BaselWorld 2006 opens, officials optimistic

The 2006 BaselWorld watch, clock, and jewelry fair opened March 30 under gray clouds with chilly rains but with high expectations for success.

“2005 was an extremely successful year for the luxury goods industry, and indications for 2006 are again very positive,” said René Kamm, chief executive officer of MCH Swiss Exhibition, the show’s owner/operator. “If we can believe the stock market analysts, who are tipping shares of the major players in the luxury goods industry, there are indications of sustained high demand for luxury goods.”

Some 90,000 business visitors from more than 100 countries are expected for this 34th edition of the eight-day fair. They’ll see the latest collections, creations, and products of 2,127 exhibitors from 45 countries, including 104 (4.9 percent) from North America, primarily the United States.

A highlight this year is the new First Avenue in the jewelry building (Hall 2, the Hall of Visions), which allows, for the first time, multifloor stands. First Avenue also reflects the increasing overlap between the jewelry and watch industries, said Sylvie Ritter, the show’s director. “We wanted to acknowledge the growing importance of the creation and presentation of high-fashion watches by traditional jewelry brands,” she said.

So many jewelry brands have added fine watches that it was no longer reasonable to leave them mixed in with fine-jewelry exhibitors that don’t have fine watches or to put them into the massive watch halls. Now, thanks to extensive infrastructural changes in the Hall of Visions, the spacious and stylish First Avenue provides the setting for fine jewelry exhibitors to present both their jewelry creations and their watch collections.

First Avenue also marks the official end of a project, begun in 1999 and costing $500 million, to reorganize, restructure, and renovate the massive fair grounds and buildings. “After much hard work, this is a special moment and a satisfying finish,” Ritter said.
Watches and jewelry aren’t the only categories receiving special attention from the fair. The diamond, precious stone, and pearl industries are becoming more important at BaselWorld. A significant upgrading of the Hall of Elements in 2005 underscored the increasing significance of the global trade of diamonds and precious stones to BaselWorld.

Key exhibitors this year include more than 200 leading dealers in precious stones and diamonds and sightholders such as Dehres, Diarough, Rosy Blue, Eurostar, and Gembel, which welcomed buying groups from India, Russia, and China. Luxury watch and jewelry brands exhibiting at Basel also were expected to help stimulate diamond business.

The increasing importance of branding in the diamond industry was highlighted at the annual Israel Diamond Institute breakfast (March 31). The Israeli diamond industry is upgrading its brand identity with an international campaign being launched at BaselWorld 2006.

Visitors to this year’s show benefit from two new programs: free visas for those who need one for Switzerland and the show’s own newspaper, the BaselWorld Daily News, which provides a daily summary of highlights, innovations, trends, and events at the show.