Faces to Watch for in Basel

The World Watch, Clock and Jewellery Show, Basel ’98, will host 2,350 exhibitors from 39 countries April 22-29. That total includes 1,264 jewelry firms, 612 watch and clock companies and 474 exhibitors of related products.

The watch segment of the Swiss trade is coming off a strong year. Credit Suisse reports that watches rose to third place among Switzerland’s export product sectors in 1997, trailing only the pharmaceutical and electronics industries.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry says that total Swiss watch exports rose to 8.31 billion Swiss francs in 1997, after a slight dip in 1995 and 1996. This topped the previous record of 7.9 billion Swiss francs set in 1994.

Swiss watch exports to the United States increased more than 10% for the second consecutive year. Italy, Spain and the Middle East also posted strong increases. But exports to Japan slipped 3.9% and concern about the Asian economic crisis continues.

A boom in steel watches helped fuel export growth, the Federation says. Steel watches accounted for 28% of Swiss watch exports by value, exceeding those of gold for the first time ever. The Swiss exported steel watches valued at 2.26 billion Swiss francs, compared with 2.1 billion Swiss francs worth of gold watches. These figures are especially dramatic because steel models generally cost much less than gold watches.

Steel stole the show at last year’s Basel Fair, even overshadowing the move to color. Expect more of the same this year. Steel models are more affordable than gold, so Basel ’98 could be a precursor to bigger holiday sales as timepieces come more in line with American budgets.

Color also may be more prevalent, though some watch companies may abandon color since it has yet to click in mainstream America.

Unique bracelets, even variations of the popular Breitling bullet bracelet, will see daylight. Straps will feature materials never imagined years ago.