In a significant blow, the world’s largest watch fair is being ditched by the world’s largest watchmaker.
On July 29, the Swatch Group announced that from 2019 on, its 18 brands will no longer exhibit at Baselworld.
“Today everything has become more transparent, fast-moving, and instantaneous,” said a company statement. “Accordingly, a different rhythm and a different approach is needed.… It is necessary that [watch fairs] reinvent themselves, responding appropriately to the current situation and demonstrating more dynamism and creativity.”
The statement also slammed the fair’s organizer, the MCH Group.
“[MCH] is clearly more concerned with optimizing and amortizing its new building—which, incidentally, is largely financed by the watch industry during the fairs—than it is in having the courage to make real progress and to bring about true and profound changes,” it said.
In response, René Kamm, CEO of MCH Group, said in a statement said his company “extraordinarily regret[s]” Swatch’s decision.
“The cancellation is all the more surprising [because] new management has arrived with a new team, new esprit, and many new ideas,” he said.
Newly appointed managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff admitted that Swatch’s decision was a “setback,” but stressed that many leading Swiss brands still exhibit at the fair.
“I hope that a successful edition of Baselworld in 2019 will motivate Swatch Group to again participate,” he said. “I personally would be very pleased to hold constructive talks with Swatch Group.”
Still, it is clear that the two sides have more than a bit of bad blood.
In an interview with CNBC, Swatch CEO Nicolas Hayek complained that management had always turned a deaf ear to its gripes.
“I invited [show management] to see me,” he said. “They have never asked to see me, which is a little bit [of a] wonder, we are the largest company [exhibiting] there. I told them, ‘Look guys, there is a big opportunity. The Swiss watch industry is booming. It’s positive. Now you have to make the changes. We are there to help…. You must open up. You must do something now. You don’t have to act like you have been acting in the past, a little bit arrogant, a little bit snobby, and not able to do something new.’
“And then they promised me, and they said they will do this, and we’ll do that. And then, what happened? They just continue the same way. The management just released on the 7th of July the new program for 2019 that has not been discussed with the major players.”
Loris-Melikoff denied this in the MCH statement, noting that show organizers regularly meet with an exhibitors’ committee, which offered suggestions on its new ideas and eventually “warmly received” the changes.
In any case, Hayek hinted Swatch is shopping another venue to show off its stable of brands.
“We might do something much more creative with other people and other partners that are out there,” he said. “We have nothing against some creative ideas that are coming along.”
Still, despite all his gripes, he left the door open to a return to Baselworld.
“They have to reinvent themselves,” he said. “We are ready to help them. But for 2019, we are definitely out.”
Swatch’s departure is the latest blow to the august fair, which has traditionally been the most important event on the watch industry calendar.
In May, longtime managing director Sylvie Ritter stepped down and was replaced by Loris-Melikoff.
Brands under the Swatch umbrella are: Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Léon Hatot, Omega, Longines, Rado, Union Glashütte, Tissot, Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Calvin Klein, Swatch, and Flik Flak.
The next Baselworld will take place March 21–26, 2019, at Switzerland’s Basel Exhibition Centre (Messe Basel).
(Images courtesy of Baselworld)