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Jury Still Out on Baselworld

Mar 26, 2019 6:12 AM   By Anthony DeMarco
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Gem and jewelry exhibitors gave mixed responses to changes at the struggling Baselworld show, with many still undecided as to whether they would return to the trade fair.

Visitor traffic was relatively light throughout the six-day event, which ends Tuesday, with Saturday and Sunday seeing the strongest activity.

Attendance was so sparse in the gem halls that some exhibitors tried to poach buyers from competitors’ booths, observed Bruno Scarselli, who specializes in rare fancy-colored diamonds.

“Twice, competitors tried to lure customers out of our booth,” he said. “Every time two or three buyers come, a frenzy starts. It’s a very ugly scene when that happens.”

The experience was more positive for others, with some noting that their performance largely depended on the products they sell and the efforts to arrange appointments prior to the show.

Oded Mansori of Rare Diamond House in Antwerp, a supplier of rare white and fancy-colored diamonds that start at $1 million, saw both regular customers and new ones at the show. Most visitors to his booth were large jewelry brands that were also exhibiting at the fair.

“I’m very happy with this show,” Mansori said. “The foot traffic is much less, but you can’t just come to the show and expect sales. There’s a lot of preparation work and follow-up that need to be done.”

Eden Rachminov of Rachminov Diamonds, another high-end supplier of fancy-colored diamonds, added that his appointments were good, with people generally buying in the lower and higher price ranges. Most sales were either priced between $10,000 and $30,000 or $2 million and $5 million, he noted, while turnover was sluggish for products in the $200,000 to $700,000 range.

Mansori and Rachminov said they were staying at the show, while Scarselli said he was likely to return next year, despite his reservations.

A matter of cost

Organizers are attempting to recover from the recent mass exodus and last year’s downsizing, which saw the number of exhibitors drop from 1,500 two years ago to between 500 and 600 this year. The show’s new management responded with a redesigned floor layout, additional restaurants, and a revamped lineup of special events to help boost traffic.

But exhibitors were unsure whether those efforts would be enough to bring them back to the Swiss city in the future. Many were waiting for details of additional changes, including a new pricing model, which Michel Loris-Melikoff, managing director of show organizer MCH Group, referenced at the show’s opening press conference.

“It costs five times as much as any other show,” said Alexander Stufflebeam, president of Panjshir Valley Emeralds, who will probably attend next year, even though he is uncertain about the show’s viability. “I can go to at least three [other] shows for the price of this show.”

Unlike less expensive fairs, it’s difficult to absorb or justify the cost of Baselworld when business is bad, he stressed.

“The cost of being here runs into six figures, and it’s not $100,000,” Scarselli added.

Location, location, location

A change in location was another contentious issue for jewelers. The organizers closed Hall 2, where jewelers used to exhibit, moving them to Hall 1.2 on the third floor of the main building in the Messe Basel complex.

To help attract people to the jewelry area, fashion shows were held three times a day, featuring jewels from select exhibitors. While most of the shows were well attended and helped foot traffic, exhibitors were uncertain whether that activity trickled through to their booths.

Laura Bicego, owner of the Italian gold-jewelry brand Nanis, was unhappy with her new booth space behind the round stage where the fashion shows were held. New people had difficulty finding her booth, she said, adding that she managed to gain new clients despite her unfavorable position.

“I wouldn’t say we did extremely well. In the end it was not bad for us,” she observed.

Bicego was among those questioning whether to return, noting that other fairs, such as Italy’s VicenzaOro and the growing Inhorgenta fair in Munich, Germany, have been much stronger for her and at a far lower cost. A shift to Hall 1.1, where the larger jewelry and watch brands are located, would help convince her to exhibit again in 2020.

Jewelers take the stage

Baselworld’s organizers made some effort to appease jewelers who have felt overshadowed by the larger watch brands that take center stage at the event. For example, they gave Giuseppi Picchiotti, founder of the family-owned Picchiotti jewelry brand in Valenza, a spot at the opening press conference, where he sat alongside the heads of watch companies Chopard and Patek Philippe.

“In the past years I very cordially pointed out to Baselworld that the location given to the jewelry sector was not nearly as satisfactory compared to the watchmaking sector, and that improvements needed to be made,” Picchiotti said.

Some were pleased with the new, smaller structure.

A longtime outspoken supporter of Baselworld, Michael Hakimian of Yoko London, which specializes in fine pearl jewelry, said the fair was even better, with the drop in exhibitor numbers making it a more comfortable, cozier event for the buyers and exhibitors.

“People can navigate the whole building in a day,” he said. “I have old clients coming, and I have new customers. I’ll be here as long as there’s a fair.”

Image: Hall 1 at Baselworld 2019. (Baselworld)
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Tags: Alexander Stufflebeam, Anthony DeMarco, basel, Baselworld, Bruno Scarselli, Eden Rachminov, Germany, Giuseppi Picchiotti, Inhorgenta, Jewelry, Laura Bicego, Messe Basel, Michael Hakimian, Michel Loris-Melikoff, Munich, Nanis, Oded Mansori, Panjshir Valley Emeralds, Picchiotti, Rachminov Diamonds, Rare Diamond House, shows, Valenza, Vicenzaoro, watches, Yoko London
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