This is the second of two “top 10 watches” lists aBlogtoWatch has prepared after the Baselworld 2016 watch trade show. This year, we decided to dedicate one top 10 list to totally new watches and another top 10 list to exciting updated watches. This list is the latter, focusing on existing watch models that have been updated well for 2016, or that have new variations which are noteworthy and help emphasize particular themes.
Given that so much of the watch industry looks to Rolex for direction and validation, I want to say that a very core theme of Baselworld 2016 was doing things “The Rolex Way.” This statement debuted last year in 2015, I believe, as the famous Swiss watch brand’s new overall slogan. Each decision the brand makes is said to be the result of a process that the company refers to as “The Rolex Way,” and I’ll be the first to say that they aren’t making it up. When it comes to product design and enhancement, The Rolex Way is about offering subtle, yet continual updates to its core collection of products. Rolex rarely releases brand new models, but rather updates existing models with new technology, case shapes, dial details, movements, and executions. So many other competitor brands engaged in this strategy at Baselworld 2016 that we could easily summarize the show as being “Baselworld 2016: Doing Things The Rolex Way.”
I had promised to also cover some design and product trends in this article that we saw at Baselworld 2016, which I will briefly discuss now. Brands are still excited about blue-colored watches and titanium seems to be the primary “non-steel” metal of focus. It is part of a larger trend of weight reduction because brands and consumers are getting very excited about timepieces that don’t weigh a lot. Over the last few years, we saw watch brands experimenting with various types of carbon and resins to produce watch cases. These materials are inherently not luxurious, but the particular way they are formulated and machined can vary greatly. If you can forgive brands for charging premium prices for these new materials, then the market continues to grow with a fascinating variety of watches that weigh a lot less than you’d expect. Titanium, of course, is the classic lightweight watch case material, so it makes sense to see a lot of it this year.
The push for brands to go “in-house” is stronger than ever. Regardless of whether there is true value for consumers in having watches with in-house-made movements, the consumers have spoken with their wallets, and brands understand that offering watches with in-house, exclusive, or modified base movements is increasingly important. Tudor, for example, included in-house movements in their champion-seller which is the Black Bay. Moreover, you’ll notice that only two of the watches on this list of the top 10 existing watch updates from Baselworld 2016 have sourced movements – the rest being in-house or calibers produced totally exclusively for the brand.
Sport watches are still the best sellers in established markets. Asia still sells a lot of dress watches, but the nature of sport watches makes them more enjoyable to purchase in any variety. Most watch collectors who own a dress watch only have one or a few of them. Most people buy a limited amount of dress watches because the modern watch collector tends to have less use for them. Sport watches further offer more visual and technical variety, which helps them be more popular, and regular sellers. Thus, it is sporty or design-driven watches which we see as being the most popular, with dress watches coming out regularly, but with all the excitement of a new suit. They feel more necessary than fun most of the time.
The vintage watch craze is slowly leveling out to simply mean an industry which has rediscovered the value of watches for people who want comfort, legibility, and clear design focus. We see very few (but some) “retro re-issue” watches, but a lot of timepieces with design cues learned as a result of an industry that has spent about five years rediscovering what makes a timepiece worth wearing. A better term for describing this is perhaps “timeless,” which, for me, means that a watch looks good when you bought it, and remains looking good and working well for years to come. Timeless watches are probably the opposite of novelty watches – but that doesn’t mean a novelty watch can’t become timeless.
Baselworld 2016 did have a huge amount of variety, as always, and it is difficult to summarize broad themes because each brand has its own personality and goals. With that said, I would say that expensive watches tended to feel expensive and worthwhile, and that budget watches seemed to be more appealing in design and value overall. Brands are sobering up from an era of being able to sell frivolous designs and illogically priced goods – embracing the values that helped make wrist watches great items to own and collect to begin with.
I’ll end on the topic of smartwatches and other connected wearables that continue to be a major part of the industry’s contemporary experience. TAG Heuer reports excellent sales for its Connected smartwatch, and brands like Tissot have marked a serious entrance by The Swatch Group into the smartwatch segment. The Japanese are still slow to the smartwatch game, but I think for good reason as they continue to test how new technology and consumer expectations meld with their core strengths and brand values. Casio showed their new Android Wear-powered smartwatch that will ship at the end of March 2016 and will be an interesting competitor to the TAG Heuer Connected, albeit at a much lower price.
Many brands eager to get into the technology wearables space are finally realizing that traditional watch consumers (unlike those who currently have empty wrists) are interestrd in technology but don’t want to replace their beloved timepieces with something new. We thus see a focus on various types of smart straps, bracelets, attachments, and other accessories which complement rather than replace the traditional watch wearing experience. Many of these products are not yet ready for prime time – such as the Victorinox Swiss Army INOX Cybertool, but are eagerly anticipated by the market. Perhaps the most serious contender when it comes to the activity tracker space is Misfit, which is now part of the watch industry thanks to its parent company, the Fossil Group. Interestingly enough, the new Misfit Ray is a small cylinder-style item with small spring bars attached to either end designed to incorporate various straps – a lot like a watch. It is further meant to be worn along with a watch on either the same or opposite wrist.
Smartwatches will continue to slowly but surely invade the traditional watch industry as the major luxury timepiece makers understand the available technology as well as consumer preferences more in the future. I believe that the enduring sentiment among traditional watch brands when it comes to smartwatches is that if the smart wearable industry is as big as everyone says it is going to be, then there is little reason to rush to market since there will be ample time to design and test the right product for them.
In our list of top 10 existing watch updates from Baselworld 2016, you’ll see a few themes, and we aren’t bashful that at least one brand has as many as three positions on the list. Updated existing watches are those which aren’t a new family, but rather have exceptional new versions or important across-the-board updates which make them even better. Rolex, Omega, and Tudor aren’t here with new concepts, but rather refinements on popular ones. Better cases, dials, and movements are how to make something good even better. Omega is finally understanding that they don’t always need to release brand new product families, but rather give existing fans new reasons to buy models they don’t already have. Moreover, many of these updates represent little or no added cost to the previous generation model – which is a practice I really hope becomes more the norm in the industry. Too often, watch brands act as though their current products are so perfect, that any added improvements should immediately come with higher costs. I reject this notion and suggest that when a brand produces a particular product in a high volume over time, they should automatically include regular updates to new versions without adding additional retail cost.