With 2019’s first major watch fair out of the way, what can we expect for the rest of the year (and beyond)?
By Chris Hall
Complicated watches are back
You may feel like they never went away, with pieces like this, and this, starring in 2018’s roster. But taking the industry-wide view, we have definitely been through a more subdued couple of years, where steel-cased and time-only pieces got priority. Well, not any more. There were perpetual calendars and tourbillons everywhere you looked at SIHH, as well as two or three genuine mega-watches (Best In Show has to go to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel). The watch world might be slightly premature on this front – it’s not as if the export stats have really shifted that much – but you get the sense they just couldn’t hold themselves back any longer.
The heritage train might be slowing down
True, the brands at SIHH skew heavily towards young independents and avant-garde specialists, but there is a definite feeling that chasing the 1950s/60s/70s *delete as preferred* marketing magic might be on the wane. Audemars Piguet was nothing if not brave with the Code 11:59, and everyone from Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC to Girard-Perregaux and Panerai (even Panerai, for whom “heritage” is four-fifths of its strategy) presented distinctly forward-looking takes on their staple watches. Only Montblanc remained truly committed to the new-retro aesthetic, and to give it its due, what we saw looked jolly handsome. When the likes of Swatch Group and LVMH – not to mention Breitling – get into their stride later in the year there’s no doubt we’ll see another crop of faux-vintage revivals, but for now we can dare to contemplate that just maybe this is the beginning of the end.
Last year we wrote about the collective desire of the horological world to save the oceans and all that swims in them (a vital cause, don’t get me wrong) but I think 2019 is going to be the year that every brand wakes up to sustainability. Expect more and more initiatives announced to conserve water, save marine life and make use of recycled goods. You can expect us to follow this one closely, and go beyond the press releases. (Meanwhile, literal green watches continue to proliferate, but unlike the mass adoption of the blue dial, some are starting to look a bit tired already).
There’s a change coming
We already knew that this would be the last SIHH for Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille (who bowed out in typically flamboyant style), and it was announced late last year that SIHH and Baselworld would move their dates together from 2020, with both events taking place back-to-back in late April/early May. The Swatch Group won’t be at Basel (it’ll be showing new watches to retailers at the same time, in Zurich). Combined, the effect is one of confusion over when new watches will be presented – if you’re a keen watch fan accustomed to seeing – and buying – at the big fairs, then prepare for things to be a bit different in the coming years. There is particular uncertainty facing the smaller and independent watch brands, who moved to SIHH when Richemont launched the “Carré des Horlogers” concept in 2016. It will be impossible for them to do both Baselworld and SIHH (as many do now) when they take place back-to-back, so will either have to choose which show brings the greater benefits (or lower price) or do something different entirely.