At Baselworld, you have a choice, much like Neo did in the Matrix: You take the blue pill and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, see how deep the rabbit hole goes.Unlike Neo however, you don’t have to take any pills, you just need to choose your point of entry. Door Number one, which is where make-belief happens; or door Number two, where you get to see the underbelly of the industry.
Baselworld is the key B2B fair of the year for this industry, the fair is fully geared towards striking deals & keeping the press happy.
Naturally, we were curious what would happen if you’d pay it a visit as a mere Visitor. Note that Baselworld is not purely focused on the Watch Industry and that the Jewelery Industry is also omni-present. This is of course only natural as both industries are intertwined. Considering our interests, this write-up comes from a visiting watch-enthusiast’s perspective, we’ll only vaguely cover the jewelery side of things.
Baselworld is the horological equivalent of an old-fashioned debutante ball. It is here that the brands will introduce their new timepieces to the general public, the stakes are high and failing to impress can have dire consequences. It is here that the world will lay eyes upon these new creations for the very first time. How and when that happens is carefully orchestrated resulting in a strange Waltz between the brands, retailers & the press.
EVERYONE IS WELCOME, SORT OF…
At Baselworld, much like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. How so? Everyone can enter Baselworld, as long as they’re willing to pay the price of an entry ticket. So in that sense, access is available ‘to all’. However, the one and only place in Baselworld where everyone is truly equal, is at the sausage stand. Here a sausage will cost you 8.50 Swiss Francs, no matter who you are.
Members of notable press, bloggers, retailers and VIP guests will receive the red carpet treatment. In addition to the free goodies, food & drinks, they can expect lavish after-parties. Essential to their survival is to simply bring enough aspirin and perhaps some mints for those morning interviews. However, as a visitor you’ll only be granted a peek under the dress, nothing more, nothing less. Much the same applies to anyone holding a press badge but not having any actual meetings set up.
HALL ONE: WONDERLAND
Other than being able to admire the latest watch releases, what you’ll notice as a Visitor as you stroll around Hall 1 is the scale and beauty of the actual ‘stands’. The stands are not so much stands as they are architectural marvels. They are built to impress and leave passers by in awe, wondering what really happens behind those closed doors. They exist only for and during the Baselworld fair, after which they go back in hiding.
Rumor has it that the cost for a fair to middling booth at Baselworld will set a brand back a cool 5 Million dollars. The bigger stands being quite a bit more expensive. The stands do not exist for purely cosmetic reasons, it is of course quite the opposite. These ephemeral edifices are built for one single purpose: to drive sales. They are essentially office buildings, in which business is conducted. Be it closing orders with retailers, or wooing the press for good coverage.
Hall One is Wonderland for a visitor, happy to be soaking up what’s on display. It is however Disneyland for the press and VIP guests. It is mainly in this hall that the latter are invited to dip their beaks in whatever the brands have to offer (drinks, snacks, gift bags etc.).
HALL TWO: THE RABBIT HOLE
In Hall Two you will find no press, no cameras, and none of the grandeur of Hall One. Here, it is function over form.
Smaller watch brands, movement makers and other sectors of the industry can be found on display here. This hall also houses the Trade Supply vendors. You’ll find anything here, from display vendors, to full blown overseas watch factories that’ll put your logo on the watch at a certain price. This is all aimed at volume trade, not individual sales. The talks here are are dry, humorless, and to the point. Just business.
Note of warning, seeing the the watch industry from this close can be quite sobering and have a demystifying effect on your perception on the industry as a whole. Approach with caution.
In Hall 2.1 it was a different story, as this was where the jewelers were king. As mentioned, we didn’t delve too deep in the jewelry world, so other than stating a lot of it was very shiny and sparkling, that’s about all we have to cover on that particular floor.
ESSENTIAL TOOLS FOR SURVIVAL:
Essential to the visitor’s well-being is to bring that hard earned cash. You will get thirsty, you will get hungry, and cards are not necessarily accepted. In the visitor’s life at the fair, absolutely nothing is free (except for the Wifi):
- Book your hotel well in advance if possible. It is worth booking outside Basel and grabbing the shuttle service (see next point);
- The fair is very well organized and shuttle service is available from many locations including the Airport, it can be a good idea to use this service;
- Download the Baselworld App, it is very handy and contains everything from parking tips, news updates to an interactive floor plan;
- Bring some Swiss Francs with you, it can make the difference between dehydration halfway through the day or enjoying a nice cold one on the central square;
- If by car, we found plenty of parking options were made available at reasonable prices;
- Leave your jacket at the front desk, it’ll get plenty hot in there and you won’t need your coat.
QUICK TIP: Hyperion Hotel
Not to be forgotten as a Visitor, is to pay a visit to some exceptional brands who do not exhibit at the fair itself but at 20 meters from Hall 2 in the Hyperion Hotel (P.S.: they also serve a mean lunch on the ground floor there).
Make sure to watch our video at the top of this article to get a glimpse inside Baselworld.