Dateline: Basel

The summerlike April weather in Basel, Switzerland, was a fitting backdrop for the hot business and sunny optimism of 2,100 watch and jewelry exhibitors at BaselWorld 2007, who enjoyed record-breaking attendance (topping 100,000), continuing strong demand for luxury products, and heavy international media coverage.

“This was the best BaselWorld ever,” said an obviously pleased Sylvie Ritter, director of the trade fair in the medieval city on the Rhine. “Optimism permeated the halls from day one. People were in exceedingly high spirits, [and] animated discussions were under way at stands in all the halls.”

This year’s fair had 2,109 exhibitors from 45 countries, housed in stands in six football-field-size buildings. A record 101,700 visitors from over 100 countries attended this 35th BaselWorld, an 8 percent gain over 2006 figures.

To accommodate continuing growth and a long waiting list of exhibitors, show officials announced that BaselWorld will get even bigger, with a $287 million expansion project due to be completed by 2012. Plans are to extend and add a third story to Building 1 (prestigious watch exhibitors) and Hall 3 (related watch and jewelry products), and link both with a roof enclosing the now open Exhibition Plaza. When completed, the new complex will double floor space (to 90,000 square meters) for the show’s multistory stands. In addition, most show buildings will be under one roof or linked by passageways.

Media coverage also hit an all-time high, with 2,758 trade, business, and consumer journalists from print, TV, radio, and the Internet, 9 percent more than in 2006. They came from some 70 countries. CNN ran nightly reports from BaselWorld on the luxury market; the BBC and other European media sent film crews; and major English-language newspapers like the New York Times,International Herald Tribune, and Financial Times ran reports on watch trends.

While intense media coverage may flatter the show’s operators and bring visitors, doing business and making new contacts are most important for the vendors. This year it was difficult to find an unhappy exhibitor, and many were delighted with their results. Jacques J. Duchêne, longtime president of the show exhibitors’ committee, said after the fair that “the atmosphere was excellent. As exhibitors, we’re extremely pleased and have achieved very positive sales.”

“This was a breathtaking show,” JCK was told by Dr. Marcus O. Mohr, president of Fabergé and Victor Mayer jewelry. “We were so busy, we hardly had time to take a breath. Our business last year was up 30 percent, but we’re 90 percent over that this year.” U.S. jewelry designer and watchmaker David Yurman, a longtime exhibitor, called BaselWorld 2007 his most successful show to date. “Participation continues to be a very good investment for our brand,” he noted.

Officials at German jewelry maker Wellendorff had comments similar to Mohr’s, while Armin Feher, sales director of Xemex, told the fair’s daily newsletter that the show “has gone brilliantly” for his company. François Thiébaud, president of the Swiss exhibitors (mostly watchmakers), called the event “superb,” and luxury watch brand Zenith reported double-digit growth. At Pasquale Bruni, marketing manager Francesco Spanedda said 2007 was “even better” than 2006, and Guiseppe Picchiotti, one of Italy’s leading jewelry designers, said the annual show is the most important one for his firm and this year “it went simply brilliantly.”

Business written at BaselWorld is an important building block in many firms’ annual revenues. “The number of transactions emphatically underlines the significance of this show, [which] went fantastically well for us,” said Olivier Bernheim, CEO of Raymond Weil. Pascal Ravessoud, marketing manager for Harry Winston, noted, “We were able to secure some very good business deals.”

Show officials and vendors said BaselWorld 2007’s strong results reflect not only the show’s importance but also the current strength of luxury products. Show director Sylvie Ritter mentioned the current luxury goods boom and the favorable economic climate as factors. “The climate of confidence engendered by BaselWorld [will give] the whole sector a positive injection of energy,” she said.

A number of leading exhibitors expressed optimism before and during the show about business this year, referencing their own markets. “Swiss watch manufacturers have never had it so good, especially the major prestigious brands,” said Duchêne, who called 2006 “a record year in every respect,” noting that watch exports were up 10.9 percent in value. Patrice Besard, heading the French exhibitors, cited a 46 percent gain in export value for French watches in 2006 and a 26 percent gain for French jewelry. Peter Rost, head of the German exhibitors, noted “positive signs of increasing demand” for watches and jewelry in the formerly sluggish German market and efforts to promote the “Made in Germany” label with domestic and foreign consumers.

Brand building was an important theme for a number of delegations. Ralph Chow, director of product promotion for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, commented that Hong Kong watch and jewelry makers are moving upscale and putting more focus on quality, design, and production speed for their clients, including those in the United States. “Brand building is clearly the way ahead,” Chow added, especially in the massive China market with its emerging middle class and millionaire consumers.

“Made in Italy” is also on the promotional agenda of Italian jewelers, said Gaetano Cavalieri, president of the Italian jewelry exhibitors and president of CIBJO. The Italian jewelry industry will put more emphasis on branding, promotional marketing, and the Internet to communicate directly to consumers, he said. “Branding of Italy is on its way.”

Also propelling this year’s show business was not only the North American and European markets, but the unexpectedly sharp rise in demand for fine products from Asia, especially China, which has a rapidly growing middle class and at least 300,000 millionaires, say statistics of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Other highlights of BaselWorld 2007 included the international Omegamania auction transmitted live to Basel (see sidebar, below); celebrity appearances (see “Beauties, Galas, and Film Stars,” p. 112); Building 1’s redesigned foyer and roofed exterior entrance, with water continuously flowing down through glass walls; and BaselWorld Village, a local restaurant and bar complex. The next edition of BaselWorld will take place April 3–10, 2008.