COVID-19 and the Wristwatch Industry: A Timeline

We’re following the ongoing news of how the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is affecting the watch industry — from cancellations and postponements of major events, to production shutdowns, to emergency corporate initiatives — in an ongoing effort to keep you, our readers, up to date on the latest developments. Here’s a chronological look at the crisis, and its impact on the watch trade, as of April 10, 2020.

February 3: The Swatch Group announces it will be canceling its “Time to Move” event, scheduled to be held in Zurich on March 4-6, during which prestige brands Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, and Harry Winston were set to launch their 2020 releases.

February 4: Baselworld’s event organizers announce they are “analyzing and observing the situation” regarding the virus’s impact on travel and events.

Baselworld has been postponed until January 2021.

February 11: Bulgari pulls out of the 2020 Baselworld show, scheduled from April 30 to May 5, citing “growing traveling uncertainties of international visitors.”

February 12: Grand Seiko, which had already withdrawn from Baselworld, cancels its Summit event in Tokyo, in which it planned to unveil models celebrating the Grand Seiko model’s 60th anniversary. This event was also set for the first week of March.

February 20: Baselworld managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff declares that “Baselworld 2020 is on track; we are planning the coming show as intended.”

February 24: Citizen Watch Co. announces its exit from Baselworld 2020 due to coronavirus concerns, becoming the third major Japanese company to withdraw from the event after Seiko and Casio.

February 27: The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie announces the cancellation of the Watches & Wonders event, which was scheduled to be held from April 25 to 29 in Geneva. The FHH cited the “potential risks that travel and important international gatherings could entail” due to the COVID-19 virus. The event, formerly known as the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, and populated chiefly by the watch maisons of the Richemont Group, was set to mark its 30th year. The Movado Group, which had planned its own Summit event for retail partners and distributors in Davos, also quietly cancels its show.

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2020
Cancelled for 2020, Watches & Wonders Geneva has yet to announce plans for 2021.

February 28: An eventful day begins with an emergency meeting of Switzerland’s Federal Council, which results in a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Just hours later, left with no choice due to the open-ended new law, Baselworld’s organizers announce what they describe as a “postponement” of the event, from May 2020 to January 2021.

March 2: Eight watch brands, led by Bulgari, announce their intention to organize “Geneva Watch Days,” a smaller exhibition to be held in hotels throughout Geneva during the week vacated by Watches & Wonders. The scaled-down event was set to include Breitling, Bulgari, Gérald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin, De Bethune, Urwerk, and possibly others.

Geneva Watch Days logo
The Geneva Watch Days event was intended as a smaller alternative to the large Swiss fairs.

March 4: The newest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, has its world premiere pushed from April to November, likely impacting sales for Omega. the official watch of the Bond franchise.

March 12: In what is likely the last major luxury-watch launch event until at least the summer, TAG Heuer rolls out its new Connected Watch at a New York City gala, just a few days before the city and state of New York begin imposing strict restrictions on public gatherings.

March 16: Two major corporations react to the pandemic. LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennesey), which owns TAG Heuer, Bulgari, Zenith, and Hublot, as well as luxury fragrance brands Christian Dior and Givenchy, switches production from perfumes to disinfectant gel to aid efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Rolex announces it will be shutting down production at its factories for 10 days, in the hope of reopening on March 27.

Rolex Manufacture
Rolex has halted production at its Swiss manufacturing facilities.

March 17: On a historically low-key St. Patrick’s Day, Hublot also announces a shutdown of its manufacturing facility in Nyon, with no reopening date yet announced.

March 18: Another annual staple of the watch-world event calendar, Las Vegas’s JCK Watch and Jewelry Show, scheduled for June 2-5, is postponed to an as-yet-undetermined date. The Couture Show, which runs concurrently with JCK and also features both watch and jewelry exhibitors, stands pat for now, with its organizers “evaluating all our possibilities.”

March 19: Swiss-based retail giant Bucherer closes all of its showrooms worldwide, including all of its Tourneau stores.

March 20: TAG Heuer becomes the latest major watch manufacturer to close its production facilities in Switzerland, along with many regional offices.

March 23: Swatch Group CEO Nicholas Hayek states that the company’s production facilities are planned to remain open, citing what he describes as an improving situation in China, one of the Swatch Group’s major markets.

March 24: The President of the International Olympic Committee and the Prime Minister of Japan release a joint statement confirming that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, scheduled for July, have been postponed into 2021. In the wake of the Bond movie release postponement, it is the second major marketing blow this year to Omega, official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. The Geneva Watch Days event is postponed until August 26-29.

March 25: Italian watch-and-jewelry giant Bulgari donates hundreds of thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer, produced in cooperation with its fragrance partner ICR, to Italian medical facilities battling the spread of the coronavirus. In a statement, Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said, “I believe as a major economic actor and symbol of Italy, Bulgari has a responsibility to contribute to the national effort to help prevent, fight and eradicate Covid-19… We  believe it is our duty to contribute with our know-how and production facilities and we thank the Italian Civil Protection Department who will take care of the collection and distribution.”

Bulgari & ICR Hand-Cleansing Gel
Bulgari & ICR Hand-Cleansing Gel

March 30: According to sources among its retail partners, Patek Philippe, which traditionally unveils its new timepieces annually at Baselworld, postpones all of its 2020 launches to 2021. IWC launches its “Time Well Shared” initiative, a series of online lectures, speeches, and webinars by IWC’s employees, brand ambassadors, and partners, released on its digital channels, intended to “inspire people to make the most of their time, and entertain and support them by keeping them connected and engaged.”

March 31: The organizers of the Couture Watch and Jewelry show announce the cancellation of the 2020 event, officially ending speculation about both of the industry’s Las Vegas showcases. Hublot, with its factories and retailers closed, launches a “temporary retail strategy” focused on its Digital Boutique, which offers “a remote 3-D facilitated access to products, knowledge, and know-how” and “bespoke customer service.”

Hublot Digital Boutique setup
Hublot hopes to ramp up business in its Digital Boutique while its physical retailers remain closed.

April 7: Rolex and Tudor, which were set to unveil their new 2020 products on April 30 in the wake of the Baselworld cancellation, announce that these releases will now be indefinitely postponed.

April 10: The second annual WatchTime Los Angeles collectors’ event, scheduled for the last weekend of May, is postponed indefinitely.

Many thanks to WatchPro.com and its editor-in-chief Rob Corder, whose reporting has been instrumental in compiling and updating this timeline. Follow us at watchtime.com for the latest developments.

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  1. Scott James

    During times like this new and fresh beginnings occur. Later they are written about. As young generations grow weary of the digital-transformation they were programmed to embrace and awaken to evil tyrants they were taught to look up to (Big Tech), a yearning for individual liberty and the natural world has begun. We (Packard American) are preparing for a wonderful new chapter in watchmaking and customer relationships after CODVID. Please be encouraged, stay safe and look forward to a vibrant awakening of our industry in the months ahead. Thank you WatchTime for your great publication and industry coverage.

  2. d freemont

    The decline of new younger customers had already hit the industry… the watch is now an older generation’s fixation of success and status… the virus did the rest. It’s over!

  3. Anonymous

    And because they’re cheap during the coronavirus. Don’t know if others were laid off too

  4. Johan Jensen

    Perhaps the most well-known brand of exclusive watches, Rolex, has a small crown as a logo.
    The small crown is called coronet in english.
    In latin, it is called corona. The corona virus is
    called so because it somehow resembles a small
    crown, a corona.
    I somehow don’t think the good people at Rolex find this one bit intersting or amusing.

    • Roy Slater-Hill

      I admire Rolex for its quality but little else. Like your writing however ! You can never anticipate everything in life eg; James Bond was a geography teacher and Ian Fleming an ordinary name for his spy hero ! Shame for the teacher but perhaps he found some amusement in his new fame ? Shaken not stirred Monsieur Rolex ?

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