Basel 2002: Fewer buyers, upbeat watch business

Business was strong in the crowded watch halls of Basel 2002 and the mood was upbeat, despite an apparent decline in visitors. The show normally draws about 85,000, but this year, midway through the show, it appeared that the tally would be several hundred or even a few thousand less.

Basel officials noted that more firms are sending fewer people as part of their cost controls in the sluggish economy, and cited the reluctance of some foreign buyers-especially those from North America-to fly since Sept. 11 terror attacks. However, there was a 30% increase in pre-show registration from the United States.

Most national watchmaking industries-Swiss, German, Hong Kong-expect sales to pick up in the second half of the year following the recovery of the United States from its recession. A number of mid- and upscale brands reported strong sales by retailers in anticipation of this increase. For example, according to Rado president Andy Kessler, that company had done as much business by the fourth day of the show as it did for the entire show in 2001.

If there was a discordant note, it was the threat of some foreign delegations-led by representatives from Hong Kong, the show’s largest national group-to leave the show if Basel show management continues with plans to send foreign pavilions to Zurich in 2003. Show management says the move is necessary due to the lack of space in the Basel show halls. Officials have scheduled a special meeting on April 10 to explain those plans in detail to the more than 600 exhibitors who will be affected.