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Friday, March 16, 2012

Baselworld 2012 Closes with Strong Results, Upbeat and Confident

Business was brisk at Baselworld 2012 and the attitude of both exhibitors and buyers was upbeat and confident.

A fractured arm kept me from attending Baselworld this year Fortunately, veteran watch journalist, William George Shuster, kindly agreed to take time from his busy schedule to write a few stories from the tradeshow. Below is his fourth and final report.

By William George Shuster
Special Correspondent

BASEL, Switzerland — The just-ended Baselworld 2012, the world’s most important and largest watch and jewelry tradeshow, was one of the most successful in its history.

The eight-day show closed March 15 with a 1 percent rise in attendance (to 104,300, its second-highest attendance ever); a 9 percent gain (3,320) in the international press corps at the show; and almost universal satisfaction among vendors—especially those in the luxury sector—with the business, orders and contacts they had; and widespread confidence among retail buyers.

"It was a fascinating week, and truly a good year for us exhibitors. We are highly satisfied,” said Jacques J. Duchêne, long-time chairman of the show’s Exhibitors' Committee. Francois Thiébaud, president of the Swiss Exhibitors Committee, agreed, calling the show a "complete success."

Positive comments. Indeed, this year’s edition of the annual watch and jewelry trade fair on the Rhine in Basel, Switzerland, evoked positive comments from most vendors, both large and small.

Swiss luxury sport brand TAG Heuer, for example, welcomed 30 percent more retailers than last year. It also introduced movie star Cameron Diaz as its new brand ambassador. Luxury watch Hublot—which unveiled its one-of-a-kind $5 million diamond-encrusted timepiece--took “considerably more orders than in [2011],” said CEO Ricardo Guadalupe. At Swiss watchmaker Ellicott, “Response to our new watches—especially the world’s thinnest minute repeater with perpetual calendar (hand-wound)—was very good,” said CEO Pierre-Andre Finazzi to the show’s newspaper, “and price points and units per order are more than last year.”

Despite economic problems in Europe, the U.S. and many other regions of the world, an upbeat business attitude pervaded the fair’s buying and selling. Luxury watch brand Patek Phillippe, for example, noted “an exceedingly positive mood amongst our customers throughout the entire show,” said Jasmine Steel, international communications director, while at the Bulova Corp. stand, “People are excited about our groundbreaking products and technologies,” said Harvey Kaplan, regional vice president. “Business is hot,” declared Jacques-Philippe Auriol, CEO of TechnoMarine watches, to the show’s daily newspaper. “The booth is packed and clients are smiling.”

At Seiko, “sales are much better than expected, and there’s great interest in our new Astron GPS watch,” said Karou Matsumoto, public relations general manager. “Customers are cautiously optimistic, and we share their optimism.”

‘Gratifying’ business. In the Hong Kong delegation of vendors, the show’s second largest, “Purchasing behavior was gratifying and the potential in the boom markets, including Russia and Latin America, highly promising,” said Ralph Chow, director of product promotion for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Gem dealers and vendors of technology and equipment, too, were generally upbeat about business result, as were jewelry firms. The German precious gem house of Groh + Ripp, for example, surpassed 2011’s good results by 25 percent. “The quality of the visitors was exceedingly good,” added Managing Director Bernd Willy Ripp. At Spanish jewelry firm Carrera y Carrera, “For the first time in three years, we don’t hear about the [financial] crisis,” CEO Nathalie Guedj told the BaselWolrd Daily News. “That reflects the very good business the jewelry industry did in 2011. People are confident about the future.”

The Swiss watch delegation was especially pleased. Following a record-breaking year in exports in 2011 (29.8 million watches, valued at 19.3 billion Swiss francs, or about $21 billion), its strong results for Baselworld 2012—driven in lager part by ongoing, growing demand for luxury products, especially in Asia, and China particularly, and “certain emerging markets”—promise another good year for Swiss watchmakers. “While it is always difficult to anticipate results,” said the Swiss Exhibitors Committee’s closing report. “This 40th edition [of Baselworld] augurs well for positive progress in 2012. The 20 billion franc export threshold should be easily crossed and thereby represent the third consecutive growth year [in 2012].”

The enhanced interest by the global media in the show’s news and trends and the sizeable increase in journalists covering the show was especially important to both vendors and show officials. It indicates the importance the show has gained with the global press, and “For exhibitors, the worldwide reports in the specialist, daily, business and lifestyle media, as well as in the online media, TV and radio, are of major importance,” noted Baselworld’s closing report. Luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe, for example, received over 800 journalists at it stand, “a considerable increase over previous years,” noted spokesperson Jasmina Steele.

A new era. For the 104,300 visits from 100-plus nations and the 1,851 vendors from 41 countries, this was the last time they would work in the current exhibition stands or rush hurriedly through its halls. But many said they were already looking forward to what show officials call show’s “new era” starting in 2013.

The show’s owner, MCH Group, is revamping the current Exhibition Square and its surrounding buildings, with an immense makeover valued at just under half-a-billion dollars. The expensive and extensive transformation—including two new three-story building, a two-building above the formerly outside Exhibition Square, a new events hall, and the tearing down of some of the show’s older buildings—transformation is being handled by Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron, who also designed the famous Bird’s Nest national stadium in Beijing. The new complex will have 141,000 m2.

Show Director Sylvia Ritter admitted to “a certain amount of nostalgia” for the current buildings sand fair grounds, which will be gone in weeks. “At the same time, I am looking forward impatiently and with great expectations to the new era that will be dawning for this world show,” she said.

The new complex, opening in April 2013, will also involve the relocation of many watch exhibitors in the current Hall 1 and the spending of millions of dollars by exhibitors on new exhibition booths and presentations. “Nearly all the brands will now be investing in their new stands for Baselworld 2013,” said Duchene. “This highlights the fact that we have a great deal of confidence in this [trade show] event, because [it] will be giving us exhibitors even more opportunities to experience positive developments in future."

The next show, Baselworld 2013, will be held April 25 – May 2, 2013.

William George Shuster is a multi-award winning writer—including three Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's highest honor. He has 40 years experience as a journalist, author and editor. He is considered one of the world’s top watch industry journalists, covering the world of timepieces for the past 30 years.

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