Purely based on the numbers, Baselworld is not in very good shape. While the departure of the Swatch Group grabbed the headlines, the exodus of participants has been far greater. This year there were only 520 exhibitors, down from over 1.500 in 2016. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, as the 2019 edition might be much more compact, many major players were still there, and contributed in delivering a worthwhile experience.
That being said, the amount of attention grabbing novelties where limited as many brands stayed on the safe side, mostly doing what they do best. Not a bad tactic, but it did result in only a handful of watches that really stood out. Bvlgari claimed yet another world record for a thinnest watch with their Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT while Patek Philippe’s highlight was the new Calatrava in steel. Rolex further consolidated its position, offering a few new styles that are bound to become popular, while Breitling showed its first full new collection under the direction of its CEO, Georges Kern, with its watches diving into the history of the brand.
The Isograph balance spring, which TAG-Heuer launched in the new Autavia, is another breakthrough in the industry, and also Hublot kept their innovation engine going with quite a few worthwhile introductions. It where watches like this that made it that the fair interesting, but it also shows the impact that the brands have on the overall perception of Baselworld. Fair enough, the current management of Baselworld is not even a year into place and recently announced that they need a transitional period of three years to reposition the fair.
The changes that they intend to make is that the fair will be more accessible and interactive. For many years it was aimed at retailers and press, but now the public will, finally, also be embraced as an important part of Baselworld’s success. The fair wants to achieve this by developing areas in which VIP’s, as well as collectors, can come together and mingle, making it more of an experience rather than window shopping. A worthwhile development, as the entire industry is aimed at the end consumer, and while Baselworld is about watches and jewellery, it should also be about the people.