BaselWorld 2010: Approach with caution

This campaign by Oris at BaselWorld perfectly encapsulated the zeitgeist of the 2010 show. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The market showed signs of rejuvenation but commerciality was king.

Baselworld was booming as confidence made a comeback, but as Rachael Taylor observes, the global watch and jewellery industry is embracing the recovery with caution and a keen eye for commercial product lines.

The optimism and green shoots that have characterised early 2010 watch and jewellery trade shows were again prevalent at the industry’s biggest international fair, BaselWorld.

Visitors and exhibitors embraced a new feeling of optimism at the show that was sorely lacking last year. “The last two years have been poor, anyone that tells you different is telling porkies, but there is some optimism this year,” says British jewellery designer Rodney Rayner, who was exhibiting at BaselWorld for the 25th consecutive year.

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But despite this new-found optimism, the industry is not jumping back into bygone days of decadence and it seems some hard lessons have been learned in the times of turbulence. At the opening press conference, BaselWorld exhibitor committee president Jacques Duchêne summarised the underlying feeling of this year’s BaselWorld with the line: “This is the end of the years of extravagance.”

This cautious optimism was reflected in the product on show at BaselWorld with commercial lines such as stacking rings, charms and beads on offer in the jewellery halls while the watch brands focused on safe, commercial designs and on-trend colourful watches.

The opulence that we’ve come to expect from BaselWorld was still on show – Chopard put luxury on a pedestal with its animal-inspired 150th anniversary collection, De Grisogono showed even more expensive collections than in previous years and Breitling continued to reinforce the show’s glamorous reputation with its infamous big-budget BaselWorld party – but beyond the pomp and marketing spin, commerciality was the order of the day.

In the watch halls safe, simplistic designs were on show and nearly every brand, from high-end to fashion, was trying to cash in on the trend for bright watches. Rather than watch aficionados, it seems mainstream customers were at the forefront of designers’ minds, as demonstrated by Oris’s 2010 marketing slogan “Real watches for real people”.

“We’ve been working to find the right offer that is globally commercial and what was missing was that safe option,” says Derek Salter of Cuervo y Sobrinos UK distributor Burton McCall. This year at BaselWorld, Cuervo y Sobrinos unveiled a watch with a classic round face for the first time that it feels will fit this commercial remit.

Perrelet is also attempting to make its brand more commercially viable and has changed its pricing structure to “become more aggressive” and move into the £1,500 price category by cutting back on luxuries such as sapphire crystal casebacks. “We’ve done some competitor analysis, and to push Perrelet more we have to go cheaper and make it easier to access the product,” says Maz Tyler of UK Perrelet distributor Reece & Co.

Rado was also showing more competitively priced product with a new line of slim stainless steel watches that will retail for less than £1,000. The range has a working title of A2 and Rado distributor Swatch said that the line will target the 25- to 35-year-old market and “draw people into the world of Rado with more simplistic, commercial designs”.

From De Grisogono to Ice Love, brands in every price category were showing bright, colourful watches. This key trend has been getting the tills ringing all over the world and it seems that every brand wants to get in on the act, giving retailers confidence that the trend still has legs.

Commerciality was also king in the jewellery halls with charms and stacking jewellery taking centre stage. UK-based distributor DMJ exhibited for the first time with US charm brand Storywheels, Ti Sento had a dedicated sub-stand for its charm line Charmed by Ti Sento, upmarket charm brand Ole Lynggaard exhibited at BaselWorld for the second time after achieving record sales in 2009, and Luxenter showcased its new charm range, which has dominated the Spanish market since its launch in September.

Stacking rings were also prevalent, with buyers noticing an increased number of exhibitors at BaselWorld. “I haven’t been here for six years and now there are so many stacking rings,” says Alison Skeates, buying director at London mini chain EC One.

The rise of silver was evident at BaselWorld, as it has been at earlier 2010 shows, with high-end as well as fashion brands embracing the commerciality of the precious metal.

Rodney Rayner has created his first-ever piece of jewellery cast with silver, which he showed at BaselWorld for the first time. Rayner’s Istanbul range of fine jewellery is available in 18ct gold but is also available in a more affordable gold-and-silver mix plated with ruthenium. “It works out at about half price,” says Rayner. “It’s a bit of an experiment, but I love the look of it and it’s much less expensive.”

Stephen Webster, who was showing his new Jules Verne silver collection at BaselWorld, put the continued growth of his brand down to his silver collections, adding that the market is warming up to more affordable lines from high-end brands. “Last year people were very cautious as they think they have to explain silver,” says Webster. “But people just want it because it looks good.”

At the world’s most glamorous trade show, all eyes this year were on the less alluring matter of bottom lines and securing growth. Safe options and a focus on fashion trends will help to slowly build the industry back up after a period of depression that has not quashed the world of watches and jewellery, but has left it with a reminder that not all that glisters has to be gold.

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