CNN's Nina dos Santos at Baselworld 2014
The international news channel's business correspondent and presenter of The Business View show was in Basel for the fair and cast a discerning glance at the world of international business and the luxury market.
What is your connection with Baselworld? How do you explain your presence on the fair?
Baselworld is a fascinating place. A recurring theme in the global economy is the resilience of the luxury sector, and there are few more perfect microcosms of that sector than the watch industry. At Baselworld you can get a fully rounded perspective on it, from the watches themselves to the elaborate displays and exhibition stands, and of course the people that come from all over the world to browse and buy.
How long has CNN been involved in Swiss watchmaking industry? Do you have a new show around it?
CNN has covered Baselworld for many years, so it is certainly not a new interest for us! We will be running a week of content looking at the watch industry during May, and we have been speaking to some of the leading lights in the industry there, as well as looking at some of the most intriguing products.
For the rest of the world where your shows are broadcasted, is there an historical and cultural link with Swiss watches? According to you is watchmaking industry only about the business?
One of the fascinating characteristics of the watch industry is the way it draws so many different strands together. Of course there are many details that relate closely to economics – particularly industries such as mining and engineering, and of course retail. But there are also aspects that relate to art, craftsmanship and design. There is a culture and a romance about watches, and that is part of what makes the business unique.
In a globalized world, what do you think about a sector that refuses relocation and keeps on manufacturing the product in a place where labour is particularly expensive? Is it an exception?
Of course the fact that much the watch industry remains so resolutely Swiss-based is unusual, but at the same time many industries have centres of excellence. It is very common for industries to group together geographically, and that proximity often brings advantages in terms of supply chains and other key factors.
Very often a manufacturer will also use its location to imbue its brand with certain values. Think of cities such as Milan for fashion, Paris for fragrances, London for tailored suits. These locations are a shorthand for certain attributes, and consumers are reassured by these. As for cost, people are prepared to pay for quality; the cost and – by extension – the accessibility of a product are often crucial factors in determining how desirable that product becomes. Again, this partly explains why the luxury sector is so resilient – people will always be prepared to pay for quality.
You have a 360 degrees view of the market. How do you explain that Africa, which is a fast growing continent, doesn’t really pay attention to watch and/or luxury brands? The paradox is that this continent is (even more than China) sensitive to the brands and their history. Despite the request and the interest, only South Africa and Morocco, and eventually Senegal seem to be commercially attractive…
Africa is an incredibly diverse continent, and is changing all the time. Everyone knows there are challenges in many countries in Africa, but there is also immense wealth and potential across the continent; I think sensible companies will monitor that growth potential closely. I’m not sure it’s true to say that Africans are not interested in luxury brands – quite the reverse in fact, and as many African countries become more prosperous, their citizens are becoming more aware of international luxury brands. As such it is certainly true to say that companies cannot ignore the continent.
Geneva is more famous than Switzerland itself. Do you think that brand containing the word «Genève» are more likely to conquer the world? Before Basel World did you know cities like La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Le Brassus, Le Sentier ou Delémont?
The best and most successful brands always have a story. Locations, as I mentioned before, are a part of that picture. Geneva has its own mythology, and there is undoubtedly a benefit to brands from that association. Whether it makes success more likely I’m not sure, but a sense of place, of heritage, and identity can help a brand form a more rounded and complex identity – and that can be important, especially in the luxury sector.
One thing that came through loud and clear at Baselworld this year is that Switzerland’s great watchmaking legacy today depends on looking to the future as much as marketing its great heritage. Getting the balance right between technology and tradition is key to keep the industry relevant.
Not likely to join the Europe Union, Switzerland tends to annoy its neighbours. Therefore, the Swiss watch is still desired worldwide, even in Europe. How do you explain that contradiction?
I think the story and history of Swiss watches, and the acknowledged qualities of the products themselves, transcend any issues about politics in the minds of consumers.
As a public personality, would you be allowed to endorse a watch brand or do you function forbids it? Which brand do you wear? May I ask you how and why did you get this one?
There are rules on product placement on air, to which shows must adhere. As news anchors we are not allowed to endorse anything that would compromise our editorial integrity. If I were to have a relationship with a watch company and then had to report on that company’s business it would obviously present a conflict of interest, so it’s not something I would want or be able to do.
In which circumstances would you agree not wearing any watch and being without any time reference?
I think there are moments, especially when you lead a busy life, where time can feel like a bind. I love to feel connected, but I find that ditching my mobile phone can be a fantastically liberating feeling, at least after I’ve got over the initial anxiousness of leaving it behind. Taking off my watch is the ultimate expression of that feeling. If you’re on holiday, on a beach somewhere, at the beginning of a long summer day, sometimes it feels even better if you’re not wearing a watch.
What was your first watch? in which circumstances?
The first serious watch I ever owned was given to me by my mother for my 17th birthday and I still wear it to this day. It’s a gold and steel Cartier Panthere. It has a special meaning because I remember the day she bought it for me. At the time though I have to confess I was a bit of a tomboy so it took me a couple of years to grow into the idea of wearing a fancy watch. Now, I love watches!