Cautiousness Overshadows 2016 Baselworld Fair

The mood was reserved at the high-end watch and jewelry fair that opened this week in Basel, Switzerland

Currency woes, depressed economic factors in Chinese and Russia, a 3.3 percent dip in Swiss watch sales, stagnant sales in the Middle East, and a robust gray market for timepieces in the U.S. have conspired to unsettle those in attendance at Baselworld 2016.

Sylvie Ritter, the show’s managing director, acknowledged a “gloomy economic climate and monetary uncertainties” at the press conference on March 16 (the day before the fair officially opened), and conversations with brand exhibitors confirm this sentiment. (Baselworld runs from March 17 to 24 in Basel, Switzerland.) On the show floor, high-end vendors awaited returning and new clients and were hopeful for sales.

Michael Hakimian, CEO of Yoko London, told JCK that he brought low expectations to the show in order to avoid disappointment. Instead, his focus is on innovation to keep buyers coming back. “When we have a lot of new product, customers buy,” he says. The brand’s novelties include more interesting ear styles (“They’re strong sellers,” he notes), tassel styles, and lots of colored stones and pearls, including some with rubies and sapphires.


A new earring style from Yoko London

Legendary designer Roberto Coin agrees with Hakimian’s full-force innovation strategy. Coin’s advice to retailers: Don’t stop offering new merchandise. “It will be a hard year, but we follow fashion and have strong sales in the $5,000 to $15,000 range,” he explained. As for industry’s biggest challenge, Coin says it isn’t coming from other categories like luxury travel or cars. Instead, he believes it is the loss of jewelry sales to disinterested youth. “Jewelry’s competition is young consumers who are less interested in it,” he says.

Meanwhile, Pasquale Bruni’s creative director Eugenia Bruni offers some optimism on the business front. Her father’s brand reentered the U.S. market in the few couple years after a 10-year absence and is pleased by the reception. “American retailers have a good memory of us,” she notes, with her strong nature themes and masterfully made hinged choker necklaces in mind.

In the midst of this cautious atmosphere, there’s first-time exhibitor Antonio Cardamuro, president of Miseno, who is still building his business, particularly in the U.S. Cardamuro felt a booth in Hall 2 was important for his fledgling brand. “We’re here strategically for the Americans, and we have expectations to open doors in Paris, Rome, and Capri, Italy—where you find American travelers,” Cardamuro explains. In under a year, Cardamuro has already opened 45 U.S. accounts, a momentum he aims to continue. “What we have is not competing with stores already have,” he observes about his Italian-made jewels with a signature style that celebrates the lifestyle of the seaside town of Miseno, Italy.

Baselworld 2016 features 1,500 exhibitors (“Nearly all from last year,” Ritter told the media), 150,000 visitors from more than 100 countries, and 4,000 members of the international press.

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