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Optimism reigns at BaselWorld 2011

BaselWorld all but confirmed that the world’s luxury markets are on the way up again. Coleby Nicholson reports on the mood and trends from Switzerland

The world’s largest jewellery fair opened on March 24 with a great degree of optimism. The mood at BaselWorld was especially buoyant considering the recent natural disasters in Japan, political instability in the Middle East and the effect of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) on the Swiss watch industry in 2009, but eight days later the fair closed jubilant.

In fact, the show was considered so positive that fair organiser MCH Group claimed the 2011 show “will go down in history as a spectacular highlight”. Exhibitors at the eight-day event were particularly satisfied, according to MCH Group, with visitor numbers up 2.5 per cent against 2010 and “outstanding sales”.

Before the fair opened, Rene Kamm, chief executive of MCH Group, revealed that the luxury sector had largely recovered from the downturn of 2009, and further growth was forecast for 2011. “The economic upturn was successfully rung in last year and the slump in the luxury goods sector is now a thing of the past,” he told the world’s media.

After the end of the fair, MCH said Swiss watchmakers and jewellers could now “confine the world crisis to history and benefit from a genuine economic recovery”. March delivered the 14th consecutive monthly rise in export figures, following “very encouraging” figures in January and February, according to the fair organiser.

A total of 1,892 exhibitors, the same number as last year, were present at this year’s fair. This included 736 jewellery companies, 627 watch brands and 529 with related products.

Asked if the events in Japan would affect the fair, BaselWorld managing director Sylvie Ritter said no exhibitors had cancelled. Traditionally, Japan has been the third biggest market for Swiss watches behind the US and Hong Kong. Before its recent natural disasters the market had shown signs of recovery from the GFC, with Swiss watch imports up 11.5 per cent.

Francois Thiébaud, chairman of the Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee, presented figures revealing that Swiss watch exports in 2010 had almost recovered the ground lost during the GFC. However, despite the strong start to 2011, he warned: “We have to be cautious, not rush into jubilation, hoping that things will develop in our favour.”

Exhibitor committee chairman Jacques Duchêne was upbeat about the upward export trend but, like Thiébaud, offered a note of caution, saying that “even if the trend seems to be going in the right direction, the uncertain geopolitical situation warns us to be prudent in our analysis”.



Thiébaud, who is also a Swatch Group executive, said he saw a return to designs from the 1950s and 1960s and the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as dials that have been stripped down to the essentials. He believes the popular metals will be pink gold along with white gold, platinum and palladium.

The fair organiser’s post fair report stated, “Models with simple, elegant lines directly inspired by the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 30s and by the classic years of the 1950s and 60s have made a strong comeback. Historic models have been re-interpreted and re-designed.”

The ‘traditional’ trend began during the GFC as many designers launched timepieces that they believed reflected the mood of the consumer. Indeed, the most often used term at the 2010 event was “back to basics”.

Peter Petzold of Define Watches, which is the Australian distributor of German brands Mühle-Glashütte and Armin Strom among others, agreed that simple styles were back in fashion at BaselWorld.

He highlighted trends including a return to traditional-sized men’s watches with 38mm to 44mm diameter faces, and a resurgence in watches that are very functional, clear and uncluttered. Petzold described this latter trend as “aviation style with a slight ‘special forces’ feel and look”. He also said he had seen some models with very big, oversized crowns and pushers.

Australian views

Bulova’s Australian distributor, John Papaioannou of Time Essentials, agreed. “There was a continued focus on ‘back to basics’, both in watch designs and ways of doing business. Things that were prominent in watches were clean, simple, elegant dials. A lot of black and white, the use of ceramic is becoming very widespread in a variety of colours, but white was definitely the dominant colour.

While BaselWorld attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year, Australian visitor numbers are limited compared with other international fairs. However, Steven Rom, managing director of Avstev, said he had been very busy seeing select Australian retailers at Basel. “All three of our brands [Raymond Weil, Frederique Constant and TechnoMarine] released very commercial, well-priced product perfect for our market. From the orders we received from our customers that visited Basel we are anticipating very strong sales for the remainder of this year,” he told Jeweller.

Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein

Olivia Bramble, the brand manager for Guess and GC watches at Australian distributor Designa Accessories, said, “The mood at Basel was nothing but positive and upbeat, it felt very different from last year. The Guess watch business in the US, as an example, is the best it has ever been, according to the CEO. The other distributors from around the globe were also positive and were reporting that their Guess business was very strong.”

Larry Porter, managing director of Ice-Watch’s Australian distributor Bolt International, was at BaselWorld for the first time. “There did seem to be an air of optimism and I think given the difficulty in the industry over the past few years, those who were at the fair feel they have weathered the storm, although people are not expecting a quick recovery but definitely that the industry has bottomed and we are on the way up,” he said.

Ken Abbott, managing director of Timesupply, the Australian distributor of Danish Design watches, said that he was looking forward to presenting the brand’s new models to the Australian market. “This is my second time at Basel, and we will have some great new designs for our stockists,” he said.

Unlike other international jewellery fairs, BaselWorld is more about the world market and international presence rather than just sales at the fair. Stephen Lindsay, managing director at Lindsay’s, which distributes Morellato watches and jewellery, said, “For Morellato, Basel is an opportunity to meet its worldwide distributors and present its new catalogues and products for each brand.”

Morellato’s stable also includes a number of other brands including Sector, John Galliano and Philip Watches as well as jewellery ranges. Lindsay said he was very busy at Basel this year and his time was limited to Morellato because of the depth of new product being released across all nine brands. “Morellato is quite buoyant because of their continued extraordinary growth over the last 10 years.”

However, Lindsay admitted that exhibiting in the main hall – which he said “costs an extraordinary amount of money” – was sometimes “more about prestige” than sales during the fair.

Stuller Inc

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