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.
For a year that started off with the inauguration of a p*ssy-grabbing, attention-seeking, twitter-obsessed nutjob, 2017 sure as heck turned out better than I expected from a professional standpoint. So without holding back, I’m going to reflect on all that made this year both great and less than stellar, while addressing a few things I’d like to clear up before 2018 knocks on my door.
The Ups, Chronologically
January 2017 started off brilliantly with an invite to my first ever Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. This came as a surprise to me, as well as to many others, since at the time I had only been writing about watches for ten months total. However, my first SIHH was an experience I’ll never forget, and with an invite to attend the 2018 edition it was clear to me that the Richemont brands were largely on board with what I’m doing as a watch writer, and where I’m headed in the future.
March’s Baselworld also proved to be successful, more so when compared to the edition I attended the year before where I pretty much had to bribe the brands with gold bullion in order to get an appointment. Not only was it easier to see watch companies (who thankfully recognized my name and face this year), but it also proved to be a great year for writing gigs, with several interviews happening during the show for various well-known and well-respected publications.
April was filled with speaking engagements at the American Gem Society Conclave in Hollywood, The Women’s Jewelry Association chapter in Chicago, and the Gold Conference at the City University of New York, where my colleagues Monica Stephenson, Peggy Jo Donahue, and I discussed Federal Trade Commission guidelines for disclosure in media; a topic that should be more important within the watch journalism community than it seemingly is. (Full disclosure, people: It’s not just the law, it’s federal law.)
Then along came May and June and an eighteen-day, all-expenses paid trip to Italy to appear in ads and commercials for Celebrity Cruises; something I’ve done with my life partner since 2014. See, writing about watches isn’t my only job, which I’m going to talk a little bit more about later when I get to the “rumors” part of this post.
July was exciting, as I was nominated again for a Women’s Jewelry Association Award for Excellence in the Media category, and while the award went to a different writer, the trip to New York gave me another opportunity to be around my friends and colleagues in the jewelry and watch worlds, as well as to co-host a successful “Whiskey-ish Breakfast” with my AGS Young Titleholder crew. Love you guys! Thanks for always having my back!
August sent me to Houston for Watchonista with Hublot to hang out and golf with Olympian Patrick Reed, and September sent me to Vicenza, Italy where I would experience the grandeur that was the Vicenzaoro Boutique Show and their newest addition to the show – the Not Ordinary Watches (N.O.W.) section, whose focus was on independent watch brands at reasonable price points.
October, however, is when it really started to hit me that what I do for living goes beyond just words on a screen, and that there are women out there who look to me for advice and guidance; a fact that I will never take for granted.
In the first week of October, I was invited to speak in Seattle at a WJA Chapter Event that directly addressed women’s issues, particularly sexual harassment in the jewelry and watch industries. As a sexual assault survivor, victim of sexual harassment, and two-time author of articles about sexual harassment and discrimination in the jewelry and watch industries, it was important for me to be able to be an ear for these women who were willing to open up and share their stories not only with me, but with others who had their own stories. On the day I spoke to the group, the Harvey Weinstein story ran in the New York Times. The timing for this discussion was fitting, and poignant, and needed, and I’ve decided to go even further with these discussions once 2018 rolls around thanks to the encouragement of my friend, jewelry designer Wendy Brandes.
November brought me into the big blue sky for a couple of important reasons: first, to fly with daredevil champion pilot Mike Goulian for a story about Alpina watches for Watchonista; and second, to take a sixteen-hour flight to Dubai as a guest of Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons for the amazingly phenomenal experience that was Dubai Watch Week.
December ended in the most spectacular way possible: driving and judging the Robb Report Cars of the Year for 2018 on a trip to South Florida set up by my wonderful friends at Provident Jewelry. Oh, and I also got to hang out with and pick the brain of the one and only Maximilian Büsser for a couple of days. No big deal, though. Just Max, Me, and an MB&F Legacy Machine on my wrist.
As mentioned, it was overall a pretty damned good year in my eyes, minus a few bumps, as will be mentioned below.
The Downs, Haphazardly
While 2017 had few downs, there were certainly moments where people showed their true colors, their deeper motivations, and the fact that the almighty dollar will often be enough to quiet something that should be a movement. “Money talks/bullshit walks” could have been the mantra for the year 2017, but still, I didn’t let that fact get the best of me.
One of the downs for me is knowing that there are seemingly respected and well-known watch brands out there who use/support/pay influencers to post about their watches without fully disclosing that the influencer has been compensated, and without making sure that the influencer states – in accordance with FTC guidelines – that said influencer/blogger/instagrammer has been paid either via money or product to endorse said brand. Maybe this is me being naïve. Maybe it’s me being in the “Joe Thompson mindset.” You know… the mindset that believes that journalism can’t be bought, and that without unbiased journalism this industry (and this country) will fast wind up in the shitter. But even with it being the downer it is, I’m still doing my best to stand steadfast in my decision to write editorially, and ethically, and to do so with heart, and in my own voice.
Another down for me was noticing just how often brand press releases are merely regurgitated then posted to what many believe to be legitimate news websites in order to be passed off unknowingly to the reader as “journalism.” Although, I guess it’s a down that allows me to stand out from the “copy/paste” crowd. So, I guess that could also be an up, yeah? An up for me, but a down for the act of having an original thought. Ah well.
And lastly, one of the downs brought to my attention was the pressure put on some of those in the watch community whom I have good relationships with by members of the Old Guard, with regard to said relationships. You know the Old Guard… every industry has them. They’re the group of folks who came before you, who feel that simply because they’ve been doing the job longer they’re better at it than you are, or know more than you do, or that they are entitled to opportunities and press trips and event invitations before you (heaven forbid they actually try to mentor you. Oh, heavens no! Why would they do THAT??) The Old Guard is sort of like the Mafia; not *really* all that relevant anymore, and yet people still fear them out of some sort of tradition and ritual. And this “down” wasn’t so much that it was a down for me, but rather a down for those in the industry who’ve had to be subjected to the drama and nonsense that the Old Guard bestowed upon them, because of their own insecurities. It’s sad really. Sad, and a little bit evil. But… the poor Old Guard never quite met the likes of me. The Old Guard has clearly never been to Philly.
Ah, the rumors. Yes, the rumors have certainly added to 2017 in an interesting and yet disheartening sort of way. The rumors have ranged all the way from writers claiming I’m trying to steal their jobs to those who’re saying I’m trying to screw my way into the watch industry. It’s so fun being me these days. So much fun having to look someone in the face and wonder whether or not they think I’m a legitimate writer or a vamp who’s trying to sleep her way into… um… well… into what exactly? I mean, if there’s an industry anyone would try to sleep their way into, would it really be watches? Have you seen watch people? No offense guys, but, beards really aren’t my thing. So let’s talk truths now.
Here’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… unadulterated, uncensored, and unbiased. And if you can’t handle strong language, or a strong opinion, then I suggest you close your browser now.
Truth: I am a twenty-two-year veteran of the jewelry industry. Just over two years ago, when I decided to write about watches, it was because the only watch articles I found even vaguely interesting by writers based in the United States were ones written by men. Nothing made me laugh. Plenty made me think, but not in an emotional way. Everything was stoic, and exact. Things were written mechanically and largely for collectors or experts. Not much was written for the novice, let alone the female novice, and so I set forth to change that. I write for me and people like me. I write for buyers like me. I write for retailers who know me, who think like I do, and who trust my opinion. I write to entertain my reader, and to engage them through the story. I don’t write for the brands; I write for those who buy the brands. I write in my own voice, with my own words, and with my own thoughts. For those spreading the rumors, you should put down your drink, take your head out of your ass, and try that for a change.
Truth: I am a mother to two kids, ages seven and eleven; one girl, and one boy. To think that anyone who knows that fact would willingly try to destroy my reputation through untruths and deceit angers me to a level I’m not comfortable with. To think that my daughter still lives in a world where her worth will be determined by what people will believe about her sex life is astounding to me, and I’m embarrassed for those who would take part in such behavior. It’s shameful and disgusting, and karma is a bitch.
Truth: I have had my fair share of sex in my life, not that it’s anyone’s business, because let’s face it, how many men do you know in the watch or the jewelry industry who’ve f*cked or hit on everything with a pulse? Plenty, though I’ll refrain from naming any of them. But because they’re men, no one says a peep. No one blinks. Women are held to some ridiculous standard when it comes to the amount of sex they have or who they’ve had it with or when – and largely that standard is held up by other women. My husband is well aware of my sexual history (after all, he’s edited this here piece) and has neither judged me nor taken issue with it. And his is the only opinion that matters to me at the end of the day.
Truth: Don’t worry about what I’m doing. Worry about why you’re worried about what I’m doing. If you’re so petty as to tell blatant lies about someone whom you see as a threat, then you seriously need a f**king hobby. As for me, I’ll be over here raising my two bright, creative, and well-adjusted kids, cooking like an Iron Chef, modelling part-time for an internationally-known company that sends me all over the world (and pays me a shit-ton), speaking to and mentoring women who are trying to find their way in this industry, and writing about watches in an original, fun, and unique way that has gotten me noticed like you’ve never been noticed IN YOUR LIFE. So, at the end of the day, do yourself a favor and remember these tasty little morsels the next time you want to open your mouth about me:
I will outwrite you.
I will outsmart you.
I will out-dress you.
I will out-etiquette you.
And I will do so with a soufflé in one hand and a paycheck in the other, all while looking good in a pair of skinny jeans and high-heeled boots.
For all the brands, PR folks, journalists, retailers, and industry people who’ve helped make this year special for me, I thank you, and appreciate you, and I value our relationship. Let’s make the new year the most important, most ethical, and most successful yet.
Peace out, 2017. Nothin’ but love for ya. It’s been a thin slice of heaven, truth be told.
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.