The Strategist

Baselworld key participants leave for Watches & Wonders, the oldest Swiss watch salon nearly ruined

04/17/2020 - 03:24

The dispute between the watchmakers and the management of Baselworld Salon ended in the most incredible way. The main participants of the Basel watch fair - Rolex and Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard - chose to break with the organizers and went to the camp of competitors, establishing a new watch fair on the basis of the Geneva Watches & Wonders.

Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard and Tudor announced leaving Baselworld. “This departure is the result of a series of uncoordinated and unilateral decisions taken by Baselworld management, such as reschedule the fair for January 2021, as well as a lack of readiness to meet the expectations and needs of the brands,” their joint statement reads.

The brands went to Geneva, where the main competitor of the fair, the Watches & Wonders salon, former SIHH, is held. This year, its organizers from the FHH Fine Watchmaking Foundation (Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie) were also forced to cancel their event, but managed not to quarrel with its participants.

The Basel Fair is the oldest, largest and most prestigious watch salon in Switzerland, founded 103 years ago. But the past few years, Baselworld has been experiencing a real crash.

A major blow was the decision of the largest Swiss watch group Swatch Group in 2018 to leave Basel. Thus, the fair immediately lost 13 brands (including Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Longines, Harry Winston) and 50 million Swiss francs of annual annuity. The group replaced Basel with the annual parade of its Time to Move brands, which had already taken place in 2019. Together with the Swatch Group, but with less noise, Dior, Raymond Weil, Corum, Seiko, Breitling and dozens of other brands disappeared.

However, the three pillars on which the event continued to be held remained Rolex, Patek Philippe and the LVMH watch division. The general opinion was that “as long as they exist, there is Baselworld.”

Now two of the three giants are leaving their place of honor at the beginning of the main alley of the main Basel building. 

The LVMH watchmaking brands Bvlgari, TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot now have their own Watch Days showroom in Dubai in January, with direct benefits for returning to Geneva in April, where they have been exhibiting over the past few years as an “extra program”. The Bvlgari brand has already announced that it will not attend Basel.

The main subject of the quarrel, in addition to the uncoordinated transfer of the salon to January, was the refusal of the MCH Group, organizing Baselworld, to return money for the fair canceled this year. Rather, a return was supposed, but was furnished with such conditions that the participants were offended by this. One option involved using 85% of the advance payment to pay for the future Baselworld and 15% of the sunk costs. Another is a reimbursement of 30%, while 40% still went on to pay for next year's salon, and another 30% remained in the pocket of the MCH Group.

The participants tried to bargain, but Michel Loris-Melikoff, the managing director of the fair, refused to return the advances, saying that otherwise “Baselworld will be ruined”. Giants like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Chanel have not tolerated such treatment. First, they sent letters to the fair management, hinted that their departure “would be the end of Baselworld,” and finally decided to break up. They were joined by the highly respected Chopard watch and jewelry house and, of course, Tudor, the “second brand” of Rolex.