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BaselWorld 2014

By Jacquie De Almeida

Hakim El Kadiri walks the Rado booth at Baselworld with the air of a proud papa.
With a couple dozen watches peeking out from various wall and standalone cases, he knows them all, inside and out. And so he should.

As Rado’s head of product development, El Kadiri led the team that designed every detail, right down to the platinum anchoring diamonds into the ceramic case and bracelet of its latest ladies’ watch.

The crownless Swiss-made timepiece allows the wearer to set the time by moving a fingertip around the case—electrodes inside ‘feel’ the presence of the finger through the ceramic. And while some companies would have first developed a version to appeal to the tech-savvy male, Rado took a different route by releasing a ladies’ model last year instead.

“We wanted to combine elegancy with technology,” El Kadiri says. “Everyone has an iPhone and knows how to work it. The oval shape of the watch is very sensual and the ceramic is very warm.”

In the midst of unseasonably warm temperatures in the city where the Swiss, French, and German borders meet, the 42nd edition of Baselworld opened with less fanfare than last year when show organizers cut the ribbon on its 430-million CHF ($463-million Cdn) facelift. The makeover set the stage for what MCH Group—the fair’s organizer—described as a solid foundation for coming years. And it appears they were right.

While other segments of the market face challenges, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) says exports increased in January and February by 6.8 per cent.

Although figures remained flat for March year over year, FH says the first quarter of the year rose by 4.5 per cent to 4.95 billion CHF ($6.2 billion Cdn), providing a good start to 2014 for Swiss watchmakers.

As last year, the ladies’ category came to the fore, whether in mechanical or quartz offerings. More affordable styles among prestige brands appeared to be another noteworthy trend, as they court fast-growing middle and upper classes in emerging markets. Blue dials also seemed to be all the rage, whether as an anchoring piece to a collection or as a method of drawing consumers’ eyes to the watches around them.

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John Burns, Davidoff’s commercial director, says the company’s latest offering is a blue model that was based on the company’s men’s fragrance. He adds, though, that watch brands in general are moving toward offering styles beyond silver, black, and white.

“This year in Europe, it’s all about colours—a range of colours is very prominent in our collections, whether it is in leather goods, scarves, or ties,” he adds.

The opening of the show comes about a month after 50.3 per cent of Swiss voters backed a proposal to curtail immigration from the European Union, a move meant to help control overcrowding. Some believe the vote could hit the watch industry especially hard, already affected by a shortage of skilled watchmakers to help support a sector that grows every year.

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