The year in passing was electrifying for watch aficionados, with fabulous exhibitions, new technologies and innovationin the field of time keeping. The watch industry is taking new directions and we have yet to see where will it take us. Sadly, we also said farewell to two legends in the world of horology: Walter Lange of A. Lange & Söhne and Roger Dubuis, both icons in the world of luxury watchmaking.
The year got off to a great start in January with the SIHH international trade fair in Geneva. It instigated a trend of great value for unique and interesting timepieces, as well as horological masterpieces. From then on, Swiss luxury imports to the USA grew for more than ten consecutive months.
In April, Breitling SA, based in Grenchen, Switzerland, one of the last independent, family-owned mainstream companies, sold eighty percent of its holding to CVC Capital Partners for over $870 million dollars. It is reassuring that Breitling heir Theodore Schneider retained twenty percent of the shares and will be actively involved with new developments, and that Georges Kern, former executive of IWC and former member of the Board of Directors of Richmond SA, will take the helm of Breitling as new CEO.
Baselworld, the largest watch industry show brought a tonof exciting new editions and surprising changes to existing lines: Rolex Sky-Dweller in steel and gold, Omega Trilogy LE, Tudor with Breitling movement and vice-versa, Bulgari Octo Finissimo, thinnest automatic on the market, Seiko SLA017 1965 re-edition and many, many more.
Grand Seiko announced its autonomy, becoming an entirely separate brand from Seiko. GS is getting recognized by watch lovers all over the world as one of the best buys for the money offering incredible high quality and precision movements. The USA market welcomed the Japanese sub-brand with first Boutique opening its doors in November in Beverly Hills. I say, just the first of many!
July highlighted the 2017 calendar with Patek Philippe’s The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition, in New York City at Cipriani. The U.S. market has always been one of the biggest for PP and this exhibition confirmed it. It was a huge thank you to the patrons and to ardent collectors. The extraordinary exhibition of skills and power included an extensive collection of watches and clocks dating back as far as the 1500s, emphasizing art, centuries-old craftsmanship, and high technology.
Dozens of watchmakers, enamelers, engravers and other artisans demonstrated their skills and intricacies of Patek timepieces. The Stern family spared no expense, and Thierry Stern and his wife Sandra were on hand during the exhibit. From vintage to new Advanced Research, Patek opened its archives, combining old and new technology with an interactive AI section. Several Limited Editions were unveiled, including the steel Pilot’sCalatrava, the World Time Minute Repeater with cloisonné enamel dial of the New York skyline that chimes selected local times, and the Aquanaut with blue dial, among others.
Blue dial watches took off in the last year, and it seemed like everyone jumped on the bandwagon, from Fossil to Rolex.
Vintage watch prices went through the roof, across the board. Ordinary watches from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s are becoming overpriced and unavailable. Is this a bubble? Perhaps. But for high end vintage watches, scarcity can command a high price.
The highlight of October was the record-breaking auction at the Phillips New York auction of WINNING ICONs – Legendary Watches of the 20th Century. Rolex broke all sorts of records, most importantly as “the most expensive wristwatch ever sold!” For $18.8 million dollars with buyers’ premium, an anonymous bidder purchased Paul Newman’s 1968. Rolex Daytona, in stainless steel, with an exotic dial engraved on the back with a message by his loving wife Joanne Woodward: “Drive Carefully, Me.”
This auction among many others throughout the year by Phillips, Bacs and Russo confirmed that there is a new “sheriff in town.” Charismatic Aurel Bacs takes no prisoners and with his experienced team behind him PB&R left many well-known auction houses in the shadows while climbing to the top of the auction scene.
In summation, 2017 ended a year of healthy growth in sales of finely-crafted timepieces and excitement for collectors of vintage wristwatches. 2018 looks to be another good year as well.
Looking forward to 2018
Very recently, there was news that Baselworld 2018 attendance will be shrinking by half, from about 1500 exhibits to 600-700, but still representing the majority of watch exports. At the same time, SIHH is thriving, adding an additional day in January and more variety with a total of 35 exhibiting brands almost doubling its size. These are signs the industry is shifting.
Baselworld is over 100 years old and it is an exhibition of luxury, power, and innovation. Exhibiting is immensely expensive. Many brands now focus their marketing dollars on social media and the internet, combined with smaller venues and special trips for journalists.
It is likely we will see more companies focusing on:
– Paring down the number of models and lines
– Pulling inspiration from their vintage archives
– Focusing on direct sales
– Enhancing presence on social media and online publications
These are important changes for growth of an industry we all love and cherish.
Written by Roberto Jaksic