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Psst 3/8 Wanna Buy a Watch? Got $1.4 Million?

April 17, 1989

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) _ A watch made from a meteorite and a diamond-covered timepiece whose $1.4 million pricetag was out of this world are among the timely attractions at this year’s Watch, Clock and Jewelry fair.

The 1,860 exhibitors from 16 European countries, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore are in Basel until Wednesday to show off their latest collections.

It’s also a time when manufacturers take stock of new trends.

The consensus this year among watch manufacturers was that consumers are willing to pay higher prices for a watch perceived as unique.

″There has been a clear change in consumer behavior,″ said Klaus Wehner, president of the German Watch Industry. ″The average price has increased and a watch is no longer just an instrument to tell time. It is a fashion accessory.″

One that fell into that category was a solid gold watch covered in diamonds that is priced at $1.4 million. It’s nearly impossible to see its hands through all the sparkle, but one visitor observed: ″It’s a watch for people who don’t need to know what time it is.″

One Swiss manufacturer displayed watches with faces it said were made from a meteorite discovered in Greenland in 1894 by the American explorer Robert Peary, who later went on to discover the North Pole. The company said it only had enough meteorite to make 900 watches, so the series would be limited.

Swiss watchmakers said mechanical watches were making a comeback among wealthy consumers, although quartz brands outnumbered them by nearly 5-1 last year.

Swiss companies displayed complicated mechanical watches at the fair, many with intricately carved movements visible through a transparent back.

The major technological innovation was a clock powered by ultrasonic waves. The timepiece was invented by Japan’s Akira Kumada and Takahiko Iochi, who teamed up with a Swiss company.

The clock face is made of two glass discs that represent the hour hand and minute hand, and which rotate at controlled speeds when hit by ultrasonic waves. A microprocessor in the futuristic-looking clock regulates the frequency of the waves.

By the end of the year, the company plans to produce 1,000 small and large ultrasonic clocks, ranging in price from $1,500 to $10,000.

Another innovation, aimed at left-handed people, the handicapped, and women with long fingernails, had no stem for setting the time. Instead, the wearer presses on the watch crystal to move the hands.

Jewelry designers noted a trend toward using more platinum, following the Japanese lead.

The trend is likely to take root elsewhere. As French jeweler Charles Abouchar put it, ″the Japanese like platinum, and if they like it, it will be around for a while.″

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