March 27, 2014 6:21 pm

Baselworld 2014 diary: $55m watch marks Graff’s debut

Francois Graff, chief executive officer of Graff Diamonds Ltd., gestures during a Bloomberg Television interview at the company's booth during the Baselworld luxury watch and jewelry fair in Basel, Switzerland, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Over 1,400 companies from the watch, jewelry and gem industries will display their latest innovations and products to more than 120,000 visitors at this year's luxury show. Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Francois Graff©Bloomberg

Watches for the ultra rich . . .

Diamond house Graff has been in the watch game for little more than five years and, until now, has contented itself with revealing new models from a modest hotel suite a stone’s throw from Baselworld’s main halls.

But now Graff has asserted itself as a truly serious player by setting up in a prime spot on the ground floor of the show’s prestigious hall one, with what some visitors are hailing as the most impressive stand of the event – a 500 sq m shrine to horology and precious stones with a seven-metre-high ceiling, cascading chandeliers of Bohemian crystal and valuable contemporary artworks borrowed from Laurence Graff’s personal collection.

Visitors Attend 2014 Baselworld Luxury Watch And Jewellery Fair...The 'Hallucination' jewel encrusted wristwatch, produced by Graff Diamonds Ltd., sits on display at the company's booth during the Baselworld luxury watch and jewelry fair in Basel, Switzerland, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Over 1,400 companies from the watch, jewelry and gem industries will display their latest innovations and products to more than 120,000 visitors at this year's luxury show. Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg

Yet what the milling crowds may not immediately realise is that the small, brightly coloured lady’s watch – at which some visitors idly glance as they walk past one of Graff’s armoured windows – is the most expensive object ever displayed at the fair. The “Hallucination” is made from 110 carats of rare, coloured diamonds that form an intricate floral bracelet surrounding the tiny dial – and result in the staggering price tag of $55m.

Mr Graff is said to have spent a considerable amount of time amassing the stones used for the watch, which he calls a “sculptural masterpiece” and a “celebration of coloured diamonds”.

“For many years I have thought about creating a truly remarkable watch that illustrates our all-consuming passion for diamonds,” he says. “The Hallucination has made my dream a reality.”

And the not so rich

As James Shotter’s front page article in Thursday’s FT Watches and Jewellery report explains, last year’s slowdown in the growth of Swiss watch exports has led to a widespread belief that many brands will have little option but to reduce prices in order to boost growth – but, following a sustained period of multiple increases, some watches that were once considered “affordable” have now been pushed irrevocably out of the reach of less well-heeled buyers.

Mechanical pieces, in particular, have generally become far more expensive, with some models costing up to 50 per cent more than they did as little as five years ago. The resulting void in the £1,500-£3,000 segment is now being filled by affordable, mechanical watches from smaller manufacturers such as Frederique Constant, Ball Watch Company and Oris that are capitalising on the opportunity.

Ball Watch, for example, unveiled models such as the Engineer Hydrocarbon II Aviator at £1,110 and its patented, ultra antimagnetic Engineer II Magneto S at £2,510.

“We are aiming at the sort of buyers who, in the past, might have gone for one of the better-known brands such as TAG Heuer, Breitling or Omega but now can’t afford them,” says Nick Wiseman, Ball’s UK brand manager.

Burberry, too, has launched a mechanical timezone watch in its Burberry Britain range which has a Soprod movement and a price tag of just £1,595.

Hublot calls time on world cup

Hublot’s big news at this year’s Baselworld surrounds its role as the official timekeeper of the 2014 World Cup, which kicks off in June and will bring the brand worldwide recognition of almost incalculable commercial value – the last World Cup final attracted a television audience of more than 1bn.

As part of the build-up to the event, Hublot has launched two Fifa World Cup Brazil versions of its Big Bang watch with a specially adapted chronograph that records playing time and extra time. The ceramic and carbon Fifa World Cup Brazil watch will be made in an edition of 200 costing £20,000 each, while 100 “King Gold” and carbon models will retail at £32,000.

Hublot has also commissioned the Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto to paint a series of five footballs in his unique style that have been incorporated into photographic portraits of six of the brand’s football ambassadors, including Pele, José Mourinho and England manager Roy Hodgson. The photographs will be auctioned around the time of the World Cup, and the proceeds donated to Pele’s charity foundation.

Plane hard

British brand Bremont has worked with century-old aerospace firm Boeing to create its new “Model 1”, which is named after the first Boeing aeroplane. Its case is made in the UK using the same ultra-hard “Custom 465” steel chosen for highly stressed aircraft parts, while the bidirectional bezel is made from scratch proof sapphire crystal. The watch will cost £3,595, with a “Model 247” chronograph version – named after Boeing’s pioneering twin-engined commercial aircraft of the 1930s – retailing at £4,495. Both chronometer-certified pieces will also be available with cases made from aviation-grade titanium.

Related Topics

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

SHARE THIS QUOTE