Baselworld is the world’s biggest watch and jewelry trade show, held annually at the large trade-fair site of Switzerland’s third biggest city. Hotel prices skyrocket and trendy locations get booked months in advance as the city of 170,000 bordering France and Germany swells with foreign and Swiss visitors.
Art Basel in June may be glitzier, but Baselworld wins hands down when it comes to commerce. Attracting up to 1,800 exhibitors from more than 40 countries in a total space of just over 1.5 million square feet, the show eclipses the smaller, but more exclusive, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) held each January in Geneva.
Leading independent watch brands like Rolex, Breitling and Patek Philippe are backed up by big groups like Swatch (Breguet, Omega, Tissot, Swatch and more); LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (Tag Heuer, Zenith and Hublot), as well as top Japanese manufacturers Citizen and Seiko.
But the show also hosts companies in jewelry, precious stones, pearls and clocks, as well as for all forms of equipment for those industries, including watch components and even precision engineering machine tools.
The Basel trade fair is easily Switzerland’s biggest, yet it is located surprisingly centrally. In 2013, its exhibition space was substantially extended with new 430 million Swiss franc, or $432.3 million, halls designed by local star architects Herzog & de Meuron.
What to do when not looking at watches and jewelry:
Art has always been big in Basel given the philanthropic plutocrats who made their billions in drugs and chemicals. While Art Basel draws thousands, the year-round Kunstmuseum is probably Switzerland‘s best art gallery, recently extended with an award-winning new building. Not far away in the leafy suburb of Riehen is the private Beyeler Foundation, another world-renowned collection that is also about to gain its own new extension.
The Kunstmuseum reopened last year after a lengthy closure to allow for the renovation of the landmark main building along with completion of the annex. Its collection encompasses about 4,000 paintings, sculptures, installations and videos as well as 300,000 drawings and prints from seven centuries. Apart from Renaissance masterpieces from the upper Rhine valley, the collection includes a fine sampling of Impressionist and Expressionist work from France, Germany and beyond. The new extension, across the street and connected via an underground passage, is devoted to more contemporary pieces, vividly displayed on its very large, uncluttered wall spaces.
St. Alban-Graben 16
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday through Sunday; Thursdays until 8 p.m.
Closed on Mondays
4125 Riehen / Basel
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; Wednesdays until 8 p.m.
Local shopping has suffered badly as the mighty Swiss franc has led even wealthy consumers to make the short hop over the border to France or Germany, where prices are much lower. But the winding streets around the Marktplatz are still an attractive area for small independent boutiques, while the alleys around the cathedral ooze their Middle Ages serenity.
For many, Basel’s biggest draw is its dominant river Rhine, which does a rough dog’s leg from west to northbound in the city’s confines. There are dozens of scenic viewpoints along the city’s three main bridges, as well as numerous attractive Rhine-side walks. Among the best is the new promenade taking shape by Novartis’ architecturally striking campus, or the riverside path by Roche’s headquarters, now unmistakably conspicuous from virtually everywhere in the city because of its stepped skyscraper, now the tallest building in Switzerland.