Uncertain demand at Basel watch fair

Uncertain demand at Basel watch fair
A visitor walks in front of the exhibition stands of Zenith watches at Baselworld fair in Basel.

ZURICH - The world's biggest watch fair opens today in Basel, offering an industry showcase for the world's most extravagant, rare and complex timepieces.

The 42nd Baselworld, which opened in the northern Swiss city to the media yesterday, was expected to draw about 100,000 visitors.

Nearly 1,500 exhibitors, including leading watch brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breguet and Omega, will be there, offering styles for all budgets, from affordable plastic sports watches to intricately detailed mechanic time pieces that can be priced well above the one million Swiss franc (S$1.4 million) mark.

Hublot, a brand belonging to French luxury group LVMH, for instance, told Agence France-Presse it would unveil a watch with a face made of osmium crystal, a new material. Like other prestige brands, it is in a race to offer collectors exclusive models not dangling from every wrist.

It has teamed up with a Swiss scientific team to develop a new way to work with osmium - a rare metal in the platinum family which when crystallised, has a rare shine to it, the brand said.

Baselworld is the most important event of the year for the global watch industry, with retailers making the lion share of their annual orders there. And marketplace observers descend on the fair for guidance on the hottest trends for the coming year.

Financial analysts, too, follow the hustle and bustle at Baselworld closely as they attempt to decipher the health of the global luxury market. "From a demand perspective, this edition of Baselworld is probably going to be one of the most uncertain since the collapse of 2009, because of the drop in China," Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said.

Swiss watchmakers, especially in the high-end segment, have been hit hard by a drop in demand in China last year as Beijing attempted to rein in corruption, including bans on extravagant gifts in business settings.

The new, more austere reality for the luxury brands should also leave its mark on watch designs. "I would be very surprised to see a resurgence of the bling-bling era," Mr Cox said.

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