Days after independent watchmakers Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel sent out a release declaring that they were leaving the Baselworld fair and establishing a new program to be affiliated with the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), the LVMH Group’s Swiss manufactures are announcing that they are leaving Baselworld as well.
In a short statement, the group noted the departure of the five brands and opined that: “Within this context of clearly weakened representation of the Swiss watch industry and hence inevitably lower participation, it appears clear to the brands composing the Division and to the House of Bvlgari 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.”
It’s notable that the group has only affirmed leaving Baselworld 2021, not necessarily for good, although it’s worth highlighting that the LVMH Group held its own watch fair in Dubai organised at the Bvlgari Hotel there, with each of the brands presenting new timepieces in early January 2020, before the novel coronavirus affected the rest of the world.
The release also states the “The four Maisons are examining various potential event formats corresponding to the need to present their strategic directions and new products to their commercial partners — as well as to the international press — next year.” In the headline of the release, it also expressed their intention “to join the other flagship brands of the Swiss watch industry in Geneva from 2021 onwards”.
A New Fair in Geneva?
The luxury watch industry has long been divided between the two watch fairs in Geneva and Basel. The Watches & Wonders Geneva fair (developed with the FHH, previously SIHH) has always catered to a smaller, invite-only crowd, though that changed in recent years to allow the public access to the expo. While SIHH focused on the fine watchmaking segment of the market, Baselworld has always catered to the entire industry at large.
However, in recent years, things have changed for Baselworld. More and more brands have departed, citing hefty costs and price gouging by proprietors of Basel’s businesses. That culminated finally in the most recent announcement by Rolex et al that they would be leaving Baselworld 2021 to collaborate with the FHH on a fair at Palexpo to align with the dates of Watches & Wonders 2021.
In an email, Rolex noted: “We have not been entirely satisfied with Baselworld for several years now; nevertheless, we have carried on, endeavoured to come to an agreement, and find solutions that suit both parties. Unfortunately, and in spite of the change in management, we have not succeeded. This is why we decided to withdraw.”
It further noted that “our partner brands have, of course, experienced the same disagreements as we have with Baselworld.”
Post-Dubai Watch Week, Bvlgari announced prior that it would not be participating in Baselworld 2020, prior to the announcement of postponement to 2021. Now it looks as if its fellow maisons have decided to follow suit.
After the postponement of Baselworld was announced, CEO of Bvlgari, Jean-Christophe Babin announced in an interview that they, with a number of other brands, were planning to develop a separate event called Geneva Days, intended to be held in April and now delayed till later this year. With this new announcement, the LVMH Group will also join Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel to work with the FHH.
CEO of Bvlgari, Jean-Christophe Babin, notes in the press release: “Grouping the entire Swiss watch industry in a single location, Geneva – the historical capital of watchmaking – and around a single date, is a major opportunity to at last revive a sector that all too many divisions and divergent interests have weakened compared to the rest of the luxury sector in which Bvlgari is active and that is making much faster progress. We are looking forward to going to Geneva in April 2021, even though we still need to define the terms of our participation, which we will specify in the coming weeks. We are also delighted not to have to make up for the lack of institutional watch shows, which in 2020 forced us to take tactical initiatives that were necessary in the short term but undesirable in the medium term.”
CEO of the LVMH Watchmaking Division, Stéphane Bianchi, said: “We are sorry to have to leave this over hundred-year Baselworld event to which our Maisons have been consistently loyal. It is nonetheless clear that we must respond quickly and make other arrangements. We are facing an opportunity to reinvent the format and content of one of the key moments of our watchmaking year, which represented both a major commercial challenge and a lever of influence for our brands. With this in mind, we will do our utmost to be present alongside the other prestigious Maisons that will gather in Geneva in April 2021, and thereby meet the requirements of our partners and clients while offering them an unrivalled experience.”
What this means for Baselworld
More empty booths up front in Hall 1.0, where these brands have the largest real estate and most luxurious setups, mean that the Baselworld management now lacks a strong anchor that will bring in visitors, from retailers to journalists and end-consumers. It needs to quickly develop a solution to fill those large booth spaces. Nearly 2/3rds of Hall 1.0 will now be vacant, as compared with Baselworld 2018.
There will also surely be a reaction among existing participants, should the Baselworld management not have a suitable response or solution to the exit of so many notable Swiss watch brands. It’s also important to note that the brands leaving carry watches from across the entire spectrum of accessible watchmaking to ultra-high watchmaking.
This is a developing story.