The fallout from Swatch Group’s bombshell move to leave next year’s Baselworld has been muted this month, with most of Switzerland’s watchmaking businesses taking their annual holidays in August.
However, WatchPro has still been hard at work trying to establish how the centerpiece Hall 1 at the watch fair will look next year. Here is what we know:
None of Swatch Group’s brands will be at Baselworld, leaving a gaping hole where we would normally have seen Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, ETA, Omega, Longines, Rado, Union Glashütte, Tissot, Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton and Calvin Klein (Swatch and Flik Flak do not exhibit).
Breitling, about which rumors of a potential exit were far stronger than for Swatch Group, said in May this year that it would exhibit in 2019. “After constructive talks with Baselworld management, and in particular with other leading brands, we have decided to take part in Baselworld 2019 as an exhibitor,” said chief executive Georges Kern. The company has made no statement since Swatch Group walked away.
Rolex told WatchPro this week that there was no change in its position since a statement it issued at the end of March.
At the time, just as this year’s Baselworld was ending, Rolex’s CEO, Jean-Frederique Dufour, said: “We are very happy with this year’s edition of Baselworld. Our new products were extremely well received by our clients and the press. This annual event remains a ‘must’ for the Swiss watch industry, its evolution and its dynamism, which was proven by the strong participation and avid enthusiasm. We are looking forward to Baselworld 2019.”
It is worth noting that this statement was distributed by the Baselworld management in a press release that also said a definitive commitment had been received by Swatch Group.
Patek Philippe has also issued no further statement after an assertion in March that it would be back. The company’s president, Thierry Stern, said at the time: “We are very satisfied with the positive feedback that our new products for 2018 received from our partners in the specialized trade and from the press. This year will surely be a very positive one and will characterized by strong dynamism in all our markets.”
Baselworld said on March 31 that LVMH, Chopard, Breitling, Chanel and many other brands had said they would return.
Assuming these commitments can be relied upon with greater certainty than that from Swatch Group, the exhibition now faces the difficult decision of how to reconfigure Hall 1.0.
The front of the exhibition should remain the same, with the four LVMH brands TAG Heuer, Bulgari, Hublot and Zenith in the first block.
If Baselworld’s March 31 statement holds up, the next block of Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe and Chopard will all be there.
Then the problems begin as the Swatch Group space, roughly the centre third of the whole of Hall 1.o, opens up.
Bringing Breitling forward to the space normally occupied by Omega would be an obvious move, and would make the front half of the show full of blockbuster brands.
Chanel, which was previously behind the Swatch Group brands, could move up to take the Breguet prime position, but the Blancpain space would be available.
Carl F. Bucherer has the prestige to step forward, and Christina Hentschel, executive vice-president marketing & communications responded to WatchPro with a brief reply: “Yes, Carl F. Bucherer will definitely be part of Baselworld 2019. We kindly ask for your understanding that this is our only, but very positive statement”.
This still accounts for only the front half of Hall 1.0.
Raymond Weil, which normally sits behind Breitling, told WatchPro last week it has not yet made a decision on how to proceed.
Neither Gucci nor Oris, both Hall 1.0 exhibitors last year, would comment.
Baselworld might choose to close down the back third of Hall 1.0 in the hope that it can attract Swatch Group to return in 2020. That would maintain the overwhelmingly Swiss feel of the floor.
Alternatively, the organizer could promote some exhibitors from Hall 1.1. The obvious company to turn to would be Citizen Watch Company, which now owns Bulova, Alpina, Frederique Constant, Arnold & Son and Ateliers de Monaco.
The potential to bring six great brands (even if they are not all Swiss) downstairs will be tempting, and Citizen Watch Company is willing. “It is quite regrettable to know that Swatch Group’s cancellation to the Baselworld had been announced. We have to acknowledge that not only the cost efficiency but also the global PR impact by exhibiting at the Baselworld is getting less effective than before with the spread of social medias, however, still we Citizen Watch Group considers Baselworld as one of the most important event and best place to tell the brand story by showcasing our new products and technologies. As such, we continuously will be presenting at Baselworld 2019,” the company said in a statement to WatchPro this week.
If Japanese brands were given the green light to occupy Hall 1.0, Casio and Seiko could also get an upgrade. Casio would not comment, but Seiko’s UK managing director sent WatchPro a statement that was being circulated internally at the group. “Preparations are currently remain underway for 2019 but we are obviously keeping our eyes on the whole situation including any decisions made by other exhibitors. For Seiko, Baselworld has been very successful for us, both commercially and from a PR perspective. We have benefited from the exposure generated by the media and journalists who visit our booth and the event has obviously given us an opportunity to meet with our UK retail partners. For Seiko, we believe that the benefits of participating in Baselworld have justified the costs. However, looking ahead to the future clearly there are many factors that currently remain unknown.”
Moving these watchmakers downstairs would be arithmetically logical. After Swatch Group, Rolex/Tudor, Richemont and Audemars Piguet (which will be at SIHH), and LVMH, the next biggest watch companies in the world are Citizen, Seiko and Casio with around 10% of global sales between them.
The move would dramatically weaken Hall 1.1, but bringing the most innovative independent watchmakers into the space would be a draw for watch lovers.
WatchPro has requested an interview with Baselworld’s new managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff, but has not received a reply.