Swatch Group out of Baselworld


Earthquake in Basel

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July 2018


Earthquake in Basel

Nick Hayek has announced that the Swatch Group is withdrawing from Baselworld 2019. Will the global trade fair ever recover?

N

o comparison with the giant earthquake that in 1356 destroyed much of the city of Basel and left 300 dead. But it’s quite a shakeup nonetheless.

On July 29, Nick Hayek proclaimed in the columns of the very serious NZZ Am Sonntag that the Swatch Group was withdrawing from the 2019 edition of Baselworld. Which means that no fewer than 18 brands, including Omega, Tissot, Longines and Breguet, to name only the most important, will no longer exhibit their much-anticipated new launches there... It also leaves a sudden huge blank space at the heart of the fair, in Hall 1, which was already going through a complex reconfiguration.

It’s a rough start for Michel Loris-Melikoff, who took on his new position as the head of Baselworld on July 1, and who had just announced a major upheaval, in the form of grouping all the watch brands together in Hall 1, and the closure of Hall 2.

We couldn’t help but smile at Baselworld’s initial press conference this year, when officials, led by René Kamm, announced the dramatic fall in the number of exhibitors - 650 missing brands - as a “strategic choice”. The reality was rather different.

Of course, the internet has changed everything by allowing brands to enter into a direct relationship with their customers and their distribution networks - which are more and more integrated - without intermediaries. But this explanation for the downfall is making too little of the arrogance and intransigency of the leaders of Baselworld.

By paying - or more accurately by charging the brands - for a prestigious new building built by “archistars” Herzog and de Meuron, for the sum of 430 million francs, they thought that improving the setting was enough to meet the new and pressing expectations. Fatal error.

We couldn’t help but smile at Baselworld’s initial press conference this year, when officials, led by René Kamm, announced the dramatic fall in the number of exhibitors - 650 missing brands - as a “strategic choice”. The reality was rather different.

A blurred vision of the future of Baselworld
A blurred vision of the future of Baselworld

“Everything today is more transparent, faster and more spontaneous. Traditional watch fairs are no longer useful,” Nick Hayek told the NZZ, pulling no punches.

While the SIHH - which, by the way, has no ambition to replace the “universal” function of Baselworld - has been transformed step by step, by highlighting the independent creators in the “Carré des Horlogers”, and offering conferences, debates, exhibitions and internet live-streaming around the world, Baselworld played a risky Monopoly game, focusing only on the urban design of its corridors. And again, without any real diplomacy, even towards the ”great powers", such as the Swatch Group.

On July 8, Baselworld presented its new concept. “Unfortunately, we have all once again been confronted with a fait accompli,” said Nick Hayek. The new concept was sent around the world without any consultation or critical discussion with the exhibitors.

Rolf Studer, co-manager of the watch brand Oris, echoed this criticism. “We have never been asked about the new concept. It was developed without consultation with the exhibitors,” he says.

“Unfortunately, we have all once again been confronted with a fait accompli,” said Nick Hayek.

Earthquake in Basel

Nostalgia for the “souk”

Will this decision prove fatal to Baselworld? What will other heavyweights decide, starting with the historic brands Patek Philippe and Rolex, as well as Chopard and the brands of LVMH? Will they settle for a Baselworld that has transformed into a “Baseldorf”? Or will they be inclined to organise - if necessary - their own private event? We are thinking of the example of the Movado Group, which now invites its distribution network to a ski resort.

What will other heavyweights decide, starting with the historic brands Patek Philippe and Rolex, as well as Chopard and the brands of LVMH? Will they settle for a Baselworld that has transformed into a “Baseldorf”?

The future will tell.

But let me already express my regret for the passing of the “souk” side of Baselworld. In the booths and hallways, you could find everything from a masterpiece to a two-dollar watch. And this universality, this representativeness of the whole sector, big and small, will be greatly missed. Arrogance is a bad counsellor, and at the end of the day, it always ends up turning against oneself.

That was where the real added value of the Basel fair lay, in the collision of all the different worlds of watchmaking. This proximity created sparks. And in the end, the “souk” will be missed by all.