CORDER’S COLUMN: Switzerland’s spring watch fairs look doomed

Rob Corder, managing editor, WatchPro and managing director of Promedia. (Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images)

On a day when France and Germany declared new national lock downs, Switzerland is holding onto the hope that it can contain a swell of covid cases this fall with less economically damaging measures.

Daily new cases rose to 9,386 on Monday, almost double the same day last week and the highest on record but, unlike their neighbors, Swiss authorities are holding their nerve and prioritizing keeping businesses open.

The country abandoned restrictions on travel between other European countries this week because they are all facing the same problem, and insisted only that mask wearing become mandatory in all enclosed spaces.


However, Switzerland still has a rule that no more than 50 people can gather for business, entertainment or sport. Unless that regulation is relaxed early next year, Watches & Wonders Geneva in early April and the simultaneous event for Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, Chanel and Tudor will be delayed.

HourUniverse, a show created by Baselworld owner MCH Group, and due to take place from April 8 to 12, would be another casualty. As would any events in the spring for the likes of LVMH, Swatch Group and Japan’s Seiko/Grand Seiko and Citizen Watch Company.

Realistically, only a globally available vaccine can now save these shows, and it may be too late even for that.

Massive exhibitions like those planned for Geneva are a year in the making.

The Geneva shows have the advantage that the brands participating are already locked in, but these are brands that want certainty about their calendar for the next 12 months, not another period of guesswork. MCH Group’s HourUniverse is starting from scratch.

My hunch is the world’s major watchmakers will make the decision within weeks to take back control, and their only decision will therefore be to withdraw from global, mass participation, events for the whole of next year.

I do not think this year’s digital events have come close to generating the excitement and demand generation of a Baselworld or SIHH. That does not mean they have failed. In the circumstances, any light or heat these virtual launches generated was a plus, but I am sure the watch industry, like professional sport, cannot thrive until it is back in front of a crowd.

I expect 2021 to be a year when the nimble and fleet of foot outperform — in a relative sense — the juggernauts that are less responsive.

In-country events for domestic audiences will thrive. They are smaller and less expensive to run and participants can sign up with comparatively little financial risk.

Couture Time in Las Vegas, Watches & Wonders in Miami, WatchTime in New York and Wind Up Watch Fairs in various cities are a better fit for these times, as are events hosted by great retailers like London Jewelers, Hamilton, Westime, Manfredi, Mayors, Ben Bridge and myriad others coast to coast.

If the spring shows cannot proceed, marketing teams in Switzerland should be embracing the opportunities that these domestic shows present.

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