If you like your watches and pay any attention at all to the watch industry, then you know about BASELWORLD, the annual industry show in Basel, Switzerland. Otherwise, you may never have heard about the exhibition, which is the wristwatch equivalent of the Detroit Auto Show and takes place April 25th to May 2nd. There’s plenty of fine jewelry too, for those who like sparkly things — but we’re here to talk watches.
Historically, most brands have introduced their new collections, creations and innovations at BASELWORLD (the other major worldwide exhibition is the Salon International Haute Horlogerie or SIHH, held in Geneva in January). Introductions have included horological icons such as the Rolex Submariner in 1954 and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972. Legend has Gerald Genta sketching what became the Patek Philippe Nautilus, introduced to the world in 1976, on a napkin in a Basel restaurant in 1972. What’s in store from the likes of Rolex, TAG Heuer, Patek Philippe, OMEGA and Breitling? We’ll find out this week, and round up our favorite new timepieces after the dust settles. Until then, here’s a bit of a primer on one of our favorite events of the year.
MORE GP WATCH EVENT COVERAGE: Best New Watches at SIHH 2013 | Celebrating 50 Years of the TAG Heuer Carrera | A Visit to A. Lange & Söhne in Saxony
BASELWORLD has existed in one form or another for nearly 100 years. The original trade show, which evolved into the current exhibition, was first held in 1917 as the “Schweizer Mustermesse Basel” or Swiss Industries Fair Basel (MUBA), and included a section for watches and jewelry. Watches got their own pavilion in 1931, but it wasn’t until 1973 that companies from outside of Switzerland were invited for the first time. Finally, in 1986, companies outside of Europe were admitted.
A one-day pass to the show costs 60 Swiss Francs (about $65), and an eight-day pass costs 150 Swiss Francs (about $162). Purchase your pass and print it out here.
Unfortunately, it’s much too late for a hotel room right in Basel. In fact, it might be too late for next year. Check with a travel agent for hotels in Zurich, Biel/Bienne, or Berne, and rent a car. Better yet, pick up a EuRail pass from RailEurope or EuRail. A two-country pass for France-Switzerland starts at $305, a Germany-Switzerland pass starts at $324 (according to EuRail, Switzerland is not available as a One Country Pass). BASELWORLD is a short light rail ride from the Basel train station, and most of your fellow passengers will be headed there.
To help you get around the BASELWORLD venue, or visit vicariously, there’s a free smartphone/tablet app available for iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, and Android.
The show changed its name to “BASEL” in 1983, and included two digits denoting the year, and in 2003 the name “BASELWORLD, The Watch and Jewellery Show” was finally adopted. A new Hall 1 opened in 1999, which allowed the massive three-story stands the major brands employ. In 2007, attendance passed 100,000 for the first time. Now, for 2013, the 1999 Hall 1 and the old Hall 3 have been demolished and rebuilt into the new (stunningly massive) Hall 1.
From a numbers standpoint, the show is huge. More than 1,800 exhibitors are sprawled across more than 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space in four multi-level halls. More than 3,300 journalists attend, reporting on the biggest concentration of horological happenings anywhere during the year. Oh, and over 100,000 attendees will walk through the doors over the eight days of the show.
Beside the massive square footage, the physical scale of the “stands” used by the major brands, like Rolex, Breitling, Patek Philippe, Omega and others, is immense. Think buildings within buildings. The typical stand for a big brand exhibiting on the main level in Hall 1 is a structure 40 feet x 40 feet or more, and three stories tall. The first floor of the stand is for display; in most cases this level is accessible by everyone. Second and third floors house offices and meeting rooms where brand representatives meet with buyers and press representatives and conduct the year’s business. As you move to the second and third level of Hall 1 — and to the other Halls — the stands get smaller. Eventually they approach the size of normal trade show booths. If you’re lucky enough to make it there, you should plan to visit ‘em all.
The best news for watch nerds is that this show is open to the public. As you stroll the hallowed halls of BASELWORLD, rubbing shoulders with horological and Hollywood celebrities alike, you’ll also see all manner of regular folks. You may be a little late for this year, but if you’re a watch nerd, you definitely need to put BASELWORLD on your bucket list as you watch our coverage this year.