The future of Baselworld, the high-end watch and jewellery trade show held annually since 1917, is in doubt with the defection of major exhibitors including Rolex, Swatch, Chopard, Chanel and Tudor.
Organised by the MCH Group which also organises Art Basel in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, Baselworld was already ailing due to the high-profile exit of Swatch in 2019 citing issues including costs, and the loss of others including Dior, Seiko and Breitling.
Despite opening to consumers, Baselworld was already a pale shadow of the event at its peak when it could boast as many as 600 exhibitors. The current coronavirus crisis prompted Baselworld to reschedule from April to next year, but to carry forward 85 percent of fees paid while retaining 15 percent. This seems to have been the final nail in the coffin for many regular exhibitors.
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Now Rolex, Swatch, Chopard and Tudor have announced plans to create a new trade show at Palexpo in Geneva with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, an industry group that organises the rival Watches & Wonders fair, in April next year. Home to all of the Richemont watch brands, Watches & Wonders will be held at the same time and place, making it effectively a single show with the new event.
“We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939,” said Rolex chief Jean-Frederic Dufour. “Unfortunately, given the way the event has evolved… and in spite of the great attachment we had to this watch show, we have decided to withdraw.”
Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern stressed that “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 he commented: “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.”
MCH Group responded with a statement saying it would spend the next few weeks “making a decision on the continuation” of the Baselworld event, and said it was surprised by the move as some exhibitors had shown support for the idea of holding Baselworld in January 2021. But Jérôme Lambert, representing the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie Council, which organises Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly known as SIHH), is clear that the new show set up by the breakaway brands will make the Geneva event even stronger next year, saying “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.”
UPDATE – TAG Heuer, Bulgari, Hublot and Zenith have also decided to leave Baselworld, saying that since Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard turned their back on the show, Baselworld’s “clearly weakened representation of the Swiss watch industry” makes it an unsuitable event at which to talk to customers and journalists.
UPDATE – it was announced on May 7th that the January 2021 Baselworld event, officially described as ‘2020 postponed’, had been cancelled. Organisers MCH said that agreements on refunds to booked exhibitors had been drawn up in collaboration with the Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee, unanimously approved by the Comité Consultatif and also supported by industry associations.