Top 10 Reasons to Go to Basel

Last week’s post about my week at Baselworld was, I admit, a little cranky. (In my defense: You try averaging less than five hours of sleep per night and see how cheerful you feel.)

Now that I’ve had a week in New York City to recover, I’m feeling a lot more charitable. In honor of David Letterman’s announcement that he will soon retire from the Late Show, I decided to put together my own Top 10 list—this one dedicated to reasons you shouldn’t miss the mother of all Swiss shows.

10. Free chocolate

Even Willy Wonka would be impressed with the sheer magnitude of chocolate that passes through the halls of Baselworld every year. When it comes to parting gifts—be they cocoa-dusted truffles, bitter slabs of dark chocolate, or a combo of perfectly formed little sweets stamped with crowns—Swiss watchmakers aren’t shy about promoting their national heritage. Some years are bountiful and some years are stingy. And 2014, as this dark chocolate fiend will happily attest, was a fruitful one.

9. Cutting-edge contemporary architecture

The convention center’s year-old redesign, care of the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, is starting to grow on me. At first, I detested the spaceship-like vibe of Hall 1, with its conspicuous atrium; the modern-looking structure, which now stretches across the street to what used to be Hall 2, blocked out the natural light that once flooded Messeplatz, and I resented the change, as I resented the other tweaks to the floor plan. This year, however, I noticed the way that people were inclined to gather beneath the atrium at the end of a long day of show-going and how it bestowed both a feeling of protection, as well as expansiveness (or was that the Champagne talking?!). In any case, I can now appreciate the renovation as a prime example of contemporary architecture—though I still wish Herzog & de Meuron had installed more escalators in Hall 1, so traveling between the halls didn’t require so much sprinting, and it would have been easier to avoid the obstacle course of tourists who crowd the show on the weekend.

 

I took this pic of the atrium at the Herzog & de Meuron–designed messe on my last day at the show, as I snacked on a German sausage and washed it all down with Champagne. 

8. Bragging rights

Nothing communicates jewelry and watch insider status better than a fresh-from-the-trenches report from Baselworld. Whether you’re a store owner, journalist, gemologist, watch-part manufacturer, or student of the industry, you’re at ground zero for the global luxury business when you’re in Basel. Use it to your advantage.

7. Springtime in Switzerland

If the show takes place at the end of March or later, you can almost certainly count on seeing sunny skies, fresh flowers, and plenty of seasonal dishes (see No. 1). Strolling the banks of the Rhine when the lights are strung across the bridges and the weather is balmy has a charm all its own.

6. Schmoozing central

Everyone knows that Basel’s real business is sealed over dinner and drinks. And if you’re American, it’s all but obligatory that the latter take place within the five-star confines of Les Trois Rois, the historic hotel—former guests include Voltaire, Goethe, Sartre, Dickens, the Dalai Lama, and Queen Elizabeth II—with a commanding position on the Rhine. The terrace, FYI, is a smoker’s paradise.

5. Benefits with friends

Following on from the schmoozing post is this corollary: If you have friends in the watch and jewelry business but they live far away, Basel is an obvious meeting point. At one dinner, I sat with old friends from Tel Aviv, Warsaw, Hong Kong, New York City, and Glen Rock, Pa.!

4. Window-shopping of the highest order

I had 20 minutes between appointments in the watch hall, so what did I do? I scurried across the enclosed walkway connecting Hall 1.1 with Hall 2.2, where the finest jewelers are housed, to spy the showcases at the Lançon booth. The Geneva-based company partners with the Hong Kong jeweler Edmond Chin, who supplies the majority of the jaw-dropping pieces on display. I tried in vain to snap photos of them, but for years, the same burly, Slavic-looking security guard has stood outside the entrance, admonishing prospective picture  takers, so I was forced to commit the pieces to memory. This year, a mesmerizing bracelet pairing at least a dozen padparadscha sapphires with an equal number of Paraiba tourmalines caught my attention. I wasn’t alone. Candy Udell of Long Island’s London Jewelers lingered around the displays at the same time I was there, and we shared a moment of reverence.

3. World trade

Chinese bloggers, Russian distributors, Brazilian buyers, American retailers, Swiss marketers, British jewelers—they all attend Basel in force. There’s no better place to expand your business, or your horizons.

2. A view of the future

Attending the show guarantees you a sneak peek at trends that will matter by the end of the year, when the products unveiled in Basel finally make their debut in the consumer marketplace. Judging by the introductions at this past show, here’s a cheat sheet: Case sizes are inching slightly bigger (or A LOT bigger in the case of Zenith’s 60 mm-in-diameter Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu), watchmakers are embracing fabric and colored-leather straps, World Cup mania is in full effect, and the renaissance in artistry is alive and well, as watchmakers bring even more esoteric artistic techniques to the fore in the newest crop of ladies’ timepieces.

Counteracting the trend for smaller, thinner watches is the new Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu from Zenith, whose 60 mm diameter means it could safely be called Baselworld’s biggest wristwatch (photo courtesy of Zenith).

The Omega Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Limited Edition comes on a brown NATO strap; the sturdy straps were a common sight at this year’s Baselworld (photo courtesy of Omega).

A pocket watch from the Hermès Arceau Millefiori collection, featuring a glassmaking technique pioneered by the artisans at Cristallerie Royale de Saint-Louis, a French workshop best known for making luxury paperweights (photo courtesy of Hermès).

1. Sausages! Spargel!

Rituals count for a lot in my world. And Basel isn’t complete without a meal of sausages and Champagne or white asparagus (spargel), the seasonal specialty that Basel-goers flip out about. 

Asparagus’ albino cousin, spargel (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)