It feels to me that Baselworld – the once raven-haired, blue-eyed star quarterback/student body president/drama club lead of the world’s watch and jewelry trade fairs – has recently been reduced to the smelly kid in class who brings tuna for lunch and occasionally chews his erasers. In other words, it’s become quite unpopular. And yet, many of us have been convinced that if we want to be successful in this industry, we need to get to know it better; to find the good in it, even if others don’t necessarily agree. And that’s exactly what I set out to do when I signed up for my third ever visit to the fair.
The City, Itself
This year I made the decision to get into the city a day earlier than I usually do and it was the best travel choice I’ve made in the last three years. Basel – two days before press day – was quiet and snowcapped and genuinely lovely.
What many don’t realize is that Basel is the third most populous city in Switzerland (behind Zürich and Geneva) and is historically significant for a variety of reasons, including that the first ever museum that showcased art to the public – the Kunst – happens to be located there. A word of advice, however: make sure you pronounce the name of the museum correctly to the local cab drivers. If not, well, it can be quite offensive. Or so I’ve heard.
And while I agree with many of my colleagues that some of the city’s restaurants raise their prices significantly while the fair is in town, I don’t find the rates to be all that different than touristy restaurants in San Francisco or on the strip in Las Vegas (how’s that forty-dollar martini at The Wynn working out for ya?). I’ve succumbed to the fact that Basel is pricey, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay once per year to be able to walk away with the information I’m given. Maybe it’s naïve, but I’m also still at the “you have to spend money to make money” stage of my career.
But first, Let Me Take a Wristie
Think about this for a minute… if you’re one of the handful of people who can afford to get yourself to Basel or who works for a company that will either partially or fully pay for your journey, you’re a rare breed, and Baselworld – for all of its quirks – can be quite an extraordinary experience if you allow yourself to get past the show’s lackluster Wi-Fi and lack of places to sit.
One click on the #Baselworld2018 hashtag on Instagram will pull up nearly 50,000 posts, with likely 90% of those being wrist shots, or “wristies”, which means you are amongst the watch-loving elite, and that means solid, interesting conversations, wristwatch comparisons, and potential selfies with celebrities like KISS drummer Eric Singer or Instagram sensation Anish Bhatt – aka @watchanish – who is always happy to take one.
It’s Like Living in a Benetton Ad!
The diversity of Baselworld is truly one of the show’s greatest attributes. Think of it like a trip to the United Nations but slightly less stuffy and with a lot more champagne and much nicer suits. The conversations being had leading up to the turnstiles alone are enough to make you think you’ve mistakenly woken up at the foot of The Tower of Babel, but that’s also the beauty of the show and proof that the world can come together in peace and harmony if we could just find something to love as a people; and in the case of Baselworld, that something just happens to be the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000.
Let’s Not Forget, “The Presence of Greatness”
I think the saddest part for me about some of the negativity I’ve read about Baselworld is that people out there are assuming what brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe want, or what they’re eventually going to do as it pertains to showing at the fair, and to be honest, I don’t believe anyone really knows. But as it stands right now, if you’re a retailer or a journalist or a collector, and you want to see the new releases as they come out from either of the aforementioned watch industry titans as well as many others, then finding a way to get yourself to Basel is what you’re going to have to do, at least, for now. If these brands aren’t complaining when they’re spending millions upon millions to be there, then why should we? They invite us out for dinners, let us hang out at their top-shelf-stacked bars inside of their beautifully-decorated booths and show us a grand ol’ time while showing us their brand-new timepieces (Pepsi GMT, anyone?), so who are we to say what they should do or what we would do if we were in their positions? I’m all for letting the big boys think for themselves, because after well over a hundred years of being in business, I’m fairly certain they know what they’re doing.
Come on… Admit it… There’s Nothing Like Les Trois Rois
You can go ahead and build Geneva up all you want, but there is just something about being in a bar where you can barely move, breathe, or hear yourself think with 350 of your closest international friends. For me, Les Trois Rois is like a family reunion; with a twenty-plus-year background in jewelry sales, marketing, and media, I know almost all of the American jewelry retailers and buyers personally. But that also means I can’t move three inches in one direction without being recognized (at 5’10”, I’m pretty easy to spot), and that’s usually when the hugs, stories, and drinks start flowing.
This year I surprisingly stuck to a “one drink at the Three Kings” rule for myself and it worked out beautifully. That rule allowed me to be at the bar long enough to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, have a brief conversation with collector Gary Getz about what happened when I tried to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, and network one end of the bar to the other before bidding my friends a fond “auf wiedersehen/au revoir”. Regardless, it’s moments like those had at Les Trois Rois that separate our industry from so many of the others. We love watches, sure, but we mostly like the camaraderie that comes along with our love for watches (um, hello, RedBar anyone?) which is why the social aspect of Baselworld is just as important as the business one.
In closing, I have no crystal ball, and I haven’t been doing this long enough to feel strongly enough one way or the other about whether or not Baselworld will be around in 2020, or 2030, or 2050. For now, what I do understand is that despite the cost, I come back from the fair knowing more than I did before I left for it, and as a writer who is learning as she goes, that – to me – is worth the price of admission.
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.
“Why… why watches?”
My father wore drugstore watches. He’d buy a watch at the local Rite Aid that had a leather-like strap and take it home, only to immediately replace it with a Speidel band. He never wore a watch of value, or even a watch of substance, regardless of its price tag. He wore cheap, gold-plated watches that never lasted more than a few months and hung in plastic cases from metal rods on rotating counter displays. Then he’d throw them away and start the process all over again and probably still does it to this day.
But… my father always wore a watch.
I started working in the watch and jewelry industry in 1996 and vowed that year that I wouldn’t let the men I cared for go through their lives wearing drugstore watches. In 1999, as a wedding gift to my first husband, I presented him with a Baume et Mercier Hampton – which he in turn also bought for me when we celebrated our first anniversary. In 2005, when my eldest brother turned forty, I flew home to Philadelphia and surprised him with a Movado Chronograph in stainless steel. And so far, the man I’m married to now is the proud owner of three very not-drugstore watches, all of which I’ve given to him on important days in our marriage. But while these stories tell you a little about my background as well as my experience with watches in general, they don’t quite tell you why I’m starting this blog.
This, however, will:
Shortly after the 2015 GEM Awards I found myself reading some of the watch blogs that I had only brushed over a few times prior. I started to become more and more interested in watches not just as adornments, but as future heirlooms and frankly, machines. My job back then put me in a different jewelry store in a different city week after week, and during those visits or trunk shows or events I’d find myself gazing at the product, taking pictures of the displays, and if I was lucky, getting to ask questions about the watches. I remember so vividly listening to Burt Wilkinson at Blakeman’s Fine Jewelry in Arkansas as he single-handedly schooled me for twenty-five minutes on the watch brand, Tudor. And I recall picking poor Ben Simon’s brain about Ulysse Nardin, Nomos, and IWC – just three of the names carried in his store, Windsor Jewelers. I listened intently as Mark Hendricks of Lee Michaels in Baton Rouge explained Patek Philippe’s fascinating diamond setting process to me, and I smiled widely as Mike Shields with Moretti’s let me try on his store’s various Rolexes. But the more I saw, and learned, and asked, the more I realized I was alone. Where were the women to teach me about watches? And who were the women who wanted to learn more?
As I set out in search of additional information I found that my favorite watch blogs were also largely written by men, as were most print publications (with a few talented exceptions), newspaper articles, and watch collector forums. This didn’t mean I was learning any less, mind you. On the contrary, I probably understand the difference between a perpetual calendar and an annual calendar because websites like Hodinkee exist (so, if I haven’t said it in the past, thanks, Hodinkee). But after a while, it’s kind of like having your women’s health issues debated in Congress by a bunch of old guys in suits; meaning, yeah, they may know the Constitution and every amendment like the back of their hand, but do they really know what’s right for me?
Later in 2015 I began an Instagram series highlighting Fifty Powerful Women in the Jewelry Industry, and that’s when I realized that there wasn’t a ton of information out there about women holding executive positions in the watch circuit. They hold them, don’t get me wrong – and if you’re one of the women who does hold an executive position and you’re reading this, please don’t be offended – there just isn’t a plethora of information available if you’re someone who isn’t in the watch world who needs to find out about women who are. It was tough, let me tell you, and at the end of the day (thankfully because a couple of the women were recommended to me) I did add a few, but out of fifty, there were not many, and that’s when the gears in my brain started turning.
On October 25th I wrote a piece on my jewelry blog titled, “Girl Time: Desperately Seeking Women in the Watch World” and the response the post received was extraordinary, even making one of JCK Magazine’s Top Articles for 2015 that Didn’t Appear on JCKOnline. The time, pun entirely intended, had come to take this to the next level, and by January, after much deliberation, many conversations with trusted friends, a text or twelve with fellow writers, and the support of my incredibly patient husband, I decided not only to go the route of being a full-time blogger, but to also go forward with my idea for a second blog. One that would focus on women’s watches, men’s watches from a woman’s point of view, women holding executive positions in the watch industry, and women who take their watches very seriously.
Women. Watches. Words.
That’s the tagline for this – my new blog – aptly named, What’s On Her Wrist. As you can see, “women” come first, which is why I chose today – International Women’s Day – to introduce it to the world.
It is my opinion that the jewelry and watch sectors of our industry will become more and more integrated in the near future, and with this, we’ll be seeing more female faces in varying genres within the field. Last year the Women’s Jewelry Association added a watch category to their Awards for Excellence. This year, Jewelers of America also added a watch category at the GEM Awards. As I type this, a Watches & Women advisory group is being formed ahead of Baselworld. These are all good things that signify good change, and hopefully this blog will not only play its part, but also a significant role in the continuing developments we hope to see down the road, as well as in the present.
As part of this inaugural post I reached out to six strong, powerful, successful, and well-known women with some connection to the jewelry world and asked them what was on their wrists. I’m honored to say that all six were happy not only to share what they wear, but also to share with me images of their watches.
Ruth was given this Rolex 18K Everose gold and diamond Oyster Perpetual DATEJUST by her husband as a gift this year after announcing that she would be retiring from her executive position at the AGS. When I saw her at the GEM Awards she said to me, “I have GOT to show you my new watch,” which is why she was the first person I thought to ask about appearing in this piece.
Kara purchased this vintage Bulgari Serpenti in 18K yellow gold, enamel, and diamonds for herself at an auction and wears the watch at least once per week. The watch has inspired some of the pieces in Kara’s new Diamonds Unleashed collection, which donates 100% of its net profits to the women’s empowerment initiatives, “Girls Who Code” and “She’s the First.” The diamonds used in that collection are responsibly mined by CanadaMark in the Northwest Territories, and are tracked from place of origin to polished stone.
Marie Helene wears what only Marie Helene can wear: a Hello Kitty watch! When I contacted her about this post, she said, “I have to figure out which one to choose. I go from Apple, to Cartier, Corum, Rolex and Kitty” and promised to get back me to in a couple of days with the one she chose to highlight. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw this picture. It brightened my day just as the woman’s words do, daily.
I remembered seeing an Instagram picture of Marion in a watch, so I reached out to her to tell her about this project and see if she’d be willing to talk about what she wears. Marion replied with, “The one and only watch I wear is my Bulgari Serpenti. To me the timepiece is a statement jewel with the added bonus of telling time. When I put it on, suddenly I feel like Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra. It does everything a good piece of jewelry should do. It shines. It is a conversation piece. I literally think of the whole history of the design every time I put it on.” For those unaware, Marion wrote a book in 2013 on the history of Bulgari’s Serpenti collection.
My guess was that someone who had been named one of the most powerful people in business by The Financial Times and Fortune Magazine, as well as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, wore a watch. Thankfully, I was right. Mindy Grossman was kind enough to get back to me with a picture of a stunning Piaget diamond watch bought for her by her husband, Neil, after initially telling me, “My biggest challenge will be deciding which watch to pick. I love watches and agree that a lot of focus is on men.”
I sent Debra a message yesterday letting her know about my new blog and asking her if I could use a picture I had found of her wearing what appeared to be a pretty nice watch. She replied with, “That’s a costume watch. I’d rather it be one of my personal ones.” She then included this picture of herself with her diamond Maurice Lacroix. When I thanked her for taking the time to send it she said, “I love watches. An obsession of mine. Wanting a deGrisogono with the stingray strap next!”
I hope you enjoyed what you just read. Stay with me as I travel to Baselworld next week to bring you the best in women’s watches with a little side of fun. This may prove to not be your typical watch blog, and the technical details that are found on other sites might initially take a back seat to my quirky world view, but I promise it will at least fill a void and hope that you’ll join me as I learn more on this journey.
As one of my favorite literary characters exclaimed…
“I’m going on an adventure!”