This past April/May I had the opportunity to attend Baselworld as part of my role as a Contributing Editor for aBlogtoWatch. I have been writing about watches for a little over six years, and while that may not seem all that long to some of the field's more seasoned writers, it took that long to attend my first Baselworld. Like many, I grew up attending air and auto shows with my Dad and brothers, so when I first learned of Baselworld, I added it to a list of very far off goals as until recently writing about watches was a mere hobby. I had seen photos and read the reports that follow each year's show, but little could prepare me for the scale, the crowds in attendance, and the general watchnerdery of it all. In short, with the right pair of shoes, an empty wrist and a press pass, Baselworld is heaven for a watch lover.
This year, aBlgotoWatch had a team attending the show, including veteran show goer Ariel, deputy Mark C, and yours truly. While Ariel has covered BW in the past, we figured more people equals more coverage, and we attacked Baselworld with a host of cameras, a schedule packed with meetings and an undying need to flood Instagram with wristshots. Like any of the larger conventions and shows, Baselworld is held in a collection of large convention-style spaces that are all grouped together as halls. With a total of four halls and an additional building dubbed "The Palace" (where the likes of MB&F, Debethune and HYT could be found), Baselworld was much larger than I had expected. If you're at all interested in the details, I recommend downloading the Baselworld app which gives you a full floor plan, booth arrangement and 3d views of the halls (as seen below).
Big name exhibitors like Rolex, Tag Heuer, Omega and Patek Phillipe are found on the ground-level floor of Hall 1 (which has a total of three levels), while smaller watch brands, jewellery brands and fashion labels are generally situated in the upper levels or in one of the outlying halls. This, however, is not a rule as Bvlgari, a brand not known exclusively for their watches, had their booth next to the main entrance across from Tag Heuer and Zenith.
It's difficult to call the brand spaces "booths". In my mind, a booth is used at a car show to host Shamwow demonstrations or at a carnival to keep Scarface posters protected from the rain. The brands at Baselworld, especially those on the ground floor of Hall 1, essentially build small buildings full of meetings spaces, photography rooms, lounges, bars, and watch displays. I was blown away by the extravagance, complexity and sheer size of these booths. Imagine the best brand boutique you've ever visited, then add a couple more floors, a bar, and a host of eye catching architectural elements and you're basically envisioning a Baselworld booth. Being temporary structures, the booths are not the most solid of buildings, but the level of elaboration and design is remarkable given their relatively short window of use year after year.
Breitling's booth (seen above) had a distinctly nautical theme, with a giant aquarium situated above the reception desk. Inside was a lounge area with a bar that was flanked on three sides by additional floors that were designed to look like the decks of a vintage cruise ship. The Swatch group also had an impressive display of booths for each of their brands and even a restaurant located next to one of the busy central spots in Hall 1.
With the exception of press-day, Baselworld is open to the public, providing you purchase either a day pass for 60 CHF, or an eight day pass 150 CHF. The price of general admission will have you roaming the halls and enjoying the nearly limitless watches on display. While this may be a fine way to spend a day of leisure in Basel, if you want to touch and experience the watches with your own hands you'll likely need to be dealer or have a press pass. It's like they say, access makes the heart grow fonder.
Over the nine days that I spent at Baselworld, I took part in dozens of meetings, drank well over 100 espressos and was able to skip the gym thanks to a full complement of press kits and catalogs to carry between appointments and then back to the hotel at night (my deepest thanks to the brands that provided all of their press material on a USB stick). If you're okay with coffee, wine, Swiss chocolates and water, you won't go hungry at Baselworld.
Meetings consist of short presentations for each novelty amidst the soundtrack of multiple camera shutters, pausing only for quick video segments. Given the short window of time a brand offers for a meeting, timing is everything. That said, we were always running late. You may leave one meeting ahead of schedule, but then you have to walk to another hall and find the correct booth, notify their reception desk and then hope that the meeting before yours hasn't run late. Once a space is ready, you are ushered into the back or upper area of the booth and into a small meeting room. Here you will likely be able to order water or espresso and there are usually sweets on the table.
Generally speaking, a brand representative will want to run through a set presentation for each noteworthy or new piece in their line up. Given the limited time and often vast number of watches a brand might have on hand, Ariel often recommend that they bring watches out at fast as possible so that we can get the photos we need and shoot some video if time allowed. The idea is to see and shoot everything so that we have everything we need to properly cover the best and most noteworthy watches from the show. The basic information is available via a public press release, but for live photos, hands-on video and interviews, you have to be present (and preferably jacked on coffee). These meetings can last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, which is a good amount of time for photos, videos and questions. All told, I left Europe having shot well over 4000 photos and with about 50 usb keys stowed in my luggage.
So how was my first Baselworld? Busy and awesome. The long days, heavy bags and caffeine shakes are just what is required to see as much as possible so that we can share both the experience and the watches with all of you. It was an absolute dream come true to attend my first Baselworld, a prime opportunity to live and breath watches with people who understand and share the passion. Sharing the passion is what aBlogtoWatch does best, and that is because Ariel loves watches more than anyone I've ever met. Baselworld was my first time meeting Ariel face-to face and my first impression was supported by every minute of the proceeding nine days, this dude is seriously devoted to sharing the appreciation of watches.
Leaving a meeting with Linde Werdelin and the amazing SpidoLite II Tech, only to get a chance to wear a Debethune DB28T can really only be described as awesome, right? I can't tell you how refreshing it is to compliment someone on their watch only to have them remove it from their wrist so you can try it on (as opposed to the standard indifferent nod or the "is this guy going to mug me?" look). Just like the air and car shows I've attended in the past, Baselworld is more than just a big promotional opportunity for brands, it's a chance to connect with enthusiasts and, while I didn't love everything I saw, there is certainly something special for every watch enthusiast at Baselworld.