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100 years of Baselworld: a journey through time from 1917 to 2017

Published on 3/21/2017 by Christoph Spangenberg

With 29 exhibitors, the "Watches and Jewellery" group was a rather small sector at the first Swiss Sample Fair, or Muba, in 1917. Today, Baselworld, which is what it has grown into, is the most important gathering of the global watch and jewellery industry, at which the latest creations and innovations are presented. We invite you to join us on a journey through time: 100 years of watch and jewellery show. 100 years of Baselworld.

Sektor Uhren- und Schmuck, Schweizer Mustermesse (MCH Group)

Every year, when Baselworld is held in the spring, the whole world has its eyes on Basel. That is when the most famous brands in the watch and jewellery industry present their new creations and innovations. In exhibition stands that are an experience in their own right. Some resplendent and ostentatious, some futuristic and modern, up to 1600 square metres in size and some with several floors. Around 145 000 visitors, buyers and journalists come to the exhibition halls. The event has a daily newspaper all of its own: the "Baselworld Daily News".

1917: the first Muba (Swiss Sample Fair) in Basel

It all began a hundred years ago. The first Muba opened its doors in Basel. It was set up as a Sample Fair to support Swiss industry at the time of the First World War. Of the 831 exhibiting companies, 29 belonged to the "Watches & Jewellery" group – a rather small sector for such a powerful industry. A few years before that, in 1912, the Swiss watch industry, with a market share of nearly 90 per cent, had more or less completely dominated the world market. At Muba it exhibited pocket watches, small wristwatches, wall clocks and chronometers. The principal items presented by the jewellery sector, on the other hand, were gold bracelets and rings, plus fashionable jewellery made of enamel and precious stones. The exhibitors also demonstrated the craftsmanship involved. The first Muba was a success. More than 300 000 visitors streamed into the halls, and the companies concluded business worth more than 20 million Swiss francs.

Uhren- und Schmuckmesse (MCH Group)

In 1923, the first small collective presentation by the Swiss watch industry, with 30 exhibitors, was staged at Muba. By 1931, the number of exhibitors had already grown to 70, and for the first time they presented their wares in a pavilion all of their own. A year after that, the fair management officially declared the watch sector to be an autonomous specialist fair.

The Muba “gem" goes international

The watch fair continued to be held even after outbreak of the Second World War. Throughout the war years, the media regularly praised it as the Muba “gem", reflecting the "strong will to hold out". In 1972, under the new fair director, Frédéric Walthard, exhibitors from other European countries were admitted too. Yet another milestone came in 1973, when the watch fair was held as an independent specialised fair in parallel to Muba under the name of "European Watch and Jewellery Fair (EUSM)". Exhibitors attended from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. "EUSM" grew rapidly and set a new record in 1975, attracting more than 60 000 specialist buyers.

Baselworld (MCH Group)

In 1984, the Watch and Jewellery Show was split off entirely from Muba. It was given the new name of BASEL 84 and was more international than it had ever been before. Of the 1550 exhibitors, only some 500 or so were from Switzerland, while more than 2000 visitors came from the USA and 8000 from other regions of the world. At BASEL 86, exhibitors from non-European countries were then also admitted, which made it the first truly international edition. From that time on, there was a steady increase in the number of exhibitors and visitors alike. The BASEL fair became one of the industry’s most important events anywhere in the world, which was underscored by adding “World Watch and Jewellery Show” to its name from 1995 onwards.

New exhibition complex by Herzog & de Meuron: an additional dimension

In 2013, the watch fair, which had been staged under the name of Baselworld since 2003, celebrated a new dimension. It was the first edition held in the new exhibition halls by the architectural duo of Herzog & de Meuron. Most of the exhibitors seized the opportunity to design and construct new stands, and since then they have formed a microcosm of luxury, fascinating non-professional visitors too.

100th Baselworld, 23-30 March 2017, Messe Basel. Information at
> For further anecdotes and photographs from the history of Baselworld and the MCH Group

Images from the history of Baselworld:

Baselworld (MCH Group)
Christoph Spangenberg

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