Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
As I boarded my flight to visit Baselworld, I was curious about what I would find there. The self-titled world’s biggest watch and jewellery fair would have half the exhibitors it did the year before and negative rumblings about the show – and the relevance of trade shows in general – was rife in the build up.
First impressions in the Swiss city of Basel were that it was business as usual. Cab fares remained extortionate, as did the prices of food and drink, and hotels continued to charge the type of prices steep enough to elicit a tear or two.
The show itself, in the centre of town at the Messeplatz, was undeniably changed. Halls had been closed down, making it much smaller and some key brands were missing. While the main watch halls remained largely unchanged, the jewellery exhibitors were much reduced. And the convergence of tooling exhibitors into the plush halls usually reserved for slick displays from luxury brands was a stark reminder that times had changed.
Other than the size of the show and the mix of the exhibitors, little else was radically different. In terms of visitors, Baselworld claims that footfall was up 8% in the first two days of the show. While the usual bun-fight vibe was reduced in my opinion, the show did seem busy and imbued with the usual electrifying buzz. One sign of a tightening of the budget – or perhaps just a reaction to the current climate of female empowerment – was the lack of leggy models in spangly dresses at the entrance to the main hall. Usually this is the first sight that greets you; an army of trussed-up ladies smiling blithely and handing you a copy of the Baselworld daily news (which this year, in another money-saving move had gone digital).
Rachael Taylor wearing Hans D Krieger
This theme of nominal austerity continued throughout the show. The big brands still pulled out the big diamonds – Graff had a handy briefcase filled with life-size replicas of all the enormous rough diamonds it is currently working on – but other than the 910ct D-colour Type IIa Lesotho Legend rough diamond (worth $40 million) displayed by Taché in the loose gemstone hall, there were no ostentatious launches gossiped about over drinks at the close of show. Instead, collections that could offer several adaptable looks with just one piece were popular, as were simplistic precious designs with new lower entry-level price points designed to target younger shoppers.
Giant Rough Diamonds (Life-size Replicas)
Sustainability was perhaps the hot topic at Baselworld. Though not a widespread consideration at the show, major players rocketed it to the top of the agenda with loud launches. Atelier Swarovski presented its first collection made with Fairtrade gold, while Chopard used the show to make an announcement that from July this year, all of its gold would be fully traceable. The latter also managed to get its A-list ambassadors Julianne Moore, Colin Firth and Arizona Muse to help jettison the story further up the newsreel by attending a live discussion on ethics in jewellery at Baselworld that it sponsored with Business of Fashion. Grabbing further headlines was the attendance of one of the speakers – Cherie Blair, civil rights lawyer and wife of former prime minister Tony Blair.
Chopard also partnered with the Responsible Jewellery Council to talk about supply chain ethics, and asked me to join them. The discussion between myself, RJC executive director Andrew Bone and Chopard head of CSR Diana Culillas, which focused on how jewellers can best communicate a sustainability message, was live streamed from Baselworld and you can watch it again here.