Bernese Jura of Tramelan one may find Armand Nicolet in a non-descript local house. Some of their models stand out such as the new jumping hour or the J09 model, which looks particularly cool in the stainless steel and rose gold bezel with a black rubber band. For those who want to dive a big deeper with their budgets, go for the historical movement that have been completely restored.

We’d like to finish this report off with a gem from Le Locle, founded in 1858. The brand known as Vulcain was the first ever to build a mechanical alarm movement, which is still in their collection to date. Known originally as the “Cricket-calibre” because it resembles the sound of a cricket singing, it later became the “Presidents watch” as numerous US presidents wore the timekeeper from Le Locle. This year, Vulcain presents a 50’s Presidents watch and a classic President’s without the alarm at a very attractive entry-level price. But what really caught our eye is the “Anniversary heart calendar” which is an absolutely stunning piece. It reveals its heart through a semi-skeleton dial. With its Louisiana alligator strap in peacock blue or black, this one could either go for a rock-star or a distinguished entrepreneur.