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Baselworld: Swiss watchmakers meet connected watch head-on

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AFP
Published
today Mar 18, 2015
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The major international watch and jewellery event opens this year on rather unstable ground after years of strong growth as it faces currency issues and in particular stiff competition from the likes of Apple.

This sector, which for a long time seemed to be resisting the financial crisis, is now facing a whole host of complications, including the anti-corruption measures in China, which have had a major effect on luxury watch sales for the past two years, the shake-up of the ruble, which has eaten away the buying power of a rich Russian clientele, and the recent sudden rise of the Swiss franc since the Swiss bank's change in direction in its monetary policy.

Baselworld

"To tell you that we are going through a euphoric time would be far from the truth," said Sylvie Ritter, the director of the trade fair, during a press conference held on the eve of the opening of Baselworld to the public.

She did nevertheless say that she is expecting the event, which remains a major essential rendezvous for trade professionals, to attract some 150,000 visitors from more than 40 countries who will be able to visit with some 1,500 exhibitors.

This year's event will be dominated by the connected watch, in reaction to the imminent launch of the Apple watch, which will arrive in stores on 24 April in 9 countries, including the US, France and the United Kingdom.

More than ten Swiss watchmakers have already announced that they will be presenting their own smartwatch at Baselworld, stated Sylvie Ritter, who says she is convinced that technology can perfectly cohabitate with traditional watchmaking.

"These two worlds are more complimentary than they are antagonistic," she says.

According to forecasts by the American research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple could sell 15.4 million units around the world in 2015.

The American giant's basic model, which will cost 349 dollars, is well below the average price practiced by Swiss watch manufacturers.

But the technology giant is also counting on releasing a luxury version of its "revolutionary" watch, at a price of more than 10,000 dollars.

However, watchmakers are ready to meet the challenge of the new technology to protect their domain.

Tag Heuer, the landmark label of French luxury group LVMH in the watch segment, is one of the brands that intends to play in the same league as Apple. The luxury brand on Thursday will announce the name of the Silicon Valley giant with which it will create its own smartwatch.

While smartwatches were practically absent from the trade fair last year, several Swiss brands have since joined the race, such as Breitlung, which will present its connected watch for pilots, and Frédérique Constant, which will launch a watch making it possible to monitor sleep cycles.

During the press conference, Ronald Bernheim, one of the founders of Mondaine, the brand that supplies the clocks for the Swiss railway system, explained that the situation is somewhat different than in the 1970s, another period when Swiss watchmakers experienced a profound crisis with the arrival of quartz watches from Japan.

"But it is a matter that we have to take seriously," he said.

Putting smart watches aside though, the richest of the fair's visitors will also be able to set their sights on some very luxurious items, such as a transformable piece by London's prestigious jeweller, Graff: the 40 million dollar "The Fascination", which incorporates 152.96 carats of the purest white diamonds and a rare 38.12 carat D flawless pear-shaped diamond that can be worn as a bracelet or a ring.
 

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