Swiss watch-making show Baselworld opens amidst uncertainty

Baselworld, Switzerland's premier watch and jewellery trade show, has opened on Thursday in Basel, and will provide an eight-day showcase for the world's leading luxury brands, as they try to recharge their sales after the last two troubled years.

Baselworld DR - Foto: Baselworld

Once again, all the benchmark names in Swiss watch-making, the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tissot, Omega and Tag Heuer, will line up next to one another, with lavish booths exhibiting their latest collections. 

The event is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, but it features 200 fewer exhibitors than last year, bringing the total to 1,300. Clearly a sign of the current, uncertain times. "Some smaller companies, not so well positioned on the international stage, have unfortunately been affected by the economic crisis and will not exhibit at Baselworld this year," said show director Sylvie Ritter, in an interview with French news agency AFP.

Others have instead exited the industry, such as some luxury labels which added watches to their accessories range, and have since decided to refocus on their core business "in these not-so-buoyant times," she added to explain the shortfall.  

The watch-making sector has grown at a spectacular rate in the past, but it suffered a series of setbacks after the end of 2013, when many European countries introduced special anti-bribery measures, targeting extravagant gifts.   

Swiss watch manufacturers also had to contend with currency exchange shocks, notably with a strong Swiss franc which caused their production costs to leap, as well as with abrupt reversals in tourist flows: from the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to the wave of terrorist attacks in Europe since November 2015, which caused their Asian clients to steer well clear.

Last year, Swiss watch exports fell by 9.9%, compounding a 3.3% shortfall in 2015, and forcing manufacturers into austerity. They are hoping to start again from more solid ground this year, thanks to the first glimpses of a recovery in China.  "We expect exports to be stable in 2017," said Jean-Daniel Pasche, President of the Swiss Watch-making Federation to AFP. 

Unlike the Geneva watch fair, which focuses on some thirty prestige labels, the Basel show is open to a large number of brands, promoting products for all tastes and for every pocket.

Translated by Nicola Mira

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