Baselworld 2015 Opens With Moment of Silence, Quiet Halls

Baselworld 2015, taking place March 19–26, is seemingly starting out with a soft pop instead of a bang, despite an opulent array of new jewels.

While René Kamm, CEO of organizer MCH Group, gushed over how Sylvie Ritter, managing director of Baselworld, successfully prepared for the show that was “at the top of the game,” the emptiness of Hall 1—where the bulk of visitors spend their time seeing watch novelties—on opening day was hard to overlook.

Execs also gave a moment of silence to Jacques J. Duchêne, president of the exhibitor’s committee who died unexpectedly this week and who would have celebrated his 60th attendance at the fair this year, during Wednesday’s official press day.

François Thiébaud, president of the Swiss exhibitors’ committee, told journalists that 2014 ended on a challenging note that included high levels of consolidation for the Swiss watchmaking industry. Even so, watch exports grew 1.9 percent over 2013, achieving a total value of 22.2 billion francs, and January 2015 exports were up CHF 1.6 billion, marking a 3.7 percent increase year over year. Forecasts for 2015 were revised as a result of the deteriorating economy, which was apparent on the show floor by way of greatly reduced traffic. Case in point: One Russian attendee within earshot of editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky commented on how few people were in Hall 1, a point hinted at by Ritter in her press address when she mentioned a less-than-ideal business climate and “challenges facing industry.”

A consistent theme for some of the jewelry brands was one-of-a-kinds. Belinda Fang, senior manager of public relations and promotions for Mikimoto, revealed that the brand was in full pursuit of the high end of the market, which has been less affected by the economy. One-of-a-kinds—evident in its annual one-off pieces—continue to sell well (three of its four new styles already sold on the morning of the first day), and the brand is also getting more requests for custom pieces, even ones without pearls. “Customers are recognizing us for our expertise in jewelry,” said Fang.

At Marco Bicego, one-offs are also growing in importance, as evidenced by the multiple trays of items on display. Oversize sapphire slices and African amethyst, among others, filled out these offerings, with Bicego himself saying that his sales overall were good. He even claims that his Middle Eastern sales remain steady, and that his Russian revenues—never “strong,” he maintains—could be ticking up despite the low oil prices and trouble with the Russian ruble. Just last week, he had a sizable sale in St. Petersburg, and multiple sales to Russian tourists in Milan on Saturday.