Watch words: a trip down memory lane

Baselworld is the Watch industry’s great annual bacchanal. Not only watches. But it’s the one I focus on, because the fair is not long enough for me to visit the jewelry section (though I do browse there)….  I have been going regularly since 2008, when I wrote my first review for business guide. In 2011, I had a rich harvest…

Anyone with a decent nose and a functioning lizard brain would have noticed the change 20 meters after the turnstiles at Baselworld 2011. The pungent, oily smell from the tchotchke candles sputtering away at the Zenith stand had vanished into last year’s thin air. Gone too were all the signs of the Thierry Nataf era, including those pseudo-brainy ads with the frowning male models and the girlies pushing very costly and blustery watches. What remains is sobriety, functionality, understatement, in other words pure Zenith from the days of 2 + 2 = 4. The Striking Tenth, already prominently displayed last year, still has flagship radiance, the new Stratos is a relaunch from 1969, sportive, muscular, but not steroidal.

Zenith passes the breathalizer

Zenith represents well the changes that have swept the Swiss watch industry over the past, say, 10 years, when people believed in the magic growth of money and the Madoff snake oil. How could something promoted with loud and ostentatious events and fetching absurd prices not be worth a lot of money? Today, the company is buying back the unsellables and moving forward with its classics – with, I hear, some technical involvement from LVMH Group partner Hublot. Not everyone thinks poorly of Nataf. “Whenever I used to show my watches to distributors, I was ignored,” recalls one former Zenith salesman from the early days. “Now they wouldn’t dream of doing that anymore. That is to Nataf’s credit.”

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