Baselworld has always been a family affair for the Mark and Candy Udell, owners of London Jewelers, which has four showrooms in New York and Long Island including a Rolex and Patek Philippe-anchored flagship with boutiques for Van Cleef & Arpel and Audemars Piguet .
There have been years when four generations have traveled together to Basel including Mark’s father; the couple’s children Scott and his wife Jessica; Randi Udell-Alper and her husband Scott; and their and nephew Zach.
Their granddaughter Sienna made has been to the show in 2018 and again in 2019, which may turn out to be her last trip to Basel now there is so much doubt over the show’s future.
There is the extended family as well, which includes CEOs and other top brass from all of the brands London Jewelers represents, along with many retailers from the United States, which are considered close friends more than rivals.
When Mark and Candy visited the show with their granddaughter, they managed to compile an entire book of photographs commemorating the occasion with her pictured alongside industry giants including Jean-Frederique Dufour, CEO of Rolex, Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, Jean-Claude Biver, who was easing into retirement as LVMH’s head of watchmaking, Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, and Caroline and Karl-Friedrich Sheufele, Chopard’s co-presidents.
Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin welcomes the Udell family.
Like many executives recalling the glory days of Baselworld, Mark and Candy remember the friendships and life-long business relationships they forged at the show.
Among their fondest memories are of their own parties, which they hosted on the Sunday night of Baselworld for 18 years.
“When we first started attending Baselworld 40 years’ ago, we arrived with a tour group after visiting the Fiera Milano jewelry fair. We all stayed at the Hilton in those days and you would find us socializing until 2am. We forged a lifetime of friendships and relationships that we still hold dear today, and continued after we moved to the Three Kings [Les Trois Rois] hotel, which became the hot spot for meeting everybody after the show,” Candy describes.
London Jewelers and Mark and Candy wanted to recognize and thank vendors and friends that helped to contribute to their success, which led to the idea of their annual watch and cigar party.
“We expected about 50 people to come to the first one, but word spread and hundreds of people turned up. By Sunday night most of the important business of the show was done and everyone looked forward to letting their hair down to celebrate,” Candy recalls.
The party quickly became as much a part of the Baselworld experience as Breitling’s infamous after-hours events, so London Jewelers had to move it to Club Acqua, a hot nightspot in the city housed in an old industrial waterworks building, and managed to bring in sponsors to provide cigars, cognac and wine.
2019 was the first year the party did not take place, a victim of the growing chaos engulfing the watch industry’s calendar of events. Retailers had to travel to Zurich to see Swatch Group, so the Sunday night window closed.
A year on and it looks like Baselworld may also close for good.
“Baselworld was always the highlight of our year as we met with the most wonderful people in our industry from all over the world. Along with our family it was a great learning tool and experience for our business and for us to see the pulse of what was happening throughout the different market places. We are sad to see this era gone,” says Candy.
With Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chopard and Chanel committing to holding their own show in the same exhibition center and on the same dates as Watches & Wonders Geneva in early April next year, the Udells are wondering whether they can move their party to the new show.
“Combining the shows in Geneva makes it a lot easier for the retailers. Everything was splintering and the confusion of the dates and times made It difficult to navigate all the shows. We will miss Basel and it’s traditions but agree there needs to be one venue for easier navigation in order for the retailer’s to view the new products for the upcoming year,” Mark Udell says.
“We hope we can bring back our Cigar Party in Geneva. We will look into it and see if we can find the right venue and bring sponsors on board,” Candy adds.