This blogpost will be a series of anecdotes that took place prior to my actual time at the fair – there won’t be many horological remarks here. The first note I’m going to have to make is the pronunciation of ‘baselworld’. With my typical London idiolect, I’m very tempted to pronounce it “bazzleworld” though those who are a lot more cultured than I am seem to pronounce it something along the lines of “baahzul world”.
To those who aren’t aware, Baselworld is the world’s largest luxury fair featuring jewellery and watches. It is hosted every year in the Swiss city of Basel and attracts thousands of visitors across the globe to view the latest offerings of top labels in the industry. This year, I’m told that the event is smaller than ever; with half the number of exhibitors and less visitors. In my case, this is my first time attending the event – having promised myself that I would take the journey to Switzerland on my gap year representing my tiny blog – Watchrant.
My initial planning was quite barebones: get press accreditation, find a place to stay and pretty much ‘wing it’ from the first day of the exhibition. It turns out my plan was full of flaws.
My first problem was getting press accreditation. This usually opens up sometime in December and I was keen to get my application through as early as possible. I was told by a few people that being accredited is a really straightforward process – and it was. I submitted my personal details, the organisation I represented and a photo ID. After sending everything through, I was expecting a reply within a couple of weeks. During this time I booked my plane tickets to Zurich – as I planned to be close to Basel and Schaffhausen during my stay. As the weeks went by, I didn’t hear a reply from the accreditation team and I was getting anxious. Tickets for my time at the exhibition would cost 60CHF per day, or 150CHF for a full pass – something I’m not in a position to pay as a gap year student. Perhaps my tiny little blog didn’t fit their press criteria? That being said, I noted that a lot of Instagram accounts who only repost pictures of other people’s watches seemed to be getting press access, so I decided to bite the bullet and make a phone call to the press team in Switzerland. Within a few hours I managed to get an email response confirming my press accreditation. First crisis averted.
My second hurdle was figuring out a place to stay. After intensive searching for a room in Basel, I discovered that it is almost impossible to find accommodation in the city – unless I was willing to take out a mortgage to pay for a couple of nights for a hotel. I decided that won’t be the best idea.
After asking around, a friend of mine offered to let me stay with him at his University halls of residence at ETH Hönggerberg. Considering that I would be located 20 minutes away from the main train station and I wouldn’t have to pay to stay, I deemed this to be the best option. My expenses would then be veered towards daily commute.
At least that’s what I thought. A few weeks later I received a message from my friend that he would be out of the city during the first 3 days of me being in Switzerland. In a nutshell – I had to find emergency accommodation ASAP.
In panic, I tried find a place to stay before prices rocketed. After scouring online, I found a (relatively) cheap hotel on the outskirts of Zurich. I immediately booked a room and thought nothing of it. As an additional precaution, I booked a hostel in Basel for night so that I didn’t mess up my commute. Everything seemed fine until I received a strange email in my inbox in February asking about my stay in Zurich. This didn’t make sense as I hadn’t set foot in Switzerland yet. I quickly checked the booking details and realised I had booked one month early by mistake. I looked at my booking policy and to my dismay, discovered that the hotel would still charge me for my stay if I was a no-show. This took a severe blow to my feeble bank account.
I ended up booking a shared room in what I was told is the cheapest accommodation in all of Zurich and decided to leave it at that. I would check my booking details every day to make sure I hadn’t made the same mistake.
With this all done, I had set up the foundation for my first trip to Baselworld.
It was a cold Monday morning. My flight to Zurich departed from Heathrow at 4pm. I had a ‘hearty’ breakfast consisting of Mr Kipling chocolate cake slices and tea. My luggage was packed. My passport and cash was in my coat pocket. I had checked in online and made sure all my details were on the British Airways system. Everything looked good. I arrived at Heathrow two hours before my flight and did my final checks. It was at this point I realised that I didn’t have my business cards on me. No big deal; I had a few which I always carry with me in my wallet. I just had to hand them out sparingly.
Arrival in Zurich was a bit rough. My phone was on low charge, my data roaming was spotty and my GPS refused to work. I walked over to the ticket counter at the airport train station and asked to get a train ticket that would take me as close to my hostel as possible. The attendant gave me a blank stare and replied with “you mean Zurich main station?” I replied with an uneasy “yes”. She then asked me if I wanted to purchase any tickets to travel to any other cities to which I explained yes, but I didn’t want to buy them early as I wasn’t sure about train times. She gave another blank stare and explained that I could go on any train that I wanted within a day.
This was a bit of a surprising novelty as in the UK you need to anticipate train times in advance and stick to a specific train – unless you bought an open return ticket, which would be very expensive. Talking about train ticket prices, I wasn’t put off by them. I’m used to paying exorbitant rail prices in the UK and so Switzerland unfazed me. So far the warnings about Switzerland being expensive seemed like something I didn’t need to worry about – at least that’s what I thought.
I arrived at Zurich HB station at around 7pm. I couldn’t figure out where my hostel was because my GPS refused to work, and local Swiss seemed completely disinterested in helping me out. I did find a group of international students who were extremely helpful in helping me find my way, even as to stray away and walk with me in the direction I needed to go. It turns out my Hostel was about 10 minutes away from the main station which I was thankful on my part. I settled into my hostel pretty quickly – there really wasn’t anything special on offer.
I posted a video on my Instagram story talking about how cramped my room was. I had a few replies of concern – someone actually thought I had ended up in Swiss prison – though I’m not sure if that was an exaggeration on their end.
I decided that once I emptied my bags, I would go out and find something to eat. This proved to be a bit more challenging than expected as most shops close in the evening. My last international trip was in Bangkok, where finding food at any time of the day was a breeze. I ended up settling for a kebab, thinking that it would be a cheap meal option. I thought I’d opt for a larger option seeing as I was combining lunch and dinner. What I wasn’t expecting, was to be paying 18CHF for the meal.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t enjoy the meal. Not only did I buy the most expensive kebab of my life, but it was also one of the worst tasting. However, the evening wasn’t all that bad as I made good friends with my Japanese roommate – spending the evening watching anime and eating supermarket cheese.
The next day was something I was looking forward to quite a bit: I would be visiting the Moser manufacture in Schaffhausen!
As many of you will be aware, I’ve been following the Moser label for quite a while. In fact, they’ve constituted a the topic of discussion for a number of articles during the lifetime of this blog and so I thought it was long overdue to visit the folks behind it all.
My morning started off with having breakfast with my Japanese roommate. It was a feeble affair consisting of a block of Gruyere cheese and tea. I had supplied the teabags myself, though hot water was charged at 1CHF from the vending machine. We head out to the main train station together as he had to catch a flight to Tokyo. After a a firm handshake saying goodbye, I was on my way to Schaffhausen (there may have been an interim of accidentally boarding a train to Stuttgart instead, but it’ll be best to save on the details…)
Anyway, I arrived in Schaffhausen more-or-less on schedule and was picked up by the Meylan brothers: Edouard and Bertrand. The start of the manufacture visit would be visiting the Moser museum, a heritage site dedicated to honouring the town of Schaffhausen’s greatest entrepreneur: Heinrich Moser.
The museum tour was quite fascinating to say the least. Heinrich Moser could be attributed to heavily industrialising the small and seemingly isolated town of Schaffhausen. He had made his fortune as a businessman in Russia – selling watching in the hundreds of thousands and returned to Schaffhausen to find a way of ‘giving back’ to his hometown. One of the ways this was achieved, was through building a hydromechanical dam, that harnessed power from the Rein river and powered nearby workshops and businesses. Heinrich Moser was by far an eccentric in his own right – I saw the wacky leadership of the Meylan brothers as apt in that regard.
An interesting side story is Schaffhausen and the associationship with the IWC label. As many of you will be aware, IWC takes pride in their Schaffhausen heritage. What many of you may not be familiar with, is the story of Heinrich Moser actively enabling the father of the brand, Florentine Ariosto Jones to be able to start the label. Through a little bit of digging, it appears that IWC no longer credits the efforts of H.Moser in the birth of the brand – though they did have him mentioned in their historical archives on their site – before removing and altering the story. I found this anecdote to be rather interesting and it goes to show how deep marketing culture is ingrained in the romanticised stories that collectors and watch lovers take on at face value. The actual IWC manufacture is practically situated in what is known as ‘Moser Park’, which is a small bit of greenspace featuring a bust of H.Moser. To my understanding, the affiliation is now carefully worded as “support from an industrialist”.
The rest of the day included a visit to the actual manufacture – those with cameras were actively encouraged to take photos as Moser took pride in their fully in house production – to the extent that all their tools and equipment were bespoke, meaning that another label wouldn’t be able to recreate the same production techniques. The hairspring production in particular was quite fascinating to learn about.
The day concluded with everyone being presented with the iconic “Make Swiss Made Great Again” baseball caps – something I’ve had my eyes on since their first reveal. It was at this point where everyone was preparing to part their separate ways. I had to head back to Schaffhausen train station and would hitch a ride with Moser’s Nicholas Hoffman to do so. At least that’s what I thought.
As we headed outside the manufacture I realised that the outside temperature had become freezing cold. I was wearing a T-shirt and a sports jacket, and decided that I needed to wear my big winter coat (the one I’m seen wearing in the video). At this point I realised I had made a grave error: I left my coat in Edouard’s car. That wouldn’t have been too big of a deal had it not been that Edouard has set off through the German border about two hours prior and was then headed for Basel with my coat in the backseat. That also wouldn’t have been too big of a deal had it not been that my passport, my cash and my train tickets were in the pockets of said coat.
My reaction to the situation consisted of nervous laughter and a bunch of sheepish narrations on the story section on my personal Instagram account. You see, I’ve kinda been in this situation before, where a few months ago I was robbed in Cambodia and then ended up homeless on the streets of Bangkok (a very long story). My close friends and long term Instagram followers thought it was almost inevitable that something would go wrong and were surprised I held out until the first 21 hours of my time in Switzerland. My prior experience of being in an unfortunate situation made my predicament in Switzerland easier to bear.
I assessed the variables: I knew where my passport was and who it was with. I fully trusted the parties involved and was more annoyed by how embarrassing the situation was for me. It didn’t help that I had a half eaten block of Gruyere cheese and a bunch of used tissues in my coat pocket – not a pleasant thing to discover. I needed to figure out a plan to hold out until I would next catch up with everyone; which was the first official day of the exhibition – two days from that point.
I ended up hitching a ride to Zurich with Nicholas and another member of their team – Michael. I’m going to admit that I wasn’t left completely stranded as I was loaned a small bit of cash to keep me going through the next couple of days. I was extremely grateful for the gesture though I intended to not have to use the money unless absolutely required. That night I returned to my hostel and went to bed on on empty stomach.
I didn’t get much sleep all night. It wasn’t because of stress or anxiety, but rather the fact my roommates were checking out at awkward times taking care to make as much noise as possible when leaving. I’d like to point out that the room I was in was very cramped and the slightest of sounds were amplified greatly. I also happen to be a very light sleeper.
Though the fact I didn’t sleep much was to my benefit, as I woke up early with plenty of time to check out of my room. My plan was originally to be in Geneva for some meetings, but those had to be promptly cancelled as I didn’t have money to pay for a train ticket or have a passport as ID to check into my accommodation in the city. I sent some emails overnight to my counterparts apologising for the unexpected situation.
I got into contact with my friend at ETH Hönggerberg (who I knew would be returning sometime that evening) to see if I could stay over for the night. It turned out that he would be home late so I just had to hold out until then. Easy.
I dropped off my luggage at the reception and tagged along with a roommate for a self guided tour across the city. I thought that now would be as good of a chance as any to actually explore Zurich. I also decided to have breakfast, which was a pack of skittles I had brought with me from London.
The tour was very short lived as said roommate had to leave for Austria, though I did have fun riding on a hired bicycle for a bit. You’ll note that I was surprisingly well dressed for someone who was actually a distressed backpacker. My main goal was to keep my positivity levels high by trying to find a reason to crack a smile as often as possible. After my experience of messing up in Asia, I found that it’s easier to be able to move to the next step with a grin on your face.
After spending my morning cycling and exploring I decided that a great plan of action would be to sit in the hostel lobby, hook my phone to a charger, connect to the wifi and watch TV shows and Anime for several hours. I killed off a good five hours before it became evening, eating skittles as fuel. At this point my friend at ETH hadn’t replied all day I was wondering if he would return on time. A few people who I had become familiar with at the hostel over the last couple of days began quizzing me about the situation, wondering what my plans would be if things would go wrong. At this point the assistant manager at the hostel chimed in and said that he was willing to offer me a free night in one of the less desirable rooms if things became dire. I was blown away by the kindness and thanked him for the offer but told him that I had emergency funds and that I only needed to hold out until morning, where I would be headed to Basel to pick up my things. As if on cue, I got a phone call from my friend saying that he had arrived back at ETH and that I should head over.
As if things couldn’t get any better, I received an email notification that some investments I had made through an index fund had been cleared through to my bank account, meaning I had a small surge of money. I think I should also point out that I had a credit card in my suitcase which I could now afford to use since I had money to clear the balance. (I’m currently 18 and my credit limit is ridiculously low and so I keep my card stored away for purchases such as accommodation fees – the fact I was even accepted for a card in the first place was a miracle)
I arrived at ETH greeted by my friend. I cooked my first meal (scrambled eggs on toast) in Switzerland at their place and spent all night exchanging stories, forgetting that I had to sleep. When I did sleep, it was on a floor futon (that’s the best way to describe it) with no pillow or blanket. I did however, improvise using my travel bag stuffed with clothes as a pillow and my friend gave me a clean towel to use as a blanket (he’s Dutch, so a normal towel for him is larger than me). On the point of being Dutch, I noticed that speaking in Dutch sounds an awful lot like Swiss German.