Most people are unaware that the luxury watch and jewellery event Baselworld was founded over a century ago. In 1917, the Baselworld we know today was founded under the name 'The Basel Mustermesse'. This small company offered horological services around a few locations in Basel. 29 exhibitors from the watch and jewellery industry - an integral sector of the Swiss economy - joined The Basel Mustermesse. Over time, this organisation evolved into a global platform where jewelers and watchmakers from all over the world would come and exhibit their designs.
Baselworld was the largest watch and jewellery fair in the world, boasting up to 150,000 visitors and 1,500 exhibitors. However, over the past few years, Baselworld has undergone some drastic changes. What once was an annual fair has developed into a year-round marketing and communications platform. As a consequence, Jewellery Focus reports that transforming “a classic trade fair into an experience platform” resulted in a 22% drop in visitors. Only 520 brands exhibited this year, which begs the crucial question Forbes aptly considers, “is it the end or a new beginning for Baselworld?”
The managing director of the event, Michel Loris-Melikoff commented that he “regretted the decline” but was optimistic towards the “excellent” quality of the visitors. With regards to the future, Loris-Melikoff feels the recent development of the event lends itself to a positive and expansive potential. He states: “numerous exhibitors from all industry segments, who spoke at the press conference via video clips, also reported good business transactions.” Therefore, whilst the downsized event has been interpreted negatively, from a business perspective, Baselworld supposedly remains successful.
Baselworld retains a world-class reputation in the jewellery and watch industry. However, with trailblazing brands such as Swatch, Omega, and Harry Winston pulling out of the event, one cannot help but question whether Baselworld is struggling to meet the evolving demands of the industry. In light of this, discover the most prominent reflections following Baselworld 2019.
An eye on the ethical
One positive we can take from Baselworld 2019 is that the demand for ethical watches is increasing. Living It reports a number of brands have taken extra steps to become involved with the conversation of environmentally-conscious watchmaking. Oris was identified among these brands, showcasing a trio of conservation pieces made with the Oceans Project in mind. One of these pieces was made in partnership with Pacific Garbage Screening - an organisation aimed to combat marine plastic pollution.
Renowned jewellery and watch brand, Chopard, announced they will be using using 100% Fairmined gold. As a reputable brand, this is a pioneering move which will hopefully mobilise better ethical standards within the industry.
A step in the unisex direction
Four years on since Alessandro Michele took the reigns as Gucci’s creative director, the innovator continues to propel the luxury brand into a more progressive arena. Gucci showcased a line of unisex watches at Baselworld this year. The appetite for gender neutrality, as we know, is ever-increasing. And the best part? These watches are chic, sleek, and genuinely appealing to men and women alike. As Esquire succinctly asserts, the watches are “nothing that'll cause a stare, or smash the binary: just classic, cool but still Michele's Gucci through and through”.
Cutting edge design
It will come as no surprise that leading luxury jewellery and timepiece brand Bulgari hit the headlines following Baselworld 2019 with a new record-breaking design. Their new Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic measures at an incredible 3.3mm - the thinnest ever existing Chronograph design. In conversation with Wonderland Magazine, Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babi attributes this achievement to “our capability of fusing edgy, magnificent Italian design with the ultimate Swiss engineering and craftsmanship — this is why I talk about Rinascimento from Bvlgari. It is truly a revolution of design and technology.”
Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with the way Baselworld has developed. IDEX reported a number of strong opinions on the subject from industry experts who have attended Baselworld for years. Frank Mueller, principal of The Bridge to Luxury, a Dresden-based consultancy seemed to suggest an element of creative stagnancy within the industry:
“Today, I am leaving Baselworld 2019 with mixed feelings. A luxury industry that is no longer able to celebrate its glory and desire for the exclusive will face severe difficulties in convincing customers to buy high-end classical timepieces. From the more than 2.000 exhibitors Baselworld hosted in the past, their numbers have dwindled to some 500 this year. What I found most striking and sad was the lack of any attractive, emotional and innovative branding concepts. This is an industry in shock and without answers for its future except for hopes that omnichannel distribution will bring salvation.”
Luca Alfonsi, a prestigious retail jeweler from Cortina D’Ampezzo, rather proposed that the values of Baselworld have become too money-orientated to account for genuine innovation:
“As a jewellery retailer I’ve been visiting Baselworld since 1990 and I predicted its downfall years ago. While other fairs in the world send you invitations and special offers, Baselworld imposes an absurd entrance ticket of 60 Swiss francs per day, even to professional buyers. Baselworld conceited organizers lost more than half exhibitors and will continue with this trend because they don’t realize what the problem is. Instead of focusing on bringing more buyers, they care about charging exhibitors with sky-high non negotiable booth prices that sent away the majority of operators.
Despite the critical backlash, Loris-Melikoff remains optimistic:
“I am accordingly confident that with our new concepts and offers we will be able to score points with exhibitors and visitors alike and that together we will achieve the turnaround. The process of transforming Baselworld into an experience platform is in full swing. We also plan to use this year’s show as an opportunity to present our vision for Baselworld 2020 and subsequent years to exhibitors and all interested parties. We have already received very good feedback from important exhibitors on the approach sketched in that vision.”
What can we expect next year?
The video released by Baselworld, titled Baselworld Vision 2020, imagines a glamourous, expansive and innovative future. However, as faith in the historical event seems to falter, can they live up to their own expectations without the support of brands such as Swatch and Omega? If more money is being put into experience-oriented areas such as restaurants and lounges, will the true heart of Baselworld - its watches, jewellery and creative drive - suffer? I guess we will find out in April 2020.