I play well with boys.
Let me reiterate: I grew up the youngest child and only girl in a house full of males. I played hockey, baseball, and football in my youth (and occasionally still do – just ask the Baselworld crew at the Shinola booth). I’m currently raising a soccer-and-ultimate-Frisbee-loving ten-year-old son, prefer my scotch from the Highlands (neat), was pre-accepted into the Philadelphia Police Academy at eighteen because of my skills at the firing range, have been known to hold my own in a game or two of D&D, and can name the majority of the 1986 Philadelphia Flyers starting lineup while also telling you their jersey numbers and most of their averages.
So as previously stated, don’t let the stilettos, pencil skirts, or deftly applied winged eyeliner fool you…
I play well with boys.
What this often means, however, is that I’m outnumbered in my preferred groups when it comes time to talk about things for women. Case in point: women’s watches. And while this year’s Baselworld could be considered The Year of the Woman (as I stated in a previous post) we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that women’s timepieces aren’t exactly on the lips (or fingertips) of every well-read watch journalist out there. Were there plenty of spectacular watches for *her* in Basel this year? Sure there were, and I will continue to talk about those down the road, but I thought it would be cool to also play the double standard game for a change and highlight some of the men’s watches from the show that were made nicely enough, and well enough, for a successful woman to wear. This doesn’t mean that the watches needed to have diamonds, or a floral pattern, or a brightly-colored crocodile strap. On the contrary, it means the watches needed to have personality, be beautiful on the inside (though the outside couldn’t hurt), and have, above all else, character. If my choices below were men, I’d be looking for certain qualities within them, which is how I’m choosing to describe them each in order to make this piece a little more fun.
First up, the Angelus U20 Ultra Skeleton Tourbillon.
If transparency is yo thang, then this is the watch for you. I regrettably didn’t have a ton of time to spend with this piece or the other Angelus watches I got to see but what little I did have was filled with amazement and awe. If I were speaking of this watch like I were speaking to my best friend about, say, a man I recently went on a first date with, I’d describe it this way:
“Well, let’s just say he had nothing to hide. I mean, he was meticulously on time, incredibly interesting, well-built, and he left everything out in the open. I liked these things about him. I wouldn’t call him overly ostentatious, but believe me, he definitely had an attention-getting quality. And no, we didn’t have enough time to get to *know one another better,* nosey.”
In order to give the U20 its unique “floating movement” appearance, the bridges have been made in skeletonized blue titanium for increased transparency, with the components being satin-finished and hand-polished. To give the wearer more visibility into the case (thus greatly increasing the three-dimensional effect) a sapphire crystal dome is used in lieu of a bezel, allowing the movement to be viewed from the side as well. The case is made of carbon fiber and uses titanium lugs, but even without the aesthetical description, the Ultra Skeleton Tourbillon stands on its own as one of the coolest dudes watches seen at Baselworld this year, in my opinion.
Next, if you’re a woman who is into complex humans or objects (men, watches, etc.) the Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ should be right up your alley. One of the most original pieces I laid eyes on in Basel, the hours and minutes of the watch’s local time zone are represented via peripheral hands that rotate around a raised, centrally placed dome. However, its coolness factor has only just begun, as the Visionnaire DTZ also exhibits a second, remote time zone which can be seen through an aperture – amplified by a magnifying element – located in the dome’s center. That second time zone can only be seen, however, when looking at the watch straight on, which adds to its appeal and gives it sort of a quirky feel (something I’m really learning to love about Fabergé). Upon inspecting the watch at our meeting, my colleague Craig Danforth looked at me with glee in his eyes and said, “Do you think [super well-known watch journalist] has seen this yet?!”
Now I’m going to break down some of the watch’s additional characteristics by giving you a definition for each as if I were describing to my mother a guy I was seeing.
- 43mm diameter = “He’s got broad shoulders, Mom, but he’s not overly muscular.”
- DLC-treated Titanium and 18K white gold case = “Yes, he comes from a well-adjusted family. Both sides.”
- AGH 6924 Caliber self-winding movement = “Well, he’s known around his office as the ‘self-starter.’”
- Black alligator strap = “Did I mention how good he looks in leather? He looks really good in leather.”
- German silver hands with TC1 luminescent coating = “Oh, and he has the NICEST hands.”
- Slim bezel = “He keeps himself very fit, yes. He’s mindful of his calories, for sure.”
- Water resistant to 30M = “He’s *so* into snorkeling.”
- 50-hour power reserve = “Um… that’s really not something I feel comfortable discussing with you.”
ANYWAAAAAAAAAY… let’s move on to the third watch in this piece, the Manero Flyback by Carl F. Bucherer.
Now THIS is a watch worthy of wrapping itself around a woman’s wrist if I’ve ever seen one. I practically squealed when I got my hands on it so I’m pretty happy to get to talk about it on the blog. I’d consider this the “Romantic” of the group for more than one appropriate reason.
There is a wearable sleekness to the watches in the Manero series that makes them different than the other CFB collections. They’re suit watches, yet jeans watches; they’re your dress watch and your casual watch and likely no one would question their appearance on your wrist either way. This year’s Flyback Chronograph was pretty popular amongst both the retailers I spoke with as well as some of my fellow writers. The watch features the caliber CFB 1970 automatic movement which is controlled by a gearwheel while also providing a flyback function, allowing multiple time intervals to be measured in quick succession. But for me, as superficial as it will sound, the true beauty of the piece is in its face. The rose gold version was what I got to toy around with at my appointment in Basel and the contrast of the silver dial against the blush-hued, irregular tetrahedron-shaped raised indexes (thank you, tenth grade geometry class. [#nailedit]) gave me that “love at first sight” feeling that I hadn’t felt since, well, probably meeting my tenth grade geometry teacher. If this watch were a man sitting in my favorite coffee shop he’d likely be wearing a tan corduroy blazer over his perfectly fitted lightweight sweater and impeccably worn dark-toned jeans. And if it were a man, I’d likely make eye contact with him and hold that gaze until he looked away. I would then walk over to him and tell him that I found him incredibly attractive before turning and strutting toward the door. Then, naturally, I’d get my foot caught in someone’s computer bag strap while simultaneously dropping my skinny chai latte because that’s always what happens to me when I try to be sexy which is why I usually stick with humor.
And last but not least, we come to a watch specifically designed for the U.S. market by Laurent Ferrier, The Galet Traveller US Enamel Dial.
Many of you reading this may think to yourself, “I don’t understand. I live in the U.S. and this watch is made for the U.S. market, so why did they use two ‘l’s to spell the word, ‘traveler?’ (And many others of you reading this may think, “What did I eat for lunch yesterday?” because you’re not very good at spelling or foreign languages and you didn’t catch that there was a difference.) But the answer to the former of those questions is this: Laurent Ferrier has instead chosen to focus on the U.S. market in the literal sense by creating a new enameled dial that, according to the brand, “gives the entire North American continent pride of place.”
My appointment with Jessica Gasser, Laurent Ferrier’s head of Marketing and Communication, went extraordinarily well, partly because she was incredibly kind and patient with me and partly because the CEO of Laurent Ferrier, Vanessa Monestal, took part in our meeting. Here we were, just three girls hanging out and talking nail polish tourbillons, the Kardashians the Besançon Observatory, and Jimmy Choos Assegai-shaped hour and minute hands. I learned as much in that meeting as I think I learned in total for the entire trip and I was OBSESSED with the fact that Vanessa is at this wonderful company’s helm.
To round out my manly descriptions of the watches in this post, if I had to categorize the Galet Traveller US Enamel Dial, I’d say it would be my “Nerd Crush.” It has a self-winding Calibre LF230.01 chronometer, off-centered micro-rotor with pawl-fitted unidirectional winding, is equipped with a “silent bloc” shock-absorbing system, front and back domed sapphire crystals, has an 80-hour power reserve, “teardrop” hour markers, and Champlevé enameled dial depicting the Earth with North America in the center. The watch (and the company) is smart; it knows a thing or two about science, a thing or two about history, and a thing or two about design. It may not be for everyone, and I’m sure it’s certainly not for every woman, but for me, it was the Mary Poppins of timepieces… practically perfect in every way.
That concludes my little “double-standard” experiment with some of the men’s watches I had the pleasure of seeing at Baselworld. Hope you’ll stick around. I’m only just getting started.
The Lovechild of Art and Smart: The HMX Black Badger Brightens the MB&F Booth (and This Watch Writer’s Day)
Ever get a Facebook friend request from someone so popular, so well-loved, and so seemingly untouchable that you think to yourself, “there must be some mistake”? Well that’s what happened to me when I saw a notification stating that *the* Maximilian Büsser wanted to connect.
I had read all that I could read about Max and his “friends” up to the moment that the notification bar lit up. I had known of his connection with Jaeger LeCoultre, and Harry Winston, as well as his involvement in the Opus series, and with independent watchmakers. I skimmed pages of articles on his MB&F projects, and read about his ten-piece limited edition partnership with Hodinkee last year that produced the LM101 in stainless steel. I watched videos of his interviews, and flipped articles for future reading, but never did I think he’d be someone I’d call a friend.
That is, at least, until last week.
Heading toward the back of The Palace at Baselworld, I could see Max strolling in my direction. His swagger is unique and undeniably his and he walks as if he were eight feet tall (he is not). He saw me and smiled a very Max smile and I’m sure I turned six shades of chartreuse as a result, but when we reached one another it was if we’d been schoolmates for decades. “Finally!” I said, going in for a hug, to which he replied, “We see you later today, yes?” Then off we both went to our intended destinations, thankfully without my passing out from sheer fangirl glee.
When the time came for my scheduled meeting with Max’s Chief Communications Officer, the tremendously kind Charris Yadigaroglou, I decided to show up a few minutes early to take some photos of the booth and of course, of Max’s “machines.” That was when Jason Heaton walked in.
“DUDE! What are you doing here?” Which as I think about it now, was a rather stupid question to ask one of the most recognizable watch journalists in Baselworld. But before Jason and I got to talking, this super-animated bearded guy walks in, turns to Jason and exclaims rather vibrantly, “ADVENTUREMAN! I was hoping I was going to get to meet you!”
“Beardguy,” I soon came to realize, was none other than James Thompson, the composite specialist and industrial designer responsible for this year’s MB&F “Performance Art” limited edition watch series, the HMX Black Badger, so it made all the sense in the world that he would be in Max’s booth. He got to talking to Jason about stuff I’m still learning about but since I have a decades-long background in the jewelry industry, my eyes, while he spoke, were fixated on his rings.
Me: “Hey man, can I see that ring?”
JT: “Yeah” (handing it to me) “Go for it.”
Me: (Now turning the piece and inspecting it because that’s kind of what I do.) “Hmmm. What’s the inlay made of?”
JT: “Ahhh, see? Now, that’s the secret.”
What I quickly learned, however, was that this was the exact “secret” that led to James’ and Max’s partnership. James uses alternative materials such as DuPont™ Corian®, brightly colored lume, surfboard resin, and carbon fiber. He also mentioned something about digging through the trash to get hold of a certain substance to experiment with, which is right around the time that Charris walked into the lounge and saved me from my own curiosity.
“Performance Art. Are you familiar?” Mr. Yadigaroglou said to me, and while I was familiar (both with the MB&F version as well as the “what my friends did for extra credit in college” version), I wanted to make sure I had all of my information correct, so I beckoned my host to explain. In a nutshell, MB&F “Performance Art” pieces are limited edition works (either watch or machine) that are made in collaboration with various jewelry houses, designers, artists, and manufacturers who happen to tickle Max’s and his team’s fancy. This year’s version was no different.
James Thompson (aka – “Beardguy” – aka – Black Badger) first met Max back in 2013 at London’s SalonQP exhibition. Says JT of the meeting, “I wasn’t campaigning for a job or anything, I really just wanted to meet him and tell him how much I liked his stuff. Clearly he had better and more important things to be doing, but we had a really nice, genuine chat. To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything more of it than that, but then he emailed me a few weeks later and we started bouncing around ideas… I mean seriously? That’s like Sinatra asking what you thought of his new tune.”
The two eventually got together at the MAD Gallery in Geneva and started putting things in motion. The result (or, “lovechild” for the sake of this post) is an intricate timepiece that doubles as something that could entertain your Scout troop or chess club for hours. Made in Grade 5 titanium and stainless steel with either blue, green, or purple high-efficiency luminescent details (known as “rocker covers”), the HMX Black
Badger is, according to the MB&F website, “eye-catching by day, (but) it’s when the sun goes down that they really come out to party.”
The pieces are limited to eighteen in each of the three colors, with every one being a technological symphony of components (forty-four making up the case, two hundred and twenty-three making up the three-dimensional horological Engine). The watch has a forty-two-hour power reserve, and its functions include bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes, displayed by dual reflective sapphire crystal prisms with integrated magnifying lenses.
But at the end of the day what I will take away from my experience with Max, James, Charris, and the HMX Black Badger is this: I don’t remember laughing as hard as I did for the rest of the week in Baselworld, and I truly mean that. I can’t even recall what exactly it was we were talking about; all I know is that the three of us were in that darkened room using flashlights and cell phone lighting to try to get a picture of all of the watches glowing together, giggling like fools. I felt as if I were camping out with my friends from high school and trying to light a cigarette without my parents catching me. It is this feeling – this innocence of adolescence, and this joy of journeys past – that is the cornerstone of what I believe “Max Büsser and Friends” is all about.
Friends. Freunde. Copains. Amici. Vänner. No matter how any one of us at that meeting could say it or which language we could say it in, I feel we all were in agreement that “friends” is the core word in this entire project, and I thank Max, and his team, for accepting me as one of theirs.
Despite what the Manstream Media (I have waited for ages to use that term) might be saying, let it be known that Baselworld 2016 was most certainly The Year of the Woman. And why not? Statistics posted by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH, as of February 2016, state: “Swiss watch exports remained on a negative trend for the eighth consecutive month, recording a total value of 1.7 billion francs. This represents a decline of 3.3% compared to 2015, which was greatly influenced by developments on the Hong Kong market.” And while that’s borderline frightening news for the Swiss watch industry it’s also a wake-up call for them to go after a market that’s been largely untapped until now – the female self-purchaser.
According to this nifty infographic created by Marketing Zeus for Business Insider, 85% of purchases are made by women. They also state that two thirds of consumer wealth in America (the Swiss watch industry’s second largest market) will belong to women in the next decade. Oh, and get this: 50% of the products usually marketed to men are purchased by women, largely because a staggering 91% of women believe that advertisers don’t understand them. Walking through the main floor of Baselworld’s Hall 1 you would have seen that while women were the minority of the showgoers (but the majority of the deep neckline wearers and booth greeters), many in attendance were donning men’s watches. “Why?” you ask? Or you really didn’t but I’ll act like you did to make this point? Well, largely, as the infographic states, it’s because those watches were the only ones marketed to one gender. But the times, my friends, they thankfully are a changin’.
I chose not to set any appointments with brands at Baselworld that weren’t listed on the show’s website as also selling ladies’ watches. Each person I set a time with listened to my three-minute explanation of who I was, what this blog was going to be about, and what I’d be looking to see in terms of product in said meeting. To say that an overwhelming majority of PR people, marketing directors, and production assistants were relieved to hear that a watch blog was going to center on women would be an understatement. “It’s about time. There is not a lot of press for women’s watches” said Xavier Mettaz, Director of Production at luxury jewelry and timepiece house, Jacob & Co. Aurélie Picaud, manager of Fabergé Timepieces, stated, “This is so exciting that you’re doing this. It is really needed.” And the enthusiasm about the idea didn’t end there, with brand managers scurrying to show me what they had just released in terms of new digs for ladies, and with many of those digs containing mechanical movements (both automatic and manual).
One of my favorite moments of the trip came during my sit-down with Maurice Lacroix’s Product/R&D Director, David Sanchez. “Barbara, right now, 80% of the watches we produce are men’s and 20% are women’s. Do you know that 55% of Swiss watches sold are women’s watches? It’s not the greater profit or higher price point I’m talking, just volume. So for 2017, we’re looking to change it to 60% men’s and 40% women’s. And then, who knows, maybe someday it is split evenly.” David then proceeded to show me a brand new ladies mechanical (don’t rub your eyes, indeed I used the word “MECHANICAL”) square wheel watch from the Maurice Lacroix “Masterpiece” collection and my heart jumped into my throat.
At 43mm, the case was somewhat larger than what I would normally prefer, but the deep red hand-stitched crocodile strap, mother-of-pearl face, diamond SS bezel, and hand-wound in-house ML 156 movement pulled me in. The watch’s functions include a 45-hour power reserve, with the small seconds by square wheel (at 6 o’clock) and the power reserve hand at 3 o’clock. The piece also comes with a domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, thirty-four jewels, square-shaped and clover-shaped wheels highlighted by a circular opening on the movement bridge itself, and decorated with a sandblasted background. It won me over, as did the company, which I had not realized is not part of a larger watch group until my talk with David.
Another pleasant surprise for me at Baselworld was the overall vibe I got from Oris watches. On top of their U.S. team being pretty much all-around awesome and fun, they take their watches – and their new women’s watches – pretty darn seriously. I was lucky enough to work with V.J. Geronimo – their North American CEO – during my appointment, which was no less than an hour long. We talked a lot about what’s going on in the market, the fact that women are buying more for themselves, and how case sizes are slowly going to start showing up on the smaller side again, which is when he showed me the new Oris diamond Artelier automatic for women. The grey guilloche dial with diamond accents was visually comforting against the very feminine wine-colored strap. As an April baby, I’m a sucker for a diamond bezel, especially when the stones are set as perfectly as they were here, but it was the small case – 28.5mm to be exact – which set this watch apart from most others I had seen. An automatic movement for a woman is still a rarity in Basel, but finding a SMALL ladies watch with said movement is practically nonexistent. Want to know the thing that really sold me, though? Their head designer is female. Game, set, match, Oris. You win, and you win big.
Directly following my appointment with MB&F (more about that experience in a follow-up post. And yes, I managed to maintain my composure), designer and collaborator James Thompson graciously introduced me to Atom and Kathleen of RedBar fame. Upon giving them a two-minute synopsis of what I was looking for in the way of mechanical women’s watches to cover, they simultaneously asked me if I had been by to see Bremont yet, then proceeded to walk me over themselves and introduced me to Mike Pearson. (As a quick aside, I want to send a deeply felt message of thanks to everyone willing to help this Basel newbie out. Y’all are a rad group of folks. Thanks again.)
Bremont is loved by many a watch blogger out there, so I was quite familiar with their place in the watch world, as well as the uber cool things they do with their advertising. But to see the excitement on their faces as they handed me their new ladies Solo 32-LC (the “LC” an abbreviation for “Lettice Curtis;” a successful female pilot in World War II and the first woman to qualify to fly a four-engine bomber), made me, in turn, be just as excited about it, and I had barely looked at it! But once I had it in my hands, I could see why everyone felt the way they did. From a technical perspective, the watch contains a modified calibre BE-10AE automatic chronometer, Glucydur balance, Anachron balance spring, Nivaflex 1 mainspring, 18 jewels, and a 40-hour power reserve. It’s a 32mm stainless steel case, has a white metal dial, and really pretty blue steel hands. It has an anti-reflective, scratch resistant domed sapphire crystal, and is water resistant up to 100 meters, but if you’re not a tech geek, it’s just a damned fine watch for a woman who likes a side of history with her time telling.
The last watch I’m going to include in this post is one by luxury brand, Fabergé, but before I get into the details of the timepiece, I first would like to talk about how wonderful my experience was with them.
This Baselworld, as if you hadn’t already figured out, was my first. I am not new to jewelry or even watches, but I am new to having my own watch publication, and so I came to the realization that this year, for me, it was either Basel or bust. Fabergé was one of the first brands to confirm my appointment for the show, and they did so with willingness as well as with kindness. While many of the bigger brands didn’t have time slots available or did not respond to my appointment requests at all, Faberge treated me as if I had been the most seasoned of watch journalists, and that feeling carried over into our appointment. My dear friend Craig Danforth accompanied me as he – a veteran of the watch industry and collector, of sorts – wanted to see the new pieces as much as I, so we arrived at the booth a few minutes early to settle in and discuss what we hoped to accomplish. We were greeted with smiles, and Champagne, and breakfast treats. They let us walk around and allowed me to take pictures of their astounding Fabergé “Four Seasons Objets d’art collection” bejeweled eggs. And when it came time for Aurélie Picard to show us the goods, it was her positive demeanor and genuine attention that stuck with me long after the appointment was over. So, having made clear how much of a fan I am, I’m happy to now highlight one of my favorite watches in all of Baselworld: The Fabergé “Lady Libertine II”.
As many of you know, the merger between Fabergé and gemstone miner and distributor, Gemfields, happened in early 2013, and this past November, the Faberge “Lady Compliquée Peacock” timepiece won the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève – or, GPHG – award (think, the Oscars for watches) in the “Ladies Hi-Mechanical” category. When I asked Aurélie about Faberge’s position on quartz watches, her response was simple: “Every new watch starting now will be mechanical. No quartz movements from here forward.”
(And the female watch enthusiast crowd goes wild.)
The Lady Libertine II is 18K white gold, 36mm in diameter and is set with responsibly sourced diamonds as well as Gemfields’ emeralds mined from the Kagem mine in Zambia. It contains an AGH 6911 caliber movement with a 50-hour power reserve from a single barrel and Agenhor’s unique “AgenPIT” regulation system offering a simplified approach to balance wheel adjustment. But while mechanically it goes toe-to-toe with movements we’re used to seeing in men’s watches, aesthetically there were not many in Basel that could hold a candle to its beauty.
That ends my first report on Baselworld 2016 but I promise you there will be several more to come.
Don’t watch the clock, though… they’ll come… in time.