Basel World Sees Visitor Downturn

April 15, 2003

Basel World Sees Visitor Downturn

Basel World, held April 3-10 in Basel and Zurich, Switzerland, was hit by the twin blows of war in Iraq and fears of SARS, registering a 22% decline in visitors from the 2002 show. The timing was wrong for the venerable Swiss show, which is the most significant international business-to-business venue for many major watch and jewelry luxury brands.

The show opened just weeks after the war started, but not soon enough for the positive war news to begin. Basel World was also left reeling by a Swiss directive banning exhibitors and their staffs from countries most affected by the SARS virus, including the huge Hong Kong delegation and exhibitors from China and Singapore. These groups made up half of the show's new exhibition hall in Zurich, and the remaining 400 exhibitors there saw poor business as a result. Basel announced at show's end it was reviewing its Zurich location and discussing with exhibitors whether they would return to Zurich.

Exhibitors of branded lines at the Basel location told Professional Jeweler they were in for the long haul with Basel World despite this year's poor attendance figures. They pointed to the show's three-year effort to reorganize its halls into clearly defined categories and focus on exhibitors that market widely. Branded companies see Basel as the launching pad for their major marketing campaigns and many said they came into the show this year with reduced expectations, due to the war and the lingering economic malaise which is affecting U.S., European and Asian buyers.

For retailers visiting Basel World to get a jump on jewelry and watch trends, there was some disappointment – change was conservative and new designs less apparent than in past years. Still, some trends stuck out:

Designers relied on the tried-and-true, from hearts and crosses to three-stone rings. Many necklaces met in the middle, creating a waterfall effect down into the cleavage. Bypass necklaces and bracelets also were shown often. Higher diamond qualities frequently were mentioned as a differentiating point in diamond jewelry, and designers used diamonds on the sides and backs of pieces as hidden treasures meant for the wearer's enjoyment alone.

Colored Gems
The elevation of opaque stones is complete, as luxury purveyors do everything they can to create big, important looks with these gems. There was turquoise to be sure, but coral was more dominant because it better coordinates with women's clothing, said Henry Dunay. But U.S. designer Dunay said the next big opaque stone on the horizon is moonstone. He showed exceptional examples of moonstone jewelry as did Italian designer Stefan Hafner, another trailblazer.

Designers also honored other so-called semiprecious gems. Roberto Coin has new one-of-a-kind pieces in the Fantasia collection, featuring rubellite and tourmaline, for example. He also featured a Giraffe collection using tiger's eye gems and a Panda collection with mother-of-pearl and onyx. H. Stern, making it debut in Basel, has welcomed lots of gems back into its avant garde collections, but in relaxed and wearable rings, necklaces and earrings. There were luscious pink tourmaline chandelier earrings in Stern's Spring collection, for example.

Gem shapes to watch include flattened stones, rectangular, oval and marquise shapes. Two-color blends were more common this year, including pink/green and yellow/blue. But graduated shades of the same color also continue to be popular, especially in pink-to-red and blue-green palettes.

Cultured Pearls
There were many coin and baroque shapes, as befits a subdued economic year. The multicolor pearl look was everywhere in necklaces, but cultured pearls were shown more often as single focal points in jewelry rather than strands. Sometimes, pearls were mixed with colored gems, a look that seems to be growing. Other pearls were used to conveyed literal messages, such as in "Bubbles," a new Damiani collection. The single pearl as a treasure to be discovered was definitely the most popular style around.

Precious Metals
Yellow gold definitely had the edge at this year's Basel World; designers used it to convey warmth and affordability. Some designers mixed yellow with pink gold alloys to create a pretty gold look. H. Stern mixed white and yellow gold in its Noble Gold collection, to take some of the edge off white metal. Metal-intensive jewelry was more brushed and worked this year, with details that capture the eye and provide talking points for sales associates. Matte and shiny surfaces combined in often technologically sophisticated ways.

There were many textile effects that moved beyond the still-popular woven and silk looks. From ribbons, bows, and draped or folded metal to beading effects, precious metals designers seemed to borrow from apparel's trend toward delicate, ladylike clothes. Damiani featured a Kimono collection to complement the Asian influences in clothing. Rose gold was in evidence, but less boldly than usually seen at European shows. It was often used as a detail metal or as an accent to white and yellow colors. In chain styles, there were many small, medium and large beads, both round and organically irregular. Shower-hose-style chain was also evident in many booths.

Hearts and crosses were everywhere, in gem-intensive and plain metal styles. A few designers managed to do unusual or more abstract styles that looked somewhat fresh. Charms of all kinds captivated buyers. Among popular motifs in all kinds of jewelry, nature-inspired won, with many lines featuring butterflies, snakes, animal prints, ants, feathers, pebbles and other organic shapes. Vancox featured a line detailing the roots of orchids grown in its native Brazil, which hang down from pots in local gardens. Medals, coins, cameos, intaglios and other imprinted surfaces provided old-fashioned charm to many collections.

Inexpensive details accompanied many jewels, such as rubber and silk neckcords and bracelets. Interchangeable and multifunction jewelry was popular, even in high-concept branded lines. This jewelry's versatility, economy and playfulness were cited by many companies, including H. Stern, Carrera y Carrera and Vancox. Comfort was another huge factor in jewelry demonstrations this year, featuring easy-to-use hInges and clasps and a smooth feel on necks and wrists – manufacturers made a real effort at helping jewelers increase customer satisfaction. These factors also help jewelers differentiate various branded jewelry lines and justify the added cost. The increased focus on comfort is also a tribute to the growing number of busy, affluent women who buy jewelry and voice their demands.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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