Earlier this week Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard announced they would be leaving the century-old watch show Baselworld, which has long been the standard platform for new watch releases (the watch world’s version of fashion week) along with the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, now known as Watches & Wonders, which takes place in Geneva. The Basel trade show had long been beleaguered with disgruntled brands trickling out of the show due to qualms with its management. Swatch Group left in 2018, which was the first major blow, then brands like Breitling and Grand Seiko announced their departure, but when Rolex led the charge of exiting with Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard it sounded the alarm for the death of Baselworld. Now LVMH’s watchmaking division is also marching out the door.
It comes as no surprise. LVMH had been smart enough to jet-set its retailers, VIPs and press to Dubai in January for a very glamorous debut of their new watches for the year before the announcement of Baselworld 2020’s cancellation due to Covid-19. LVMH felt that the show, which had been set for April, was too late to release new products. It seemed to signal that perhaps LVMH was already thinking about dipping out of Baselworld and it looks like Rolex and Patek Philippe, the world’s two most influential watch brands, finally gave the conglomerate the impetus to do so.
“We are sorry to have to leave this over hundred-year Baselworld event, to which our Maisons have been consistently loyal,” says Stéphane Bianchi, CEO of LVMH’s watchmaking division. “It is nonetheless clear that we must respond quickly and make other arrangements. We are facing an opportunity to reinvent the format and content of one of the key moments of our watchmaking year, which represented both a major commercial challenge and a lever of influence for our brands. With this in mind, we will do our utmost to be present alongside the other prestigious Maisons that will gather in Geneva in April 2021, and thereby meet the requirements of our partners and clients while offering them an unrivaled experience.”
Based on LVMH’s Dubai experience, which included desert camel rides, dinner beneath the stars, yacht excursions and more, there is no doubt that their experience will be unrivaled. Presumably, their decision to show their timepieces at the beginning of the year also means they aren’t completely in the financial gutter. Rumor has it that Bulgari’s six-figure Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon has a two-year-long waitlist already.
Bulgari CEO, Jean-Christoph Babin said in an official statement that the gathering of all the major watch brands in Geneva in a single location will be key to bringing the industry back together after so much fragmentation around new releases. “We are looking forward to going to Geneva in April 2021, even though we still need to define the terms of our participation, which we will specify in the coming weeks,” said Bianchi. “We are also delighted to not have to make up for the lack of institutional watch shows, which in 2020 forced us to take tactical initiatives that were necessary in the short term but undesirable in the medium term.”
Now it looks like almost all of the major players in watchmaking will be showing in Geneva next April. The timing, however, still feels late in the year and what it means for clients is that you won’t be seeing an onslaught of new products, even from LVMH (unless they pull off an earlier showing on their own), for a year and, for many of these top-tier brands the wait for the delivery of the product after their release can be equally as long.