With the global economy struggling, the long-held norms of the world of Swiss watches are changing in real-time before our very eyes. Anyone who is anyone that has an interest in Swiss watches is familiar with the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show, which is a trade show of the international watch and jewelry industry organized each spring in the city of Basel, Switzerland, at Messe Basel…or at least it has been until now.
The show dates back to 1917 with the opening of the first Schweizer Mustermesse Basel and has been the main global convention for watches for over a century.
The past several weeks have seen the withdrawal of the heaviest hitters in the Swiss watch industry from Baselworld, with announcements from Rolex, Chanel, Chopard, Tudor. More recently, LVMH (the parent company of TAG Heuer, Hublot, Zenith, BVLGARI, and Dior) has announced that it has withdrawn from Baselworld. Then came Breitling, Corum, and a host of other brands.
These big-named withdrawals come on the heels of a major blow suffered by Baselworld two years ago, when Swatch Group whose major brands include Omega, Longines, Hamilton, Rado, Blancpain, among others, pulled out of Baselworld for good.
These withdrawals have not been met well by MCH, the company that owns Baselworld, indicating that they would simply postpone the convention to 2021 and seemed to be refusing to refund the deposits of the exhibitors which had pulled out. Given that Baselworld is dependent on these exhibitors, the decision did not sit well with the manufacturers; and maybe the self-inflicted wound that does the iconic convention in for good.
MCH has reached a settlement with the representatives of the exhibitors in collaboration with the Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee and unanimously approved by the Comité Consultatif.
Michel Loris-Melikoff, managing director of Baselworld said “Together with the exhibitors and visitors, we are working intensively on clarifying and discussing the requirements and options for new platforms,” says “We will be making a decision on possible follow-up formats by the summer and will then provide information on the new concept and scheduling.”
Bernd Stadlwieser, CEO of the MCH Group stated “We are pleased to have worked together and, in just a short time, found a solution that is acceptable to everyone. In light of the large loss of revenue due to COVID-19 and our responsibility to all our stakeholder groups, this solution marks the limit of what is possible for us. With the amicable settlement for Baselworld 2020, we can now concentrate fully on the future.”
This apparent pivot and capitulation may have come a bit too late, as the mere attempt to withhold refunds on deposits may have sealed Baselworld’s fate.
Rolex has announced that it will instead take part in an as-yet-unnamed convention at the Palexpo convention center in Geneva, Switzerland which is to take place at the same time as the Watches & Wonders expo in 2021.
Although many brands have not yet announced where and if they will hold expos approaching the size and scope of what Baselworld has been in the past, it stands to reason that there must be something in the works.
This prompts the obvious question: So, what happens to Baselworld? For now, they seem to be in a holding pattern. Having initially postponed the 2020 show to January of 2021, Baselworld has since announced the cancellation of the show in 2021 as well, presumably while it regroups to see if it can find a path forward.
Although the brands that have pulled out are among the heaviest of hitters, they certainly are not the only ones. Their departure from this iconic convention was in the works prior to the Coronavirus shutdowns and subsequent scheduled postponement, prompting speculation that this split may have deeper roots than the surface reveals.
Long has been the one-stop, go-to convention of year’s past, Baselworld may have to settle for being just one convention among many without the prevalent dominance it has enjoyed, should it survive at all. Let’s face it, a Baselworld without Rolex, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Tudor, Omega, Patek Philippe, Chopard, etc., doesn’t seem to pack as much of a showman’s punch and will be a much harder sell to the watch enthusiasts, vendors, and media outlets alike. It is difficult to envision a convention with a small handful of big hitters and a series of second-tier brands having the draw of days past; to see people embark on the very costly sojourn only for a handful of less-well-known brands doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success.
No matter what the future holds for Baselworld, the Swiss watch industry is slowly reopening from the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic and seems to be charting a more well-thought-out course.
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