BASEL, Switzerland -- Both high-style glamour and old-fashioned craftsmanship shared the limelight at the Basel Watch Fair here last week.
Women's watches were often loaded with diamonds, answering a demand for more sex appeal and greater intrinsic value. Mechanical watches were also present in quantity, a development watchmakers said was indicative of a thirst for more authentic, handcrafted pieces.
The emphasis on luxe reflected the good feelings of an industry that was able to push ahead despite the recession that prevailed in many markets.
In 1993, the Swiss industry posted a 3 percent gain in sales of watches and parts to hit a record $5.29 billion (7.59 billion Swiss francs), according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch & Clock Industry.
Moreover, Switzerland continues to dominate the world watch industry, responsible for 61.6 percent of global watch exports last year. Hong Kong and Japan came a distant second and third, with 13.3 and 11.5 percent, respectively. Also, the average price of Switzerland's export watches was $111 (160 Swiss francs), four times that of Japan and nearly 20 times Hong Kong's.
Attendance at the eight-day fair, which ran through Thursday, rose 2 percent to 80,000 visitors, according to show officials. The event once again took over the town of Basel. Demand for hotel rooms was so heavy, organizers brought riverboats down the Rhine to house all the extra visitors.
Networking is also a key part of the fair, with scores of launch and cocktail parties. Among the key events is the reception held annually at the Kunstmuseum by De Beers, the World Gold Council and W magazine, where one party guest, Stephen Magner, vice president of fine jewelry for Neiman Marcus, summed up the value of the fair this way: "It's not just what you see on the stands and the exciting resources, but also the quiet deals. If you want a certain set of pearls, of rare diamonds, then Basel is the likeliest place to find it."
The number of exhibitors increased, up 60 to 2,120, boosted by the return of South African diamond manufacturers to the international scene after years of boycott.
Among the big diamond users was Chopard, featuring sports watches highlighted with floating diamonds on the faces. It also offered the same concept in 18-karat gold earrings that will retail for about $5,000.
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