Four major industry heavyweights are dropping out of the largest watch industry trade show in the world. Rolex and its sister brand Tudor, Patek Philippe and Chopard have announced that they will be leaving Baselworld. The event has been a platform for brands to announce new products to press, retailers and VIP clients for over 100 years. This year, for the first time, the show was postponed until next year due to the Covid-19 crisis. Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the second-largest watch trade show which is now known as Watches & Wonders, also postponed until next year. The news comes on the heels of Rolex and Patek Philippe announcing their decision to delay their new product releases this year, indefinitely.
All four brands will be forming a new, yet-to-be-named show that will take place in April 2021 in Geneva at the same time as Watches & Wonders.
“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,” said Jean Frédéric Dufour, CEO of Rolex and board member of Tudor in an official statement. “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.”
Part of that vision is differentiating itself from Watches & Wonders’ plan to be more consumer-facing, which is a departure from traditional trade show formats. The new show, started by Rolex, will only be open to press, retailers and important clients, in keeping with previous watch trade shows. It signals that, true-to-form, these brands plan on safeguarding their exclusivity and controlling their message in advance of the Instagramming masses.
“The decision to leave Baselworld was not an easy one to take for me, being the fourth generation of the Stern family to participate in this traditional yearly event,” said Thierry Stern in a statement. “But life evolves constantly, things change and people change as well, whether it is at the level of those responsible for the watch fair organization, the brands or the clients. We constantly have to adapt ourselves, question what we do, since what was right yesterday may not necessarily be valid today!” He added that the Baselworld show no longer represents the brand’s vision and cites a breach in trust by the organizers. Top brands have long been disgruntled with the show’s management and lack of communication as well as their decision to postpone the show until January 2021.
“We need to answer the legitimate needs of our retailers, the clients and the press from around the world,” he said. “They have to be able to discover the new models from Swiss watchmakers each year, at one time, in one place, and this in the most professional manner possible. That is why, following several discussions with Rolex and in agreement with other participating brands, we have decided to create, all together, a unique event in Geneva, representative of our savoir-faire.“
The news comes as no surprise to industry insiders, who have long been expecting Rolex and Patek Philippe, in particular, to leave the fair—a move which will, no doubt, be devastating to Baselworld’s business. It may even be the nail in the coffin. In January, LVMH watch brands Bulgari, Hublot, Zenith and Tag Heuer celebrated a new event in Dubai to show their watches, with indications that it may become a permanent affair, and Swatch Group announced it was leaving Baselworld in 2018 and created its Time to Move event in May of last year to debut its new releases (it was postponed this year, as well, due to the pandemic). Other important brands, including Grand Seiko and Breitling, have also recently left Baselworld.
Chanel added that its decision to leave is part of a long-term strategy, indicating that the new platform is not a testing ground but a permanent move. “This exhibition will allow us to present all of our new creations in an environment that meets our high-quality standards,” said Frédéric Grangié, president of Chanel Watches & Fine Jewelry.
Chopard has been exhibiting at Baselworld as far back as 1964 and cited the decision to leave as a “painful” one. Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele added that the new event with Rolex, Tudor, and Patek Philippe, will allow its business to better serve their clients and partners, as well as promote the “values and best interests of Swiss watchmaking.”
Chopard and Chanel have not made any official statements about delaying new releases in 2020 like Rolex, Tudor and Patek Philippe. Chanel has already put forward some major new pieces for the year with the new, entirely sapphire crystal J12 X-Ray and its dual-case construction designs for the J12 Paradoxe models. But given the current global environment, with manufactures and retailers shut down for an undetermined amount of time, more product releases from brands across the board are expected to be delayed. The new show, along with Watches & Wonders, will no doubt be an important event in April of next year, for top-tier clients looking to get their hands on watchmaking’s best.