The "watches and jewellery" group had 29 exhibitors at the first Swiss Sample Fair in 1917, making it a rather small sector. However, it grew quickly and was even held during the six years of the Second World War. In the 1970s, the watch and jewellery show was opened up for exhibitors and visitors from abroad. Today, the World Watch and Jewellery Show is THE annual sectoral get-together for the luxury-goods industry.
Swiss watches were very popular even at the very beginning of the 20th century. In 1912, they had a share of around 90% in the world market. In other words, the Swiss watch industry almost totally dominated the world market. The first Sample Fair in 1917 was attended by more than 800 exhibitors, but the "watches and jewellery" group counted only 29 exhibitors and was thus one of the smaller sectors. It exhibited pocket watches and small wrist watches as well as wall clocks and chronometers. The jewellery sector concentrated above all on gold bracelets and rings, enamelled fashion jewellery and precious stones and their processing. In the 1920s, the watch industry suffered severely on account of the post-war crisis, which was reflected in the numbers of exhibitors at the Sample Fair. In 1922, only five watch and jewellery producers turned up. Just one year later, however, the situation improved again, and in 1923 the Swiss watch industry put on its first (albeit small) collective presentation with thirty exhibitors. A first "record participation" was noted in 1931, when for the first time the watch industry set up its own pavilion at the Sample fair and 70 exhibitors were present. In 1932, the fair management declared the watch sector to be a specialised fair in its own right. From then onwards, the fair organisers were supported by a separate patronage committee in planning and holding the watch fair.
Even the outbreak of the Second World War was unable to stop the watch fair from being held. During the war years, that event was regularly praised in the media as the "gem" of the Sample Fair and as a symbol "of the strong will to hold out”. In the years following the war, the fair management backed the initial efforts to internationalise the watch and jewellery fair, which up until then had had a strictly national perspective.
With the new fair director, Frédéric Walthard, who knew the Swiss watch industry inside out, the process of opening up the watch and jewellery fair for international exhibitors began in the 1970s. Shortly after Walthard's appointment, the board of directors approved an amendment to the statutes, which permitted a presentation involving exhibitors and products from abroad at the 1972 Sample Fair. A further milestone occurred in 1973, when the watch fair was held as an autonomous specialist fair in parallel to the Sample Fair under the name of European Watch and Jewellery Show (EUSM). It was attended by 73 exhibitors from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. EUSM grew rapidly and chalked up a new record in 1975 with more than 60 000 professional buyers.
It was in April 1984 that the watch and jewellery show was held for the first time as an entirely independent event, separate from the Sample Fair and with the new name of BASEL 84. Out of the 1550 exhibitors, some 500 were from Switzerland, but the majority were international exhibitors. With more than 2000 visitors from the USA and 8000 from other regions of the world, it was more international than ever before. It was, however, to take a further two years for the watch and jewellery show to open up to exhibitors from overseas as well. BASEL 86 has gone down in the history books as the first truly international fair with exhibitors and visitors from the USA, Asia and other countries outside of Europe.
The numbers of exhibitors and visitors grew steadily throughout the 1990s, and, with its international reach, BASEL became one of the sector's most important events anywhere in the world. This was underscored in 1995 when the name too had an addition made to it, namely "World Watch and Jewellery Show".
The name was changed to BASELWORLD in 2003, and the event moved into a new dimension in 2013, when it was held for the first time in the new building designed by the internationally famous architects of Herzog & de Meuron and costing CHF 430 million. Most of the stands in the new Basel exhibition halls were also newly designed and constructed for this show and since then have formed a unique microcosm of luxury, in which the entire professional watch and jewellery world assembles every year.
More information about Baselworld.
Photos: Staatsarchiv Basel Stadt/Privatarchiv MCH Grou; MCH Group