Posts Strong Business Results

BaselWorld 2005, the world’s largest watch and jewelry trade fair (March 31–April 3) and a bellwether of those industries’ economic health, ended optimistic about business in 2005 and with strong sales results, despite a weak dollar. “There was a wonderful enthusiasm about this show,” said Sylvie Ritter, BaselWorld’s first female director.

Some 89,700 visitors from 100 nations came to Basel, Switzerland, as did 2,197 exhibitors from 45 countries. About 5 percent of vendors (106) were from North America, the fifth-largest group after Switzerland (412), Italy (368), Hong Kong (363), and Germany (292).

Preshow concerns by exhibitors and BaselWorld’s managers that the U.S. dollar’s weak exchange rate with the euro and Swiss franc would dampen attendance and business by U.S. visitors proved “unfounded,” said Ritter. “There was no negative impact.” About the same proportion of Americans attended as do each year (7 percent of the visitors). The head of a national U.S. jewelry retailer who declined to be identified told JCK, “We don’t buy based on currency fluctuations. We buy for our market, and haven’t changed our buying plans because of the dollar.”

Any effect on business by the weak dollar and sluggish Western European markets was offset by strong demand from markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. “This was an excellent year,” said Jacques Duchêne, president of the exhibitors committee, who marked his 50th year at the show. “It ran the best way possible, and exhibitors again proved their strength in innovation and creativity.”

Weak-Dollar Ripples. Still, the weak dollar had some impact. There was far less traffic in European national sectors, while Asian, Indian, and Turkish delegations were generally crowded. Hong Kong vendors enjoyed heavy traffic and benefited from the euro/dollar situation.

Some European jewelry designers at Basel told JCK they tried to keep prices stable by using less precious gems and metals, more alternative materials, and managing labor costs. In BaselWorld’s newly refurbished gems building, some dealers, JCK was told, enticed U.S. buyers by offering two prices: one for Americans and one for everyone else. Even in the watch halls—where business was undeterred by the currency situation—some fashion-watch buyers sought “more affordable” models.

Overall, many exhibitors in all sectors were pleased. In the gems hall, diamond and pearl dealer Marc David of David & Son cited “a high level of purchasing enthusiasm” by attendees. Raj Mehta, senior vice president of Rosy Blue, one of the world’s largest diamond manufacturers, said the show has “worldwide significance” for his firm and rated BaselWorld 2005 “very high” in business results.

“We had very good contacts. The quality of our visitors increased again,” noted Robert Stern from H. Stern Jewellers. Christoph Wellendorff of Germany’s Wellendorff jewelry company said BaselWorld 2005 had “beaten all records” for his firm, and that “sales were outstanding.”

Watches Do Well. In BaselWorld’s crowded watch halls, fashion-watch brands did good business, and many upscale brands said business was very good and in some cases, outstanding. “Watch companies and retailers already worked [the weak dollar’s effect] into their pricing before Basel, so they knew what to expect,” said the head of a U.S. company that distributes several Swiss brands.

Upscale and luxury Swiss watch brands generally did well. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH and François Thiébaud, worldwide president of Tissot watch and head of the show’s Swiss exhibitors committee, each said Swiss-watch exports could rise 10 percent this year (up from early projections of 6 percent), thanks to BaselWorld orders.

It wasn’t only Swiss brands. For example, “Double-digit growth in the number of orders we took make us very satisfied with BaselWorld 2005,” said Dr. Frank Müller, president of German luxury watchmaker Glashütte Original.

Asian-watch brands did well, too. Stuart B. Zuckerman, senior vice president of merchandising at Citizen Watch of America, called BaselWorld 2005 “our best yet,” while orders of Hong Kong watchmakers rose “20 percent to 30 percent over 2004,” said Lore Buscher, a regional director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. (BaselWorld provides 30 percent to 40 percent of Hong Kong’s watch- and jewelry makers’ annual business.)