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Baselworld 2014 Preflight Check

March 22, 2014 7:06 PM
Dear friends,

I am off to Germany/Switzerland Monday March 24 to attend Baselworld 2014, the fulfillment of an aspiration long on my bucket list. For those who don't know, Baselworld is the granddady of all watch shows. Hosted in Basel, Switzerland, and dominated heavily by Swiss watch manufacturers, the exposition has evolved from an obscure show attended by a small cadre of well monied Euro-aristocrats, to an extravaganza with well in excess of 100,000 attendees, ranging from the superwealthy to anyone who can come up with $50 to get in the door. (That's for a day pass; attending all seven days of the show will set you back $165.)

For wristwatch aficionados, it is akin to visiting Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Even for those of us who prefer vintage watches over new, it's still a pilgrimage that must be made at least once in one's lifetime, if for no other reason than the sheer excess of it. If there is a downside to it all, it's that it's strictly a "look but don't touch" kind of show, with everything locked securely under glass display cases. And no buying, not that I could afford anything there anyway. But if I were rich (which I am not) and the impulsive type (which I am) it would drive me crazy to be awash in an ocean of watches and not be able to buy one or two or a dozen!

The outside of Exhibit Hall 1, which underwent a $500 million renovation, completed in 2013.

Which brings up an obvious question: What's a report on an expo showcasing expensive watches doing in a blog devoted to budget watch collecting?
The answer: Having some fun.

At the very least I will not be reporting on the super-expensive watches, the Patek Philippe minute repeaters and the Jaeger LeCoultre tourbillion Reversos with the "are you fu**ing kidding me" prices. I will be focusing instead on the second- and third-tier companies that are putting out fine quality watches that, while still beyond my modest means, are earth-based priced and one day might even be affordable to me once they have entered the secondary market.

So bear with me while I indulge in a flight of fancy. And speaking of flights, let me tell you about a few of my preparations and expenses for the trip:

* Round trip airfare on Lufthansa from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany and back: $974
* Eight night's accommodation at the InterCity Hotel in Freiburg: $1,000
* Train fares (to and from airport, and daily commute to show): $475 (estimate)
* Clothes: $400

Total so far: $2,799

A few comments: 1. I managed to wrangle a press pass, so I get comp admission to the show. 2. I don't count food because I have to eat no matter where I am. At least my hotel includes breakfast with the room charge. 3. Why Freiburg, you may ask? Because if I stayed in Basel, my hotel expense would at least double.

An interior exhibit by Blancpain ... a 2-story television screen

Now, about the clothes. I'm basically a slob when it comes to clothes. I buy off the clearance racks at Eddie Bauer, and haven't worn a suit in 20 years or more. Baselworld is a dress up affair. Seriously. The stereotypes of the Swiss being a fastidious and persnickety people are all true from what I've heard. And everyone I spoke with who's attended Baselworld told me the Swiss reps won't give you the time of day (I can't believe I just wrote that) if you approach their booth looking like a bum, media badge or no.

So as much as I hated to do it, I had to go out and buy some duds. Luckily I have a friend who is ample of waistline like me and sold me one of his no longer fitting suits for $20. Picked up another suit at a discount retailer for another hundred bucks. Five dress shirts at various places, including Goodwill, and add another $50. Throw in some socks, used neckties, pair of dress shoes, a fresh batch of T-shirts (essential as the first line of defense against sweat and armpit odor), and about $65 worth of alterations, and we're up to $400. So I definitely won't be winning any awards for best dressed reporter at Baselworld, but I think I'll pass muster.

Oh, yes, and then there's some investment in electronic gear. I bought:

* a new Microsoft Surface RT tablet with detachable keyboard: $400;
* a quad-band unlocked cell phone with reloadable SIM card that can be used most anywhere in Europe, $100 plus whatever I spend on calls. (Purchased mostly for emergency and peace of mind.);
* digital voice recorder for interviews and notes to self, $30;
* universal voltage adapter to recharge all my electronic crap, $30.

I already have a perfectly adequate digital camera, and a perfectly good courier bag in which to put all this crap into, so no money spent there.

So I figure I'm into this trip $3,560 so far, give or take. So not exactly cheap, but some items on a bucket list require busting loose a few bucks, and this is one of those times. Guess that ride aboard Richard Branson's spaceship will have to wait a few years.

Until Basel,