BaselWorld Ends With Record Attendance

BaselWorld, the world’s largest and most influential watch and jewelry show, ended its 2008 edition Thursday with its largest-ever attendance, erasing fears that the sub-prime crisis, high price of gold, and the weak dollar would affect attendance and business.

BaselWorld 2008, erased fears that the world’s, and America’s, current economic woes might dampen business and attendance.

“It was a very good, an outstanding edition,” René Kamm, chief executive officer of the fair, which pride itself on being a hub of the world’s luxury market, told the Basel Zeitung newspaper. “Throughout the world, there are ever more buyers of luxury goods.” The current weakening of the U.S. market, he said, was offset by increased business from other, newer markets.

Some 106,800 visitors passed through the show’s turnstiles, five percent more than 2007, itself a record year. The figure, said the show management’s closing report “exceeded the highest expectations.” Figures on Americans’ attendance weren’t available, yet, at press time, but a number of exhibitors said that while they saw their regular customers, there seemed to be few new visitors from the States this year.

In addition, a record 2,981 journalists—an eight percent increase—came from every continent and medium, both consumer and trade, print and electronic. CNN gave week-long coverage to BaselWorld, with daily reports from the show, underscoring it informational importance to the global luxury market. TV crews from major networks in Europe and Asia, especially Hong Kong and Japan provided in-depth coverage for consumers back home fascinated with luxury goods.

Many satisfied—and relieved—vendors reported that buyers seemed undeterred by concerns about the impact of the uncertain slowing U.S. economy or the weak U.S. dollar on business. A number of their called BaselWorld 2008 “excellent” and some even claimed it was their most successful yet. “This was a fabulous show, the best show ever for us,” said Christoph Wellendorff, managing director for German luxury brand Wellendorff.

“The volume of orders has exceeded our expectations, despite the economic climate,” said Françoise Bezzola, international communications director for upscale Swiss sports watch brand TAG Heuer, in a response typical of many, while Gabriela von malaise, international communications manager for luxury watch brand Maurice Lacroix’s, cited, “extremely positive feedback” from customers and partners.

In the show’s “Hall of Elements” (where the major gemstone and pearl exhibitors are located), Marc David, of diamond dealers David & Son, noted “a great willingness to buy together with high purchasing power.”

Even American jewelers—while admittedly more conservative in their orders, waiting to see how the domestic economic winds blow—were more determined than pessimistic, to make the 2008’s second half more successful and productive than the first half.

Referring to the very cold temperatures, sporadic rain, and heavy clouds during the show, François Thiebaud, president of the Swiss Exhibitors Committee, who had expressed “some concern” about “erosion” in the U.S. market, before the show opened, said at its closing that, “Anyone who believed the reports of economic gloom and doom ahead of the show were misled. It may have been cold outside, but the sun certainly shone in the halls. The results were excellent, even better than previous years.”

Jacques J. Duchêne, the long-time and highly respected president of the show’s Exhibitors Committee, had urged the watch and jewelry industry to remain “remain objective and pragmatic,” during the current economic uncertainties, which “compel us to … think carefully about the actions and development of our companies—of whatever size.”

Many attending the show seemed to take that advice to heart.

In his comments at the show’s close, Duchêne said “2008 has been an excellent year. The show has gone very well, and we are extremely satisfied. It proves how high-quality luxury products are always in great demand.”

BaselWorld enjoyed its highest-ever attendance in 2008, erasing fears the world’s, ad America’s, current economic woes might dampen business and attendance.