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A Year of Investment: BaselWorld 2013 review

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BaselWorld 2013 had a skip in its step. The eight-day international watch marathon opened its doors last month to a fresh layout and some glorious sunshine, making for a positive vibe that echoed the predominantly upbeat feelings among the global watch industry.

After a patient seven-year wait for the big unveil of the new-look BaselWorld, watch professionals from around the world descended on the Swiss city to do business and get a first glimpse of the reconstructed watch and jewellery fair. Over the duration of the event approximately 100,000 visitors and 3,500 journalists, visited the halls, which had been revamped at a cost of CHF430 million (£298m). The construction boasted 141,000m² of exhibition space housing 1,460 exhibition stands, 1,000 of which were new constructions for 2013.

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM
The revamped show did not disappoint, and the brands’ investments in creating even more luxurious exhibition stands than in previous years reaffirmed that business is robust.
“I’ve been coming to BaselWorld for 35 years and every so often the fair has a change around,” said Derek Salter, director of Burton McCall Watches, which distributes Victorinox, Mondaine and Luminox. “This year there was a much nicer environment and more space. Everybody had expectations that we’d see something special but it exceeded my expectations. The commitment the brands have made to the industry with these amazing stands is fantastic and a very positive sign.”

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Salter’s was a sentiment echoed by the message imparted during the opening press conference of BaselWorld, which delivered encouraging figures from the year depicting a buoyant watch industry. BaselWorld Exhibitors’ Committee president Jacques Duchêne spoke in optimistic tones about the Swiss watchmaking industry being at “the pinnacle of its growth”, pointing out that in 2012 export figures broke all previous records.

Reinforcing Duchêne’s positivity, Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee chairman François Thiébaud highlighted the growth of Swiss watch exports over the past five years, particularly mechanical watches. He added that Swiss watch exports in March 2013 had a total value of CHF1.6 billion (£1.1bn), up 2% on March 2012 and that from January to March 2013, Swiss watch export values hit CHF4.7 billion (£3.23bn), with a total growth of 2.4% compared to the same period in March 2012.

Thiébaud said that the results indicated a positive start to 2013, particularly taking into account the continuing global economic turmoil and people delaying buying this year because BaselWorld was later.

In the wake of this favourable market backdrop, exhibitors spoke animatedly about plans for both product and business development. Even though the weather took a downwards turn mid show and regular Brit haunt the Fair & Square seemed more quiet than usual, spirits were still relatively high. A tough few years of trading meant that for retailers at the fair, their optimism was peppered with caution, leading them to make sensible and commercial buying choices, but overall, the refreshed layout seemed to add a vitality to the fair.

PITCH PERFECT
Speculation about the extent of choice for exhibitors when it came to changing stands and positions appeared to be generally unfounded, or certainly not begrudged. “The rearrangement of stands has been great for us,” explained Zeno Scapin, international marketing manager at Davidoff, which has just signed a deal with Nuval to enter the UK. “Mid 2012 we freshened up our branding and now we have been able to create a stand with a bold, summer look that reflects that.”

Meanwhile, the reshuffle gave Swiss brand Romain Jerome an opportunity to grow from a one-floor stand to two, while German-designed, Swiss-made Meistersinger decided to keep the same position as last year but invested in doubling its stand size.

However, not all exhibitors were happy with the changes. An anonymous source at an exhibiting watch brand told WatchPro that being required to change position meant paying more than last year for a smaller space.

Despite a few inevitable groans, the luxury that poured from the stands was a sign of the investment the watch industry is prepared and able to make. Speaking at the show, Hublot chairman Jean Claude Biver was confident about his brand’s prospects, a happy position reflected in its investment in its stand. “You are sitting on CHF3.3 million [£2.26 million] – I don’t know what sort of feeling you get from that, but I know what feeling I get,” he laughed. “It’s a big investment, but it’s also a very small investment as we are going to keep this booth for 10 years; that’s more reasonable. And we expect to turn over CHF200 million [£137 million]. 2012 has been a fantastic year, another record year; not just for us but for the whole Swiss watch industry. 2013 again will be a record year. We have had double-digit growth at the start of the year. Our industry is great, we’re doing great.”

As always, it was easy to recognise those brands who continue to perform particularly well and despite the changes, there were no surprises with who dominated the halls with the likes of Bulgari, Patek Philippe, Rolex and Breitling displaying wealth with a peacock-esque show of success. The Swatch Group too maintained its vast presence, taking centre stage in Hall 1 and plastic watch brand Swatch was present this year, taking ownership of an innovative space across the tramlines in the Hall 1 space opposite.

Of interest too, however, was a substantial stand presence from a number of movement manufacturers including Ronda,
Soprod, MHVJ and Technotime, which were perhaps looking to sweep up the business left by movement and component restrictions introduced by Swatch Group; a situation that has led numerous brands to develop in-house movements.

Amid the buzz around hall restructures and market observations, there was of course a wealth of new product. Innovation at BaselWorld this year was a mixed bag, from the tried and reworked to a few standout pieces, among them the Hublot Masterpiece MP-05 LaFerrari with its 50-day power reserve, the Girard-Perregaux Constant Escapement, the Corum Ti-Bridge Automatic Dual Winder, the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Seconde Mystérieuse and the Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon 4.

In terms of fashion trends, grey, teal and blue colours stood out as popular colours for wristwear, with the citrus hues of last year not gone but certainly fading. More yellow gold was being introduced, possibly spurred on by the Middle East market, and there was an emergence of full rose gold bracelet watches for men, a less subtle use of a metal that has been growing in popularity in recent years.

Basking in the warmth of a record year for Swiss watch sales and the energy that comes from a makeover, exhibitors and visitors to BaselWorld 2013 were mostly upbeat and discussion about ongoing investment was rife, setting expectations high for a lucrative and innovative 2013.

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