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Baselworld 2019: How Not To Get Robbed

Five tips to keep pickpockets, swindlers, and prostitutes at bay during Basel Week.

By Rhonda Riche

Last week, whilst talking to colleagues about how to pack for Baselworld, the subject swung to theft prevention. It turns out that we all knew someone who had been robbed at the watch fair (and we’re not just talking about the price of sausages outside of the Messeplatz).

But all conventions attract pickpockets, con artists, and other crooks, so in order to not get fleeced, we’ve assembled some suggestions to help you keep your valuables just that, yours.

Now, we don’t want to be alarmist. And to be fair, just over 100,000 people – or, approximately the population of Burbank, CA – will be attending Baselworld, so the odds of getting robbed are extremely low.


In order to thwart well-organized international jewel thieves, security at Baselworld is tighter than the seals on a dive watch, but for common criminals, the allure is not the watches but all the high tech gadgets that exhibitors and press need to do their jobs.

At my first Baselworld, I was constantly approached in the streets by locals asking if they could buy my press badge. I couldn’t quite figure out why. I mean, if they wanted to see watches so badly, why wouldn’t they just go to the public day. Well, as it turns out, all they really wanted to do was get inside and lift any small, loose items such as cameras, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Do not let them in.


Before travelling, many people go through their wallet or purse and purge most of its contents. So before boarding your Swiss Air flight, take out any letters or cards that you don’t need as they may contain personal info. And while most people carry their credit cards in the same wallet as their ID, keep in mind that if your wallet is stolen you have given fraudsters all the details they need to steal your identity — your home address, full name and date of birth.

In the information age, your personal details have more value to grifters than your personal possessions.

Marie Kondo that wallet!


The same rules apply for your phone, laptop and tablets. For many Baselworld attendees, these gadgets are necessary tools of the trade that can’t just be left in the hotel safe. But for thieves, it’s not the device that’s important, it’s the data that’s on them that matters. We carry around a lot of important info on our gadgets and if it isn’t locked, crooks can access and abuse your entire digital life.

Don’t make it easy for crooks, passcode protect your phone.


Once you’re outside the hall, try not to look like a convention goer. Tuck that ID badge away. Lose the bags branded with the names of luxury watches. Don’t make yourself a mark.

Pickpockets also like to hang out where crowds of conventioneers congregate. Stay alert in bars and restaurants, on the trams, and at the train stations. When you’re riding public transit, don’t stand near the doors on a bus or train. When you’re drinking at The Three Kings, don’t get too drunk.

Does it even count as thievery if you left your laptop in the back of an Uber after imbibing too many 32CHF cocktails? Just be careful out there!


While at the convention center we all tend to get lulled into this false sense of security. The air of comradery that comes with being surrounded by people that share our passion for watches, the sense that we’re all working together as we go from press conference to appointment to interview (then rinse and repeat a few dozen times), and the legion of security personnel, seem to hypnotize convention goers into abandoning all common sense. I’m certainly not exempt from this Basel Beguilement Syndrome, I’ve personally lost two watches at Baselworld.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but a couple of years ago I was carrying a watch roll so I could switch up my timepieces for different appointments. And, because I didn’t have time to go back to my hotel between appointments and dinner, I was also lugging around a big bag filled with electronic gadgets, a change of shoes, and a day’s worth of press kits. Exhausted, I put my bag down for a minute and went to look for a place where I could charge my phone. When I came back, the watches (a vintage ladies Rolex and a white G-Shock, by the way in case you happen to know their whereabouts) were gone.

Looking back, it’s a bit shocking I left my belongings unattended in a convention hall filled with thousands of strangers. It’s akin to leaving your phone unattended on a Central Park bench while you buy a hotdog from a street vendor that’s 50 feet away. Or leaving your purse unattended while you are clothes shopping. Or telling your children that’s it’s perfectly acceptable to accept candy from strangers in nondescript vans. It’s the abandonment of all reason, is my point.

Don’t succumb to Basel Beguilement Syndrome. If you don’t want to lose it, don’t bring it. Or, at the very least, don’t leave it unattended even for a minute.


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