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Postcards From Switzerland: An American Jeweler’s Basel Diary

Laura Stanley visited the planet’s biggest jewelry fair. Here are her impressions.

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SATURDAY, APRIL 1-2

DEPARTURE

Today I embark upon my six days in Basel with the American Gem Society tour. I can’t wait! There are about 50 of us going over, where we’ll be staying on the “Swiss Pearl” cruise ship on the Rhine, docked at St. Johann Bridge — a mere 15-minute walk from the Basel Fair. My traveling companion is my sister, Caroline Stanley.

7:15 AM FLIGHT LR-CINCINNATI-JFK-ZURICH, ARRIVE 8 AM SUNDAY

Very long day of flying and tolerating ?travel professionals?, who we used to call flight attendants. I couldn’t sleep the whole trip. We landed in Zurich, and then took a bus over to Basel. I napped the whole way, and woke up one-hour later at our ship. Caroline and I are happy that our room is ready even though we’ve arrived before check-in! We make a beeline for it and take a two-hour nap. We head out at about 5 pm to explore the quaint town of Basel, and go up to the Munster (Cathedral) for a great view of the Rhine and the skyline, seeing both the old town and new areas like the Novartis Campus.

We are thankful we have brought our umbrellas as we have two separate, but intense, rain showers. They come and go quickly here! We find Starbucks, of course, and have a coffee. Later we stop for dinner at a tavern near the Messeplatz, and I order roasted potatoes and vegetables and am presented with a giant hash brown with shredded carrots.

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By about 8:30 pm we’re both tired, so we head back to the boat and find Star Wars dubbed in German on TV. I am completely out by 9:00.

MONDAY, APRIL 3

AT THE SHOW

I woke up about 7 am to bright sunlight reflecting off the water, into our room. We arrived at the fair at 10 am, picked up our badges, and bravely entered Hall 2. The ?booths? are elaborately constructed and decorated. Many are larger than some jewelry stores, I think. Occasionally a smoker passes by. Saw some great hoop earrings in a rainbow of colors at Adolfo Dourrier. Also noticed a lot of woven-metal mesh designs with pearl or gemstone trim, like at Fraccari. We found a computer kiosk for emailing video clips of yourself, but we were too inept to make it work. The idea is fun, though.
Just like at JCK or any jewelry show, there are wanderers and meanderers in these halls, too. But why do they have to always come to a short stop right in front of me?

We cross over into Hall 1, where the heavy duty watch displays are ? Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, etc. I am not too excited about this hall. It’s my least favorite. The structures are impressive, though. How much money do they all spend on this?

We stopped for a sit-down lunch at L’Escale, outside Hall 1. Asparagus is very popular in this town. Right after lunch, I trek up to the offices of the Swiss Federation of Watches, to sell an original Balance Staff patent from 1880, which a customer of mine has inherited and I’m carrying around trying to find someone who cares. No one is home, though. I will have to email them details and hope they can help me find a customer for these papers.

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We go back to finish Hall 2 and see carved rings with pearl inlay at Garaude. By 4 pm we are due at an AGS reception at Daniel K, where all the diamond jewelry is fabulous and the hosts are gracious.

On our way out of the hall we picked up our $40 catalog which makes the JCK show directory look like a small town phone book. I wore my pedometer today: 27,849 steps!

About 9:30 we head out for dinner with Eileen Alexanian and Ken Kelley, retailers from North Carolina. Da Roberta is a restaurant they discovered six years ago. The proprieter remembers them, and our dinner is fabulous. Our discussion ends up debating whether or not it is acceptable to ask for a deposit or partial payment before special-ordering an item. We have all been burned by the customer who requests a special item then never shows up to see it. So is it offensive or cheap to ask for ?earnest money? in the jewelry biz? We never agree but Ken’s point is that it’s a small commitment for a show of faith, and my problem with it is that it makes us look like penny pinchers, which is not glamorous or elegant in the way that jewelry should be.

TUESDAY, APRIL 4

SIGHTSEEING

We are goofing off today. Met up with our friend Jenny from PGI at the Basel train station and we headed down to Bern for a day of fun. The sky is clear and it’s warm. Bern is like something out of a picture book. We passed many boutiques, a gorgeous flower and food market, and many cafes.

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I shared a thought with Jenny: as my hair gets more yellow in color, I find myself going for yellow gold jewelry more and more. I just thought she should know.

There are many jewelers in Bern, and the jewelry is all handmade, and has a similar modernistic look and feel to it, in my eyes.

We returned to Basel by 4 pm, and later met my friends from Schaffhausen for dinner. My friends met us at Messeplatz, and the late afternoon cocktail party/music was a happening event at that hour. Frank, an engineer, says he attends yearly conferences here in Basel, but that he’s never seen anything like this before. I told him jewelers are special and we need lots of entertainment.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5

BACK TO THE SHOW

We awoke to grey skies and pouring rain, which turned into heavy wet snow by the time we trekked over to the tram. This is our last day so we want to make it count. We started in Hall 4, which we quickly covered. It was more watches. We returned to Hall 3, to buy a few choice items we saw Monday. Now it’s off to the international vendors in Hall 6. This trip made me appreciate the international pavilions at JCK, which are almost as thorough and so much closer to home.
Everywhere we went, Caroline saw someone she knows. We covered more of Hall 6, then went to the restaurant there for a $50 buffet. Man, this place is expensive!

I’d been looking for a cabochon-cut opaque diamond during the whole show and my last hope was in that room, but everyone there looked at me like I was crazy, too. One kind vendor offered to cut them in quantity, but not just a single piece. About 4 pm, we left the show for good.

After the show, I visited the incredibly comprehensive Kunst-museum. One painting, Zund’s ?La Moisson?, reminded me of work.

The snow tapered off, so I walked from the city center down to the boat dock. It had been a great trip to Basel.
The show truly offers a view of everything new and exciting in the jewelry world, but in addition, it’s nice to be taken out of your element where work can’t call your cell phone every five minutes and you can actually focus on the experience of seeing and buying jewelry.

A few final thoughts:

We all liked not having badges labeling us as retailers. It’s nice to not be pounced upon for a change.

We liked not feeling obligated like at some prestige shows.

The choices are enormous and price variations just as extreme. There is something here for everyone.

There is no pressure. It’s sometimes too difficult to get a vendor’s attention.

The place is not cheap. A casual pizza dinner topped $75 one night. It’s a big money-and-time commitment to come here.

THURSDAY, APRIL 6

THE LONG RETURN

Heading home! Leave 10am Thursday, arrive in LR at 6:59 pm. That’s 16 hours of travel … ugh.

LAURA STANLEY is part of the team at Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock, AR and a three-time nominee for the Women’s Jewelry Association Excellence in Retailing Award.

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