What happened to the key event in the jewelry and watch industry, the world's largest trade fair with over 100 years of history? They moved her. However, the cyclical outbreak of the coronavirus has become just a convenient excuse for market players to save face amid the structural problems of the watch industry. The latter deserve a separate detailed analysis, but for lack of space, we will only mention them in this text in passing.
The crisis in the Kingdom of Basel became known back in the summer of 2018, when the largest watch manufacturer in the world, the Swatch Group, which owns 18 brands in all price segments, from Swatch itself to Breguet, resolutely said goodbye to the exhibition. And while the company abstractly cited the exhaustion of the format of traditional exhibitions as the reason, it was clear that its solution was based on the discrepancy between the costs of Baselworld and the economic impact of participation.
According to unofficial but uncontested reports, the presence in Basel cost the Swatch Group 45-50 million Swiss francs annually. This amount consisted not only of the cost of renting space in the Messe Basel complex and service payments from the MCH Group, which organizes Baselworld (it is also the network operator of the Art Basel contemporary art exhibitions). The Swatch Group brands, like all the other participants in the show, periodically paid for the production of stands (several million dollars depending on the area, architectural concept and materials used) and every year for their installation, dismantling and storage. Add to this the sea of champagne drunk per week, tons of canapes eaten, staff costs and brand guests at the wildly expensive local hotels during Baselworld.
With all this, the level of service outside the stands - in the Messe Basel pavilions and the surrounding urban environment - remained cave-like, especially considering the astronomical prices. And if in the "well-fed" years of the growing market, exhibitors gritted their teeth and experienced spending, the slowdown in business forced them to grumble openly. The main purpose of Baselworld was to sell new products to retailers, and the reduced orders from their side ceased to cover the exhibition extra costs of brands. Hence the rapid decline in the number of exhibitors from 2016 to 2018: 1,500 - 1,300 - 650.
In March 2019, the last of the exhibitions held in Basel amazed regular participants and guests with a contrast even with the far from the most prosperous show of 2018. The swatch Group that had moved out in the center of the most prestigious first pavilion was left with a giant gaping bald patch, which the organizers did not manage to disguise, and in the deserted dark passages between the stands, visitors nervously looked around - just in anticipation of the appearance of robbers. The number of exhibiting brands once again fell to 520, and the number of visitors for the first time in many years fell below the landmark figure of 100 thousand people and amounted to 81 thousand. At the same time, the new management of the MCH Group desperately bravely, calling the 2019 exhibition an interim and promising exhibitors and guests a year later paradise booths: a new organization of space,live podium presentations and even - who would have guessed - high-quality and affordable catering.
The road to hell is laid out, as you know, with good intentions. In their intention to relaunch the stalled Baselworld, its organizers even collaborated with bitter rivals from the FHH Foundation for Fine Watchmaking, which has been hosting an alternative exhibition to Basel since 1991 - the International Salon of Fine Watchmaking in Geneva. Realizing that the falling market could not stand two events spaced apart in time, the exhibitions synchronized their schedules, and, according to the Baselworld press release, until 2024.
This year, the exhibition in Geneva, which was renamed Watches & Wonders, was to take place on April 25-29, after which those who wish, without leaving Switzerland, had the opportunity to move to Basel. However, many brands remained dissatisfied with the new schedule, since the end of April - early May is a banal late period for presentations of new products of the year that began in January. In addition, the example of the Swatch Group continued to mow down the ranks of Basel exhibitors: for example, the largest Japanese watchmaker Seiko refused to participate in the 2020 exhibition last fall, and the Japanese did not hide that they were disappointed with the organizers' refusal to move the brand stand to the vacated areas on the first floor of the first pavilion. …
© Clemens Bilan / Getty Images
Under the aforementioned circumstances, an orderly tarnished scene, Baselworld appeared, like a god from a machine, the pernicious COVID-19. Following the instructions of the Swiss Federal Council (Government), which banned mass events with more than 1,000 participants (later these requirements were, of course, tightened), on February 28, MCH Group announced the postponement of Baselworld-2020 to January 28 - February 2, 2021. The announcement came a day after FHH decided to completely cancel the physical exhibition in Geneva in 2020, and at first no one paid attention to the difference in terms of "postpone" and "cancel". And in vain, because a week later the legal consequences appeared.
Since the event was not canceled, but postponed, MCH Group considered it possible to offer exhibitors the following tricky financial scheme: 85% of the amount of contributions for 2020 is transferred to the payment for participation in 2021, and 15% is withheld by the organizers for expenses already incurred and - as Russian insurers in case of early termination of the policy - "to conduct business". Want to get real money back? We go to meet you halfway: we give 30%, we deposit 40% on account of future participation in the "postponed" exhibition, the remaining 30% we modestly keep for ourselves. A particularly piquant moment: MCH Group did not incur any actual expenses for the 2020 exhibition, the construction of the pavilions had not yet begun at the end of February, so it was an open desire to compensate for the lost profit at any cost. As a matter of fact,this thimble-worthy combination ditched a show with 102 years of tradition.
The general public will probably never know in what terms the exhibitors who remained loyal to Basel commented on the MCH Group's “lucrative” offer until recently. Only the dry lines of the official communiqué of April 14 appeared on the surface: five brands - and which ones - are leaving Baselworld and intend to hold their own exhibition in Geneva next April (which is important: not to join Watches & Wonders, but at the same time to divide the area of the Geneva exhibition center Palexpo). The list of signatories sounds like music in the ears of watch connoisseurs - and at the same time a requiem for Basel: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard, Tudor.
On the same day, MCH Group found the strength to snap back with a response: they say, all decisions were discussed with the committee of exhibitors, they did not bode well, they were surprised by the spontaneous decision. Three days later, Baselworld was finally finished off: four brands of LVMH corporation - TAG Heuer, Hublot, Zenith and Bvlgari - will follow the five “exiles” to the new event in Geneva.
1 of 14 Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II, Rolex © Press Office Oyster Perpetual Day Date, Rolex © Press Office Chronograph, Ref 5170, Patek Philippe © Grand Complications Press, Ref. 5320G, Patek Philippe © Chronograph World Time Press, Patek Philippe © Alpine Eagle Press, Chopard © Happy Moon Press, Chopard © J12 Paradoxe Press, Chanel Horlogerie © J12 X-Ray Press, Chanel Horlogerie © press service Black Bay, Tudor © press service Pelagos, Tudor © press service
So, the first pavilion at Baselworld is empty. One specialized online publication published a blueprint in which stands of stamps that said goodbye to Basel in one week in April were crossed out in bold red felt-tip pen. If anyone is interested, here is a list of the undecided: Bell & Ross, Carl F. Bucherer, Oris, Porsche Design. There was no one else on the 1st floor. The second, after the massive departure of the Japanese (Casio and Citizen followed Seiko even earlier) is also mowed down. Who will come to Basel in January, even if the exhibition is not canceled? Definitely not watchmakers. Perhaps a pale semblance of the old Baselworld will be able to create small jewelry brands, but they clearly do not pull on the role of headliners.
Meanwhile, an industry exhibition of the watch industry is needed. For at least two reasons: firstly, because manufacturers need a platform to collect orders from their partners in the supply chain - distributors and dealers. Remove this element and the whole structure will begin to fall apart, further exacerbating the non-glamorous situation in the watch industry. Secondly, the exhibitions widely covered by all the world media make a powerful contribution to the popularization of watchmaking, remind the end customers that traditional watches still exist and are being improved.
It is now generally accepted that online formats, including the temporarily digitalized platform Watches & Wonders, will be able to become a full-fledged alternative to physical displays. We doubt it, because for all the usefulness of the experience obtained by watchesandwonders.com, it has not become an event of a global scale. Erzats are good during the period of self-isolation, so we look forward to a face-to-face meeting with watchmaking in April next year. And no longer in Basel, but exclusively in the watch capital of the world - Geneva.>