BASELWORLD A DISPLAY OF SPLENDOUR
Try to check in anywhere in the Swiss town of Basel between January and April, and you’ll find out it’s all booked, from five-star hotels down to inns and hostels. And little wonder, considering the masses that overflow this town each spring, gather here for the biggest watch and jewellery show in the world – BaselWorld.
What does that mean? It means over 1,800 exhibitors from 45 countries displaying the most brilliant novelties for everyone interested to see, distributors and journalists from every corner of the world, curious visitors, all in all over 100,000 people doing business, displaying, appraitsing, discussing, admiring inside an exposition space of 160,000 square metres.
This year, starting April 25th to May 2nd, the show will be awaiting visitors in its six buildings, referred to as “halls”, situated a short way off the eastern shore of the river Rhine as it crosses Basel. The first one, hosting the biggest watch brands in the world, from Patek Phillipe to Breguet, from Omega to Concord, is called the Hall of Dreams. The second and third buildings are dedicated to jewellery, with pearls and diamonds taking ample place in Hall 3. Buildings number four and five display watches as well, but here one rather finds boutique-brands dedicated to the high-end public. Finally, Hall 6 hosts the Asian brands, those dealing in watches as well as jewellery.
For BaselWorld 2013, the Hall of Dreams has been extended with a new exposition space has been erected in the end of September 2012, with intense interior design works being done. No less than 430 million Swiss francs (some 437 million euros) have been invested in this project. The complex was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, 2001 winners of the Pritzker Prize, one of the most prestigious architecture awards.
The BaselWorld experience is a fascinating one, regardless of edition or the halls visited, of one’s taste in watches or jewellery. My first time at BaselWorld was back in 2008. Since all rooms in town had been booked as early as January, I picked a hostel in Mulhouse, France, with the plan of taking the train to and from Switzerland during the five days of exposition exploration I was looking forward to. Fast trains, for a minimum waste of time.
As I first set foot in the Hall of Dreams, the grandeur, the colour, the buzz, the luxury definitely overwhelmed me. This is where all the big brands display their latest watches – and more. And since my goal was to see the key people of the most important companies there, I spent quite a good deal of time within this building’s hallways. I had long before arranged the interviews and had them set almost exactly one hour apart: Chopard, Tag Heuer, Fabergé, Concord, Hublot, Longines. I spent most of my time between the press centre, where journalists from all over the world came to do some research, take a break or share ideas, and the directors’ offices, behind their discreet doors, almost unnoticeable in the exposition halls walls – brilliant places to hear stories worth retelling.
I asked Longines CEO Walter von Keanel to explain the apparent discrepancy between the “Elegance is an attitude” motto and the Longines brand, an essentially sporty one. Let us not forget this is the brand that has been designated the Official Timekeeper of numerous sporting events, including Summer and Winter Olympics, or that Longines timed Lindbergh’s first flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Tag Heuer marketing and design vice president Stephen Linder explained why men can choose a watch like “The Grand Carrera Calibre 36 RS Caliper Automatic Chronograph”, one with more functions than can be used in a human lifetime: “Each brand must come up with an exceptional product, one that builds that brand’s image and power. You buy a Porsche 911 Turbo, you get 500 horsepower. Who uses 500 horsepower on city streets? No one. You’re virtually buying a dream.”
Last but not least, Fabergé CEO Marcus O. Mohr told me about the minute carefulness employed in making any of their watches. Each piece is individually decorated in a distinct way, in the “guilloche” style – the manual drawing of very fine lines on the dial, a technique necessitating several days per item. The clockwork mechanism is taken apart and completely redecorated. Yes, Fabergé does also make watches.
Each brand, each company president, each watch and each piece of jewellery I was laying my eyes upon, they all had their own interesting stories. BaselWorld is more than just an impressive watch and jewellery show, more than opulence and brilliance. It is an unforgettable experience, a place to hear stories one wouldn’t have access to otherwise.