I’m just back from my annual pilgrimage to Baselworld and I have had time to reflect on the importance of this year’s show compared to the many I have previously been to over the past decade.
In most years Baselworld is a reflection of the wider Swiss watch industry. For example, key collections launched in the era when BRIC economies were on fire were over-the-top and over-priced.
A return to sanity in recent years has benefited European retailers who want value for money, quality, tradition, heritage and wearability to be the guiding principles of watchmakers.
2018 was a year when the health of the Swiss watch industry was not reflected in the size of Baselworld.
Swiss watch exports have been growing every month for more than a year. February’s year-on-year growth was the fastest in years, but the number of exhibitors at Baselworld was down by more than 50% compared to a few years ago.
While the shrunken physical size of Baselworld was at odds with the broader health of the industry, the positive mood within the halls was much more in tune with this year’s improving business outlook.
My verdict is that this was the most upbeat Baselworld I have been to in the past three years, and the 60 watchmakers I met were reporting strong sales to distributors and retailers around the world.
So, while much of the world’s media has been focusing on the brands that were missing from this year’s Baselworld, I think it is more helpful to describe the mood of the brands that were there.
I am well aware that it is every executive’s job to be positive to journalists, but I am also sufficiently experienced (and cynical) to see when they are spinning and when they are telling the truth.
Baselworld 2018 was a success, and I hope will quash talk of the show’s imminent demise.
I doubt it will ever grow again to the 1400 exhibitors that were there in 2014, but businesses accounting for 80% of the CHF 20 billion Swiss watch industry were exhibiting. So were all the biggest Japanese watchmakers including Citizen, Casio and Seiko.
The organiser has reported that the show had 8% more visitors in its first two days (Thursday and Friday) than at the same time last year. I can tell you that Saturday was dramatically more busy, making my job of dashing between 20 meetings in a day a considerable physical challenge.
The show being shorter and smaller has also made it more concentrated, which is a positive development.
The exhibition was not perfect, and this year’s success should not lead Baselworld’s organiser into the sort of complacency and intransigence that has frustrated exhibitors and visitors for years.
Everything is changing in the world of media, marketing, communication, sales and distribution and Baselworld must listen and learn so that it remains relevant in a digital age.