Has the fatal blow just been dealt to Baselworld? Tuesday 14 April 2020 will remain a landmark date for Swiss watchmaking: Rolex, which initiated the divorce, but also Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard and Tudor have just officially announced their withdrawal from Baselworld—most certainly precipitating this more-than-a-century-old exhibition towards its untimely end. For not only are these major manufacturers sounding the death knell for the Basel Fair by leaving it, but also creating a brand new watch exhibition in Geneva’s Palexpo. Even worse is the fact that this is being done both in partnership with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie andduring Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) in April 2021! And thus, the deed is done…
These fateful departures from Baselworld—which had already been anticipated for some years—come as the icing on the cake, after a continuous exodus of brands that were ranting against the many problems the exhibition had. Too many organizational inconsistencies, a now exorbitant cost of stand space, along with a lack of questioning on the direction’s part, who was managing an exhibition that was no longer in line with the expectations of the modern world. ‘We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939. Unfortunately, given the way the event has evolved and the recent decisions made by MCH Group, and in spite of the great attachment we had to this watch show, we have decided to withdraw,’ Jean-Frédéric Dufour General Manager, Rolex SA, Director, Montres Tudor SA confirms.
Another important fact to take into account would be that in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Baselworld took the decision to postpone the May 2020 edition to January 2021—instead of just cancelling it to save the date, as had been done by Watches & Wonders—also caused astonishment, and was certainly the last straw. ‘The decision to leave Baselworld was not an easy one to take for me, [. . .] but [. . .] Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore, there have been too many discussions and unsolved problems, trust is no longer present’ the president of the Geneva-based manufacturer Thierry Stern admits, before specifying that following ‘several discussions with Rolex and in agreement with other participating brands,’ the decision was taken ‘to create, all together, a unique event in Geneva, representative of our savoir-faire.’
Does that mean everyone will rush to Geneva? After all, this announcement seems to leave the door open to other watchmaking houses that would like to participate in this new—and already a must-attend—event.
In Basel, MCH’s reaction was not long in coming. The group published a press release at the end of the day, in which the company organizing Baselworld admitted that it had been very surprised by this announcement and would ‘take a decision on the continuation of Baselworld and on investments in its further development’…
After the withdrawal of eighteen brands—among which are the Swatch Group, Bvlgari, Breitling, Dior, Hermès, de Grisogono, Girard-Perregaux, Seiko and many others—over the years, the consequences of Covid-19, which put the show on life support with the postponement of the event to January 2021, along with today’s decision of the last captains—Rolex and Patek in the lead!—to leave the ship in turn is a real cataclysm for Baselworld. Which leaves very little hope of survival at, if any at all…
Here is the announcement received today for more information:
Geneva, 14 April 2020 – Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard and Tudor leave Baselworld to create a new watch trade show in Geneva with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. The show will be held early April 2021 at Palexpo, at the same time as Watches & Wonders. This departure follows a number of unilateral decisions made without consultation by Baselworld management, including the postponement of the watch show until January 2021, as well as its inability to meet the brands’ needs and expectations.
The new show, which will be linked to Watches & Wonders, organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, is to take place at Palexpo. The aim is to offer partner brands the best possible professional platform, applying a shared vision to successfully meet future challenges in the watchmaking industry. It will also give crucial prominence to the sector’s expertise and innovations, both in Switzerland and internationally.
Other brands may also be added, according to terms that have not yet been defined. This new event will be geared predominantly towards retailers, the press and VIP customers.
Jean-Frédéric Dufour, Chief Executive Officer, Rolex SA, and Board Member, Montres Tudor SA
‘We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939. Unfortunately, given the way the event has evolved and the recent decisions made by MCH Group, and in spite of the great attachment we had to this watch show, we have decided to withdraw. Following discussions initiated by Rolex, it seemed only natural to create a new event with partners that share our vision and our endless, unwavering support for the Swiss watchmaking sector. This will allow us to present our new watches in line with our needs and expectations, to join forces and better defend the interests of the industry’.
Thierry Stern, President, Patek Philippe
‘The decision to leave Baselworld was not an easy one to take for me, being the fourth generation of the Stern family to participate to this traditional yearly event. But life evolves constantly, things change and people change as well, whether it is at the level of those responsible for the watch fair organization, the brands or the clients. We constantly have to adapt ourselves, question what we do, since what was right yesterday may not necessarily be valid today! Today Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore, there have been too many discussions and unsolved problems, trust is no longer present.
We need to answer the legitimate needs of our retailers, the clients and the press from around the world. They have to be able to discover the new models from Swiss watchmakers each year, at one time, in one place, and this in the most professional manner possible. That is why, following several discussions with Rolex and in agreement with other participating brands, we have decided to create, all together, a unique event in Geneva, representative of our savoir-faire.’
Frédéric Grangié, President of Chanel Watches & Fine Jewellery
‘Like its partners, CHANEL shares the same independence and the same desire to protect and promote the values, know-how, utmost quality and precision of Swiss Watchmaking. This initiative marks a key milestone in the history of CHANEL Watchmaking and is part of a long-term strategy, which began with the launch of this activity in 1987. This exhibition will allow us to present all of our new creations in an environment that meets our high-quality standards.’
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Co-President Chopard et Cie SA
‘Chopard first exhibited at the Basel fair in 1964 with a stand of some 25 square metres. After careful consideration, our family decided to support the Rolex initiative and retire from Baselworld – a painful decision. The creation of this new watch show in Geneva, in parallel to Watches & Wonders, will allow us to better serve our watchmaking partners and our customers. Through the alliance, these grandes maisons will also be able to collaborate in promoting the values and best interests of Swiss watchmaking.’
Jérôme Lambert, on behalf of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie Council
‘The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie is delighted to welcome a new salon which will strengthen the historical Watches & Wonders event in Geneva next year in early April.’
Further information will be published at a later date, in particular concerning the name of the new watch fair and its organization.
And the official reaction of the MCH Group:
MCH Group is surprised at the statements made regarding the Baselworld cancellations
Basel, Switzerland, April 14, 2020 – It is with great surprise and equally great regret that the MCH Group takes note of the cancellation of major exhibitors at Baselworld. The new date for the unavoidable postponement of Baselworld 2020 was defined jointly with leading exhibitors. The objective was to find the earliest and best possible date for the industry following the Covid-19 related measures. The companies now “migrating” – including Rolex – spoke out in favour of a postponement to January 2021. They are also represented on the Exhibitors’ Committee, where the future vision of Baselworld has been discussed on several occasions and has met with a positive response, as was also evidenced by countless individual discussions. The intention to move to Geneva has never been mentioned. The MCH Group must therefore conclude that the relevant plans have been in preparation for some time and that the discussions concerning the financial arrangements for the cancellation of Baselworld 2020 are now being put forward as an argument.
On the basis of the positive and supportive feedback received from exhibitors, especially the small and medium-sized exhibitors from the watch, jewellery, gemstone and supplier industries, the MCH Group decided last year to invest substantial sums in the further development of Baselworld and in the establishment of additional digital platforms. The MCH Group is convinced that, in addition to a physical platform, a connection with the community must be maintained throughout the year. More than ever before, it sees an opportunity to develop a modern platform in the watch and jewellery industry for brands that do not rely primarily on tradition, but above all on innovation. In the next few weeks, the MCH Group will be making a decision on the continuation of Baselworld and on investments in its further development, which is geared to the long term.
Photo credit: ©GenèveTourisme