Baselworld 2016 was a relatively quiet affair. In comparison to the melee of previous years it was a subdued and pared back event. Against the uneasy backdrop of contemporaneous terrorist attacks in Belgium, the fair exuded a stoic maturity at odds with the bombastic braggadocio of years past.
More by chance than design the watches and trends on show were also quieter and more thoughtful than their immediate antecedents. Although no blanket rule can be applied to an exhibition of such diversity, the modal trend seemed to be a reduction in diameter and the overall streamlining of case silhouettes.
Gone were the meretricious monstrosities from the usual offenders; in their place, slim-line watches powered by incredibly thin movements took centre stage.
With the industry reacting to an overbearing sense of global austerity, watch design is mimicking the feeling in the air. The emphasis is suddenly on quality and economy – getting as much as you can for your money and having the confidence that your money is safe in your investment. Requiring this level of value retention from a watch puts a great deal of pressure on watchmakers (or, perhaps more accurately, brands) to offer a previously profligate consumer base with gram-for-gram quality.
Some brands are excellent at ticking all the boxes, but even more are succeeding in crafting slim-line base calibres that will no doubt be the foundation of their future wares. NOMOS Glashütte, Piaget, and Bvlgari to name but a few have achieved excellent results – both aesthetic and technical – with their in-house, super slim movements.
From an investment standpoint, this is good news for the consumer. Ultra-slim watches never really go out of fashion, and even when they do dip in popularity you know they’re coming back in a few years. With such a restrained aesthetic, necessitated by the significant reduction of real estate, there’s normally less opportunity to mess things up. Classic, eternally elegant watches hold their value well; they also make great family heirlooms. You can bet your son or daughter will be more than happy to inherit something that manages to encapsulate its own time, while still being able to keep theirs in style.
It’s also a superb time to think about selling your old watch and parlaying your return into a new piece. Vintage has rarely been more in vogue. With old school diameters holding court, your battered quartz Ebel is suddenly the flavour of season. Capitalise. Sell now and buy a new, in-house, super slim calibre that will refresh and underpin and collection for years to come.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.