Baselworld 2020: Bvlgari won’t come to the bal

By MyWatch

While other LVMH-group watchmaking manufacturers recently massively confirmed their attendance, Italian Maison Bvlgari announced it would give up going to the Baselworld salon. A complex decision.

Nicolas YVON

It is the watchmaking-world equivalent of an earthquake. Italian manufacturer Bvlgari, an LVMH-owned brand, decided to add its name to the long list of watchmakers that would not attend the upcoming edition of Baselworld in Basel, Switzerland, from April 30th to May 5th. But what was really surprising about this planned and prepared absence is actually the fact that it is an isolated case among the luxury group’s brands. The other Watches and Jewellery Division companies—Tag Heuer, Hublot, Zenith—have so far confirmed their attendance.

Night falls on the spectacular open-sky entry of Baselworld

Bvlgari announced in its press release that its decision was motivated by increasing global travel uncertainties—in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Ed.—while the fair is still scheduled to take place in just two months and a half. Which is why the brand has decided to withdraw from Baselworld 2020.

“Giving up attending the exhibition has not been an easy decision to make,” Bvlgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin explained. “Right now the best option for Bvlgari is to directly visit our markets in March.” Agreed, the beginning of the year 2020 has been fruitful for the brand. The first edition of the group’s very own watchmaking event in Dubai—the LVMH Watch Week—was a huge success, and has already allowed Bvlgari to meet both its biggest clients and the main media channels to present to them their most important new watches—among which are the Serpentoni Seduttori Tourbillon, the Diva Finissima Répétitions Minutes Malachite, or the pink-gold Octo Finissimo Répétitions Minutes. “This does not mean that Bvlgari is leaving Baselworld for good,” Jean-Christophe Babin specified. “The decision whether or not to attend the 2021 edition, along with the ones still to come after that, will not be made until the end of June 2020.” He adds that “As has been said before, the main criteria prompting one’s partaking in watchmaking fairs are the dates on which they take place, along with their attendance fees. In the wake of today’s environment, taking into account these two criteria make us unable to satisfy our business and return on investment requirements.”

The opportunity to meet the clients and the media present in January in Dubai, and to meet those who were not there during more intimate meetings, country by country, will also be a chance for Bvlgari to unveil new products—in addition to those already discovered during the LVMH Watch Week—with, among other things, a new extra-flat world record.

Baselworld managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff’s response was quick to arrive. “We deeply regret Bvlgari’s decision to withdraw from the next edition of Baselworld,” he declared. “We continue to work closely with the Watch Division of the LVMH Group, and each of its three brands TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith. We work closely with Stéphane Bianchi and his team to offer the best business platform to the Group’s brands with pragmatic cost control.”

The Bvlgari stand—located on the left side of the main entrance—will be conspicuously absent in 2020

The group’s head of the Watchmaking Division has indicated that LVMH—and its brands—do support Baselworld 2020. “The Watchmaking Division remains committed to Baselworld in 2020. We believe in the importance of a major event for the Swiss watch industry and look forward to a successful fair, both in terms of image and sales, for our three Maisons.”

Michel Loris-Melikoff added: “We are building Baselworld with a fresh approach in collaboration with our partners. Our Baselworld 2020+ concept of a platform of experiences and the building of a large community active throughout the year is meeting with a very positive response not only from our exhibitors, but also from the all the key players in the sector with whom we are implementing it.” The salon’s director also addressed the coronavirus issue: “we are monitoring the evolution of the situation closely with the authorities. To date, in Europe, all conferences and shows scheduled to be held around the same time frame as Baselworld 2020 are going ahead as planned (with no cancellations currently on record.”

The coronavirus scare, too expensive attendance fees, and a switch in marketing and communication strategies could explain why the watchmaking Maison is far from being the first to give up attending Baselworld—temporarily or not. In 2019, all the brands from the Swatch Group had already left in order to create their own event: “Time to Move”—which was unfortunately cancelled this year due to coronavirus fears. As for Girard-Perregaux and Hermès, the two brands have joined the SIHH in Geneva—which has been renamed Watches and Wonders since then—when Dior and Grisogono both left Basel, never to return, in order to get more intimate settings in each country they visit. And more recently, manufacturers Breitling and Seiko have announced their absences.

All these departures are questioning the very use of a big get-together like the Basel watchmaking fair, where we can only see the watches in a rush, under artificial lighting, when the whole world has already seen them on the internet and on social media mere seconds after their launch—that is, if no one leaks them before, of course.

Still, Bvlgari’s absence—along with its huge golden architectural stand on the left at the entrance to Baselworld—will not fail to be noticed, or to animate the discussions in the aisles of the exhibition for that matter.