Let’s recap what’s happened over the last month or so:
- Due to Coronavirus fears, many watch brands began to preliminarily pull out of watch shows, stating that they would host only regional shows for individual markets.
- At the end of February, Baselworld and Watches & Wonders (SIHH) cancel due to restrictions on large gatherings set forth by the Swiss government. Baselworld says they will reschedule to January of 2021.
- Breitling, Bulgari, Gérald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin, De Bethune, and Urwerk all commit to forming and participating in a new watch fair called Geneva Watch Days that was scheduled to take place in late April.
- Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, and others announce that production had stopped at their factories.
- In early April, Geneva Watch Days sees the mounting concerns over the virus and reschedules for late August of this year.
- Rolex and Patek Philippe both announce that all 2020 new releases have been put on hold until further notice
- On April 14th, Rolex (as well as Tudor), Patek Philippe, Chopard, and Chanel announce that not only will they not be showing at Baselworld this year, but that they are severing ties and cancelling all future plans to show at Baselworld.
- On the morning of April 17th, LVMH announced that they would follow suit in ending their partnership with Baselworld.
Under the “polls” section of this site, I posed a question last year whether Baselworld would be around this year. I never expected it to be cancelled due to a virus of course, but I just felt that even if it still were to happen in 2020, there were a lot of signs that the watch fair was continuing in a terrible direction and the point of no return had already been passed in 2019. In 1991, Cartier spearheaded a group comprised of themselves, Piaget, Gérald Genta, Baume & Mercier, and Daniel Roth that wanted to break off from the fanfare of Baselworld, which they thought had grown too large and dabbled into too many sectors in addition to just watchmaking. In an attempt to return to a focus on fine watchmaking, the group established the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) that same year. It was a big ask to have people visit Switzerland twice a year for different watch shows, but over the years more and more people would come. Nevertheless, as more companies fled Baselworld for SIHH, more and more people in the watch industry felt compelled to visit both shows and would view the mandatory twice yearly trips to Switzerland to be a nuisance. Additionally, especially in the case of Baselworld, the trip wasn’t exactly inexpensive. Rates for basically everything in Basel would typically go through the roof, similar to what you see when an American city hosts a Super Bowl.
Since the mid-2000’s, SIHH has been put on by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). While SIHH became a bastion for Richemont’s brands as well as other watch manufacturers, Baselworld still housed huge names in Rolex, Patek Philippe, Swatch Group, LVMH, and others. Having two shows was an annoyance, but at least Baselworld continued to be an absolute necessity to attend for those in the industry. As we progressed through the 2010’s, as more and more groups left for SIHH and brands talking with their contacts could occur more and more in a virtual setting, the need to visit either watch fair diminished. The biggest move would come in 2018 after Baseworld when Swatch Group announced that they were stopping any future showings at Baselworld. Swatch Group’s stable of Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Longines, Glashütte Original, Harry Winston, Jaquet Droz, Rado, Swatch, and others leaving was a major hit for Baselworld, which just one year prior had celebrated the show’s 100th year anniversary. Swatch Group’s departure would result in a good portion of the exhibition halls not being used for 2019’s Baseworld as well as a two day decrease in the overall length of the show. Swatch Group would later go on to start their own watch show called “Time to Move” in 2019, but was forced to cancel it for 2020 due to the virus.
With a shorter watch fair, fewer attendees, and the ever-present frustration from many attendees over having to visit two watch shows (many of whom were ultimately choosing to visit only one show due to high prices), Baselworld announced that Baselworld 2020 would take place alongside the new iteration of SIHH (now called Watches & Wonders) in order to reduce the amount of people who would choose to visit just SIHH over Baselworld each year. Instead of having Baselworld in late March, Watches & Wonders and Baselworld would run back-to-back starting in late April and ending in early May. Both would ultimately cancel of course due to the virus. Shortly after Baselworld announced that they’d be postponing until January of 2021, Rolex (Tudor as well), Patek Philippe, Chopard, and Chanel all announced the cessation of their presence at any future Baselworlds.
It’s long been speculated that Rolex and Patek Philippe would both eventually pull out of the watch fair in light of what have seemed like a number of poor business decisions on the part of the Baselworld management, but no one knew for sure when that would be. Those two companies basically had kept the show afloat. Many rumours are going around right now about all the circumstances that led up to the decision to pull out of Baselworld for so many companies, but a big component of it seems to be Baselworld’s unwillingness or refusal to issue refunds for many of the companies that were scheduled to show at May’s cancelled event. Rather than put out fires and try and remain viable for at least a few more years, it seems Baselworld has decided to shoot itself in the foot and anger these companies enough to almost ensure that Baselworld 2019 will have been the final one.
Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, and Chanel have all signaled that they’ll be teaming up with the FHH, the same group that has put on SIHH for over a decade now, to start a new watch fair for 2021. It’s a very strange move, because Rolex and Patek Philippe in particular have especially in recent years been VERY geared towards every single thing they do being in-house. I’m not just talking about watch components, but every single aspect of each company. Then again, they can do that, because both companies—but especially Rolex—play at a different level than the rest of the watch industry. For example, Rolex declines to submit any of their watches to the GPHG each year in order to keep the appearance that they’re a separate entity entirely than the rest of the watch industry (although they do allow Tudor to partake). Many expected a Rolex departure from Baselworld to include the announcement of some sort of watch show that would just be for Rolex, as well as its subsidiary brand, Tutor. In a sudden shift from what seemed like a certainty, Rolex has not only teamed up with Patek Philippe, but has also included Chopard and Chanel in the show as well. More than that, it’s just interesting that Rolex would want to be part of anything put on by the FHH, as SIHH was for so long seen as a rival to Rolex’s Baselworld showing. Furthermore, it was thought that Rolex could effectively kill Baselworld and also remove themselves from the SIHH-Baselworld feud entirely by just starting their own independent show. It would have been a sign of strength for the most well-known luxury brand in the world and would have changed the industry in one quick move, but instead here we are with a new FHH-managed show that will include Rolex and Patek Philippe, two industry heavyweights that have wanted to stay as independent as possible that they aren’t even members of the FHH.
As of about an hour ago, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) announced that they would no longer show at Baselworld. Some of LVMH’s watch brands include Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Hublot, Tag Heuer, and Zenith. LVMH also had purchased Tiffany & Co. in November of 2019 for 16.2B USD, which adds another watch and jewelry manufacturer that will not be showing at Baselworld. This is a crushing blow to Baselworld, as while the fair was in a crippled state after the other big recent departures, there was still some hope that they could survive with a collection of LVMH companies, other watch brands that they might be able to attract at a reduced rate compared to previous years, as well as leftover watch and jewelry brands. It seems almost a certainty now that Baselworld is finished. It also seems the case that LVMH may join Rolex and the others in the new FHH-backed venture for a 2021 show.