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Baselworld – the largest jewellery & watch show on earth

(Basel has been a magnet for the jewellery and watch industry for over 100 years)

For 101 years the small Swiss town of Basel has hosted what has become the biggest annual watch and jewellery spectacle on earth. It began in 1917, when just 29 exhibitors displayed as the “Watches and Jewellery” group of the first Swiss Sample Fair, otherwise known as Muba, in 1917. This was aimed at supporting the Swiss economy during the First World War and it is Switzerland’s unique position as a truly neutral European power that has enabled it to flourish in time of peace and war. Every year since then the show has been held in the Spring and it has built a reputation as the main event in the jewellery and watch calendar for the launch of new brands, product lines and innovations. In all the show attracts around 145,000 visitors each year, it occupies a floor space totalling more than 1.6 square kilometres and it even has its own newspaper, entitled the “Baselworld Daily News.” Around the time of the first show, the Swiss watch industry dominated over 90% of the world market but the organisers also decided to display fashionable early Art Deco and late Edwardian jewellery, often containing enamelware and coloured gemstones handmade on site in front of the crowds. The Muba was an instant success, attracting more than 300,000 visitors and earning more than 20 million Swiss Francs in revenue for the exhibitors in its inaugural year alone. The watch and jewellery side of the show continued to grow, containing over 30 exhibitors by 1923, a figure that increased to over 70 by 1931, prompting the establishment of the independent jewellery and watch show that we know today in 1932.

(The early Muba, pictured in the 1920s)

The show went on even after the outbreak of the Second World War and into the Cold War but it wasn’t until 1972 that the exhibition became truly international. From 1973 the event was rebranded as the “European Watch and Jewellery Fair” (EUSM), attracting exhibitors from the UK, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland itself. EUSM expanded rapidly and attracted over 60,000 buyers in the 1975 season alone. By 1984 the show had grown to the point at which it was decided to split it completely from the Muba and the new independent event was christened “BASEL 84.” By this stage the international focus had come to the fore and less than one third of the 1,550 exhibitors were Swiss. At BASEL 86 the first non-European exhibitors were admitted, making it a truly international event. This lead to a very rapid increase in both visitor and exhibitor numbers, which from 1995 onwards was reflected in the new name the “World Watch and Jewellery Show.” It wasn’t until the new millennium that the event acquired its more familiar modern name, Baselworld, in 2003 and the rebranding was accompanied by a relocation to new exhibition halls. These were completed by the venerable architects Herzog and de Meuron and most of the exhibitors took this opportunity to refresh and redesign their stands, breathing new life into the event. The modern Baselworld is sometimes referred to as Basel Fair in the media, this year it ran from 22nd to 27th March in Basel, Switzerland.

(Basel attracts jewellers from around the world)

Each year it takes more than 7,000 heavy goods vehicle loads of material to set the show up in its entirety and run it for 5 days. It requires the labour of more than 20,000 people in all for a period of more than 6 weeks to complete this mammoth task, with dozens of nationalities represented and products arriving from the four corners of the globe. However, Baselworld has contracted in the past few years in the face of stiff competition from rival shows, which is demonstrated by the fact that in 2015 1,400 companies attended, in comparison with around 700 this year. Baselworld has been likened to be the Detroit Auto Show or Paris Fashion week of the jewellery and watch industry due to the number of new collections that our launched at the event. One of the reasons Baselworld has become so important lies in the fact that it has received so much interest over the years from leading industry and fashion media, whose journalists and editors use the event as a tool to gain information on emerging market fashions and trends. Nearly all of the luxury brands have a presence. Within the watch community these include Rolex, Tudor, Omega, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Patek Philippe, and Breguet. The fine jewellery market is well represented by Chopard, Harry Winston, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Dior, among many others. Many of the suppliers of the major brands also exhibit but some major retail players, including Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoulture and Panerai have chosen to focus their attention on the Salon International de la Huate Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva and do not attend Basel.

(Basel has become the principal jewellery and watch exhibition in the industry calendar)

The primary focus of Baselworld is to facilitate the mixing of the buyers from leading retailers with brand representatives, in order to view and promote their new collections, products and services. The event also generates enormous publicity for the industry as a whole, and this is proactively encouraged by the use of press conferences and statements made to editors and journalists. Baselworld is also open to the general public and tickets are available for 60 Swiss Francs for a one-day pass, or 150CHF for the whole show. One of the key things to remember if you are planning to attend the Baselworld event is that hotels and guest houses in the area book up well in advance and are often prone to increasing their prices during the show. Due to Basel’s location, many visitors actually choose to base themselves in Germany and France, where smaller towns and villages offer more reasonably priced accommodation. The wider region around Basel is well served with highly efficient transport infrastructure but it is important to remember that it does not run all night! To help navigate your way around the vast arena, the show’s organisers have now launched a free smart phone app, downloadable from their website, containing a full list of the exhibitors, zoomable 3D maps and other pertinent information.

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