Seeing Baselworld Through New Eyes: Connecting People
Baselworld is about connecting. Many people will say that attending Baselworld is about having a lot of meetings, taking thousands of wrist shots, and running across the halls with your arms full of press kits and chocolate boxes. While that certainly is part of the show for many, you have truly missed the point if you think that is all that Baselworld is.
Last year I was lucky enough to visit as, well, a visitor, so I was shocked and awed by the majesty of it all. But even during my brief time last year I knew that there was something more, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Thanks to Elizabeth, Ian, and Quill & Pad, I now know the answer and it is nothing I had expected. The largest watch and jewelry show in the world isn’t about watches or jewelry; it’s about people and connections.
My first true Baselworld
As we all know, I am a massive watch nerd. I doubt that I’m the biggest watch nerd out there, but I’m a pretty serious one nonetheless. This year I experienced what I will call my first true Baselworld, which encompasses all the good parts and the bad. Long meetings and sprints across halls mingled with amazing previews and tantalizing insider access. But those are simply surface details.
Being part of a small team commanded by two very well-established veterans, it was very quickly clear that the opportunities provided by attending Baselworld as a journalist should focus on the personable side of it all, as the watches are extensions of those presenting them as well as manifestations of desires and skills present at each respective brand.
When you realize this, you discover that a small independent such as Peter Speake-Marin or Stepan Sarpaneva can extend as much passion encouched within the information imparted as a larger brand helmed by equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic people.
Some people may want to call malarkey on this point, but I ask that you hold your judgment until you hear a little more. Baselworld seems to me to basically be an assembly of some of the world’s most passionate and friendly watch nerds, technicians, designers, marketers, writers, and collectors.
It is also true that there are people there just trying to sell a product and who couldn’t care less about the watch or its movement. And it’s also very easy to spot such folk. You simply smile, thank them for the access and try to engage them the best you can, hoping that your passion might rub off on them if they keep seeing enough people excited over the watches. Maybe they just haven’t gotten the bug yet.
Technical questions that excite
Either way, those people are still few and far between because many people are, on some level, passionate about the timepieces they are offering or, if you are lucky, even rival you in geekness. To me, this is what stood out about Basel the most: there are a lot of people who really like watches and who love discussing them until the cows come home.
My best meetings were with people who got excited when I asked technical questions and jumped at the opportunity to teach me something, or perhaps even learn something themselves because my question went above and beyond even their knowledge.
Many times I would ask about a mechanism, a material, some part of the technology and the person on the other side of the table would sit back and say with a smile on his or her face, “That is a great question, I don’t know for sure, let me get the designer/engineer/watchmaker to answer that!”
Sometimes I would sit with that person as the technology was explained to both of us and we would both say wow and want to know more. It’s possible my questions spurred even more passion and interest in the very people presenting the pieces. But this is why Baselworld is special, because it’s about people.
People build brands, people design movements, people work very hard to make objects that I get giddy over. Being able to connect with the people who make these things happen and to share in the struggles, the passion, and the journey is definitely a privilege that I am very happy to have had.
There are many moments from my time in Basel this year that were entirely unexpected and completely rewarding: sitting down at Ulysse Nardin and being shown an escapement that made my entire team geek out with a hundred questions; being handed a movement in Breguet’s “tech room” that pushes the boundaries of ultra-thin; having a very in-depth discussion with the Grönefeld brothers about their new Parallax Tourbillon.
These moments and many more like them hammered home the idea that it’s the connection you can get to the pieces, the brands, and the creators that makes Baselworld as successful as it is. Nowhere else can you possibly nerd out as much over the entire industry with like-minded people for an entire week.
These connections also extend far beyond the meeting rooms and the booths lining the halls. These connections fill the town as people gather for dinners and parties across the city: enthusiasts, collectors, and watchmakers alike share a schnitzel and a beer while chatting about many things that interest them, not just watchmaking.
People are passionate, and their sentiments are almost contagious as the fair progresses, with journalists, watchmakers, PR reps, marketing directors, photographers, and engineers all making plans to get together after Basel to see a race, take in an art show, or simply enjoy some fine wine.
That being said, Baselworld really is watch-nerd nirvana in the sheer amount of cool things you can see and touch. Surprisingly to me (though it makes perfect sense now) there were many brands that I had perhaps previously not given a fair shake; after sitting down with the people behind the brands and taking a closer look at their offerings, I have discovered a passion for many more brands than ever before.
Seeing the work going on at Armin Strom or learning about things happening at Hermès or Louis Vuitton really opened my eyes to new brand universes and new ideas. And the catalyst was those people presenting the information to me in the first place.
Like I said, it’s about connection and it’s about people. There cannot be a brand without people to run it, produce the watches, and sell those watches to enthusiasts. There cannot be a watch fair without people to organize, plan, and oversee the madness of it all. There cannot be an industry without people who want to make something, sometimes from nothing, sometimes from inspiration found elsewhere in the industry.
As a true first-time experience at Baselworld, this is what I took away from it all. Watching as journalists and watchmakers joked back and forth because they have known each other for twenty-plus years and have actually shared in each other’s lives in a symbiotic relationship.
I love watches. I absolutely adore watchmaking technology and the craft behind it. But at the end of the day, what good is all of that without friendship, passion, and camaraderie? There will always be stress due to the bottom line and worries about an uncertain future. However, I see the watch industry as a microcosm of life in general.
We are all just people trying to make a living, have some fun, and make good friends. My first true Baselworld helped me learn more about people than it did about watches, and for that I am eternally grateful.
For more coverage and photos of Baselworld 2014 on Quill & Pad, please click:
Quill & Pad Baselworld 2014 Awards
360° Views Of Baselworld 2014
Splashes Of Color That Brightened Baselworld 2014
Got A Minute? Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari
Snapshots From Baselworld 2014
Got A Minute? Stéphane Linder, CEO of TAG Heuer
Christophe Claret In Bloom: Introducing Margot, His First Ladies Watch
Girard-Perregaux Presents Neo-Tourbillon with Three Bridges
Two Very Different Chronographs Launch At Baselworld: Glashütte Original And De Bethune
Bremont Introduces Much-Awaited Third Martin-Baker Watch
Patek Philippe Reveals New Baselworld Booth In Hall 1.0
Hermès Presents Seriously Playful Springtime Watches At Baselworld 2014
Why We Love Baselworld: The Show That Never Ends