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April 14, 2020 will probably be remembered as a black day for Baselworld. Apart from the corona crisis, which has already caused a lot of damage, the events of this day may well mean the end of Baselworld. Some of the most important luxury watch manufacturers have announced their decision to discontinue their participation in the Baselworld – including Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Baselworld without Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard

While the organisers of the Baselworld, the MCH Group, might be in shock, the withdrawal of the big and important exhibitors Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard seems less surprising to many people.

The Baselworld had to cope with a lot of criticism lately: Too old-fashioned and too little oriented towards end customers, the fair has developed negatively in the eyes of many over the past years. In 2018, the Swatch Group, which includes major brands such as Breguet and Omega, announced that it would no longer attend the Baselworld as of next year. A total of 18 brands turned their backs on the Baselworld that year, followed by 150 other manufacturers in 2019. There are a number of reasons why Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard are now also quitting the fair.

LVMH follows Rolex, Patek Philippe and Co.

April 17, 2020. Three days after Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard announced to quit Baselworld, the luxury brand group LVMH also declared that they will no longer exhibit at the fair. Imminent damage to their reputation was given as the reason. In the future, the group wants to present the latest watch models from brands such as TAG Heuer, Bvlgari or Hublot together with Rolex and Co. at a new event.

Why do many watch manufacturers leave Baselworld?

Cancellations due to Covid-19

The currently ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to countless events this year. So far, no one knows whether this will only be temporary or for a much longer period of time. It is certain, however, that the lack of visitors will inevitably result in a lack of revenue. Even financially well-positioned fairs such as the Baselworld are now struggling. There have been rumors for some time that the Baselworld no longer offers what it once did as the world's largest and most important watch and jewelry fair. The aforementioned withdrawal of the Swatch Group also had a detrimental effect on its number of visitors. In this respect, the cancellation of the Baselworld 2020 seems to be a welcome excuse for many watch manufacturers to step back from the fair.

Lack of communication between organizer and exhibitors

According to an article in Forbes magazine from 14 April 2020, another reason for Rolex, Patek Philippe and Co. to leave the fair was problems with date arrangements between MCH Group and exhibitors. The new date of the Baselworld in January 2021, for example, is said to have been set without any consultation of the exhibiting companies and the organisers of Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH).

The cooperation between the Baselworld and Watches & Wonders was highly praised recently in terms of arranging the dates, as the exhibitions were to be held at different time slots for the first time. Setting the new date without consulting the exhibitors was particularly upsetting Rolex's CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour. In a statement, 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."

Representatives of the MCH Group responded to this shortly afterwards by stating that the alternative dates had definitely been agreed upon with leading exhibitors, including Rolex. We cannot say what is actually true here. It is certain, however, that Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel, as well as manufacturers who had already withdrawn from the fair such as Breitling, Omega, Breguet, Longines, Blancpain, Tissot, Glashütte Original, Raymond Weil, Maurice Lacroix and Co. will no longer be part of the Baselworld.

No (full) reimbursement – fact or fiction?

Another point that is said to have caused exhibitors to leave the Baselworld is that there will be no full reimbursement of costs for the canceled Baselworld 2020. There are rumors spreading about two models in particular offered by the MCH Group, which have not been confirmed so far:

  • Modell 1: 85% of the exhibitor's expenses are used as a down payment for the next Baselworld in 2021, 15% of the amount is retained by the MCH Group.
  • Modell 2: 70% of the exhibitor's expenses are reimbursed, but the MCH Group keeps 30% of the amount.

Whether these figures are correct is uncertain, but this would also explain the state of conflict between the organisers of the Baselworld and the exhibitors.

What happens to Baselworld and the other watch manufacturers?

Friends of the Baselworld and Watches & Wonders will not be disappointed, as both fairs are expected to be continued. However, a statement by the MCH Group said that the current developments could jeopardise the future of the Baselworld. It may well be that the Baselworld will lose its status as the world's most important jewelry and watch fair in the future, because the Baselworld drop-outs Rolex, Chanel and Co. announced that they plan on organizing a new fair together with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). The name of the new watch fair in Geneva has not yet been revealed, though. We are confident, however, that these brands will be anything but reticent about the new event and certainly can look forward to something big. The fact that LVMH's brands are now also abandoning the Baselworld is another severe setback for the organisers of the fair. Now that hardly any major luxury watch brands are left to exhibit at the Baselworld, this could mean the end of the once largest and most important jewelry and watch fair in the world.

There is also news about the product releases of the watch manufacturers, which were supposed to be presented at this year's Baselworld and Watches & Wonders. While at the beginning of the Corona pandemic it was generally assumed that manufacturers would simply present their new products online, we now know that for this spring there will be hardly any new watch models to see. Rolex and Tudor are even taking it one step further by announcing that they will not be presenting any new products this year.

We remain curious to see how the watch industry is coping with the corona crisis and hope that the pandemic will end soon.

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