When picturing a 10-day long festival promoting all things watches, the image of rows and rows of shiny timepieces in vintage, green, felt-lined casings springs to mind, with crowds of enthusiasts swarming to nab the best deals.
However, what was immediately apparent on arrival was that this World that’s been created is much more a celebration of creativity and innovation than it is a focus on timepiece tradition, despite the shows 100-year history. Particularly when it came to the SmartWatch technology on show, it was interesting to see that it was actually some of the more traditional/high-end brands (Tag Heuer, MontBlanc, Hublot) investing in and showcasing entirely new trends.
Having arrived the day after the press day, there was an obvious buzz of fresh vendors ready to get stuck into the competition – who had the most off-the-wall live display (Breitling’s jellyfish!), who had the most artistic inspiration behind their new collection (Corum’s circus), and who could throw the most lavish after-party (Swarovski, by far!). On the one hand, this could be read as manufacturers (particularly those with European hubs) trying to detract from any slow-down caused by recent economic and political changes. On the other hand, it seemed more likely to be a reflection of the motto that BaselWorld has chosen to adopt in recent years, of quality not quantity, and in the words of its MD Sylvie Ritter, of their commitment to “reinventing, renewing, and adapting” in a centuries-old industry.
What was also apparent was that although the big players in the timepiece sponsorship partnership space, the likes of Rolex and Longines, had very much invested in bringing their brand ambassador partnerships to life with entertainment and hospitality, meeting space with them was booked up months in advance, which meant they perhaps missed out on spontaneous discussions surrounding more recent opportunities. This is where the smaller/lesser-known players really came into their own – not only were they more open and available to meet on the day, they seemed much more receptive to new ideas, in-keeping with the feeling at the show of an undercurrent of challenger brands ready and waiting to make their stamp.
Interestingly enough, and maybe to make new stamps of their own, some of the more established brands had chosen not to showcase at BaselWorld this year, preferring to remain in the vicinity of the show. For example, Bremont did a take-over of the Fish Inn pub across the road from the halls, moving away from a luxury showcase format into a more relaxed invite-only watering hole popular with British attendees. Fossil too chose instead to host at their showrooms just down the road from all the action, again with a relaxed hospitality room centred around ‘getting connected’ in line with their new SmartWatch launches.
Whether this was for budgetary reasons or purely to stand out in a fiercely competitive and innovative market is to be interpreted; never-the-less their decisions were in keeping with the evolution being seen in the timepiece marketplace, to move away from just resting on tradition and build upon brand identity in order to remain current and interesting with todays advanced, demanding audiences.
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