POISED FOR CHANGE
Baselworld 2019 undergoes improvisation and faces challenges with elegance in anticipation of a complete transformation next in 2020
IN MARCH THIS YEAR, Baselworld, the most important trade show for the watch and jewellery industry across the world, faithfully opened its doors with a clear signal of its forward movement towards a modern future. The ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held to the alphorn tones of Swiss musician Eliana Burki, who is renowned for her unconventional use of the instrument in funk, pop and jazz songs, symbolising Swiss tradition with an innovative twist.
Both the opening ceremony and press conference were held at the newly devised Show Plaza, the highlight of the completely redesigned Jewellery Hall with up to three live runway shows a day throughout the fair, featuring the latest “blings” from selected designers and well-known jewellers.
Upon introducing himself as the new managing director of Baselworld, Michel Loris-Melikoff, who assumed his position at the helm in July 2018, highlighted the global significance of the show and, in reference to the recent challenges posed by digitalisation, reassured retailers, partners and journalists with his positive attitude and that a course of action for change was already underway.
“Our industry is undergoing a radical upheaval due to digitalisation. This is a fact that presents us with completely new challenges. The motivation for the new Baselworld team is to fundamentally transform the show. The major changes in the watch and jewellery industry are affecting producers, retailers, the media and trade fair operators alike. Therefore, we can only tackle and master them together,” stressed Melikoff.
Among the preliminary changes implemented at Baselworld 2019 were modern communication strategies, strengthening the jewellery sector, expanding the gastronomic offerings at the show and discussing future cooperation with the Geneva-based Salon de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) going forward. Melikoff reiterated that this was only the beginning of the comprehensive transformation that the show will undergo from 2020 onwards.
Melikoff was supported by Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, CEO ad interim of the MCH Group, the parent company of Baselworld, who promised that Baselworld would be transformed from a classic sales and distribution platform into a modern experience-oriented event. “We listened carefully to the exhibitors and worked with them to develop a vision and concept for Baselworld 2020 and beyond,” said the CEO.
In her speech, Eva Herzog, Councillor and Chairwoman
of the Finance Department of Basel-City, recalled outstanding social achievements in which mechanical watches have always played an important role as time witnesses and timekeepers ‒ from the Apollo 11 moon landing to the first ascent of Mount Everest to the crossing of the English Channel. She also emphasized the importance of getting to grips with the challenges of the digital age and reconciling them with personal exchange. In this respect, she is optimistic about the future of Baselworld.
Despite its position as the industry’s leading trade fair, Baselworld 2019 was set back by the withdrawal of several exhibitors, namely Corum, Maurice Lacroix and Raymond Weil, with the biggest blow from watch behemoth Swatch Group together with all 18 of its brands, including star players Omega, Longines and Tissot, all of which cited the exorbitant rental rates and the lack of fresh ideas. As every cloud has a silver lining, this created a vast vacuum in the main hall that allowed the surrounding brands to come forward and the emergence of new concepts and lifestyle features. Taking centre stage was Breitling (which has since announced its departure in 2020), while new additions included a Moet & Chandon lounge, the Central Plaza restaurant, a Gucci glass conservatory, a pocket park complete with relaxing benches and a mini talk show-style pavilion perfect for v-logging and video interviews. The most pleasant surprise for us, journalists, however, came in the form an improved press centre incorporated within the main exhibition hall, which saved us the hassle of walking in and out to a separate building or floor.
As of June this year, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) reported that Swiss watch exports had dropped by 10.7% to CHF1.7 billion (the first significant drop in the year), with the first half of 2019 ending on an increase of 1.4% at over CHF10 billion. All price segments recorded a sharp decrease in June, although watches priced at over 3,000 francs (export price) were somewhat less affected than others, with a fall in value of 5.6%. While certain markets recorded an increase, most suffered a decline.
The US (+7.2%) provisionally took the lead, having posted regular gains this year, while Hong Kong’s performance slowed significantly (-26.8%), largely due to the ongoing civil unrest. Japan (+3.1%) and China (+1.7%) posted small increases, as did Singapore (+1.7%). In Europe, the United Kingdom (+12.7%) recorded a comfortable gain while the other main outlets lost ground (France -23.7%, Germany -2.9% and Italy -16.6%).
Federal President Ueli Maurer concluded the press conference at the Show Plaza with a passionate speech on the fundamental value of trade fairs for society. He explained that every civilization had begun with trade fairs and markets where opinions and ideas were exchanged as well as knowledge and goods. “Basel has been such a marketplace for centuries that it stands for growth and further development,” said Maurer. Because this exchange cannot be reduced to the screen of a smartphone, he is convinced that Baselworld, with its long fair tradition, would continue to play an important role in the future.
THE MAJOR CHANGES IN THE WATCH AND JEWELLERY INDUSTRY ARE AFFECTING PRODUCERS, RETAILERS, THE MEDIA AND TRADE FAIR OPERATORS ALIKE. THEREFORE, WE CAN ONLY TACKLE AND MASTER THEM TOGETHER.