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Despite Continuing Shrinkage, Baselworld is Still the Belle of the Ball

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While the 2018 edition of Baselworld was a little bit shorter and a little bit emptier, it was no less spectacular (in the traditional sense) than it has always been. The booths of those still exhibiting at the fair (Bvlgari, Hublot, Chopard, Tudor, Omega, and others) were just as huge, just as glamorous, and just as filled with everything from million-dollar watches to record-breaking Olympians to Academy Award-winning actors and beyond, which is part of what makes Baselworld unique.

While we’re waiting for the final number of attendees and press members to be tallied, I can safely say there was a different feel to the fair to those of us who’d arrived for the early days. As a journalist, I noticed it was easier for me to get around, which could have been due to the number of attendees being lower than in years past. But selfishly, this is one of the reasons I actually liked the fair this year as opposed to previous years when it sometimes became overwhelming.

With regard to watches, Baselworld is still one of the supreme trade fair leaders, housing anchor luxury brands the likes of Patek Philippe and Rolex, which don’t look like they’ll be moving anywhere else any time soon. But with design houses such as Hermès opting to exhibit at the SIHH in Geneva in lieu of Basel and Fabergé pulling out of the show altogether, the amount of chatter about the fair and the future of it was abundant, both on the show floor and in various online publications.

As far as watch brands making waves leading up to Baselworld, Breitling announced recently – under the direction of the brand’s well-known and highly respected new CEO, Georges Kern – that the company would move away from ads featuring the likes of buxom women in flight suits and go back to what made the brand successful in the first place. It was a decision that left plenty of women journalists (yours truly, included) pretty happy and feeling like the watch brands are finally listening to the complaints of sexism in the industry. Also noteworthy was the amount of connected and hybrid watches available at this year’s fair, proving that while the Swiss watch business believes it’s not going to be killed off by the smartwatch, it is starting to broaden its horizons as far as technology in timekeeping is concerned.

In terms of jewelry brands exhibiting, there were a considerable amount fewer than in years past, but the ones that remained packed a powerful punch. Brands like Harry Winston, Messika and Picchiotti showcased red carpet looks and statement necklaces using a multitude of diamonds and in some cases, bold and brightly colored gems. Chopard managed to pull out the big guns by inviting A-list actors and friends of the brand, Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, to take part in their press conference on sustainable practices and fair-mined gold — a category in which they’re a leader. And of course, in halls 2 and 3, there were several popular price point jewelry brands and gemstone dealers to be found.

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All in, and after speaking to several U.S. retailers and sales reps for some of the exhibitors, the 2018 edition of Baselworld had the overall vibe of, frankly, just being more relaxed. There wasn’t this substantial sense of panic and doom I’ve felt in years past, and even though Swiss watch sales in the U.S. haven’t quite bounced back just yet (I’d mention gray market as a reason, but that’s for another post entirely), other markets in the world are seeing their numbers on the rise again, which is both promising to the industry as a whole and makes for a much happier end-of-night crowd at the bar at Les Trois Rois.

Barbara Palumbo is a watch and jewelry industry writer, journalist and speaker. She manages the blogging websites Adornmentality.com and Whatsonherwrist.com.

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