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Baselworld is Dead. Long Live Watches & Wonders.

Baselworld is Dead. Long Live Watches & Wonders.

Baselworld Patek Philippe

This yesterday morning, the watch world awoke to the news that Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard were to pull out of the Baselworld watch show which has run since 1917. However, for many people reading today’s headlines, the meaning was very different as Baselworld’s days were shown to be numbered. Before jumping to conclusions, though, let’s take a look at the ins and outs of this current situation.

Amidst the confirmation that the 2020 releases of the leading Swiss brands would be delayed, today brought the news that Baselworld — the most well-known horological trade show — was to be left by the most important brands present in recent years: Rolex, Tudor, Chanel, Chopard and Patek Philippe. This news came as both a surprise and, perhaps, an inevitability for a show repeatedly shown to be antiquated and resistant to change.

With such a seismic change to the direction of the Swiss watch industry, it is important to consider both sides of this fracas between the MCH Group — the owner of Baselworld — and the aforementioned and highly illustrious brands.

Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard: Unfulfilled promises

Rolex Baselworld
Credit: MCH Group / Volker Renner

Amongst the mentioned brands we find some of the most fervent members of the usual attendance of Baselworld yet, strangely, it doesn’t seem overly surprising that they should wish to part ways with this show. Over the last few years, Baselworld has seen a pronounced reduction in the attendance of both brands and visitors with Breitling, Seiko, Citizen and the Swatch Group pulling out in recent years.

The reasons for such departures appeared be a lack of appreciable justification for the immense expense of being present at this annual show in addition to the increasing irrelevance of being present at a trade show. However, later information suggests that, for these major brands, the problems relating to Baselworld and the MCH Group were much more profound.

In the statement made by the FHH in an announcement that the departing brands would work to create a new Geneva-based show, they cited “…a number of unilateral decisions made without consultation by Baselworld management, including the postponement of the watch show until January 2021…” as the cause for this change. This is corroborated by the alleged lack of consultation between Baselworld and its exhibitors regarding the “postponement” until January 2021 in addition with the rift created by this break with the agreement to be synchronised with Watches & Wonders. In light of these events, it seems that maintaining a position with Watches & Wonders — an event keen to truly update the trade show with a sense of Swiss unity — and with other leading brands was more important than a historical presence at Baselworld.

This conclusion is strengthened further by the perceived lack of collaboration and respect towards exhibitors which has seemed endemic to this Basel-based show. To be quite frank, I regard this schism as the product of a series of bureaucratic errors on the part of Baselworld which, ultimately, had only one conclusion.

Baselworld: A Scathing Response

Credit: MCH Group / Thomas Stefan

The MCH Group’s response came last night and, by comparison to that issued by the opposing party, smacked of bitter resistance to the prevailing situation. The MCH Group stated that a move to Geneva had not been mentioned and that this move, therefore, must have been planned for some time with the current worldwide circumstances being used as an excuse.

Unfortunately, this message strikes me as having been prepared in haste and without considering the “number of unilateral decisions made without consultation by Baselworld management” which were stated as the real meat of the reason for departure. Of course, I cannot blame Baselworld’s organisers for presenting such a statement as a means of keeping face under these circumstances yet, realistically, the future of Baselworld has been put into major question.

The Future of Baselworld

Credit: MCH Group / Volker Renner

To be entirely honest, the share price of the MCH Group, as of this morning 12.40 CHF which is down from 2017’s peak of 81.50 CHF in 2017, in addition to the immense cost formerly (at least in part) justified for small exhibitors by the presence of major brands heralds the end of Baselworld. No such decision has yet been made yet though the conclusion appears inevitable unless the Swatch Group saves the day.

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For the rest of the industry, the result is much more interesting than simply a move of city for the annual industry get-together. Firstly, this change will not create the inclusive watch show for enthusiasts and industry-insiders alike which was promised by Watches & Wonders. Instead, the new show which will feature Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel will be “…geared predominantly towards retailers, the press, and VIP customers,”. I am quite certain that this will disappoint many lovers of the aforementioned brands and it also proves that the criticisms of Baselworld were rooted in its management, not the show itself.

Credit: MCH Group

This strikes me as interesting considering that journalists, retailers and customers have long bemoaned, in each of their roles, the inundation of new models at one time, the distances needed to be travelled to merely see a new model, and the lack of inclusion for enthusiasts. The final point is particularly poignant considering the reliance of this industry upon the appreciation of the product rather than any practical necessity. Likewise, for professionals, this idea addresses neither the repeatedly discussed cost of travel and the impossibility to cover new releases at one time. Only time will tell whether this new format suitably fits the market’s demands.

Finally, one has to consider the ‘Swiss’ aspect of this change. Prior to the departure of Japanese brands Citizen, Seiko and Grand Seiko, Baselworld placed an emphasis on ‘world’. It was a trade show for the watch industry, not the Swiss watch industry. As such, being conducted in the horologically-rarefied city of Basel, this was neutral ground for all manufacturers from around the world. However, now that this is to be conducted in Geneva, it appears that this Swiss watch industry is very much defending itself and its interests with this new show in a time when Switzerland is no longer the only home of watchmaking.

It seems quite clear that further developments will come to light in the next few days and I look forward to seeing further plans as to how the future of trade shows for watches will take place.

Head over to Baselworld’s website to learn more about the rescheduling of the event

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