Professional Jeweler Archive: Time at Basel: ItŐs Automatic

June 2003


Time at Basel: It's Automatic

Self-winding and mechanical movements are at the heart of bold new designs at BaselWorld 2003

Watches revealed their inner selves at BaselWorld in April as brand after brand introduced clear sapphire-backed automatic movements in new and existing lines. While several major companies offered their very first automatic or manual collections, some that have carried them longer emphasized the technique more than in past years.

The technical emphasis didn’t replace the focus on design, material and case shape, but it did become more central to the message watch companies want to convey to retailers and consumers.

Here’s a closer look at the time trends of Basel.

Shapes & Materials

Many companies add new functions to their round steel-case watches and also offer retro-inspired tonneau or cushion shapes. Several high-profile lines are wider from left to right (often called a screen or East-West shape). Or they’re cushion-shaped with a twist for a 1970s look.

Watches remain large for women and men, with a minimum 40mm diameter standard for new men’s watches, 42mm described as large and several millimeters wider called extra large.

Diamonds are less of a focus compared with last year, though most brands continue to develop models with diamond bezels or markers as a standard feature.

Titanium is even more popular, especially as a component of sport watches, including many dive models introduced this year. More black PVD bracelets and straps are evident.

Under the Hood

Wherever watch enthusiasts gather, discussion turns to what’s inside the latest models. These buyers comprise a niche market that is having growing influence on the buying habits of the general public and what watch companies offer. At BaselWorld, for example, companies such as Movado, Swiss Army Brands, TAG Heuer, Leonard, Tissot, Longines and Ebel offered new watches influenced by interest in automatic movements.

Many other companies expanded their automatic collections to encompass women’s watches, including complications. Breguet, for example, offers a new tourbillon for women (Timepieces/New Products, pp. 70-71) while Patek Philippe places one of its mechanical calibers inside its top-selling Twenty-4 with diamonds (“Luxury Timepieces,” p. 84).

Moonphases appear to be making a comeback. Maurice Lacroix unveils a women’s complication – the first in its Masterpiece collection – and a men’s tonneau. The women’s model, called Phase de Lune Dame, has a hand-decorated movement that’s visible through a sapphire caseback. Bulgari offers a complication for women and a new moonphase for men. Oris, which sells only mechanical watches, debuts a full series called Artelier that focuses on the inside. It also offers new moonphases, chronographs and big date versions.

Launches and Complications

Renowned retail jeweler H. Stern, which made its first appearance as a supplier at BaselWorld, offers a new automatic model (a men’s annual calendar). Seiko has new Kinetic chronographs and other Kinetic models for selective retailers. Another notable launch: watches using two proprietary base movements and six calibers made only by Revue Thommen (under new owner Grovana of Switzerland.)

At the higher end, numerous companies offer new watches with single complications, including many with retrograde seconds or minutes, GMT functions or big date displays. Blancpain and Breguet introduce complex alarm watches that remain easy to use. Breguet also plans to create many of its watches with clear casebacks.

Patek Philippe, meanwhile, introduces more models that offer views of the movement, including the focus at Basel this year: a tourbillon integrated into the company’s 10-day movement and visible from the back only. The placement reportedly reduces detrimental effects of ultraviolet rays on the critical oils required to maintain accuracy.

Limited Editions

Many more companies now have limited editions, most of them numbered and made of precious metal. Many made by Corum, which feature handcrafted dials and unique styling, were sold before the show ended. Among other limited editions is a tourbillon by Jorg Hysek, who will hand-deliver to the buyer (along with an original painting) each of 10 watches.

At Ebel, only five Golden Five models from its 1911 series are for sale. The number symbolizes Ebel’s new five-year unconditional warranty for all its watches. Ebel will make 1,500 in steel.

Longines and Tissot debut limited editions based on their classic designs from the 1930s and 1940s, and Tissot celebrates its 150th anniversary with a limited Heritage model. Breitling celebrates the first flight at Kitty Hawk 100 years ago with 100 gold Montbrilliant chronographs with flyback function.


More than a few digitals debut, some in unexpected places. Ventura enhances its digital expertise with the V-Tech Alpha, a refined digital display that needs no buttons but instead features a scroll wheel at the top of its movie-screen-shaped face. TAG-Heuer introduces a digital display, Microsplit, that counts to 1/1,000th of a second. And Chanel, in its first Basel appearance, offers a chic digital display called Chocolat.

– by Michael Thompson

Swiss Army debuts its first mechanical line with Air Boss, four models with black dials and flight-jacket-brown leather straps or steel bracelets. Three models – Mach 1, Mach 2 and Mach 3 (right in photo) – are available in automatic or quartz. The Mach 4 (left in photo) is a limited edition (50 pieces) with hand-wind mechanical Unitas movement visible through the caseback. All but Mach 1 feature an inner rotating countdown bezel. Suggested retail, $425-$650 for Mach 4 on a strap, $750 on a steel bracelet.

Swiss Army Brands, Shelton, CT; (800) 442-2706,

Revue Thommen revives two exclusive movements with six caliber variations. New owner Grovana of Switzerland makes the movements with the original tooling and uses them in the widely expanded Revue Thommen line. This Open Heart model features the company’s GT 54 automatic movement seen through the front (right in the photo) and back (left in the photo). Suggested retail starts at $995 for steel and rises to $1,095 for the goldplated model pictured.

Revue Thommen, Exclusive International, Flemington, NJ; (908) 788-0029,

Renowned retailer H. Stern plans to distribute watches to select dealers worldwide and introduces this 18k Caliber 262 automatic annual calendar model. The brand’s first automatic, the watch will be delivered in a winder box and needs date adjusting only once a year, on Feb. 28 or 29. A seconds subdial and a month indicator are placed on the guilloche white gold dial. Fifty each of rose, white and yellow gold will be made. Suggested retail, $15,300-$17,100.

H. Stern, New York City; (212) 655-3930.

Chopard makes its own Quattro tourbillon for the high-end L.U.C. line. The four-barrel Chopard movement features a nine-day power reserve (with eight-day indicator on the dial) and is a certified chronometer. The company makes several patented components for the movement. Made in rose gold and platinum.

Chopard, New York City; (212) 218-7218,

Leonard debuts its Curve model, shown with automatic movement (large) and quartz (smaller). “Automatic” is emblazoned on the dial. Interchangeable straps include a smooth and colorful selection of galuchat (sting ray) versions and leather (shown). Suggested retail, $950 to $2,300.

Leonard Watches, New York City; (212) 869-3799,

Maurice Lacroix designed its first Masterpiece for women. Called Masterpiece Phase de Lune Dame, it features indicators for moonphase, week, day and date on a solid silver or mother-of-pearl dial. The diamond version contains 50 VS diamonds. The hand-decorated movement is visible through the sapphire caseback.

Maurice Lacroix, Encino, CA; (800) 794-7736,

Ventura’s new V-Tech Alpha Digital features a unique scroll device, seen on the upper right on the case. Users access various features by using the scroll device. Functions include time, second time zone, chronograph, alarm, countdown and date. Suggested retail, $990+.

Ventura USA, (260) 436-9294,

Ebel’s Tarawa is named for a Polynesian island where volcanoes create rippled lava. The brand places an automatic chronograph (which is chronometer-certified) into this double-curved case and crystal. This case is 49.5mm tip to tip; other sizes are available, including a women’s version. The open caseback for the chronograph and the smaller “senior” size displays the Ebel-refined movement. Prices for the midsize start at $2,950 and for the large one shown, $5,500.

Ebel, New York City; (212) 888-3235,

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications