An open letter to the global high-end watch business: IT’S TIME TO GROW UP


An open letter to the global high-end watch business from Ken Kessler:


As one who witnessed first-hand the demise of a healthy industry due in part to similar shenanigans vis-a-vis shows, I will offer this for the hundredth time: Every luxury product type – fashion, automotive, boats, jewellery, whatever – needs a unifying show (or two).

Not just to reach the dealers, distributors and press, but to convey to HDI consumers that they are dealing with a healthy industry.


Do not fool yourself into thinking that just because your best customers are not of the watch industry that they are unaware of this ludicrous state of affairs. Watch enthusiasts – and they’re the ones buying the oddball timepieces – are frighteningly savvy.

I am referring to the way the consumer electronics’ primary showcase – CES in Las Vegas (which dwarfs Baselworld and SIHH combined) – treated its high-end sector with utter disdain, if not downright contempt. High-end audio, which was one of the founding product types when CES began, no longer has any presence there.

Instead, it has fragmented into small regional shows save for one event in Munich in May, and that is smaller than CES.

The analogy is thus: gigantic, entry-level watch producers do not need a showcase. Casio, Citizen, Timex, Swatch, Fossil and others in that cost sector sell quantities because they’re affordable.

The hi-fi equivalent – wireless speakers and earbuds – shift in equal numbers. $80,000 tourbillons, on the other hand, need a showcase just as do supercars … and high-end audio systems.

We “get” why you wanted to revamp both shows, but it isn’t working.

Dealers, distributors, press and other industry groups have swiftly become fed up with having to attend a few dozen little one-brand events when once they could all be covered in a couple of days at comprehensive shows.

The fact is that Baselworld’s organisers failed in bringing prices down to sane levels, when all it had to do was the tell the city fathers of Basel that they are about to kill off one of their biggest revenue earners because they refuse to moderate the hotels, restaurants, etc. One line – “We’re moving to whole lot to Geneva/Paris/Berne/Zurich/Milan/wherever” – would have had them choking on their muesli.

Even Las Vegas, as greedy as it seems, NEVER scalped convention-goers the way Basel does.

Seen from the outside – I’m a journalist who remembers when the two shows ran in a row – the moving of Baselworld and SIHH back together could have been a godsend for the industry.

Coronavirus notwithstanding, the indecisiveness, the ego displays and other acts of self-inflicted sabotage by the entire watch industry have done nothing but undermine confidence, and at every level.

This is at a time when there are enough external problems to confront (e.g. the slow-down in China, concerns about Brexit, et al) without shooting yourselves in your collective feet.

What do we want? One show. An end to rip-off pricing. This isn’t rocket science, or even advanced horology. It’s common sense. Like I said – it’s time to grow up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Kessler is an American-born, UK-based journalist whose articles on watches and hi-fi, music, pens, wine, cars and luxury ‘toys’ have appeared in hundreds of magazines and newspapers in more than 20 countries including GQ, Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, Dial (The Spectator),  The Independent, The Times (London), Financial Times and Mail On Sunday. He is editor-at-large of Revolution and runs his own watch blog Watch Words.

Credit for photo at the top of the page: soundstagehifi.com

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