12. time-keeper


When I was old… A nostalgic trip down memory lane

FREELY SPEAKING

March 2018


When I was old… A nostalgic trip down memory lane

My first trip to Basel was to visit the European Watch and Jewellery Fair. It was 1979 and I’d just been employed as a magazine editor for a company in Geneva, given a Swissair return ticket, a room at the Hilton Hotel, an exhibitor’s pass and a hall and stand number. I had no idea what to expect and because the watch and jewellery section was a part of the MUBA (Mustermesse Basel), it took me around thirty minutes of slaloming through stands selling everything from pots and pans, books, wine, furniture and baby clothes before I reached the company’s stand.

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n those far-off days I didn’t know that I would eventually join the unique Europa Star family, a family that has now successfully participated in the fair for eighty years. It was already as much a part of the event as the chalet in one of the halls selling cheese fondue and raclette, and other stalls selling sizzling schubligs and chips – one of which was literally opposite the elegant two-level bordeaux and gold-coloured Cartier stand, where their exclusive clients spent millions and left smelling of smoked sausages.

It took time but it changed, it improved, it had to. For the watch and jewellery industries Basel became the Fair of Fairs where people from all over the globe came to sell, buy and promote. It moved outwards and upwards, halls were extended, refurbished, rebuilt, exhibitor numbers exploded, stands became bigger, many with a second floor, they were more decorative, more innovative, not to mention more and more expensive for the space rental and to construct. In came the sushi and out went the schubligs and inevitably they took with them the last vestiges of that familial ambience. Almost from one day to the next, everything and everyone had to be streamlined into finely-honed business machines to chaperone the finely-tuned Swiss mechanical movements they were selling. The bottom line of the ledger had superseded the bonhomie.

Today, with many of the major brands it’s a 30-minute meeting at best with a company representative to see their latest creations or hear about their latest acquisitions or merger. But consolation comes in the form of the independent brands who still welcome you with a friendly smile, give you all the time necessary to talk not only about their timepieces but also offer coffee and interesting anecdotes, or even listen to one of yours.

Nevertheless, the ultra-professional Baselworld continues to be the watch and jewellery event of the year.

But as we old’uns say, things ain’t what they used to be. With more than an iota of nostalgia, I miss the times when that gentleman of gentlemen Raymond Weil would stroll over from his stand to Europa Star just to say hello; chatting with Nicolas G. Hayek about cigars or him cheerfully dragging me into an office to meet and have my photograph taken with Cindy Crawford; the glamorous Catherine Deneuve visiting our stand; Stephen Urquhart of Omega, insisting I meet Sir Peter Blake, that colossus of yachtsmen who won the America’s Cup for New Zealand; and that excruciating moment of moments when a member of the British Royal Family stopped in front of Leo de Vrooman’s eye-catching window display of 18 carat gold jewellery and asked if that was what was called costume jewellery. In his understated way Leo simply replied, "No Sir, it’s the real thing." I could go on …

Baselworld continuously evolves, business is their métier, but we’ll always have nostalgia.