As BaselWorld 2011 approaches — the fair is due to open next week, and slated to open its doors to thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors — we all eagerly anticipate the newest product that will make its way onto the scene. Yes, there will be complications, mind-staggering new technology, new escapements, new high-tech materials. Some brands will make their debut. Old brands will re-emerge. Yes, BaselWorld is easily the most important watch fair in the world.
As such, I have been reflecting on years gone by. This year marks my 25th or 26th year (one loses track) attending BaselWorld. Of course, my first time was many years ago, and it was simply referred to as Basel. The halls were not so grand, the stands (or exhibitor booths) were not so elaborate, and the space was more workable. The watches were still the limelight! The events were always larger than life. In those first years attending during the mid to late 1980’s and going forward, I met Romero Britto at a Movado breakfast, I remember the Concord Exeter and the Movado Warhol watches being unveiled to the world — timepieces that would go down in history. I recall Gerald Genta (the real watchmaker himself, in the flesh) unveiling the Gefica, and I sat down with him to discuss the Mickey Mouse watches in great detail at a tiny booth in the center of the fair beside an escalator to the second floor. In those days, Patek Philippe was known for its important movements, and unveiled several of its most complex timepieces (not much changes). In fact, I was there in 1989 when the brand unveiled at Basel the Caliber 89 pocket watch, then the most complicated watch in the world with its 33 complications. Ulysse Nardin was fairly a new-comer on the scenes in an open, simple blue-adorned dark-wood booth on one-level showing its first Jaquemarts to the world. Yes it was a fair to remember.
During those early years, Hublot launched its rubber-strapped luxury watch (HUH?! rubber on a luxury watch??!) and a real scandal ensued when a watch was stolen from the cases (or was it?)! In those first years, many brands of the Richemont Group (though it wasn’t the Richemont Group back then) exhibited at the fair — before the launch of SIHH caused such a stir. The exodus of those brands was sure to cause the downfall of the Basel Fair. Hmmm?? Here we are — going to BaselWorld. The watches were smaller then, and those who brought out anything bigger than 38mm were daring. Sport watches were always finding a focus in the dive or automotive world (again, some things don’t change), and jeweled watches were always a key unveiling — though back then, no one had figured out how to set gemstones into steel yet. These are a few of my favorite watches of the times — ones I accumulated from those early days– when quartz was all the rage. Stay tuned next week for the newest introductions of this quarter century of my BaselWorld visits.