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Time for a change?

Concierge MD, Rob Nicholas, reports from Baselworld 2016

Queuing for entry into Hall 1 of Basel Watch Fair this morning reminded me of scenes from the start line of the London marathon, with hundreds of competitors bunched together waiting for the crack of the starter’s pistol.

Attendees at the ready for the 9am opening

An estimated 150,000 visitors are here for the show, which is reported to generate 80 percent of all watch sales for the forthcoming year. Little wonder then at the enthusiasm for the opening.

Basel is an example of Swiss precision before you even get to the watches. Perfectly timed trams (I just look at my watch and get off at the appropriate stop based on the advised ETA), efficient service from registration desks to cloakrooms. Maps, catalogues and brand books all at the ready (must remember to pick these up on the last day as they are encyclopaedic in size) and one of the best show Apps I have come across.

Once inside the show it literally is another world, or city to be more accurate. Towering installations from every major brand with Blancpain being described as a house from their PR rep. It is a house I’d be happy to live in, spread across three floors and replete with bar and numerous rooms.

Towering stands dominate Hall 1

Almost every major stand reaches exhibition roof height and once you get towards the back of the event navigating is akin to being caught between Manhattan skyscrapers, not knowing which way to turn for lack of reference points.

It is interesting to see the contrasting approach of some brands with a more open and interactive stand from Tag Heuer which has made a conscious decision to break with convention in every way this year (more about that later), through to the more traditional fortress approach taken by brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex, guarded by secret service types with ear pieces and the requisite stony faced demeanour.

Zenith has one of the coolest exhibits with a retro full service barber shop and shoe shine integrated within the stand. This was one of the most effective ways I have seen so far to bring brand personality to a show where there is so much emphasis on product.

Zenith’s retro barber shop and shoeshine installation on stand

Appointments this morning were all in Hall 1 which is the domain of the global brands. The Park Avenue of the exhibition if you like. Blancpain was introducing its first Villeret model in steel for the first time, which is sure to be immensely popular; while Longines impressed with its entirely new Le Grande Classique line which reminded me of works from its more expensive cousin from the Swatch family, Jaquet Droz. Although the brand claims that this was introduced with all consumers in mind, it is difficult to overlook the preferences of the Chinese to this style of timepiece and Longines is by far the Orient’s leading brand.

Talking of families, I met with Robert Buchbauer, the Great Grandson of the Swarovski founder on their stand in Hall 1.1. It wasn’t difficult to spot, glittering away at the end of the hall in true brand fashion.

Being the fifth generation leader of the family owned business must have its challenges but Buchbauer was riding high after a stellar 2015. He was also among the many who mentioned smart watches and talked of the future of timepieces.

I mentioned Tag Heuer earlier as they have taken the bull by the horns and introduced an Android smart watch with Intel and Google technology (Tag Heuer Connected). Time will tell if this is successful and it is already reported to have outsold expectations. A bugbear of all the smart watches out there at the moment is battery life and the Connected model claims to have a 7 hour battery life advantage over the Apple Watch (25 hours in total versus 18 hours for the Apple Watch).

I take the time out at lunch to escape the exhibition hordes and find a deserted pub just a few mins walk away to grab a pizza and gather my thoughts, as well as the 10 euro saving versus eating at the Messe. Certainly worth the additional steps and calories a smart watch would commend me on.

More from the show to follow…


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