More than a century ago the little town of Basel in Switzerland became something like the center wheel of the watchmaking industry. The year 1917 saw the opening of the first Schweizer Mustermesse, with a special section just for timepieces, and ever since then Basel has had a strong claim as the epicenter of the watchmaking universe.
Every year for many decades, collectors, aficionados and industry leaders have looked forward to Baselworld as the pinnacle event. This is where most of the horology icons of the past, like the famous Nautilus, were first revealed.
But times are changing. This year's Baselworld show may well be the dawn of a new era for the watchmaking industry, and a portent of things to come. But first, let's turn our attention to the most interesting part of the show – the watches themselves.
Collectors and industry experts are speculating (as we love to do before each Baselworld show) as to what will happen, especially where it comes to the major players and powerhouses in the industry: Rolex, Tudor and Patek Philippe.
The crown has always been dependable, and wary of sudden change. Rolex has stayed true to its original design and manufacture ethos for many years (which is after all, also part of its appeal), so we expect nothing earth-shattering – but there may well be a few surprises.
Among the more adventurous predictions is a new black and red "Coke bezel" GMT Master. We may see the Master II introduced last year, with the same Jubilee bracelet and the updated calibre 3285, but sporting new color scheme.
On the other hand we may instead be treated to an updated Submariner this year, given the fact that 2018 was quiet on that front, though chances are equally good for a new and improved Milgauss – the antimagnetic Rolex .
Whereas some brands are innovative and constantly re-inventing their style, Patek Philippe move towards change slower than glaciers. Patek don't simply change on a whim – that's staying power.
We don't expect anything fundamentally new from the world's most unfaltering watchmakers, but we might hope to see an update of the brand's entry-point model, the Calatrava, which wasn’t featured in 2018’s novelties.
Those who prefer a sportier alternative to the dressy Calatrava will be focused on the Nautilus – which, again, has remained essentially unchanged for many decades, with the exception of new dial choices and some refinements over the years. It is more unlikely that we will see something brand new from their advanced research facilities, but then again, you never know what may happen!
Digital marketing may be reshaping the Baselworld landscape, but it has also given us the ability to get a sneak preview of what we might expect from Tudor. Their latest Instagram feed shows a tantalizing close-up of their intended surprise release.
On close inspection it appears to hint at the vintage 79090 Tudor Submariner dial, which may be something unexpected developing out of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight evolution. The dial size for the 58 was extremely popular, and it made a big splash at last year's event. Could we see another '58 dial with lollipop hands for Tudor, or will it be a new rendition of the pepsi-bezel GMT?
The Swatch group announced recently that they would no longer take part in Baselworld, causing major waves, and over the last few years the number of participating exhibitors has been on the decline.
In reaction to this new trend, the organizers have taken drastic measures to re-invent the show, and to usher in a new paradigm for the changing international watch market. They have envisioned a project called Baselworld 2023, more as a live event aimed at consumers than merely a product launch platform for retailers. They are addressing their major downfall in recent years – the rise of the digital consumer - and the first changes will happen in March this year.
What direction will the industry take this year? Who will steal the limelight at Baselworld 2019? Only time will tell.