It’s no secret that Baselworld has been struggling. Let’s face it, the show started witnessing an exhibitor exodus as early as three or four years ago. Now, in light of its struggle with exhibitors and visitors, the organizers of the show, MCH Group, announce that the January 2021 exhibition is canceled. This comes as no surprise.
The quiet departures from Baselworld
Over the past half a decade, brands have been leaving Baselworld. It started with the quiet exit of an incredibly large exhibitor: The Movado Group. Interestingly, nobody really took notice when the company moved from Hall 1 to its own dedicated space across the street. There, the company — which had exhibit space not only for Movado, Concord and Ebel, but also for its dozen-plus other brands, including licensed watch names such as Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, and Hugo Boss — established an artistic installation to complement the watch exhibits. However, the show just didn’t have the pull or the atmosphere that the Group wanted for its visitors, so the entire Group exited Baselworld as of the 2018 edition. Movado later established its own Summit in Davos. I had the good fortune to attend the event last year and was highly impressed with the amount of education and immersion into the brands that the Group offered during its interactive conference.
Next to depart Baselworld in bulk was the Swatch Group. In summer of 2018, the group, which owns Breguet, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Omega, Jaquet Droz, Longines, Harry Winston, Hamilton, Tissot, Swatch and others announced that it would be leaving the fair effective 2019. The Swatch Group later announced its plans to host a Time to Move summit in 2019. That summit, which I also attended, was packed with factory visits, new product unveilings and more — giving journalists and retailers and immersive experience behind six of its leading brands.
On a smaller scale, other brands also began departing. Hermes left Baselworld for SIHH (now Watches & Wonders). Similarly, Kering-owned Ulysse Nardin moved to the Geneva show for 2019. After Baselworld 2019, Breitling announced its departure for 2020, and announced plans to host its own individual summits around the world. Others also quietly left. Jacob & Co. was not going to be returning this year, nor was Kering Group’s Gucci, or LVMH Group’s Bulgari. Then, earlier this year, we heard that the entire LVMH Group, including Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith, was not going to renew their space for the Baselworld 2021 (if there had been one). Here again, the Group had established its own global summit earlier in the year.
When COVID-19 forced this year’s show to close, Baselworld’s management announced a “postponement” of the show to January of 2021. Most likely announcing a postponement instead of a cancellation was an effort to keep exhibitor deposits from 2020 and apply them to 2021 fees. However, arguments over refunds and over the timing of the 2021 show — moving it from April to January — left a lot of exhibitors unhappy.
That’s when Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Chanel announced their departure from Baselworld — casting the final blow to the Fair. Interestingly, though, there had already been talk earlier in the year that Chanel was going to leave Baselworld; then the talk went quiet. Most likely because the brand entered into discussions with the other big three about departing en mass. Additionally, most likely, the big three had already been discussing a joint exit strategy from the show long before the announcement came.
Baselworld Tensions Flare and Snap
Ongoing discussions about refunds for the exhibitors led nowhere. Word had it that MCH Group was offering a 15 percent refund for companies leaving the show altogether and an 85 percent credit toward the following year’s show for those brands that remained. At the same time, brands were leaning that the big hotels, including the Three Kings — which has long profited from fairgoers and exhibitors — were not issuing refunds, either. Tensions mounted where there was already so much tension that the rigging was about to snap.
Snap it did. Now the show is left picking up the pieces and trying to determine next moves. In the release today, Fair management announced the cancelation of Baselworld 2021, and also announced that it had come to a financial arrangement that was the best they could do in terms of refunds for exhibitors. The announcement also stated that the bigger brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Chopard accepted reduced refunds so the money could be spread out more fairly amongst other exhibitors.
What’s in the future for Baselworld
On the record, the announcement said that Baselworld management was rethinking dates and platforms. The underlying statement is that it needs to rethink everything from the ground up. My guess is that the show — if it goes on — must live a totally different life. One that consists of many small brands having equal footing and space, much like it did years ago. That new life, if it is going to exist, also needs a new name. There is just too much bad blood between the exhibitors and Baselworld the show, as well as Basel the city for exorbitant price gouging.
The thing is that Baselworld, despite the ugliness that goes on in the city and around the costs, is still a viable concept. Hundreds of thousands of people flock here annually to see watches and jewelry, to make buying decisions, to have open conversations about trends and business decisions, and so much more.
Maybe, just maybe, with a new attitude, a new name, a new type of setup and maybe even a new city — the golden goose might be able to produce again… although it may be some time before it lays a golden egg.