The most chaotic and disruptive year in the watch industry in recent memory just got a little more so this morning, with the announcement that power players Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chanel, and Chopard are exiting the Baselworld trade fair, re-scheduled to January 2021 after the 2020 exhibition was cancelled due to the worldwide pandemic. Additionally, the departing brands announced that they will take part in a newly formed event, in cooperation with the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), in April 2021.
The move apparently follows months of behind-the-scenes conflict between the exhibiting watch brands and the MCH, organizers of the Baselworld show. In a joint statement to the press, the watch manufacturers said, “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 as-yet-unnamed new exhibition will, according to the statement, be “linked” to Watches & Wonders 2021 — the watch salon formerly known as SIHH, organized by the FHH and long considered a competitor to the older, more established Baselworld show — and will take place in the same venue, Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall.
“We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939,” says Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour. “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.”
Patek Philippe President Thierry Stern, whose family has owned and managed the historical Swiss manufacture, and participated in the venerable Baselword exhibition, for four generations, added, “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.”
Both FHH-backed events, Watches & Wonders 2021 as well as the new show that includes the five departed Baselworld brands, are set to take place approximately one year from this writing, in April 2021, in Geneva. The fate of Baselworld 2021, minus its tentpole supporters, appears shaky at best.
UPDATE: The MCH responded to the five brands’ public statement with one of its own, expressing “great surprise and equally great regret” at the cancellations and putting forth its own take on the issues that led to them. “The objective,” the statement read, “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.”
As to the actual future of Baselworld itself — a trade show that has been held in some form or other since 1917 — the statement was cryptic. “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.”
UPDATE, 4/17/20: The LVMH luxury group, whose watch brands include heavyweights like TAG Heuer, Zenith, and Hublot, as well as watch-and-jewelry giant Bulgari, announces that it, too, will bow out of a proposed Baselworld 2021 and “join the other flagship brands of the Swiss watch industry” in Geneva. “Within this context of clearly weakened representation of the Swiss watch industry and hence inevitably lower participation,” LVMH’s statement reads, “it appears clear to the brands composing the Division and to the House of Bulgari that they must also withdraw in order to preserve their image and their relations with their clients as well with the media. They will therefore not be taking part in the 2021 edition of Baselworld.”
Stay tuned to WatchTime.com for additional developments.