Basel is once again the centre of the watch universe. Just over a century ago, a handful of Swiss watchmakers organized an exhibition of their latest creations. It was the foundation of a trade show that has grown into Baselworld, the most impressive gathering in the horological calendar. Last year, it attracted more than 105,000 people from more than 100 countries.
The 2018 event, which opens today, features hundreds of watch brands unveiling new models ranging from grand names such as Rolex, Omega, and Breguet to low-volume independents offering high-priced pieces for connoisseurs. Companies bring their best, most complicated, and most expensive new timepieces—exciting new technological concepts and stunning métiers d’arts.
The exhibition halls of Messe Basel, arrayed around a central pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron, are divided into exhibitor booths, though “booths” doesn’t seem quite appropriate. These are architectural creations of three and four storeys with spiral staircases, water features, bars, restaurants, and offices—the size and lavishness (a gold-plated booth with a purpose-built aquarium) of which vary according to each brand’s style (and budget).
While the world’s largest watch fair has decreased in numbers of exhibitors (some 650 this year compared to 1,300 in 2017), the sentiment hasn’t mellowed. Baselworld is still a bucket list event for watch lovers. One might feel like a kid in a very large and exotic toy store, walking the plush carpets and browsing timepieces from Bulgari, Jaquet Droz, Corum. Some also showcase jewellery—including Chanel, Gucci, and Chopard—while brands like Harry Winston and Graff will showcase watches covered in jewels.
These days, no one requires a Swiss watch to tell time. Our mobile phones will always be more accurate than even the most skillfully engineered mechanical watch, yet the industry has a visual presence in our lives like few others. And there is no better presence than at Baselworld, a celebration of the mastery of timekeeping, and the refinement and years of training that go into making objects of beauty and exactitude.
Photos via Baselworld.
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