Fortis Watches exit Basel Show

Fortis, a respected 90-year-old Swiss watch brand, has pulled out of the Basel 2003 (April 3-10) international watch and jewelry fair because of the show’s re-configuration of watch exhibitors. Show management claims that criteria for the changes was affected by “pressure and the influence” of some watch companies, which it doesn’t name.

Although Fortis is the first watchmaker to exit the Swiss fair, some other watch brands also have expressed unhappiness about having to relocate to upper floors or other halls, or being required to build larger or higher exhibition stands.

“This decision … was not an easy one for us. But we think it is the right decision.” says the company in a statement faxed Feb 4 to its international agents.

Founded in 1912, Fortis was the producer of the world’s first automatic (self-winding) watch. The company is known for its technically precise mechanical pilots watches and chronographs, including those used on the International Space Station by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. Fortis watches retail for $395 to $16,000.

For 2003, Basel has significantly changed its exhibition concept. Some 600 exhibitors in national pavilions have been moved to Zurich. (An effort by some of those companies to start their own show has collapsed.) The watch halls in Basel have been reconfigured, including Hall 1, the longtime exhibition site of prestigious and major Swiss watchmakers. It has been rearranged to provide more space and the number of Hall 1 exhibitors has been reduced.

Fortis has been in Hall 1 since 1926, but was told it must move upstairs this year to Hall 1.1. Talks with the show about “an agreeable solution” failed, said a spokesperson, and after a “detailed analysis” of the new location, Fortis decided not to attend Basel this year.

In its letter to its agents, Fortis claims that “arbitrariness, strategic alliances as well as influences”—allegedly from larger watchmakers—are the only criteria being used by the show in deciding who is located where in Basel 2003. “We cannot and we do not want to support this procedure and the related consequences,” it says.

A Fortis spokesman said the company hopes to exhibit at Basel 2004 if issues with the show management can be resolved. Meanwhile, Fortis has invited Basel 2003 show visitors and buyers to its headquarters in Grenchen, Switzerland, a 50-minute train ride from Basel.