When Baselworld’s 102-year reign as the defining world watch and jewellery fair ended abruptly in 2020, it left a vacuum. The Geneva-based Watches and Wonders show — an extended version of the original Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, which had started as luxury group Richemont’s riposte to Basel — swiftly stepped in to cover the big watch brands. But many jewellers who used to exhibit under the auspices of Baselworld had to find other solutions on their own.
So, two new events emerged from the jewellery industry itself to fill the need for jewellery fairs in Europe.
The first was GemGenève, which held its inaugural show in 2018, followed by Haute Jewels Genève in 2019, just a year before the first lockdowns. While GemGenève is held in May in a wing of the vast Palexpo exhibition halls, Haute Jewels Genève now takes place in late March at the Hotel Kempinski — coinciding with the Watches and Wonders trade show.
The shows have different profiles. GemGenève mainly caters to gemstone and antique jewellery dealers, and Haute Jewels Genève is aimed at high jewellery brands and manufacturers looking to meet wholesale buyers and find new outlets for their jewels.
Behind GemGenève are two Swiss men: Thomas Faerber and Ronny Totah. Faerber started as a diamond dealer in 1973 in Basel and moved into antique jewellery and coloured gemstones. Totah specialises in coloured gemstones and antique jewels.
“We were in at the deep end,” says Faerber of the creation of GemGenève, now in its fourth edition. “We never expected to be exhibition organisers but we felt that we weren’t welcome in Basel anymore. There was a need for a show where organisers and exhibitors spoke same language and in an environment that is right for us.”
The 201 exhibitors at GemGenève in May 2022 were a mix of diamond and gemstone dealers, antique dealers, and some contemporary jewellery designers. The show focuses on what Totah describes as “human-size, mainly family-run, businesses, that behave well. We select those who are good in their sector with a breadth of price points.”
GemGenève reported 3,302 visitors to its latest show, mainly made up of buyers looking to source loose stones and antique jewels. Though primarily a trade event, it is open to the public and Totah reports that 25 per cent of the visitors are private buyers. There will also be a special November 2022 edition of GemGenève “to respond to the needs of the market” which could not travel for many months due to global lockdowns.
Haute Jewels Genève is an even younger event that had its first show in 2019 with just four exhibitors. It was put together by Michael Hakimian, chief executive of Yoko London, the pearl jewellery brand that also wholesales pearls and manufactures jewels.
“There is no doubt we filled the gap left by Basel,” says Hakimian. “When the show closed down, we were left high and dry. While Basel had over 1,000 exhibitors, we have selected just 18 brands. Each has its own niche and look with a strong heritage, innovative products, good reputation, and an international reach. The spirit of the show is to try and help each other.”
Haute Jewels Genève coincides with Watches and Wonders and benefits from the fact that the buyers from big global retailers are in town. The date is also crucial, says Hakimian, as orders placed in April can be fulfilled in time for the Christmas season.
But there is room for both shows. In fact, Hakimian’s operation, Yoko London, will be exhibiting at GemGenève in November to gain access to its audience, in order to sell loose pearls and manufacturing services.
“We are not competing with GemGenève at all,” says Hakimian. “I liaise closely with them and we share our strategies.”
Hakimian feels there is still a need for Asian and American shows and that smaller and more focused exhibitions for specific sectors will spring up in Asia, the Middle East and America.
“The day someone creates a show that can bring all the high-end jewellers together, I will book a booth,” says Hakimian. “I didn’t start out as an exhibition organiser and never thought I would be designing showcases, lighting systems and overseeing security and we don’t do this as a profitmaking venture but because our industry needs it. Our third edition is already sold out as everyone rebooked. I am a very busy man.”