Basel 2001 touted as ”excellent” by show officials, despite rain and construction

Under rainy skies and surrounded by construction sites, Basel 2001-the world’s largest timepiece and jewelry show-opened for business on Mar. 22.

Some 80,000 visitors from 100 countries (only a small percentage from North America ) were expected to visit the eight-day show in Basel, Switzerland, the first trade fair of the new century for the Basel Watch and Jewelry Show. Anxious to sell them their wares are some 2,300 exhibitors from 40 countries. Two-thirds of the vendors, in rank order, are from Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong. About 95 are from the United States.

Rene Kamm, general manager of the Basel Show, predicted ”an excellent show.” He based his prediction on strong watch and jewelry sales-especially in luxury watches-in 2000, the Swiss watch industry’s best year ever in terms of watch exports. However, a few exhibitors-mainly those with clients who didn’t come to the show because of still-stocked inventories or weaker sales in late 2000-thought Kamm’s estimate might be too optimistic.

Among news highlights at Basel were these:

* Fair officials told journalists the day before the show opened that the show must reorganize in the next two years and start a second show in Zurich. The move is necessary if the fair is to survive and thrive in the coming years and remain the most important international show in the industry, said J. Jacques Duchene, long-time chairman of the exhibitors’ committee, and Kamm.

The show-which now uses five large two- and three-story buildings-has run out of space for current exhibitors to expand. (Luxury watch brands have had to built ”up,” with two- and three-floor stands.) Nor can new exhibitors be added. (The waiting list numbers in the hundreds.) Unless something is done, said Duchene, the show will ”lose its effectiveness and vitality,” and major manufacturing groups might leave (as the Richemont/Cartier watch group did 10 years ago to start its own show in Geneva).

In 2002, support services and trades will be reorganized, said Kamm and Duchene. In 2003, the support trade and service exhibitors will be moved-despite protests from many of them-to Zurich (an hour by train from Basel) to the new ”Partners” show, held at the same time as the watch and jewelry show in Basel. All timepieces, jewelry, and, reportedly, movements firms will stay in Basel. Free transportation between the two shows will be provided.

The move will free some 10,000 additional square feet in the Basel Fair-with which Basel hopes to lure back some of the several luxury brands that went to Richemont’s Geneva Show-and also hotel space in the little Swiss city on the Rhine. (Show visitors must book rooms many months in advance, and even then Basel is so crowded at show time that many have to stay as far way as Lucerne or in nearby Germany or France.)

The Basel Fair reopened its redesigned and renovated Hall 2.2, site of its prestigious jewelry exhibitors. Its many new features include new interior design styling, more and softer lighting to enhance the ambience, and plenty of stylish ergonomic benches for weary buyers.

The second annual Basel Award, an international jewelry competition for young designers, was presented by Kamm and Sir Edward Heath, former British prime minister, to Alexandra Schönberger, a student of the Ecole Supérior des Arts Appliques in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The designs of all 10 finalists will be auctioned, and the proceeds will benefit ”A Garland for Linda,” the cancer research fund created by Sir Paul McCartney in memory of his late wife. The awards to the three top finalists were presented during the Basel ‘Welcome’ reception, attended some 2,000 guests.

The impact on the ”real world” of ”e-world” retailing of luxury products will be the topic of two Basel forums on March 26 and 27.

New technological features include large digital TV screens outside the entrance to the show’s main building and inside at strategic spots throughout the show. The televisions broadcast all day and present in-show interviews (produced by Swiss Watch with leading jewelry experts from all sectors of the industry. They included JCK editor-in-chief Hedda Schupak.

Visitors to Basel 2001 were confronted by city-wide construction and building projects-at the airport, the city’s two major train stations, on a main thoroughfare spanning the Rhine, and at the Basel fairgrounds itself. There, streetcar tracks are being torn up and redirected in preparation for a redesign of the plaza in front of the show’s fair buildings and construction of a 30-story tower, which will house the Basel Fair management’s offices and a hotel.