You don’t need to be reminded about the enormous transformation of the jewellery industry over the last five to 10 years. Mind you, many industries have undergone radical change, but jewellery seems to be have been particularly susceptible to it in this globalised world.
Just as the international jewellery industry has evolved, so too have the international trade fairs, adapting to the shifting needs of jewellery buyers. It’s a fact that isn’t widely recognised, but major trade shows are engaged in just as stiff a competition as their customers are.
Jewellery buyers can attend only so many fairs each year and where once Australia and New Zealand turned to Europe for the latest trends and fashion, our focus has now firmly shifted towards Asia. The industry’s increased focus on the region – particularly China – is not new; although only in recent times has this had a flow-on affect for the European jewellery fairs.
The European fairs used to feature heavily on the annual travel itineraries of serious trade buyers. Basel and Vicenza coupled with, for some, Germany’s Inhorgenta were ‘must-attends’.
While BaselWorld, with over 100,000 visitors each year, can lay claim to being the world’s number one jewellery fair, Vicenza has lost much of its charm. As for the German fair, many local buyers these days couldn’t spell ‘Inhorgenta’ let alone tell you where it is.
The small Italian city of Vicenza (population 100,000), still hosts three international jewellery fairs each year, much to the chagrin of many exhibitors. Given changes to the industry worldwide and the current economic climate besetting Europe, few people believe Vicenza should continue to host three fairs, especially if you consider the effect of the price of gold on its local jewellery industry.
Add to that the parlous state of the Italian economy, along with its continuous political upheaval, it’s no wonder that some Vicenza exhibitors complain about being ‘forced’ to attend all three fairs for fear of losing their stand location.
Many say the Italians hark back to a bygone era, and that Vicenza now only warrants one, maybe two fairs each year, especially given one falls a few weeks after the ‘mighty’ BaselWorld. Three jewellery fairs each year in Vicenza is unsustainable.
While sadly the Italian fairs are clearly in the doldrums, the same cannot be said of the Swiss’ BaselWorld, which continues to go from strength to strength.
Indeed, the organiser is undertaking a massive renovation of the venue to ensure that BaselWorld remains #1. The rebuilding is scheduled for completion before the 2013 fair.
As the industry has evolved, various fair organisers have recognised that buyers can only attend so many events a year. In 2012, a number of fair dates have moved, often because organisers are jockeying to gain an advantage over rival fairs, especially in Asia.
Gone are the days of gentlemans' agreements over fair dates; in a competitive market you look after yourself. For example, the first Bangkok jewellery fair is traditionally held in late February and was timed to lead-into the Hong Kong Jewellery Show (early March), but when that fair was brought forward in 2012 to February 16-20, Bangkok’s dates were also changed to 9-12 February.
It’s important to note that Hong Kong also hosts another five major jewellery and watch shows later in the year and attendance by Australian and Kiwi visitors at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s (HKTDC) first fair exceeds 700. That number is reportedly increasing each year.
For most small retailers, a trip to one of the international jewellery fairs is more of an educational venture rather than a buying trip though many jewellery suppliers criticise the JAA for ‘encouraging’ HKTDC buying trips to the detriment of local suppliers.
It’s a complex issue and one that will not go away.
Regardless, if you’ve never attended Basel, I highly recommend you do. As an independent retailer you won’t do a great deal of buying there but, just like some religions, jewellers should make a pilgrimage to BaselWorld at least once in their life.
It’s a sight to behold and, at the very least, it will remind you why this industry is so awe-inspiring.
Better still, why not consider attending BaselWord 2013 when the new venue is opened – over 100,000 pilgrims can’t be wrong!