Baselworld 2017: what the fair says about the strength of the market?

In this centenary year – and in spite of the difficult economic situation – Baselworld, that great window on the luxury industry, revealed its ability to bring together all the trends in watchmaking and jewelry around vigorous and intangible values.

By Vincent Daveau

Right from the start of the fair, professionals and privateers alike from the industry noticed a subtle difference in the event's atmosphere . According to the general consensus, it appeared smaller and less impressive. This might be due to the fact that they have seen the same booths and the same decor for many years now, over and over again. This obviously applied to the front end of the fair, which has not been subject to any major alterations. But once you got past the Swatch Group, you found a place transformed. The migration of Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux to the SIHH left a vacuum that needed filling. The return of Frédérique Constant meant they could be replaced. But it was the second story that seemed emptier. Thankfully, it harbored "Les Ateliers," a new area that provided a forum for independent creators previously gathered in the "Palace." 

Baselworld 2017

Baselworld in figures

Essentially, anyone with even a bit of experience in the market could tell from looking that there were some visitors missing. The stats suggest that 106,000 private and professional visitors from 100 countries roamed the halls of this now 100-year-old trade fair to discover the collections of the 220 Swiss watch and jewelry brands. They were just a part of the total of 1,300 exhibitors from 40 countries (about 200 fewer than last year, including 60 watch brands, as non-confirmed information). The organizers, who know what they are talking about, suggest that the decline was only 4% compared with 2016. That's quite possible because on Tuesday, the fair was packed, as opposed to previous days, no longer with journalists and bloggers, but rather with professionals who came to discover the novelties and submit their orders. Baselworld, a genuine neuralgic hub of the watch industry, was shunned by a number of market players this year, even though it did receive accolades from many significant companies.

Baselworld 2017

Background noise

There is some hope that the fair will contribute to the trend back to normality, which some feel is on the way. But many journalists and small and medium-size enterprises did suggest that the organization lacked rigor this year. The press parking was far away from the fair, and the Wi-Fi with its faltering connections were among the points that journalists complained about and that will need correction. The brands, for their part, lamented the staggering cost of the event. But the organizers did draw the lessons from the first withdrawals, and their corrections will be followed by others. There is talk of Hermès migrating to the SIHH, and a number of Swiss fashion watch brands said it will be their last appearance at the trade fair. So Baselworld will have to review its strategy, because even if the industry experienced a downturn these past two years, it still managed to reach sales of 19.4 billion Swiss francs by the end of 2016, which is double the exports since 2000. This was achieved by almost a doubling of the prices...

Baselworld 2017

Cyclical impact

Shaken somewhat by the economy, the market did put some pressure on the Baselworld organizers, so next year, this great celebration of luxury will be two days shorter. It's an option that should contribute to cutting costs and overhead. Seeing that there were so few visitors present on the Wednesday and Thursday March 29 and 30, this might be a good solution. In one way, the fair was over and done with. The journalists were gone by Saturday. Those who remained were the professionals of the industry, the sellers, the heads of communication organizations and a handful of diehards still seeking that rare gem that really was rare this year at the fair.

But that is not really a bad thing. There was not a singl timepiece that left the most pernickety observers silent in admiration. The general consensus seemed to be, strictly speaking, that this crop of watches was well balanced.  Everyone found little horological gimmicks to feed their passion and some emblematic references that were made to boost the trust of professionals, who, in turn, were happy to see brands offering quality devices at reasonable prices that were immediately available, and could thus respond to the expectations of consumers, whose patience is growing shorter with the gradual advance of an increasingly connected market...

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