Optimism marks 30th Basel Show

The 30th annual edition of the Basel World Watch and Jewelry Show opened Thursday in Basel, Switzerland, to unseasonably warm spring weather, strong attendance, and optimism among vendors and buyers about the global market-especially in upscale watches-in 2002.

Equally upbeat are hopes of the Fair’s managers that numerous changes they’re making in the show will enable it to remain, as they call it, “the leading luxury goods platform in the world,” despite competition from other trade fairs in Switzerland and elsewhere.

More than 86,000 visitors from 100 countries-7% from North America alone-are expected. There are 2,195 exhibitors from around the world (including almost all of the leading watch brands). That number is 5% less than last year, due to reorganization of the show’s jewelry sector and the departure of three top watch brands. But many exhibitors, especially on the watch side, have increased their exhibition areas substantially. This year’s show covers some 95,000 square meters, 35,000 more than in 1999.

The Basel Show management has made a number of changes-in an ongoing two-year program-to ensure it holds its position as the world’s leading watch and jewelry fair. The show has been faced with growing competition from other trade shows in Europe, Asia, and America, and business and attendance has felt the effects of economic slowdowns worldwide. “The economic climate is tough,” conceded Monica Guarnaccia, head of the show’s marketing, prior to its opening, “but we’re confident the changes we have made, and those yet to come, will secure Basel’s position as the worldwide meeting place and business platform for the luxury goods industry [and] make the show a success for all concerned.”

Here are some of the changes:

* A new multimedia electronic information system in all exhibition halls will enable visitors to find information on exhibitors and their locations, link to newspaper Web sites for online business news, and even send e-mail and “e-postcards” to those back home.

* The show’s hefty catalog has been redesigned into what show officials call a “reference and yearbook” for the international watch and jewelry industries.

* Show security, already very tight before Sept. 11, is “very, very strong” this year, said a Basel show spokesperson, although much of the heightened security will be behind the scenes.

* More apparent to visitors will be changes in the watch and jewelry buildings. There are hundreds of new or renovated stands; in particular, many in the timepiece section of the watch building (Hall 1) have grown significantly. Some 249 exhibitors-which account for just 12% of vendors-now occupy 45% of the total exhibition space. The already-substantial exhibition stands of Rolex and Patek Philippe, for example, have doubled in size, taking over the space vacated by IWC, Lange & Söhne, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, which have left the Basel show to exhibit in the SIHH luxury watch show in Geneva.

In the jewelry building (Hall 2), the prestigious jewelry section is doubling in size to cover the entire top third floor. The intent, say show officials, is to give it its own identity within the overall jewelry exhibition.

* The need for more space also has led the show management to divide the show in two, beginning next year. The various national pavilions, representing dozens of countries, will move to Zurich next year along with related support branches such as machines and packaging. (The Basel Fair management bought the Zurich-based Swiss Fairs organization last year.) This will leave more room for individual watch and jewelry brand exhibitors. The two events will be held simultaneously, with the Basel Fair providing transportation shuttles for the hour-long trek between the two cities.

* Changes and renovations also have been made in Building 3 (precious stones and pearls), called the “Hall of Elements”; national pavilions, the “Hall of the Universe”; Hall 4 (production machines, displays, store fittings, and packaging); and Hall 5 (watch parts and components).

* One change that will be hard for visitors to miss is construction on the plaza near the jewelry hall (Hall 2) of Basel’s new Exhibition Tower. The 30-story building, which will be the tallest building in Switzerland, will house the offices of the Basel Fair management (which runs the Basel show and two dozen other trade fairs) as well as a four-star hotel. It will be finished by spring 2003. The plaza itself also is being rebuilt and is slated for completion in fall 2003.

* Also new this year is the Basel Lounge, located in the city’s popular jazz club, the Atlantis. Show visitors can get a late-night bite to eat, enjoy the music or even dance until the wee hours of the morning. Late-night entry is free with a show pass/ticket.

The third annual Basel Forum, to be held April 10, will focus on “The Future of Design.” The Forum’s keynote and panel speakers-including futurologist John Nesbitt-will discuss “how the convergence of design, technology, and lifestyles will change the way luxury goods, especially watches and jewelry, are designed, produced, and distributed.”

In related news, there will be no Basel Award for jewelry design this year. The concept is being “re-thought,” said a Basel spokesman, but will be continued next year.