Keeping Time

Baselworld, the pinnacle of the industry’s annual calendar, is where thousands of watch fans gather to talk shop, drink champagne and ogle the world’s most expensive timepieces.Jeremy Freed reports on the covetable styles and curious moments on display

The Baselworld International Watch and Jewelry Show will strain just about any metaphor you attempt to pin on it. Taking over the Swiss town of Basel every March, it has the labyrinthine, hermetic feel of a casino, but no one is gambling. It’s a luxury mall lined with gilded pavilions of the world’s fanciest brands, but no one is shopping. It’s a trade show, sure, but calling it that seems diminutive – it’s not like any other trade show you’ve ever seen.

The 12 halls of the Congress Centre Basel, arrayed around a central pavilion designed by Herzog & de Meuron, are divided into hundreds of exhibitor booths, though “booths” doesn’t do them justice. These are architectural creations of three and four storeys with water features, spiral staircases, bars, restaurants, lounges, conference rooms and offices, the size and lavishness of which vary according to each brand’s style and budget. For the 2017 edition – Baselworld’s 100th outing – which ran from March 23 to 30, Breitling, one of the largest Swiss watchmakers, built its booth around a 10-metre-long aquarium where 400 milky white jellyfish swam in hypnotic circles. The tank, a representative told me, was custom built in Japan, and the jellyfish flown in from Malaysia along with a marine biologist chaperone. I asked her if there’s a connection between Breitling, which is famous for aviation watches, and these creatures of the deep. She shrugged. Fair enough.

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