Hours before the doors to the Baselworld exhibition opened each morning over the past week, the people who would spend the following nine hours welcoming buyers, browsers, celebrities, journalists and assorted others who make Baselworld happen have long been on the move and making their way by air, trains and trams to the Baselworld Village on Binningerstrasse, a few stops from the SBB main station in the city centre.
Staying a few miles outside Zurich, my three days at the show commenced at 05.50 when my alarm would go off (I was usually waiting for it!). With my first appointment of each day a meeting with old friend, the master watchmaker and board member of AHCI Marc Jenni, beneath the big timetable in Zurich’s bustling Hauptbanhof at 07.15. A quick greeting before boarding the TGV with Marc, there we would join his fellow AHCI member, the irrepressible and wonderful Miki Eleta, and we three would set off to Basel. What a way for me to start each day!
So, having just returned home to Ireland following three very full but highly enjoyable days at Baselworld 2013, the industry's most important and lavishly appointed showcase, I have much to write in the coming weeks concerning the people I met and the great many timepieces which I stopped to examine up close and in person.
However, before I get down to that task, I would like to offer my very genuine and heartfelt thanks to Marc and all of the people at the AHCI as well as the many wonderful people who extended a very warm and hospitable welcome to me over my time at the great exhibition.
In particular, I made a great many new friends among the independent watch makers and lesser known companies where the creative essence and traditional inventive spirit of watchmaking is not only found to be alive, but in energetic rude health.
Sometimes today, but particularly in years gone by, the small independents have struggled for the vital oxygen of exposure and awareness which would ensure a market for their wares, but it’s fantastic to see how most of these guys have made use of the great new leveller of our age which is the internet.
Of course, these independents and their creative talents often emerge from time served in the employment of the globally omnipresent leviathans whose massive and exotic money-no-object showcase and hospitality suites greet the visitor to Baselworld as they get their first taste of the exhibition when they pass through the admission scanners into Hall 1.
Walking into Hall 1 truly is an incredible and essential experience. The vast booths, to which the eye surprisingly quickly becomes accustomed to (excepting the breathtaking 'curtain-of-movements' optical illusion which was the Citizen booth), take months in their conception and final build and assembly, and are an exercise in cutting edge design technologies in their own right.
Crucially the main hall is the organ which without Baselworld could not exist, because it is without question the great worldwide brands, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer, Hublot, Zenith, Omega and many others which attract the one hundred and twenty-two thousand visitors from almost every country in the world, who this year descended on the completely rebuilt Herzog & de Meuron designed 1,500,000 square feet Basel Messe, where the trams from the city centre come to a rest beneath it's towering space age vortex-like exterior atrium at the heart of the Baselworld Village each day.
Indeed a great many of the visitors will not stray far from Hall 1 during their stay, so much is there to see and take in over three floors, but for those who have been before or are sufficiently disciplined to extrapolate themselves from the sirens of Hall 1, a great reward lies in the pleasures of ambling through the somewhat less crowded environments of Halls 2 to 4 or the naturally lit and chilled out setting of the Palace marquees where the giant suites give way to much more personal booths and kiosks where, in a great many cases, the watchmakers themselves can be approached and are delighted to offer a chair and a glass of water as they embark on another personalised guided tour of their work.
It was these one-on-ones which were undoubtedly the highlight of my visit for me on this occasion. There are so many extraordinary young watchmakers and companies, and every one has a different story to tell, because of course no two share the same philosophy, and their watches - or other creations - are tangible testaments to their individual inspirations, with a symbolic ‘tip of the hat’ to the source of their creative juices secreted away or in plain view.
I look forward to putting my experiences into words in the coming weeks.
Catching the early train to the airport on Monday, I really wished I was heading once more, back in the other direction, but my visit was ending.
A lot done, much learned and good friends made. I have already marked the much earlier dates of March 27 – April 3, 2014 in my calendar for Baselworld 2014.