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March 23, 2010 2:00 PM

Business, Fashion

Baselworld Trade Fair Rebounds

BASEL, Switzerland -- After the annus horribilis of 2009, the luxury watch industry is celebrating what it does best at the Baselworld trade fair. The talk has been all about heritage, know-how and vintage designs, with brands showcasing updated versions...

BASEL, Switzerland -- After the annus horribilis of 2009, the luxury watch industry is celebrating what it does best at the Baselworld trade fair. The talk has been all about heritage, know-how and vintage designs, with brands showcasing updated versions of archive pieces ranging from stopwatches to Kennedy-era wristwatches -- evoking the stylish "Mad Men" era. There is a marked backlash against the glitz of the last decade. The stars at the booths are no longer the celebrity brand ambassadors -- though Leonardo DiCaprio did make an appearance at a party celebrating Tag Heuer's 150th anniversary -- but the artisans and visionaries behind the timepieces.

People will interrupt themselves to point out an industry deity such as watchmaker Daniel Roth (whose brand was recently absorbed by Bulgari), or Swatch chief executive officer Nick Hayek.

Though few will admit it, Hayek has kept more than one executive awake at night with his threat to stop supplying the industry with components used to produce watch movements. As the industry's leading components manufacturer, Swatch is upset about brands using its parts in high-priced watches and then marketing them as exclusive creations. Swatch feels it should not bear the brunt of investment in technology and production facilities that end up benefiting rivals.

It is probably no coincidence that scores of brands have scrambled to highlight their capacity to produce movements in-house, giving them the coveted "manufacture" status and, crucially, allowing them to be less dependent on suppliers. That could be the major game changer in the next 10 years.

-by Joelle Diderich

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