The world’s biggest annual watch and jewelry fair, BaselWorld, opened its doors to 100,000 visitors in the Swiss town of Basel over the weekend. With glittering displays ranging from diamond-laden watches to emerald necklaces, it highlights the best, and most expensive, on offer in the world of luxury goods.
Increasingly, the fate of luxury watchmakers and jewelers depends on Asia. In 2011, Swiss watchmakers’ exports to Asia accounted for more than half of annual sales. Exports to China saw the fastest growth rate at 50 percent last year.
And for now, they see no signs of a slowdown in Chinese demand in 2012. Click ahead to see what the elite really want, and how much they are prepared to pay for it.
By Carolin Schober
Posted March 9th 2012
Crafted from 18k red or yellow gold with a bracelet set with 144 full cut diamonds and a mother of pearl dial, these watches are described by Omega, Swiss watch maker since 1848 as “a compelling blend of elegance and the brand’s best mechanical watch making technology”.
In 2011 Swiss watchmakers dodged a triple whammy of a record high Swiss franc the disaster in Japan and the Arab spring with ease, delivering an impressive 19 percent growth of Swiss watch exports to 19.3 billion francs ($21.1 billion). That was helped by buoyant demand particularly from China, but also a rebound in luxury appetite from the U.S. and Japan. Francois Thiebaud, head of the Swiss exhibitors' committee, said that "if exports reach between 20 and 25 billion francs in 2012, we would be satisfied."
Price: Up to $50,000
Rolex’s new Oyster Perpetual Sky Dweller is described as one of the biggest launches of 2012. Modelled by tennis ace, Roger Federer, the new model boasts a 24-hour disc display, their calibre 9001 high-performance movement, the Ring Command bezel allowing the global traveller to set watch functions easily, and an annual calendar which differentiates between 30- and 31-date months. Available with champagne, ivory or chocolate dials, each watch features 18 ct yellow, white or everose gold. It is also waterproof to nearly 330 feet.
Price: Start at $70,610
These four ladies watches from American diamond giant, Harry Winston, are very original as the dial on each watch decorated with feather art, traditionally used to embellish the head wear of royalty. With each feather selected with great care from peacock or pheasants, arranged on a dial that takes seven hours to make and set within precious stones, every watch in this collection is unique.
Asked by CNBC about the biggest headwinds for 2012, Harry Winston’s CEO Frederic de Narp was relaxed. He indicated that the company would be insulated from a potential slowdown in China, and said: "For the broader industry, maybe a deceleration of Chinese growth is a key risk, but we are just embarking in China, there are no comparisons."
Price: From $76,000
Described as “something Cleopatra would have worn”, his bejewelled watch from Italian Jeweler, Bvlgari is shaped to look like a serpent that wraps around the wearers wrist. Made with mother of pearl and enamel and set with brilliant cut diamonds.
Price: Not released yet
Christian Dior has released new additions to its Dior VIII Grand Bal collection for this year’s Baselworld. The watches sport 38 mm high-tech black or white ceramic, or white gold dials. Along with these, there is a 0.06 carat rose-cut diamond crown, the 18-carat yellow gold hands plus stones encrusted on the bezel featuring a ceramic bracelet with pyramid links.
Price: Approx. $271,000
This is a one of kind pocket watch from French Luxury house Hermes is described as a “true art object”. Inspired by the astrolabe, from Greek meaning “star taker”, an instrument for measuring the height of the sun or a star above the horizon; the watch is made using traditional hand-crafted technique of plique a jour enamel. This involves three stages and gives the final effect of a miniature stained glass window that allows light to pass through the enamel. The case is white gold.
Housed in a platinum case with an alligator strap the new Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph with perpetual calendar features all the traditional assets that impress true watch connoisseurs – manual winding, two column wheels, and horizontal clutch – yet it is also the most modern representative of its category.
Thierry Stern, President of the high-end Geneva-based manufacturer was optimistic for the year ahead but told CNBC: "we are relying on growth from all over the world, not just China."
Price: From $786,000
Chopard's Imperiale Tourbillon Full Set is as much high jewelry as it is a timepiece in its own right, comprised of an 18-carat white gold case and dial entirely set with diamonds. It demonstrates the brand’s expertise in the two fields on which it has built its reputation. The gem-setting work is complemented by high tech movement and it is designed, developed and crafted by hand. It is also equipped with a tourbillon, a complication rarely seen on ladies’ models.
Price: $3.1 million
The Romanov necklace from the House of Faberge took 14 months to make and recreates a design from 1885. It contains 79 emeralds and 1991 diamonds that total 363.48 carats. Representing the grandeur of the Rovanov period and their particular love of emeralds, the necklace is based on an original belonging to the Grand Duchess of Vladimirovna, sister in law to the Russian Tsar Alexander III, whose jewels were smuggled out of Russia at the time of the Revolution. Despite the history of the design the necklace has been made with modern versatility: constructed in three separate parts it can be detached and worn in several different ways.
Price: $5 million
The highlight of Basel World was Swiss brand Hublot's $5 million watch – thought to be the world’s most expensive time piece- encrusted with 1,282 diamonds, including six stones which are more than three carats each. The watch took 17 people 14 months to set the more than 140 carats of diamonds on the watch's white gold bracelet.
Mr Jean-Claude Biver, president of the watch company which is owned by French luxury giant LVMH, said it would be hard to make a more expensive watch 'because the surface of the watch is limited.' Although he declined to give details he said several people had expressed an interest in buying the watch. The watchmaker celebrated a record year in 2011, with sales up by 30 per cent, and Jean-Claude Biver says he is expecting the same for 2012.
Price: $8 million for necklace
Bayco’s sapphire and diamond necklace, made with three Burmese oval sapphires, two at the front and one in a clasp at the back and 123 colorless diamonds, is a brilliant example of its business model: to make jewelry for Kings and Queens. Based in New York this family jewelry house has roots in Italy, India and Persia and its collections are often influenced by the Mogul era and the jewels of Indian maharajahs. If you have the money to spare, be assured that you won’t see this anywhere else, each piece is a one-of-a-kind and handcrafted in New York