DEVELOPING: Baselworld and Retailers React to Rolex, Patek, Tudor, Chanel & Chopard Exiting Basel Fair

Earlier today (or yesterday, depending on where you live), a shocking announcement appeared in our inboxes as a joint announcement by Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel revealed that they would be exiting the Baselworld show to establish a new platform in April of 2021 alongside Watches & Wonders at Palexpo in Geneva.

The announcement made clear that it was a combination of several different matters that led to this fissure. Within hours, the Baselworld management issued a press release in response to the decision.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Directeur Général de Baselworld. Bâle, Septembre 2019 © Fred Merz | Lundi13 -
Michel Loris-Melikoff, Directeur Général de Baselworld. Bâle, Septembre 2019 © Fred Merz | Lundi13

According to the MCH Group, “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.

The release went on to highlight the digital platforms that Baselworld has developed in the last year to build a community around the show and show participants. It further added that “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.

LVMH Dubai Watch Week 2020 -
LVMH Dubai Watch Week 2020

Baselworld has seen its presence shrink in recent years, as first the Swatch Group chose to exit and establish its own program, monikered “Time to Move”. Then in 2019, additional brands such as Breitling opted to depart due to differences and since then, the LVMH Group has also developed its own fair earlier this year, leading Bulgari to exit Baselworld in 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the delay of both Watches & Wonders Geneva and Baselworld.

At Revolution, in order to allow our readers to continue to keep up with the latest and greatest in watch industry news and releases during the lockdown, we’ve been developing online virtual presentations released on YouTube with various brands in order to continue engagement with retailers, brands and consumers.

When asked by Revolution’s Mexico editor-in-chief Israel Ortega if brands had been consulted about the shift in dates to January 2021 by the Baselworld committee, Co-CEO of Oris, Rolf Studer, informed us via his team in Mexico that “[For this question] we have not been consulted. We would have preferred a date in March as in previous years”.

Bell & Ross (thru Alexandra Castro, Americas VP of Comms), also notes that: “The choice of the date is always difficult as every brand may have a different view and agenda. We imagine that the committee has tried to find the optimal choice under many, many parameters. January is a rather wise option as it allows a hopefully fruitful start of the year”.

Revolution’s USA editor-in-chief Stephen Hale Watson spoke with several retailers and distributors, as well as brand CEOs regarding their thoughts on the exit of these five large independent brands. Here are some of their thoughts on the matter.

Brian Duffy, CEO, The Watches of Switzerland Group:
While the decision made by Rolex, Patek, Tudor, Chopard and Chanel to exit Baselworld was huge news, it was not unexpected. There has been a lot of frustration building for quite some time. The move to Geneva and the alignment with Watches & Wonders makes sense on many levels. Most of these brands are headquartered and manufacture there, and fine watchmaking is really in the lifeblood of the city.

As for what this means regarding the future of Baselworld, it’s hard to imagine how they will recover from this kind of loss. We all have many fond memories of the show, so my feelings are mixed at the moment. I’m hopeful that this shift will bring further solidarity to the Swiss watch industry, which will be important as we come out of the current crisis.  With these leading brands all working together with the FHH, it should make for a better overall experience for the attendees. We’ll all be looking forward to Geneva in 2021.

Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie
Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie

Edouard Meylan, CEO of H.Moser & Cie:
This is great news for Haute Horlogerie. It makes sense to have one salon for this segment in one location, and Geneva is the perfect location as it is the place of birth of Haute Horlogerie in Switzerland. For us, it’s an amazing opportunity to see these iconic brands join forces with Watches & Wonders. In the past, we had to do two fairs to see all our partners and journalists. Today, we will see everyone in Geneva, and we are officially part of it.

My other thought is about January: should we have an alternative fair somewhere in the world on those dates to kick off our financial year? We went to Dubai in 2020, which is helping us a lot today as our pipeline is quite full. Not sure about 2021.

The future of Baselworld is compromised. Either they manage to find a different segment: Jewelry, entry-level watches, suppliers, or the fair will simply disappear.

I believe that it will positively impact the brands part of this fair. Everyone will be there, so there will be maximum impact while the costs will be mutual with even more brands hence reducing the costs per brand significantly.

For independent brands, I am not sure how decisions will be made as who can join and who can’t. Probably the perimeter will remain the same in 2021. Today the winners will be the brands participating; those brands outside will have to find ways to attract visitors outside of the fair or stick to roadshows.

As for H. Moser & Cie. we are excited to be part of Watches & Wonders and look forward to a successful fair in 2021.

Michael Margolis, Horology Works, North American Agent for H.Moser, Hautlence, Czapek, Singer Reimagined:
I think that those of us who have experienced Basel for many years have a love/hate relationship with it. Of course, we love to see all our friends and clients in one place, but the hate side is very strong: not enough hotels or restaurants, price gouging by all involved. If Baselworld dies, which it certainly seems it has, I won’t miss it.

Without Rolex, Patek, and the Swatch Group, whatever might be left of Baselworld would not be enough to sustain the show. I am sure it has breathed its last breath.

For Horology Works, Moser is already in Geneva, actually now in the main hall, outside the Carre. Singer Reimagined is already in Geneva at the Barton7 by the Kempinski.

Czapek has not made any decisions yet. They do exhibit at their Geneva boutique during the Geneva fairs.

Thierry Chaunu, President and Managing Partner, BeauGeste Luxury Brands, Exclusive Agent for North America for Baume & Mercier, Chronoswiss, Eberhard, Kerbedanz, Meerson, Reservoir, U-Boat:
We all knew Baselworld was anachronistic in this day and age. Its dated format of ego-boosting booths that glorified brands more than the products didn’t create illusions anymore. Plus, the entire eco-system of the city and show organizers were thriving on borderline – if not, outright – extortion. In a digital age, when consumers have direct access to information, this medieval European fair was doomed anyway. The pandemic just finished it off. RIP.

What will replace it? At the moment, I can only see virtual digital presentations. For those smaller, niche independent brands that will survive this economic crisis, it will be an opportunity to showcase their creativity on a more level playing field, instead of being relegated in some obscure section or back alley of a show, hoping that some important retailer will pay attention. Alternatively, one can expect that a coordinated Virtual Trade Show will gather enough critical mass to attract a wide public of watch collectors and watch aficionados. This Virtual Trade Show would not be pinned or originate in one specific country. Down the road, to the extent that the industry needs to gather, meet, weigh the products, maybe continent-specific shows like Couture will continue to exist.

At BeauGeste Luxury brands, we are actively calling for pooling of like-minded brands, and will happily join forces with like-minded watch industry players to promote new transparency, new accessibility, for the benefit of all, and not just a few.

I remember I was VP Marketing at Cartier N.A. in 1990 when CEO Alain-Dominique Perrin slammed the door and left Basel to start anew in Geneva. What a scandal! At the time people said he was crazy! I remember getting a lot of calls asking to justify Cartier’s decision…

The fact that Rolex, Patek, and others are now moving to Geneva is a long-overdue decision. It certainly will make it easier for most to access the city, and find rooms… although I am not too sure the same causes will not produce the same effects…

I still think that there has to be a more level-playing field for smaller niche brands, which are vital to maintaining our beloved industry’s creativity. Think of the Golden age of automobiles in the 1930s when independent coach-builders were aplenty. If the new “Geneva Mega Watch Show” allows for them to properly display their creations, not just to the retailers but to the general public as well, like the Auto Shows, then I will heartily applaud. Not sure this will happen.

I would still favor an industry-wide virtual show for consumers, yet to be invented.

Roberto Chiappelloni, Owner of Manfredi Jewels, Greenwich & New Canaan, Conn.:
This has been coming on for quite a while. When you lose your biggest supporters such as Rolex, Patek Phillipe, and Chopard, it only proves that Baselworld was very out of touch with what the brands and retailers need. And they are. I think that Geneva is going to be a much better venue and a new future for all the brands. Rolex will do something very special and I am looking forward to it.

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