The Show Formerly Known As Baselworld
Every year in March (except for last year) we get excited about heading to Switzerland for what we’ll now call “the show formerly known as Baselworld.” Up until 2020, Baselworld was the preeminent watch and jewelry show held every spring in Basel, Switzerland where the biggest names in the industry would convene to display their newest collections and meet with press, retailers, and the rest of the community.
I was fortunate enough to experience three years of the show before it came tumbling down due to the global pandemic and the big brands’ collective realization that they could do it better on their own or in a new format.
In 2017, I had started a new job as the head of business development for Everest Horology, and one particular bucket list item I had then and for many years prior was to attend Baselworld. I always hoped that one day I might get to go as a spectator, get to walk around the halls and admire the endless stream of horological marvels. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be going to actually help introduce the world to a new watch brand. I remember being told by Michael, the CEO of Everest and MONTA, that we were going and I was completely overjoyed.
Baselworld was always crazy from the moment we stepped off the plane. The sheer size and scope of the show and “booths” (if we could even call them that) was awesome. Think of multiple grandiose Las Vegas hotel lobbies that were dedicated to watches, all squished together under one gigantic roof. I was the proverbial “kid in a candy store” as this Baselworld event was happening just three short months after I decided to quit my finance career, follow my passion, and turn my hobby into a profession. Everyone was sharply dressed and the entire city was buzzing with excitement. The first time experiencing Baselworld will always be a memory I absolutely cherish.
The next year, after I took over the position as MONTA’s president my experience with Baselworld changed a bit. We were jetlagged, hungry, and excited, but instead of heading straight to the hotel to rest, or to the show to marvel at all the sparkly things, we would immediately get the rental car and drive two hours to our assembly company in Le Locle. (I wrote an article about seeing the Opalin Silver for the first time before Baselworld in 2019: READ HERE) It is there that we would feast our eyes upon the new MONTA models for the first time in the flesh. What’s even more crazy, is we would spend the next 12+ hours photographing the new models and updating the website so we could start the preorder. Long days, late nights, and the lack of sleep was a constant theme all week, and it took copious amounts of lattes to power through.
The show started every morning at 9:00 am which meant getting to the booth a little early to prepare for the day. We would have meetings with the press/media throughout the day sprinkled in with random visits from friends, customers and those learning about MONTA for the first time. Around 4:00pm someone would show up with a round of drinks and the show officially concluded at 6:00pm each night. From there, we would grab dinner at one of our go-to spots.
After dinner everyone gradually migrated to the bar at Les Trois Rois (The Three Kings), Basel’s only 5-star hotel where a cocktail will run you $29. Seriously, I have the pictures to prove it. It is in this bar where it wasn’t uncommon to bump into Thierry Stern (Patek Philippe), Jean Claude Biver (LVMH), Ben Clymer (HODINKEE) or even Eric Singer (the drummer from KISS). I also have a collection of wrist shots with my friends from The Three Kings, that if our watches were set properly, indicates we stayed out way too late.
We also used this time to discuss new projects with our Swiss team of designers and manufacturers. Looking back through the pictures in my phone I stumbled across one image of our CEO and designer literally discussing the first idea for what is now the Noble. I still vividly remember the excitement overtaking the exhaustion as we realized the potential.
If you are reading this then the odds are you are a watch enthusiast like me. For whatever reason, these little mechanical marvels speak to us and make us happy. But it is the people that keep us here. After all, what’s the point of a hobby if you can’t share it with someone? The best part of Baselworld, whether it was my first time or my third, was hands down the people. Baselworld became an annual get-together of epic proportions and the circle of friends grew bigger every year. They came from all over the world for that one week of revelry with like-minded people who understood them.
In retrospect, not everything at Baselworld was perfect. There were stressful times, hiccups, and what can only be described as sheer exhaustion. But despite all of this, it’s something that I long to do again just one more time. You really never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Luckily though, the sense of community among watch enthusiasts and the friendships we built will live on forever.
So what is the future of large-scale watch shows? Baselworld is being reincarnated as “HourUniverse” but the details are still missing. Watches And Wonders has taken the place of SIHH and seems to be emerging as the leader, although their 2021 show is all digital. Then you have our favorite show, Wind Up, by the team at Worn & Wound. It’s three days of face-to-face watch talk where we engage with the enthusiast community, let them try on the collection and answer their questions.
Regardless of what direction the shows take, I hope they remember that it’s always about the people who embrace the watches and keep the focus on their experience.
Justin, thanks for talking about the ups and downs with Basel. Unfortunately I was never able to attend the event. I look forward to seeing what the M&J Team does with Monta in the future. Thanks for everything, Terry.
I never made it to Basel. So thank you for a great story highlighting the ups and downs of the trip. Hopefully I will see you guys at W&W in the future. Keep up the great work M&J at Monta!
My whole life and not one person I’ve met with the same name. Now I have a whole line of watches to choose from. You guys are fabulous Craftsmen. Love it.
Loved your article Justin. We loved our time in Switzerland but envious of your Basel experience. Proud of you folks. Great representatives of St. Louis.