Although only 29 Swiss watchmaking and jewellery brands attended the first ever show in 1917, this year’s Baselworld played host to no fewer than 220 companies. And as this major event in the sector draws once again to a close, Swiss exhibitors have amply proved their ability to marshall their powers of innovation and excellence and resist the current turbulence in the market. Despite two consecutive years of slowdown, Switzerland’s watchmaking industry has doubled the value of its exports in just over a decade, to reach CHF 19.4 billion at end 2016, and remains the country’s third biggest export sector.
At this year’s Baselworld, held in the city centre from 23 to 30 March, 220 of Switzerland’s watchmaking and jewellery brands presented their latest creations. The Swiss exhibitors stood out among the 1,300 exhibitors from 40 countries for the unparalleled expertise of their creations – a perfect blend of innovation and tradition. Drawing on a rich heritage they are eager to pass on to the younger generations, Swiss watchmakers turn time into an object of beauty, constantly pursuing their quest for technical, functional and aesthetic innovations, along with unstinting research into materials. As a global leader in terms of value, the Swiss watchmaking industry boasts a 60% market share in the sector worldwide. From entry-level timepieces to ultra high-end models, it leads the way in setting new trends, and Baselworld is a reflection of this. Through its sheer size, the glamour of its many stands and, above all, the tremendous diversity of the products on offer, Baselworld is without a doubt the place to be seen in the sector on a world level, where professionals and the public alike can gain a rapid overview of the market.
Inaugurated this year, the new "Les Ateliers" space in Hall 1.2 was a resounding success, with 40 independent watchmaking brands exhibiting their latest offering in an open and welcoming space, laid out in such a way that the stands reflected the daring nature of the creations being presented. In similar vein, both renowned designers and the new kids on the block in the jewellery world enjoyed a dedicated space known as the Design Lab.
Buffeted by a challenging context, between a strong Swiss franc and the economic and political uncertainties on the international front, Swiss watch exports have suffered a slowdown in the last two years. Nevertheless, watchmaking remains the country’s third biggest export sector, behind pharma and chemicals and the machine industry. Swiss watch exports finished 2016 with sales of CHF 19.4 billion, almost double the figures of the early 2000s.
Against the backdrop of a constantly evolving market, watchmakers and jewellers are working relentlessly to keep up with social changes. While the priority focus remains the products themselves, much energy has gone into rethinking the entire value chain, from design and price positioning to distribution. In response to the latest consumer trends, which increasingly favour online shopping, brands now have to be able to stock products that are immediately available, and to regularly renew their collections. In terms of positioning, they also need to be able to offer a range of price points. As a result, even the most prestigious brands now sell entry-level timepieces at more affordable prices, equipped with simpler complications, or in steel, for example, rather than gold or platinum. All the while devoting the same care as ever to quality and the fine manufacturing standards which have been the hallmark of Swiss watchmakers and jewellers down the centuries.