Swiss Hits for the Miss: Mechanical Women’s Watches Show Their Faces (and Backs) In Basel
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.