The future of the annual Baselworld watch fair – already a subject of much debate, got a bit dimmer this past week as Swatch Group chief executive, Nick Hayek said the watchmaking group (Switzerland’s largest), plans to make its absence this year permanent.
“There’s No Need for It Anymore. The World Has Changed”
Swatch Group’s top brands include Omega, Blancpain, Breguet, Glashütte Original, Harry Winston, Jaquet Droz, Longines, Tissot, Rado, and Hamilton, with Omega traditionally being one of the only serious rivals to Rolex. Their permanent withdrawal from the exhibition hall means that the industry’s largest annual fair “may become obsolete.” As Hayek told Bloomberg News, “There’s no need for it anymore. The world has changed.” Of course you could see this as merely ceding the floor to Rolex, which traditionally dominates the coverage in any case with its hotly-anticipated new designs.
Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, and Van Cleef & Arpels had previously decided to quit SIHH, indicating that the declining brand attendance is not something unique to Baselworld. At the same time, newer and more consumer-oriented watch events such as Watches & Wonders in Miami are gaining ground.
After the Omega announcement, shares of Switzerland’s MCH Group, which organizes Baselworld as well as the Art Basel events among others, fell as much as 3 percent. Brands are increasingly shifting investment to boutiques, e-commerce, and other methods of reaching watch buyers directly, rather than the going the traditional trade show route. At Watches & Wonders Miami for instance, Omega benefits from having a beautiful boutique directly across the street from where the event is staged.
Looking Towards the Future of Baselworld and Watch Fairs
Baselworld along with SIHH, Switzerland’s other major watch fair, has been seeking ways to revitalize their offerings. The two events have already decided to band together in 2020, hoping to increase attendance by not forcing industry heavyweights to fly to Switzerland twice a year.
While the departure of important brands from these well-publicized shows has a negative impact in the short term, it could however pave the way for newer, independent brands to take over the exhibition space and grow their businesses. However, this may require a shift in approach and a less stuffy atmosphere all around. In the long run, we feel that can only be a good thing.