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To millions of horophiles, Baselworld is the most exciting event of the year, bar none. Whether they are attending in person or picking up news as it breaks from the show, watch fans know that it represents the first opportunity to learn what the leading brands will have on sale in the coming months, and to discover the most recent advances in horology.
New case materials, innovative movements and avant garde time displays will all be unveiled and received, no doubt, with just the same enthusiasm as this year’s inevitable reincarnations of classic models, which have been revived to meet the seemingly endless appeal of the retro look.
Unlike its smaller (and some say more prestigious) counterpart – January’s Richemont-organised Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva – Baselworld is not only a trade fair for watch and jewellery retailers and journalists. It is also open to the public and this latest edition will see the 141,000 square metres of exhibition space filled by more than 120,000 visitors from more than 100 countries over the course of its eight-day run.
It is a far cry from the inaugural Basel Watch Fair of 1917, when a handful of makers first collaborated to organise an exhibition of the latest timepieces, setting out their wares in small numbers on makeshift trestle tables.
In contrast, the 2014 event will see leading names such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Breitling and Louis Vuitton displaying glittering creations with a combined value of hundreds of millions of dollars in suitably lavish, multi-storied booths of a size and quality that would not look out of place in any of the world’s top luxury shopping streets.
Deals running to enormous sums will be struck, with retailers eagerly competing for the privilege of acquiring the best limited edition pieces for their stores. The public, meanwhile, gets to see timepieces that they are unlikely to encounter again, such as one-off, million-dollar gem-set watches, and limited edition complication models made in minuscule numbers.
The watch section of the show is arranged across eight halls with evocative titles such as “emotion” and “desires”, with a separate area called the Baselworld Palace, on the other side of the Messeplatz exhibition square, being reserved for highly regarded independent makers such as MB&F and Peter Speake-Marin.
Other brands will exhibit from hotel suites in and around the Messeplatz – but the prime area of real estate at Baselworld is hall 1.1, otherwise known as the “Hall of Dreams”.
Step in here and you instantly understand the hierarchy of the Swiss watch industry: most prominent on the left is the giant Rolex booth, while on the right is Patek Philippe – which has really pushed the boat out this year to mark its 175th anniversary. Chopard comes next, while straight ahead is a vast area occupied by the Swatch Group’s many brands, which include Omega, Breguet, Longines, Blancpain, Tissot and Hamilton.
And it is not just a destination for those looking for finished watches. It is also the industry’s Mecca for everything that goes in to making a watch, from synthetic rubies to straps, from presentation boxes to horologist’s tools. Perhaps above all, however, it is the trade’s global meeting place, where networking is considered (almost) as important as buying and selling.
10 new watches to watch at Baselworld 2014
ALPINA The new Startimer Pilot “Black Star” offers an affordable entry in to mechanical aviation chronographs with its blackened, PVD-coated steel case and classic “bi-compax” dial layout.
BREGUET Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5377. Breguet’s mastery of the tourbillon is displayed in this watch, which features a balance spring and escapement made from silicon and a 90-hour power reserve – all elegantly fitted inside one of the world’s thinnest platinum cases.
CORUM Admiral’s Cup AC-One 45 Double Tourbillon. This is one of the most sophisticated versions ever made of the Admiral’s Cup sailing watch – it has two, parallel-mounted tourbillons, a retrograde date display and “hack seconds” feature for precise time setting.
GIRARD-PERREGAUX Constant Escapement LM. Girard-Perregaux has been granted three patents for its new constant force escapement, which offers enhanced accuracy through a silicon blade device that is said to be six times thinner than a human hair.
GRAFF Diamond GyroGraff. Legendary diamond house Graff has combined its gem-setting expertise with horological wizardry to create this double-axis tourbillon paired with a gyroscopic moon phase display. Just 20 will be made.
HUBLOT Big Bang Pop Art. Hublot’s signature model gets the “Andy Warhol treatment” in four new versions which have dials of multiple hues and contrasting bezels set with topazes, amethysts, sapphires or tsavorites.
MAURICE LACROIX Masterpiece Gravity. This is said to be the first wrist watch featuring a balance roller, lever and escape wheel made from silicon. Its multi-layered design is notable for the off-centre hour and minute dial and separate, small, seconds indicator.
SPEAKE-MARIN Spirit Seafire. Swiss-based English watch maker Peter Speake-Marin’s creations are aimed squarely at the connoisseur. This titanium-cased model is his first chronograph wristwatch, named after the Royal Navy’s Supermarine Seafire carrier-based fighter plane.
TISSOT T-Complication Chronometer. Despite having an affordable price tag, this latest creation from Tissot features the same mechanical movement that recently took first and second places in the prestigious International Chronometry Contest for timekeeping accuracy.
VICTORINOX Dive Master 500. This 500-piece limited edition dive model is being launched to mark the Swiss brand’s quarter century in the watch business. It has a titanium case, a mechanical movement and a luminous bezel that glows blue in the dark.