It is two years and three months since March 2019, the last time the global watch industry gathered for a major trade fair in Switzerland.
Those of us at that final outing for Baselworld were already speculating about how long the show could survive after Swatch Group’s withdrawal triggered a rush for the exit.
I argued strongly it should reform and rebuild.
We could not have known that Nick and Nayla Hayek’s decision was the least of Baselworld’s worries.
The covid pandemic emerging in China in January last year, and sweeping across the wealthy Western world, first caused the show’s owner MCH Group to delay and then cancel the event altogether.
I strongly doubt the replacement event, HourUniverse, will get off the launchpad. A press conference scheduled for this week has been canceled or postponed without explanation.
With hindsight, we should have been more understanding and forgiving about the missteps made by MCH in that period of unprecedented turmoil and tragedy, but the attempt to strong arm exhibitors to commit to Baselworld 2021 by holding onto 2020 deposits was ill-judged.
It triggered the withdrawal of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chopard and LVMH watch brands and the establishment of Watches and Wonders in Geneva as a fair where Richemont brands would appear alongside these giants of the watch industry.
Consolidation into a single mega fair, which retailers had been wanting for years, looked certain.
Watches and Wonders 2020 and 2021 could not take place because of the pandemic, so we have endured two years of life-sapping digital presentations.
Worryingly, Richemont has declared the online edition of Watches and Wonders a success.
Since the group ran the event, it could not say otherwise. Most other brands have been more circumspect, and the majority view appears to be that they want a huge show in Geneva next year and an end to a zoom-based industry.
Even if the pharmaceutical industry successfully defeats covid-19 this year, it is unclear whether Watches and Wonders 2022 will be the massive celebration of watchmaking I am craving.
As Robin Swithinbank reports, the world may have an entirely different view to traveling and attending events with thousands of other souls.
That would be a loss, but also an opportunity.
Watch clients want to be treated with more respect, and locking them out of B2B events was alienating to some of the wealthiest people in the world who are used to getting their own way.
These clients should be treated to exclusive events in their home countries, and with less expensive shows in Switzerland, budget could be diverted to city shows in Hong Kong, Beijing, London or New York.
If brands move away from launching an entire year’s novelties in one Baselworld bang, there would be fresh watches that could be unveiled at these events.
Digital skills acquired during the pandemic could then amplify the noise around new watches, wherever they happen to be seen first.