As Baselworld 2012, the World Watch and Jewellery Show held from March 8 in Basel (Switzerland), readies for opening, the CEO of Paris-based watch distribution firm Templus, Jean-Jacques Weber, gives us a preview of the major trends of the show and discusses new watch functions. For Weber, who has a passion for fine watches and who will be attending the Swiss event for the 35th time, the watch has become a must-have accessory for both men and women.
Relaxnews: In France, sales increased by 9 percent in 2011. How do you explain the market's strength in these times of financial uncertainty?
Jean-Jacques Weber: Watchmaking remains strong because it is a field that has revolutionized itself from within. It's one of magical craftwork, technique, aesthetics, fashion, trends and even economics. Watchmakers have succeeded in making the watch a truly interesting object. It has become a social sign.
R.: Have watches become standalone accessories?
JJW: They have. A watch still tells the time. Its primary function has not disappeared. But it has also become an accessory. Today, one could say: "Show me your watch, and I'll tell you who you are." Self-conscious people cannot ignore the watch as a style statement.
R: Is this the reason why the French possess more than just one watch?
JJW: Today, it's common to find men and women owning up to eight watches. For ladies, a watch could be compared to a handbag. Both elements can be paired with certain clothing styles or daytime/nighttime activities. A watch is a must-have. Women sometimes buy a watch even though they do not need a new one: therein lies the watchmakers' technical and aesthetical success. The watch is not just a random accessory anymore.
R: Will luxury brands offer an increasing number of affordable models?
JJW: Not necessarily. Each one has their own idea of luxury. I, for one, distribute Porsche Design watches priced at more than €2,000, but also other brands selling for €400. How is luxury defined then? Isn't a €400€ watch already a luxury item -- knowing that the average purchase in France came in at about €97 in 2011? All in all, luxury is not something we know how to define for sure.
R: With this average in mind, would you say the French customers tend to buy low-end products?
JJW: No, not necessarily. For example, a Swatch watch retails at €50. But it still is a real brand and a mark of quality. The French are then able to own several watches selling for less, sometimes the same model in various colors.
R: Does it mean that price is not always a sign of quality?
JJW: This is not a simple question. There are some very complicated parts in a watch and those parts vary from one watch to another. Some watches display a mineral glass protecting the dial. That kind of glass is better than the plastic covering some dials but not as good as the sapphire glass covering other dials. Sometimes, the mere glass costs more than the watch itself.
R: Could you describe the major trends of the next Baselworld?
JJW: Customers will favor classic designs, not the extravagant models. Each brand will focus on its origins and know-how. The watches will be quietly elegant and simple. But this stylistic simplicity will hide elaborate and original movements with precise design. The cases will display pure lines but in a highly technical fashion.
R: Will unisex watches be big at Baselworld?
JJW: It's not a new trend. They have been trendy for a long time. There are watches for men and watches for women. But no one really knows who really wears what. TechnoMarine will soon offer a 45 mm dial watch. The only element that will help distinguish between the masculine and feminine model will be the color. But men might wear the pink watch and vice versa.
R: What's really new?
JJW: I think that the brands will innovate in their own domains and know-how. There will not be any surprise: Eterna will showcase Eterna models, Porsche Design will present Porsche Design creations, etc...
R: Any advice for the customers who intend to buy a new watch?
JJW: We no longer need watches -- at least not for their primary function, since we can read the time anywhere (computer, dashboard, microwave). All I have to say is that when it comes to buying a new watch, follow your tastes and your desires.