This May Finally Be the Death Knell for the Most Important Trade Show in the Watch World

Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel are leaving Baselworld and putting on their own trade show alongside Watches & Wonders Geneva in 2021.

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Well, we all knew it was coming. I mean, we didn’t know, but we kinda figured: Baselworld, at least in the form in which it’s existed for the past, say, hundred years, is all but dead. Why? Because Rolex and Patek Philippe say so.

Today, it was announced that those two companies — as well as Rolex’s sister brand, Tudor, and Chanel and Chopard — would be withdrawing from the 2021 “postponed” edition of Baselworld in order to team up with with the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FIHH) on their own industry trade show, to take place in April 2021 at the Geneva Palexpo center during Watches & Wonders Geneva. Does that make sense to you? Probably not, so we created this handy glossary to help you understand wtf is going on with all these watch trade shows:

Watches & Wonders Geneva: the new name for SIHH, the watches trade show organized each year by the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FIHH) that mostly consists of Richemont-owned brands such as IWC, JLC, Vacheron Constantin, etc.

Watches & Wonders Miami: a watches trade show held annually in Miami, Florida by the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FIHH) — not the same as the Geneva edition, but consisting largely of the same brands

Baselworld: produced by the MCH Group and held annually in Basel, Switzerland for the past 100-plus years, this is (was?) the world’s largest watches trade show. Now that many of the large companies who historically participate in the fair have said “bye bye,” the future of this show is uncertain, to say the least

As-Yet-Unnamed Rolex-Tudor-Patek-Chopard-Chanel Show: to be held at the Palexpo in April 2021 alongside Watches & Wonders Geneva

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So it would seem that we’ve come full circle and will be getting a single large event that will evidently be split into two separate shows: Watches & Wonders 2021 for the Richemont Group brands and some independents, and the unnamed show for Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel. Both shows will take place at the same time, at the same place.

How did this decision come about? If you’ve been following watch-related news for the past few years, the outlook concerning Baselworld hasn’t been good — many brands large and small have left, dissatisfied with the management (and the expense). The watch world waited with baited breath to see what Rolex and Patek would do, knowing that the decision of these two behemoths would ultimately decide the fate of the show at large. The FHH, which is organizing the new show, enumerated several reasons for the exit from Baselworld and the organization of a separate fair, including “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.”

Clear enough. And, to be fair, Rolex and Patek Philippe management certainly don’t take the decision lightly. Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour said: “We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939. 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. This will allow us to present our new watches in line with our needs and expectations, to join forces and better defend the interests of the industry.”

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Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, spoke similarly about how long his company has been part of Baselworld: “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 life evolves constantly, things change and people change as well, whether it is at the level of those responsible for the watch fair organization, the brands or the clients. We constantly have to adapt ourselves, question what we do, since what was right yesterday may not necessarily be valid today!”

“Today Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore,” he continued. “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.”

So what does all this mean, really?

Baselworld May Now Go the Way of the Dodo

With the Swatch Group missing, the Japanese brands gone, Rolex and Tudor and Patek having waved “bye bye” — as well as the absence of many smaller brands who simply couldn’t afford to/refused to exhibit there under the MCH Group’s criteria and pricing — this could be the true death knell for Basel as we know it.

There Will Now Be a “Mega”-Watch Show in Geneva in April of 2021

Though the Rolex-Patek gang’s new show doesn’t have a name, it’s going to take place next year alongside Watches & Wonders Geneva, meaning the the press, retailers and certain VIP clients will have a chance to get their paws on new watches from the Richemont Group, certain independent brands, and Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel, all at the same time.

The Music Has Stopped, and the Swatch Group Doesn’t Have a Chair

When the Swatch Group, which includes brands such as Omega, Longines and Hamilton, announced two years ago that they would no longer participate in Baselworld, it was big news — so big, in fact, that folks wondered in 2018 if it in fact signaled the end of Basel. It didn’t quite, and the Swatch Group went on to hold its own press tour of its constituent companies’ manufacturing facilities in Switzerland last year. However, this wasn’t exactly a substitute for a centralized trade show.

Now that the Richemont Group and Rolex/Patek seem aligned on one larger show — or, really, the combination of two shows — what’s going to be Swatch’s move? Will they feel compelled to launch their own trade show along these lines? Will they join forces with Rolex and Patek, and will the new show become, effectively, the new Baselworld?

Japanese Brands and Independents Such as Breitling Are Also Without a Show. Do They Feel Any FOMO?

These brands had pulled out of what was to be the 2020 edition of Baselworld. Seiko and Grand Seiko were planning on hosting their own smaller trade events in Japan and the U.S, but these of course were canceled due to the coronavirus.

Many watch brands, including companies that are part of the Richemont Group, will show the press some of their new wares before each year’s trade shows, but it was looking for a minute there as if we were going to have 100 mini, press-only Basel/SIHHs in NYC, Europe and Japan ahead of the large shows. More appointments, more meetings, more seeing watches multiple times (if you’re a member of the press, anyway). But maybe this really is the wave of the future — smaller, brand-focused road shows and exhibitions for the press in local markets.

Nothing Is Yet Certain

Baselworld really was, for many decades, the place for the world to get its watch-related news each year in a centralized, efficient manner. What we have now, frankly (and merely in this editor’s opinion), is an utter mess — at least for the moment. It’s hard to appreciate this as a watch lover and not as a member of the press, but the current situation includes: a bevy of trade shows, some of which have redundant brands exhibiting; a big hole produced by the complete absence of many large watchmaking concerns; and the need to travel quite literally across the world in order to keep current on watch-related news.

At this point, we are dealing with an industry that is still in flux, in which news is completely decentralized again and nobody knows what the hell tomorrow is going to look like. With the wrench thrown by the coronavirus, the perfect storm seems to have gathered over the industry, providing the catalyst for Rolex and Patek Philippe to make their move. And we can’t blame them — by all accounts, Baselworld was becoming antiquated in its current form.

But I’m going to miss the times when we could count on Basel, a centralized event that gave us all of — well, most of — our news in one place. Baselworld is dead — long live Baselworld.

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