BaselWorld Posts Strong Results

BaselWorld 2005, the globe’s largest watch and jewelry trade show (March 31–April 3) ended with strong sales results (de-spite the weak dollar) and a big sigh of relief from its operators at completion of a $668 million multiyear makeover of the fair and its facilities.

Some 89,700 visitors—only 0.4 percent over 2004’s attendance figure, but the highest in years—came from 100 countries to the Swiss city on the Rhine to see and do business with 2,197 exhibitors from 45 countries (including over 90 percent of all Swiss watch brands), a who’s who of the world’s watch and jewelry trades.

The attendance figure doesn’t include 30,000 people working for exhibitors or 2,352 journalists—a record high—from trade and consumer press around the world.

This year’s fair was also the largest in its history, with six huge buildings with a gross exhibition area of 160,000 square meters (including the revamped gem exhibitors’ building).

There was good news, too, about other aspects of BaselWorld 2005. There were few complaints this year about lack of hotel beds (some 800,000 overnight stays are booked in Switzerland, Germany, and France during the show), unfriendly taxi drivers, or knockoffs of other exhibitors’ wares. Thanks to heavy security (seen and unseen, against criminals and terrorism), there were only seven reported cases of theft at the fair and a nearby hotel.

A grim note on opening day was a brief, peaceful demonstration—the first that longtime attendees had seen at the show—outside the main watch hall by members of a coalition of Hong Kong Chinese Christian and labor groups. They called for jewelry-industry support and aid for workers in Hong Kong jewelry factories who have contracted pneumoconiosis from allegedly unsafe working conditions. They made a similar call in March at the Congress of CIBJO (The World Jewellery Confederation).

Major Overhaul. BaselWorld 2005 capped seven years of extensive renovation, reorganization, image makeover, and expansion. The show’s owner/operator (MCH Swiss Exhibition) and its exhibitors each invested at least 400 million Swiss francs ($334 million), for a total of 800 million ($668 million).

One result, ironically, is that BaselWorld has no room for more exhibitors. Instead, it will focus on “quality, not quantity,” said Jacques Duchene, chairman of the show exhibitors’ committee. Any future available space (i.e., if a vendor leaves the show) will be used for overall ambiance or more room for current exhibitors.

The multiyear project has “been like putting together a giant puzzle, and now the final big piece is in place,” said Rene Kamm, MCH chief executive officer. That last piece is the completely redesigned and refurbished Hall of Elements (Hall 3), home to the diamond, gem, and pearl exhibitors. The revamped gem building was opened in formal ceremonies by Swiss government dignitaries and show officials.

The much-improved facility is part of BaselWorld’s bid to become an “epicenter” for the globe’s gem dealers and buyers. “The precious stones and pearls sector is of increasing prominence at BaselWorld,” said Kamm.

Detailed reports from the international trade shows in Basel and Geneva, Switzerland, will appear in the July 2005 issue of JCK.