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From today onward, visitors will flood through the turnstiles of Messe Basel to experience the biggest watch show the world can offer, as for the next eight days, 145,000 watch aficionados and 1,500 brands share the halls for Baselworld, historically a key highlight of the watch industry’s annual calendar.

The main halls are transformed into temples of luxury; edifices of glass and metal are created, by dint of several million pounds invested, into temporary homes for brands like Rolex, Omega and Chanel. Each brand aiming to outdo the competition with the brightest and best display, these behemoth-like structures are multi-floor offices, meeting rooms, party venues, media hubs and last (and in some cases, very much least) watch showrooms. These are private zones; unlike the luxury shopping destinations they resemble, they’re by appointment only and if your name isn’t down, you aren’t coming in.

At times, money outweighs sense. Breitling’s lavish fishtank, stocked in 2015 and 2016 with 650 live jellyfish, lost charm because everyone presumed it was a screen. Didn’t stop them bringing it back for years running. Maybe they were looking to get their full value for money?!

For the most part, brands attend Basel to woo their retail partners. Orders worth millions are signed in global deals – and contracts won or lost at Basel can affect the fortunes of the business through the rest of the year as stock flows through from brands manufacturing arms to their selling networks (and sometimes back again). Vital press relations are secured with media conferences, briefings and gifts.

For Christopher Ward, our direct, online-only business model means no expensive retail network and no need for costly exhibits in which to court them. We don’t exhibit at Baselworld because the function is irrelevant to our ecosystem – delivering watches directly from our Swiss atelier to our customers we have no need for middlemen retailers, or the shiny edifices and marketing dollars they require to support them. For us, our customers always come first and the fact we retail exclusively online means we have a close, direct relationship with them in stark contrast to the traditional big-brand model.

So what of the customer at Basel? Is there a place for an interested bystander at Baselworld? Not much. Newness and novelty – the big brands keep their new releases for Basel – are protected behind glass, and the closest you’d get to touching, feeling or trying on is with your nose pressed against the display pane. Access to stands is strictly regulated to invited guests for the most part and it’s not unexpected for visitors to be refused.

2016’s 12% decline in the Swiss watch industry [Forbes.com] left no brand untouched – even the gigantic Swatch Group reportedly suffered a 52% first-half profit loss. The traditional industry could be wise to start planning new, less costly ways to interact with the retail and media networks they rely on. A blow-out like Baselworld looks increasingly less relevant for brands as they begin to lose traction in a world where global security, currency turbulence and political sentiment all contribute to lack of consumer confidence. Some smaller, newer and more agile brands have stepped away from presenting at Baselworld entirely, quite vocally citing a renewed focus on domestic markets and the desire to control their presentation environment.

What does the future hold for brands as they seek new ways to connect with media, retailers and VIPs? As brand experience is key and new, more visceral and meaningful ways to communicate are being sought, how long does an event like Baselworld have to run before the last brand pulls out and the halls are empty? It may take some time, but in 2017, the countdown clock has started ticking.

Having arrived back on British soil after the in-the-metal launch of our Morgan Chronometers at the Geneva Motor Show, co-founder Mike France gives us a rundown of all things automotive and aesthetic…

For a few days this week, we relocated the centre of our Swiss operations from our atelier in Biel/Bienne to Geneva; a distance of nearly 100 miles. The reasoning behind this move? The proud reveal of our new Morgan Chronometers, shown in the metal to the world’s motoring press for the very first time, at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show. The watches were incredibly well received by everyone and we were especially pleased with the reaction from our friends in the Morgan team, who were delighted with the results of our collaboration. Phew!

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As Morgan weren’t presenting any new car models this year (they were awarded the prestigious Car of the Geneva Show award last year for the all-electric EV3 version of their iconic 3-Wheeler), our chronometers perhaps took on an enhanced importance. However, not even I would lay claim to Christopher Ward being the talk of the show – that was reserved for other metal items on display that most of, unlike the EV3, had four wheels! Until our Technical Director, Johannes Jahnke, has fulfilled an ambition he shared with me to design and develop a V6 engine (yes, really), we will have to play second fiddle to cars at the world’s premier motor show. But that isn’t too great a hardship, given some of the wonderful automobiles on show in 2017 – a classic year, according to many informed commentators.

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The Christopher Ward/Morgan team. From left to right: Co-founder Chris Ward, Head of Marketing Helen McCall, Assistant CEO Antoine Schott, Technical Director Johannes Jahnke, Morgan MD Steve Morris, Co-founder Mike France, Morgan Head of Design Jonathan Wells

It seems that car design is heading in a new direction – away from the sculpted, uber-designs of the last ten years, towards a cleaner, pared down, more timeless aesthetic possibly best represented (I am delighted to report) by the new Range Rover Velar, a fourth Rangie that fills a perceived gap between the Luxury-liner sized Sport and smaller Evoque. That we see the same direction in watches (check out our new Malvern Collection) suggests this is a macro-trend that isn’t going away any time soon. And for cars, as with watches, the simpler the design, the more important it is to get the detailing right. The Velar achieves this, down to pop-up door handles that retract to form seamless side-panels – beautiful. I have already made a note to discuss pop-up crowns with Adrian Buchmann!

The Range Rover Velar

Another British car brand making a big splash at the show was McLaren with their Ferrari 488-rivalling 720S. Capable of the 0-62 in 2.9 seconds, it upstaged other new Italian supercars such as the Ferrari 812 Superfast and the latest automotive rock star from the Lambo stable, the Huracan Performante. So, you’d expect that my favourite new car of the show must be British: a Morgan, the Velar, or perhaps that McLaren?

The McLaren 720S

Wrong. That title would fall to the Alpine A110, a small, mid-engine two-seater sports car from the Renault-owned French company who last manufactured a car in 1995. It has an attractively retro appearance, and one that’ll give many a Porsche a run for its money. I’ll freely admit, however, that my allegiance is emotionally influenced: I was the very proud owner of one of the very last cars off the line at Alpine back in 1995, and certainly the last one ever delivered into the UK, with my legendary A610 Turbo. If the new A110 were to win Car of the Show, I would of course be disappointed for the Brits – but I’d be smiling inside.

Mike’s Car of the Show, the Alpine 110.

Find out more about our newly unveiled Morgan Chronometers here.