Why 2017 will be about simplicity and sophistication for watch wearers

Stylish businessmen not flashy millionaires appear to be the target clientele of watchmakers this year AFP

We’ve mined the promotional data from Baselworld, the world’s biggest watch fair, to find out what people with deep pockets may be wearing on their wrists this year. 

This content was published on March 26, 2017 minutes

The year 2016 was another bad year for the Swiss watch industry, with exports down by almost 10%.

So, how is the watch industry reacting? We analysed over 100 press releases in English on BaselworldExternal link’s website to find out what words watch brands agree on.

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Gone are mentions of flashy watches in gold cases with dragons engraved on the dial. Show-off watch movements like tourbillons are out as well. If press releases are to be believed, 2017 is the year of simplicity and sophistication with words like stainless steel and black figuring regularly.

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“Real” watches

 One of the watches that sums up what we predict watch lovers will be wearing this year is the Oris Artelier Calibre 113. The press release for the watch clocked up 19 of the 20 most frequently used words mentioned on the Baselworld website.

Oris wants to offer buyers "incomparable value" with its Artelier Calibre 113 model Oris

With a black anthracite dial and stainless steel case, the watch is targeted at “stylish businessmen”, according to the company. No tourbillion or fancy complications but it does have a power reserve indicator and a unique calendar. In keeping with its classy theme, the fun stuff is hidden at the back: a sapphire crystal case lets the wearer admire the movement in privacy once it is taken off the wrist. Not something you’d see brash, nouveau rich millionaires flaunting. 

“Despite its sophistication, the Artelier Calibre 113 is also a ‘real watch for real people’, says the Oris press release. At CHF5,900 ($5,938) it is also a watch that “real people” could afford if they saved up for it. 

However, that doesn’t mean watchmakers have dumped extravagant timepieces. There will always be a market for over-the-top models like Jacob & Co’s Astronomia Octopus that features a titanium version of the sea creature with tentacles wrapped around a revolving earth, a one-carat diamond sun and a triple axis tourbillon. All this encased in a sapphire crystal monoblock case to admire from every possible angle.

It took 37 weeks to produce just the crystal components of the Astronomia Octopus watch Jacob & Co

How many does the company hope to sell? One – because it is a unique piece. 

One-off pieces like the Astronomia Octopus may bring publicity but they are not going keep the cash registers ringing. Swiss watchmakers must be successful with their new approaches to stop the downward sales trend that has lasted 20 consecutive months as of February 2017. 

The slide in China continued last year due to the Communist Party crackdown on ostentatious consumption. Exports to Hong Kong - Switzerland’s biggest watch market - fell by 25%, a worse showing than even 2015 which saw an almost 23% drop. Mainland China was also hit despite encouraging signs last year. All of the top ten export regions, except the UK, experienced a decline.

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