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Baselworld 2011
Point of View

Baselworld 2011

Tuesday, 22 March 2011
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Franco Cologni
President of the FHH Cultural Council

“Talent demands effort, dedication and hours spent perfecting a gesture which, day by day, becomes a gift.”

An entrepreneur at heart, though a man of letters, Franco Cologni was quick to embark on a business career that would lead him to key roles within the Richemont Group.

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On March 24th, the curtain will rise on Baselworld 2011, the watch and jewellery show which, year after year, brings more than a hundred thousand people to the city on the Rhine. I’ll be one of them, wearing my three hats of journalist, interested visitor, and former executive in the sector. Which to a large extent sums up the people who from March 24th to 31st will be milling around the stands at Basel.

The figures speak for themselves: 1,892 exhibitors representing watches (627), jewellery (736) and related branches (529), travelling from 44 countries. Looking beyond statistics, the atmosphere will be one of “cautious optimism” in the words of Jacques J. Duchêne, president of the exhibitor committee. With over fifty years’ experience in the watch sector, he is well-placed to take a realistic and pragmatic view which I’m willing to share: optimism (production and export figures suggest a return to 2007 levels) but also caution. Because luxury is a market governed by emotions, and these are often fashioned by the more powerful “emotions” which world events can evoke.

Baselworld’s new products and solicitations elicit a great deal of emotion. Possibly too much. Behind every watch – by which I mean fine watch, of course – are worlds waiting to be discovered: complications and mechanisms, tiny yet far-reaching inventions, masterpieces of craftsmanship and science that merit time and attention. Yet given the presence en masse of exceptionally important brands, aficionados aren’t always able to afford these novelties the attention they in fact deserve.

Alongside the leading names and pride of Swiss watchmaking are the many small companies that constantly endeavour to express a contemporary, independent vision. They are sometimes overlooked by visitors who should perhaps dwell longer on this reality. When viewing the world from above, one sometimes forgets the ethical and human implications of this dominant position whose foundations are experience. We became big after being small and thanks to those who are smaller than us. The Earth is round like a watch.

As for jewellery, its rules and perspectives are different from those of watchmaking. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this year’s Baselworld.

I have a great deal of respect for this show, irrespective of a debate that runs and runs like a needle stuck in a groove. The Geneva fair and Baselworld are two different things and there is no point continually pitting one against the other. This only undermines Swiss Made, when we should be pulling together to advance the cultural wellspring that is Swiss watchmaking.

People who follow me know how strongly I believe in making cultural initiatives a part of commercial events. Given the crowds they attract, fairs can be the ideal place to promote not only business and sales, but heritage, prestige and identity too. Fairs must be welcoming not intimidating. Hotels, restaurants and public spaces must be wide open. Which isn’t the case everywhere. Fairs can be instrumental in the development of luxury which is, first and foremost, about dreams, culture, craftsmanship and research. They are the elements around which all else must gravitate.

This isn’t criticism but observations by someone who has been attending fairs all over the world for a long time now, and never loses hope of seeing them constantly improve and progress. Looking ahead to 2013, a crucial year for Baselworld, I hope these considerations will effectively set the tone.

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