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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Very Busy Baselworld 2015 Press Conference And Mourning An Untimely Death

Baselworld 2015 opening day press conference. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Baselworld 2015 is set to officially begin Thursday but Wednesday was the opening press conference for the world’s largest watch and jewelry show, where a number of changes were discussed.

Sylvie Ritter, Baselworld managing director, described the past year as “a very busy time where we’ve seen some fundamental changes” that included the unpegging of the Swiss franc to the euro, the crisis in Russia and Ukraine, the decline of growth in China, and Smart watches.
Growth in the industry in 2014 was modest. François Thiébaud, president of the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors Committee, said that Swiss watch exports increased 1.9% year-over-year to nearly $22.2 billion.

The show continues its transformation to a pure luxury event, which caused a number of exhibitors to drop out during the past two years because of a steep increase for exhibit space and demands that they spend even more for larger and more elaborate booths. This resulted in the opening of two other trade fairs last year to accommodate these exhibitors. The largest of the two is Jewellery & Gem Fair – Europe, March 22 – 25 at Messe Freiburg, Germany, will have approximately 400 exhibitors representing all facets of the jewelry industry. The other is The Diamond Show, March 19 – 23 in Basel, which as the name suggests, is dedicated to diamond industry exhibitors.

Two years ago the fair unveiled a new design for the massive exhibition space. Many watch exhibitors in Hall 1.0, the prime real estate at the fair, were booted upstairs to Hall 1.1 to make way for brands owned by luxury conglomerates (Swatch Group, LVMH and Kering) and the few large independent brands able to afford to exhibit there (such as Patek Philippe, Rolex and Chopard). This year many jewelry exhibitors who were exhibiting at Hall 1.1 have moved to Hall 2 in the adjacent building.

The move to pure luxury seems to have worked for the show. There may have been fewer exhibitors last year but visitor numbers grew. And there are still plenty of exhibitors. In fact, the show even attracted a few luxury brands who haven’t exhibited in the past, like Graff Diamonds who exhibited for the first time last year.

Smart watches was a major focus of the press conference where two of the three speakers said they view the new timepieces as something that can co-exist with the traditional Swiss watch industry. No one viewed it as a threat.

“Smart watches have been around for years,” Ritter said. “Lots have already been written about them but it will have no effect on traditional watchmaking.”

A comparison to the introduction of Japanese quartz movements in the 1970s and ’80s, which was a major crises at the time to the watch industry, were brushed aside by the speakers.
“The watch crises of the 1980s was totally different,” said François Thiébaud, president of the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors Committee.

The speakers said that they view smart watches as different markets with appeal that can coexist.
“I am convinced it is a different world,” Ritter said. “These two worlds are complimentary rather than antagonistic.”

Another topic at the press conference was the sudden removal in January of the 1.20 Swiss franc currency cap to the Euro. The Swiss National bank placed the currency peg three years so stabilize prices of exports in Europe. The removal in January by the Swiss National Bank caused the Swiss currency to rise against the Euro and other world currencies, increasing Swiss exports.

Thiébaud, said the currency change so far hasn’t impacted the market. Since January, Swiss exports have increased by 3.7% to $1.6 billion.

The press conference began with the announcement that Jacques J. Duchêne, former president of the Baselworld Exhibitors, died Tuesday (yesterday). It would have been his 60th appearance at the show, which dates back to 1917. He is normally on stage with the other speakers. The cause of death wasn’t revealed but it appears to have been unexpected as the other speakers appeared visibly shaken. There was a moment of silence for him.

“He was a man with a vision and his heart was in the right place,” said René Kamm, CEO of MCH Group, which operates the Basel exhibition center (Messe Basel).

“He knew about the real value of time and he always said to make the most of it,” added Thiébaud.

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