BASEL– The World Watch, Clock & Jewellery Show is the one show every jeweler should visit at least once in his or her career.

For eight days each April, it is the center of the world’s watch and jewelry industries, the forum where nearly every new watch and clock product from East or West debuts, the showplace where trends in America next year are unveiled this year. And it’s virtually the only show where a hometown jeweler can get a global overview of the watch and jewelry industries and talk to the very top executives of those industries.

In this special JCK report marking the show’s silver anniversary, Michel Mamie, director of the BASEL Fair’s international shows, reveals changes in show policy that will benefit every buyer. In addition, JCK gives you insider tips of what do and how to save money when visiting this delightful Swiss city on the elbow of the Rhine.

‘A show the way the industry wanted it’

BASEL – The World Watch, Clock & Jewellery Show marks its 25th anniversary as an international trade fair this year. It’s the most comprehensive and most important show in the global watch industry, one of the most important in the jewelry industry and certainly the most important of 27 trade fairs sponsored each year by The Basel Fair organization (known in Swiss German as Messe Basel).

In charge are Hans Allenspach, who directs the watch, clock and jewelry show, and Michel Mamie, director of international fairs for Messe Basel and a member of its executive committee since 1983. In this interview with Senior Editor William George Shuster, Mamie – whose first job with The Basel organization 29 years ago was managing its watch fair – talks about the watch and jewelry fair’s evolution and reveals new changes in show policy designed to make it even more important to foreign buyers.

Q: Mr. Mamie, there have been many important moments in the fair’s history. Why is this anniversary especially important?

Mamie: Starting the first European watch fair in 1973 was a major step in our trade fair policy. Until then, it was purely a Swiss fair, with no changes since the Swiss Industries Fair opened its first watch pavilion in 1931. But discussions with our German and French neighbors [whose borders are only a couple of miles away] indicated they wanted to take part.

Also, the Basel Fair and indeed the whole industry wanted a European platform on which to market European products, based on an agreement between Switzerland and the Common Market [a forerunner to today’s European Union] to increase free trade among European countries.

At first the idea wasn’t to have an international fair. The accent was on being a European watch fair. But it appeared rather quickly [after the change] that other major producers could find a place in this fair and attract more buyers to it.

However, the fair’s free trade policy remained the same, and gradually the fair decided to accept other [non-European] countries on the basis of their free trade policy. The first were Hong Kong, Israel, Japan and the U.S. in 1986.

Recently, we realized the show had become not only an international show, but a world show. So in 1995, we dropped “European” from the title and now call it the “World” show.

Q: Why has Basel become the site for the most important show for the watch and jewelry industries?

Mamie: Well, you know, Basel is a small city and not a center for the watch or jewelry industries. But the whole thing developed in close contact with major trade associations in Europe. From the beginning, we wanted to develop the show the way the industry wanted it, not the way we wanted.

I remember often listening to different representatives [of exhibitors and trade groups] saying the show should go a certain way, which was not the way we expected, and wondering to myself, “Should we do it our way instead?”

Certainly such a show could take place in any major city in the world, but the fact it stayed in Basel is because we always listened to our exhibitors and major trade associations. So now it has become a very fine event that amazes many people.

Some companies left over the years, saying they don’t need Basel. SMH [one of the biggest watchmakers in the world] left in 1987 but came back in 1993. That same year, Cartier left [to start its own show with its brands in Geneva], but couldn’t persuade other luxury brands to follow.

In spite of everything, The Basel Fair remains, and that indicates sometimes it’s wise to listen and follow the advice of others!

Q: The Basel Fair recently unveiled the first step in a major modernization of its operations. Will other changes be announced at the 1997 fair?

Mamie: Yes, we will have new rules and stricter regulations governing companies and products accepted into the show. This follows discussions with our exhibitor committee in several meetings in the past year.

Until now, we accepted any country with a free trade policy without further examining its exhibitors or products. In the future, we want to know what a company has done, if it is engaged in the international market or is just using The Basel Fair to become known.

We don’t want to be used as anyone’s platform. In the past, we had unfortunate situations of companies coming here to start their business and then in six months, they were no more.

If a buyer comes here from America or anywhere else, we want them to trust companies they deal with here, to know [the exhibitors] are good, sound financial firms that won’t disappear within a few months.

Q: Are any other changes in fair planned?

Mamie: We are always improving the reception for overseas visitors. For example, last year we began offering travel programs in America [for buyers coming to Basel] on a limited basis. Results were very good, and this year we’ve increased them.

Q: What is the impact on this show of new international watch and jewelry fairs in America, Asia and Europe?

Mamie: So far there is no effect in the number of exhibitors or visitors. But there are more shows emerging everywhere, so an important show could affect us if we don’t continue to personalize our show and offer the best [in service and exhibitors] so the journey here is worthwhile for buyers. If they see the same things here they see anywhere, it makes less sense for them to come here. In Basel, we really want them to see something better and different. Our message is: “In Basel you can find the most selective and the best products and companies, not only in luxury items, but in all ranges of products.”

On a Budget

Ah, Basel!

Trade fairs have been held in this quaint Swiss town for half a millennium. Heart-stopping moments in secular and religious history have echoed within the walls of its half-timbered Häuser. University students loll along the banks of the barge-busy Rhine that flows through its center. Charming fountains and cozy jazz clubs are found along its twisting centuries-old lanes.

But you don’t care about any of that if you get a $400 phone bill at your hotel because you didn’t know there was a cheaper way to call home.

So read on. These tips can save you money and time and make your business trip to this delightful city a pleasure. (The numbers in bold following location names are keyed to the letters on the map accompanying this guide.)

Freebies: These will help you in Basel:

  • The best freebie is The Basel Fair’s VIP packets for U.S. buyers. They include free entry passes, tram passes and food vouchers usable at the fair’s 35 restaurants and foods stands. Contact the fair’s U.S. agent, ACL Consulting Inc., 4804 American Drive, Durham, NC 27705; (800) 888-8868 or (919) 383-1780, fax (919) 383-5597.

  • The pocket-size Basel 97 visitors leaflet by Messe Basel contains maps and facts on the city, the fair, transportation and hotels. In the U.S., contact ACL Consulting. To contact the organizer, write BASEL 97, Messe Basel, P.O. Box, CH-4021 Basel, Switzerland. (There is no P.O. Box number.) Phone (41-61) 686-2020, fax (41-61) 686-2190.

  • The Basel Hotel and Restaurant Guide lists ratings, cost, telephone/fax and special features.

  • The pocket-sized Basel City Map for Motorists and Pedestrians has information on hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums and sightseeing.

To receive the guide and map in the U.S., contact the Switzerland Tourism Office in New York City at (212) 757-5944, fax (212) 262-6116; in Chicago at (312) 630-5840, fax (312) 630-5848; or in Los Angeles at (310) 335-5980, fax (310) 335-5982. In Switzerland, contact the Basel Tourist Board at (41-61) 686-5050, fax (41-61) 686-5944, or the Basel Hotel reservation office at (41-61) 686-2630, fax (41-61) 686-2184).

Lodging: Basel has some 40 hotels, not counting bed-and-breakfasts and Rhine cruise “hotel ships” the fair rents for visitor overflow (located on the City Hall side of the river next to the Middle Rhine Bridge, or Mittlere Rheinbrücke [indicated on map as C]). Also check hotels in nearby cities in Switzerland, Germany and France.

Before leaving for Basel, make reservations with Basel Hotelreservation at (41-61) 686-2630, fax (41-61) 686-2184. Tell the English-speaking staff what you need and how much you can spend. The bureau, which handles hotels within a 50-mile radius, will make a reservation and send a confirmation.

If you don’t have a room when you arrive in Basel, go to the Basel Hotelreservation office at Messeplatz 7 (the brick building in front of Fair Building 2 opposite Hotel Le Plaza). The office is open 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; the phone number is 686-2630.

Money stuff: Need to change money or travelers’ checks? Banks are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The fair also has banking services. The Basel Canton Bank (Basler Kantonalbank) – located across the street from the fair at the far end of Congress Centrum and the Hotel Plaza [B] – is open on weekends, as are banks and money-changers in Basel’s train stations and airport.

Does anyone here speak English: Yes! The VIP Desk for U.S. visitors of ACL Consulting, the Basel Fair’s American PR agent, has English-speaking hostesses ready to help. It is in the lobby of Fair Building 1 [A].

The fair has an electronic information system at main entrances and in halls with information and printouts on vendors, brands, products and services. Other services include interpreters, telephone/fax facilities, postal services, hall plans and signposts.

Outside, most servicepeople in hotels, restaurants and shops speak some English, but don’t expect everyone to. Pack a German or French phrase book. Most newsstands and hotels in Basel carry English language newspapers or newsmagazines.

Phoning home: Most hotels add surcharges to telephone calls from rooms. It’s cheaper to call with direct access numbers on major long distance providers’ phone cards or to use public phones (yellow), especially those marked IDD (international direct dial). They have English explanations and are located at tram stops and in post offices (postamt). (There is one in fair Building 1 [A]). To call the U.S., dial the country code (01), direct access code (if you have one) and area code and number.

Tip tips: Hotels, taxis and restaurants add a 15% gratuity to bills. It’s customary, though, to give small change (trinkgeld) you get back to the driver, waiter or waitress if you liked the service.

Trams: Basel is a walker’s delight, but if you’re in a bit of a hurry, use the green trams (buses on rail tracks). Buy tickets at green ticket vending machines at tram stops. Passes good for city transport (trams, buses) during the show (30 Swiss francs) are available at the fair’s information counters. Or contact ACL Consulting for a free tram pass. Use tram #2 or #8 to get to the show (Messeplatz stop). Hold onto your ticket or tram pass! “Tram police” periodically board looking for free-loading riders. Violators must pay a hefty fine.

Other transport: There are free fair buses to and from hotel ships, a 15-minute ride (go to the shuttle stop near Riehenring and Clara Strasse, outside Building 1 [A]); to the airport, a 15-minute ride (near the hotel ship stop); and to hotels in Basel and elsewhere (the shuttle stops on Isteiner Strasse, between Buildings 1 and 2).

A cab ride between the fair and the Basel SBB train station [H] costs 10 to 12 francs, and between the fair and airport about 35 to 40 francs. (Many cab drivers don’t speak English. Have someone write your destination and hotel name on a paper for the driver.)

Shopping: Want to find shops quickly? Walk up Clara Strasse (the street to the right of the fair lobby). Next to Europa Hotel (a couple of minutes up the street) is a grocery (often crowded but with items tourists buy). Across the street is a confectionery and a camera shop. Farther ahead on Clara Strasse are department stores, jewelers, cafes and other shops.

Or take trams #6 or #8 from the fair up Clara Strasse and across Middle Rhine Bridge [C] to Market Square in front of City Hall [E]. On the City Hall side is Globus, a major department store. Across the street are a grocery and a toy store. To the right of City Hall is a watch store, Freie Strasse (a street with many shops, restaurants, and department stores) and, on the opposite corner, a camera shop.

Taste of Basel: Basel has all kinds of cuisine, but there are Basel specialities visitors should try:

  • Lächerli. These rectangular cookie-sized spiced honey cakes with a thin sugar coating are a Basel specialty. Buy them in grocery stores or a Lächerli hus (shop), which you can find on Clara Strasse near the Middle Rhine Bridge or near Market Square.

  • Spargel: April and May is Spargelzeit (asparagus time). There’s fresh asparagus (white in Europe) in stores and on many restaurant menus.

  • Chocolate: This is the land of dark chocolate Lindt and triangular Tobler bars! In addition to shokolade bars (cheapest in groceries), you’ll find confections shaped like watches or Maikäfer (lady bugs that appear in April and May) in shops on Clara Strasse, on Market Square and elsewhere in Old Town. Don’t try to take home liqueur-filled candy. It’s forbidden by U.S Customs.

  • Raclette: Zesty dish of toasted cheese, boiled potatoes, onions and pickles.

Drinks: Thirsty? Try sparkling Swiss mineral waters (mineral wasser). Or the local beers, Warteck and Feldschlösschen. Or try some after-dinner schnapps, such as kirsch (cherry), williamine (pear) or marc (grape).

Seeing sights: First, stop at the tourist bureau (Offizielles Verkehrsbüro Basel), with the small letter “i” in a circle outside. It is at Schifflände 5 in the building to the right of Middle Rhine Bridge on the edge of Old Town, around the corner from the Three Kings Hotel [D]. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The English-speaking staff is friendly and has free maps and brochures.

Free things to do:

  • Walking tours. These are a great way to see Basel’s gothic Old Town (Grossbasel) [J] at your own pace.The tourist bureau has a free yellow brochure with five self-guided walking tours. They last 30 to 90 minutes; most are wheelchair-accessible. (Tip: Look at door lintels of half-timbered houses for medieval dates and names.)

  • Fingerprints & tongues. Walk or take #6 or #8 tram on Clara Strasse – don’t miss the giant fingerprint on the police station just up the street – to the Middle Rhine Bridge [C]. With flags flapping in the wind, the bridge is a great place to watch the passing scene and enjoy river views. To the left is a cathedral. To the right, you see houses on the Rhine, once the city wall. Before crossing the bridge to Old Town, look right at a statue of “Mother Switzerland” seated on the corner, dangling her feet and looking at the Rhine with suitcase, shield and spear leaning by her. As you cross the bridge, look ahead at a building that has on its wall a Lällekeenig, a crowned face sticking out its tongue, a remnant of medieval Basel.

  • Walk the Rhine. Basel has paths on both sides of the Rhine where visitors stroll, snap photos of city views, loll about with students of Basel University (one of Europe’s oldest) or watch busy river traffic, including scullers training for boat races. You can cross the river on a ferry boat linked to an overhead cable between the two banks and moved by river current.

  • City Hall (Rathaus) and Market Square (Marktplatz) [E]. Basel’s 16th century red sandstone and frescoed city hall, with ornate clock and tower, in Old Town is a delight. The curling pointed hat over the entrance represents Basel’s official symbol, a bishop’s staff, also from the Middle Ages. To the right is the fanciest police station entry you’re ever likely to see. Inside City Hall courtyard are frescos and a staircase statue of Muntatius Plancus, Basel’s legendary founder, a Roman general. Market Square in front is busy each morning with a vegetable market.

  • The cathedral (Münster) on Cathedral Square (Münsterplatz) [F], dating to the 1100s, has been destroyed, rebuilt and restored over the centuries.

  • Argument Lane & Barefoot Plaza. Like people-watching? Want to shop where the Swiss do? Curious to see some of Switzerland’s finest jewelers? Stroll up Freie Strasse to the right of City Hall. On Saturdays, you’ll hear street musicians.
    Turn right onto Streit Gasse (Argument Lane), after passing Jäggi bookstore and some department stores. It opens onto Barfüsserplatz (Barefeet Plaza), named for Franciscan monks who built a 12th century church here. This is Basel’s version of Times Square, complete with electric news board, lots of people and trams coming and going.

  • Basel’s Harbor (Rhinehafen Basel). Basel is the Rhine’s third largest harbor and port to some 500 ships. The Three Nations Corner (Dreiländereck) monument (resembling a rocket ship) juts into the Rhine to where Germany, France and Switzerland meet.

  • D-I-Y Tram tours. Buy a ticket at a green ticket machine, get on any tram and stay on until you reach your starting point again. You’ll get a 30-40 minute view of the city.
    Things to do, for a price:

  • Basel Art Museum (Kunstmuseum) [G]. The 300-year-old museum has one of the world’s great art collections. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is 5-8 francs ($4-$6).

  • Basel Zoo (Zoologischer Garten) [I]. Zolli, as Basel folks call it, is world-famous for protecting endangered species. Zolli is a 10-minute walk from the Basel SBB train station (turn left as you leave it). Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in March and April. Admission is 4-10 francs ($3.50-$8.50).

  • Historical Museum (Historische Museum or Barfüsserplatz Kirche) [K]. The one-time Franciscan church is a museum of Basel history, from barbarians’ jewelry and Roman ceramics to medieval stained glass and tapestries.

  • Looking for something to do for the evening? Ask at the tourist bureau, hotel desk or check “Wohin in Basel” (a daily entertainment listing in the Basler Zeitung newspaper.

Final tip: Bring an umbrella and sweater. It can be wet and cool in Basel in early April.

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