BaselWorld — the world’s most important watch and jewelry show — opened its doors again this year to exhibit the most luxurious and prestigious brands to the pleasure of watch and jewelry enthusiasts.
While 2008’s show broke all record figures with 106,000 visitors, the current financial crisis has decreased attendance numbers. This year’s show had “at least 20 to 30 percent less people,” says Barkev Atamian, business manager at Ets. Hagop Atamian, one of the leading watch distributors in Lebanon.
Actually, only 12 percent less people visited this year’s BaselWorld. In precise numbers, there were 93,000 visitors and 1,952 exhibitors present. Exactly 2,973 accredited journalists were also present at the show to find out what the other 95,000 people were talking about, according to the Swiss Exhibitors Committee.
Certainly, exhibitors would have preferred to see the number of visitors exceed the 100,000 mark. But in current conditions, an even bigger drop was expected.
“I don’t know about other brands, but actually we had quite a big crowd everyday and sales were really very good,” says Eric Vergnes, Middles East’s general manager at TAG Heuer.
“Particularly for the market of the Middle East where we sold products a bit less compared to last year, but better than expected.”
The same statement came from many brand managers who expected much worse, and were pleasantly surprised. Georges Bechara, brand manager of Zenith in the MENA region says, “I am happy personally with the orders that we took in Basel despite the crisis.”
Bechara further explains that the mood in general was positive, and echoes Vergnes by adding that good orders came from the Middle East market, which is still better positioned compared to other regions.
But the effects of the economic downturn are still rippling across the Middle East, and it showed. Buyers and collectors have less money to buy, or to travel, or they are less keen on spending their money on ritzy accessories. Jean Tamer, president of Tamer Frères, the official distributor of many luxurious watch brands like Audemars Piguet and Breitling in Lebanon, attributes the decrease to the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) which took place in January in Geneva.
“The SIHH used to be in Geneva a couple of days after Basel. This year SIHH [left] Basel, so many customers avoided two trips to Switzerland,” says Tamer.
Many watchmakers usually release pre-Basel teasers one or two months before BaselWorld to draw their big clients’ attention. As BaselWorld is for everyone, pre-Basel is private for the manufacturers themselves, which enables them to have the full attention of their invitees and pace the viewing of the merchandise. This year, Rolex, Zenith, Versace and other brands have canceled their traditional pre-Basel shows for different reasons.
“This time we didn’t [do a pre-Basel]. I think we made the right choice because we won’t have the return on investment that we want. So we prefer to concentrate on Basel,” says Bechara from Zenith. He further explains that last year’s pre-Basel in Dubai was the ‘dream pre-Basel’ which cannot be repeated this year in such an economic climate.
Versace has not entirely canceled pre-Basel, but as Paulo Marai, managing director of Versace Watches explains, “Normally we had these people fly from all over the world. Now we decided this year to hold the meetings within the regions.” In other words, Versace wants to decrease the money its clients and partners spend and go to them, while also personalizing its products to meet the needs of each region.
“We took advantage of the difficult moments to have a more tailor-made strategy,” Marai says.
As BaselWorld 2009 closed its doors, it won’t be long before watchmakers find themselves preparing for BaselWorld 2010, held from March 18 to 25 in Basel, Switzerland. Hopefully, better market conditions will allow manufacturers to present their novelties and not have to worry about fewer sales or visitors. As Swiss Watch Federation President Jean-Daniele Pasche wrote in the BaselWorld Daily News on March 30, “The Swiss watch industry remains confident in its ability to live through these turbulent times thanks to its great resources. Its ability to innovate in technology and styling, its training, brands and global presence.”