Trade Show Coverage
Third Time’s a Charm: Five Perks and Positives of the Baselworld Fair
It feels to me that Baselworld – the once raven-haired, blue-eyed star quarterback/student body president/drama club lead of the world’s watch and jewelry trade fairs – has recently been reduced to the smelly kid in class who brings tuna for lunch and occasionally chews his erasers. In other words, it’s become quite unpopular. And yet, many of us have been convinced that if we want to be successful in this industry, we need to get to know it better; to find the good in it, even if others don’t necessarily agree. And that’s exactly what I set out to do when I signed up for my third ever visit to the fair.
The City, Itself
This year I made the decision to get into the city a day earlier than I usually do and it was the best travel choice I’ve made in the last three years. Basel – two days before press day – was quiet and snowcapped and genuinely lovely.
What many don’t realize is that Basel is the third most populous city in Switzerland (behind Zürich and Geneva) and is historically significant for a variety of reasons, including that the first ever museum that showcased art to the public – the Kunst – happens to be located there. A word of advice, however: make sure you pronounce the name of the museum correctly to the local cab drivers. If not, well, it can be quite offensive. Or so I’ve heard.
And while I agree with many of my colleagues that some of the city’s restaurants raise their prices significantly while the fair is in town, I don’t find the rates to be all that different than touristy restaurants in San Francisco or on the strip in Las Vegas (how’s that forty-dollar martini at The Wynn working out for ya?). I’ve succumbed to the fact that Basel is pricey, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay once per year to be able to walk away with the information I’m given. Maybe it’s naïve, but I’m also still at the “you have to spend money to make money” stage of my career.
But first, Let Me Take a Wristie
Think about this for a minute… if you’re one of the handful of people who can afford to get yourself to Basel or who works for a company that will either partially or fully pay for your journey, you’re a rare breed, and Baselworld – for all of its quirks – can be quite an extraordinary experience if you allow yourself to get past the show’s lackluster Wi-Fi and lack of places to sit.
One click on the #Baselworld2018 hashtag on Instagram will pull up nearly 50,000 posts, with likely 90% of those being wrist shots, or “wristies”, which means you are amongst the watch-loving elite, and that means solid, interesting conversations, wristwatch comparisons, and potential selfies with celebrities like KISS drummer Eric Singer or Instagram sensation Anish Bhatt – aka @watchanish – who is always happy to take one.
It’s Like Living in a Benetton Ad!
The diversity of Baselworld is truly one of the show’s greatest attributes. Think of it like a trip to the United Nations but slightly less stuffy and with a lot more champagne and much nicer suits. The conversations being had leading up to the turnstiles alone are enough to make you think you’ve mistakenly woken up at the foot of The Tower of Babel, but that’s also the beauty of the show and proof that the world can come together in peace and harmony if we could just find something to love as a people; and in the case of Baselworld, that something just happens to be the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000.
Let’s Not Forget, “The Presence of Greatness”
I think the saddest part for me about some of the negativity I’ve read about Baselworld is that people out there are assuming what brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe want, or what they’re eventually going to do as it pertains to showing at the fair, and to be honest, I don’t believe anyone really knows. But as it stands right now, if you’re a retailer or a journalist or a collector, and you want to see the new releases as they come out from either of the aforementioned watch industry titans as well as many others, then finding a way to get yourself to Basel is what you’re going to have to do, at least, for now. If these brands aren’t complaining when they’re spending millions upon millions to be there, then why should we? They invite us out for dinners, let us hang out at their top-shelf-stacked bars inside of their beautifully-decorated booths and show us a grand ol’ time while showing us their brand-new timepieces (Pepsi GMT, anyone?), so who are we to say what they should do or what we would do if we were in their positions? I’m all for letting the big boys think for themselves, because after well over a hundred years of being in business, I’m fairly certain they know what they’re doing.
Come on… Admit it… There’s Nothing Like Les Trois Rois
You can go ahead and build Geneva up all you want, but there is just something about being in a bar where you can barely move, breathe, or hear yourself think with 350 of your closest international friends. For me, Les Trois Rois is like a family reunion; with a twenty-plus-year background in jewelry sales, marketing, and media, I know almost all of the American jewelry retailers and buyers personally. But that also means I can’t move three inches in one direction without being recognized (at 5’10”, I’m pretty easy to spot), and that’s usually when the hugs, stories, and drinks start flowing.
This year I surprisingly stuck to a “one drink at the Three Kings” rule for myself and it worked out beautifully. That rule allowed me to be at the bar long enough to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, have a brief conversation with collector Gary Getz about what happened when I tried to buy Luc Pettavino a beer, and network one end of the bar to the other before bidding my friends a fond “auf wiedersehen/au revoir”. Regardless, it’s moments like those had at Les Trois Rois that separate our industry from so many of the others. We love watches, sure, but we mostly like the camaraderie that comes along with our love for watches (um, hello, RedBar anyone?) which is why the social aspect of Baselworld is just as important as the business one.
In closing, I have no crystal ball, and I haven’t been doing this long enough to feel strongly enough one way or the other about whether or not Baselworld will be around in 2020, or 2030, or 2050. For now, what I do understand is that despite the cost, I come back from the fair knowing more than I did before I left for it, and as a writer who is learning as she goes, that – to me – is worth the price of admission.
Roulette, Cuvette, Black Jack, Black Bay, Craps, Straps, and Multiple Hands: Watch Week in Vegas Part 1 – COUTUREtime
“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.” – Ambrose Bierce, American editorialist/journalist/satirist.
I was inexplicably confused.
On the one hand, I had several of my retailer friends warning me that I couldn’t do what I felt I wanted to because I’d be pigeonholed. “You realize you can’t write your watch blog in the same voice you use to write your jewelry blog, right? I mean, these are the Swiss we’re talking about. You don’t want to piss them off, and they’re not going to understand you.”
The warning made sense. For one, the watch industry is known for being conservative with few exceptions. “They’re right,” I thought. “I can’t write as colorfully as I’d like. I’m going to have to tone it down.”
But then, I got to Baselworld, where I met, in person, many of the watch journalists and editors I’d been following for quite some time. There, the tone and tune was dramatically different. “If you write your watch blog the way you write your jewelry blog, you’re going to KILL IT. Nobody is writing the way you write. It’s refreshing. And it’s needed.”
Like I said… mind meldingly confused.
Yet as I continued to pen (key) piece after piece here I found that my work and my storytelling was finding its own natural path. The very first posts come off a little more reserved but the last was playful, daring, and borderline controversial. The story is as important to me – speaking from the writer’s side – as the product discussed or the brands highlighted. The story is what makes the reader remember what it was they read. We often hear the word “stickiness” when we’re talking about content. What sticks? What makes thing stick? How do you make something sticky? You make something stick by being memorable; by not regurgitating canned text and copying and pasting press releases. You make it sticky by experiencing the moments in which you write; by breathing emotion into the words you print on pages or publish on the interwebs. Posting something daily and calling it blogging doesn’t make you a writer; it makes you a content creator. To be a writer you must live what you share. To be a writer you have to believe in that which you express, paid post or not. To be a writer you must see the world, your life, and your business through the eyes of a writer. Every mishap is a story. Every joke is a line. Every dinner, a side note. And every city, an adventure.
For the last couple of years on the blog of my alter ego (Adornmentality.com) I have written a multi-part series called, “Tales From the Strip” which covers the back stories of Las Vegas Jewelry Week. Every year these are my most-read blog posts as they delve deeply into what really goes down during those long, hard, but fun seven or more days. Yes, I discuss brands, and product, and designers, but what I mostly talk about is real life. That’s the stickiness of Vegas. Vegas is both as real and as fake as life can be. Body parts? Fake. Money lost? Real. Adoration? Fake. Swollen feet? Real. And because of the success of those posts I decided I wanted to do something similar here on the watch blog. Maybe I won’t get into the story of my near wardrobe malfunction at my Montblanc appointment. And maybe I won’t talk about the creepy watch-sector guy who hit on everything that had a set of eyeballs (and honestly that’s not entirely true because I saw him talking to that blonde woman with the eye patch). But then again, maybe I will. I don’t know for sure as I haven’t written it yet. I‘ll see where my memory takes me, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Just be careful. The seats might be a wee bit sticky.
I had one full day plus two hours the next day to cover the brands exhibiting at COUTUREtime at the Wynn. I strategically made my appointments well over a month in advance to ensure that I’d be on the lists of the companies I didn’t get the chance to see at Baselworld. Brands such as Tudor, Hermès, TAG Heuer and Chopard. For the most part these people didn’t know me from Adam (not Craniotes, as everyone knows him and I doubt anyone would ever confuse us. [My beard is nicer]). Or at least, that’s what I thought, however, a few actually had heard about the blog, which was a pretty rad ego boost to the chagrin of those who have to live with me.
My first appointment of the day was with Montblanc, which translates to my first middle-aged hot flash of the day as I walked in to see a life-sized poster of Hugh Jackman standing before me. This is no Wolverine Hugh, either (not that I don’t love pork chop sideburns, leather pants, and claws, but that’s for another blog entirely). This is Oscar-hosting Hugh. “The Fountain” Hugh. “Oscar & Leopold” Hugh. The Hugh you want to take home to meet your mother only to get into a fight with your mother because she drilled a peep hole in the guest bedroom where Hugh was staying. Hugh, alone, is influential enough to make me buy that ladies’ Boheme ExoTourbillon Stop-Second in rose gold even on a writer’s salary. I mean, do I really need this second kidney? Or this second lung? Pfffft. Lungs are for punks. Weaklings, even. But tourbillons, well, those are for stylish people.
All kidding aside (momentarily), the crew at Montblanc was wonderful and incredibly patient, even as I had a wardrobe near-mishap trying to take a picture under a table to get proper lighting. Many thanks to Florent-Aymeric Dubiez, VP of Marketing at Montblanc, as well as Training Director, Jonathan Berke, for making my first experience with the brand one to reflect upon happily. I am enamored by what the brand is doing and at the price points that they’re doing it. Keep up the stunning work and don’t you ever stop showing me pictures of Hugh. I will hunt you down like Wolverine would if you do.
I then headed over to see a watch company that holds a very special place in my heart: Baume et Mercier. Not only did one of my closest friends work for the company for years, but the Hampton was the first official Swiss watch I ever owned. Back in 2002, shortly after 9/11, I left the watch I owned in a bin going through airport security. Thankfully, because the human race and the TSA are so honest, they honestly told me, “You’re never going to see that watch again. Honestly.” With the money I had saved working a part time job slinging Cosmopolitans and Mojitos at a Philadelphia nightclub, I went out and bought myself a Baume et Mercier Hampton avec bracelet. The watch is still a part of my collection (when am I allowed to call what I own an actual “collection”? Anyone?) And I even took it with me to Vegas to show the Baume et Mercier folks.
I worked with Sandrine Donguy, B et M’s Marketing and Communication Director, who showed me the new Petite Promesse watches and their video campaign. I was thrilled to see that the brand was putting a focus on not just women’s watches, but on young women’s watches – and that they were going after women of the Gen Y set. Only a handful of watch brands are reaching this market so it was refreshing to see firsthand how the campaign was being run. While there I was also able to check out the Shelby Cobra limited edition watch and had a little fun playing around in the car itself. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth just four: hell to the yes.
After leaving B et M, I went to visit with a brand I have been anxious to see ever since being introduced to Ana Martins – Bovet. Dear, sweet Bovet. If you were a man and I were a single women I’d follow you everywhere until such time the restraining order took effect. I think I love you and I don’t just say that to every watch brand; I usually save it for brands containing vowels. Your style is not for the weak at heart, nor is it for the bleak of wallet, but man, I’m obsessed with you, particularly with your “Shooting Star” timepiece in rose gold. I mean, jumping hour with retrograde minutes, 5-day tourbillon, hemispheric worldwide time function with selectable time zones, hemispheric moon phase, and oh, so much more? STAAAHP!! This is not a WATCH! This belongs in a NASA bunker! I feel like I need a degree to own this thing, it’s just that intricate. Nevertheless, I was enormously taken with it and with many of the other pieces in your collection (including Duane’s bespoke watch hand-painted with a picture of his puppies). A. Dorbs.
After a brief break to visit a friend at Vhernier, I moseyed back to the villas in time for my 2 o’clock appointment with Hermès.
This was my first experience getting to visit brands in the villas. While I’m not new to writing, my past Jewelry Weeks in Vegas meant working for someone else, so to be there as an independent meant that I had more time to see those I had not been privy to in the past. The feeling of having only the “journalist” label was sweet, and riding the villa elevators knowing I would soon be sitting down with those I had only studied from afar up to this point was humbling.
I stepped off at floor two and headed down the brightly-hued but dimly lit hallway toward villa 208. I was alone but could see a group of four men conversing in my path about twenty or so feet in front of me. As I got closer, however, I started recognizing most of their faces: Will, Frank, and Anna Wintour Ben (only if you read the NYT piece will you get that reference). The Hodinkee gang, less a few talented and favored exceptions, were quietly chatting as I walked past.
I will be the first person to admit that I’m a Hodinkee fangirl. I get the Hodinkee Daily delivered to more than one email address. I learned all I care to know about the history of spring bars, the legend of why Geneva stripes were invented, and what makes a ridiculous 18th-century mechanical pooping bird from France so special thanks to the esteemed Jack Forster. I know the difference between their Value Proposition, Hands On, and Reference Points categories. And any time some dude (or chick) from some other blog has tried dissing the site while in my presence, I’ve come to their defense as if I owned stock in the company (full disclosure: I do not own stock in the company). So here was my chance to introduce myself to those who’ve made loving the watch world a little easier for me. I’m not shy. I’m not easily intimidated. I was taller than all of them. And honestly, I had nothing to lose.
“There’s a whole bunch of Hodinkeeness going on right here!”
Great opening line, idiot. Well f**king done. Could I have been more cheesy? I think not. I think not.
Thankfully they spared me (at least to my face) the feeling of embarrassment by allowing me to introduce myself and my blog while shaking each of their hands. Ben gave me an “Ah…” nod when I mentioned that I write WhatsOnHerWrist, which left me a little unsettled, frankly. Was it, “Ah, I’ve heard of you”? Or was it, “Ah, I really don’t care”? Or maybe it was, “AH! You’re the one they’ve warned us about.” I’m guessing the third, but that’s cool, because as I got to the fourth person in the group, whose face I didn’t recognize, I upped my a**hole game by stating, “I’m sorry, I really have no idea who you are” to which he replied, “Rob.”
My scotches-from-the-night-before-soaked brain was suddenly a flurry of activity. Rob. Rob. Why does that name sound familiar? Does Hodinkee have a Rob on their staff? No. Plus this guy doesn’t have a beard so I doubt they’d hire him. Hmm. Ah well. I’ll figure it out eventually.
And I did, about three feet into my walking away and realizing that this Rob was the Rob I was supposed to be meeting with as he was the Rob from Hermès. Mother. Bleeper.
Four letter words were all I could conjure internally as I now had to make a 180-degree turn and walk back, past the Hodincrew, past good ol’ Rob, and sheepishly into the Hermès suite.
I. Could. Have. DIED.
Thankfully, I was greeted pleasantly by Senior Sales Manager Andrea Galella, who offered me something to drink. I wanted to order a glass of champagne with a side of cyanide but settled for a sparkling water as to not add “drunken lush” to my already unquestionable “dipsh*t” status.
Andrea started to show me some of the new Cape Cod series watches when Rob joined our conversation. I apologized for not knowing who he was and eventually settled into work mode. Rob was serious, and a little dry, but knowledgeable, and at one point asked me what the name of my watch blog was. As Andrea and I discussed styles and as I showed her the Hermes timepiece I was currently wearing, I could see Rob on his phone, shoulders shaking, and giggling under his breath. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until I realized what he was reading…
“Wait. Wait a minute. Andrea, you’ve got to hear this,” Rob said, now full-on laughing, before he proceeded to read aloud the first few paragraphs of my last blog post. He then looked up at me and said, “You’re pretty funny,” which is when I knew that Rob and I were going to get along just fine. Actually, likely better than fine.
My 3 o’clock appointment was with TAG Heuer’s Marketing VP, Francoise Bezzola, who graciously showed me around and gave me the rundown on what was newly released in time for the COUTURE show. And I finally got the chance to play around with the TAG Heuer CONNECTED watch, which if I’m being honest, is the only smart watch available on the market right now that I’d even consider buying. I was also fortunate enough to meet the man himself – Jean-Claude Biver – later that same evening after the COUTURE opening party, sponsored by TAG Heuer. Mr. Biver was warm and kind and has since stayed in contact with me, to my amazement. It’s easy to see why he is thought so highly of.
Following TAG Heuer, I traipsed down to visit some of the darlingest watch folks I know – the crew at ORIS. How anyone could not like ORIS is beyond me, and I’m not just saying that because their name is super fun to say. The watches are wearable, affordable, and smartly designed. The staff is fun, accommodating, and inclusive. And they throw some pretty rad parties which they invite me to, so, you know… bonus. When I first sat down with them at Baselworld I spent a lot of time focusing on their women’s watches (which are designed by a woman) but it wasn’t until this trip that I was able to get my hands on and spend some time with their Divers Sixty Five watch, which greatly appealed to me in the blue dial and with the blue NATO strap. At 42mm it’s a bit too large for my wrist but that likely won’t stop me from eventually getting it for my significant other. Unless, of course, he starts some sh*t in which case I’ll buy him a fake Breitling from some New York street vendor in the East Village and call it a day.
The next company to visit on my COUTUREtime journey was Graham watches, which not only makes some cool, off-the-beaten-path-type timepieces, but knows how to market them properly, thanks largely to PR woman extraordinaire, Lisa Delane. While sipping an espresso (which was probably the last thing I needed considering I have hyperactivity issues as it is… no surprises there), I was introduced to a really special watch which debuted in 2015 called the Navy SEAL Chronofighter. Graham has partnered with the Navy SEAL Foundation – the first time the organization had ever partnered with a watch or any luxury brand to create a commercially saleable product – and is donating a portion of each of the sales of the limited edition watch (500 total pieces were made) to that foundation. You see now, when I hear of partnerships like these, it makes me proud to be in the business I’m in. Well done, Graham. Keep striving to do things a little differently, a little more meaningfully, and with a little bit of edge. That’s the thing that will set you apart. Oh, and I absolutely loved meeting a Swiss guy with a sense of humor (private joke, y’all. I’m kidding. You had to be there.)
My last appointment of the day but not the last at COUTUREtime was with Chopard, a firm I had been greatly looking forward to sitting down with. And while their prior appointment ran a little long and I needed to leave early as I had to get ready for the Diamond Empowerment Fund’s “Diamonds Do Good” Awards, we still managed to get in some quality time (pun alert) to talk Happy Diamonds (#AreYouHappyDiamonds), new releases, and seriously well-made diamond watches for women. Thankfully, I knew I would be back in the Chopard villa the following Saturday at their private event, which proved to be quite enjoyable, and not just because of the abundance of Perrier-Jouet and Macallan (more on that and other events in the next post).
And this brings us to my last appointment at the Wynn which I went back for the following afternoon: Tudor.
I can’t really remember a watch brand in recent history that has caught on quite the way Tudor has. The brand has earned the respect of not only the most well-read watch journalists, but also of bloggers, instagrammers, and many other forms of social media curators. This is not your poor man’s Rolex, let me be clear. Tudor has built its own wagon, paved its own path, and found its own way to a home of high demand and great success, and after seeing the product first hand, it was easy to see why.
My appointment was with Gabriela Anastasio who was an absolute joy to work with and had such a beautiful presence. She showed me the two pieces I’d been wanting to see since their release at Baselworld: the Black Bay Dark, and the Black Bay Bronze, both of which were equally appealing to me for different reasons. And as a woman who doesn’t always want her watches to have diamonds, white straps, or a pink dial, it was refreshing to see watches like the Heritage Black Bay 36 up close; a timepiece clearly made to be unisex.
All in all, from an outsider’s point of view, COUTUREtime seemed to be a smashing success. For me, as a first-time, full-time editorialist/journalist/satirist, I could not have asked for a better experience. Thank you, Gannon Brousseau, for curating this event and gathering in the U.S. some of the top watch brands in the world. And thanks to those brands for agreeing to meet with me, for taking time with me, and for making me feel welcome. I’m looking forward to whatever is next, be it Salon QP, SIHH, or Baselworld 2017. Wherever it is, I promise to make it fun on my end.
And stay tuned for part 2 of Watch Week, which will cover the watch shows at JCK as well as some of the nighttime shenanigans, coming very soon.
Editor’s Note: I just wanted to take the time here to send a shout out to four great guys who have been overwhelmingly supportive in these last three-plus months of this blog’s life: Eric Wind, Carlos Torres, Joe Thompson, and Jason Heaton. Without your guidance, advice, feedback, and help, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to put myself out there. Thanks to all of you for being in my corner, for teaching me the proper way to pronounce Jaeger-LeCoultre, for introducing me to women and men whom you felt I needed to know, and for pushing me to share the voice that makes me who I am. I owe each of you a glass of the nicest scotch I can find. And you’ll get it, because I believe in keeping promises.