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Rolex chief warns Baselworld’s approach will kill the show

baselworld 2019; impression; hall 1.0; rolex; booth

Hubert du Plessix is not a household name, but his employer certainly is because Mr du Plessix is one of the most senior wise men at Rolex following a 30-year career at the watchmaker.

His is a director of Rolex SA and Rolex Holding SA, heads the investment and logistics division, and is president of the Rolex pension business (Conseil de Fondation de la Caisse de pensions paritaire de ROLEX SA).

Mr du Plessix is also one of the most influential figureheads in the wider Swiss watch industry having been president of the Comité des Exposants suisses à Baselworld since 2019 and a member of Baselworld Comité Mondial (world committee).

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So, when Mr du Plessix writes a letter to Baselworld’s director general criticising the dates chosen for 2021 (January 28 to February 2) and demanding fairer compensation for the costs incurred by exhibitors for the cancelled 2020 event, the entire industry will take notice.

It is important to note that he writes not as a director of Rolex, but in his capacity as president of the Comité des Exposants suisses à Baselworld since 2019 and a member of Baselworld Comité Mondial.

Jiaxian Su, founder of the SJX Watches blog in Singapore, has reported on the contents of the letter, which is written in the measured tone of a Rolex executive, but with the weight and gravity that comes with an author or such standing and influence in the industry.

According to SJX, the letter was not only sent to the head of Baselworld and its owner MCH Group, it was also copied to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), the watchmaking employers’ association of the Vallee de Joux (Apiah), the Swiss jewellers and goldsmiths union (Ubos), and the committee of European watchmaking (CPHE).

Mr du Plessix suggests that an offer made in March to companies that were booked to exhibit at the postponed 2020 show is inadequate when it comes to compensation. There are initiatives from both the federal Swiss government and its cantons to mitigate against the impact of Covid-19 on businesses, but these appear to have had no affect on how MCH Group is enforcing the terms and conditions of its contracts with exhibitors.

MCH is relying on a “rigorous reading of contractual provisions to justify its position,” Mr du Plessix says.

Exhibitors are being offered the chance to move their bookings to the January 2021 exhibition, but Baselworld will require a top up of 15% of the price to cover its costs. For example, if an exhibitor had booked space and services for Baselworld 2020 for $1,000,000, it could secure exactly the same space in 2021 but would have to pay an additional $150,000.

The letter is also critical of the way MCH Group and Baselworld have communicated with the industry. The offer to re-book on MCH’s terms has a deadline of the end of April to accept, which Mr du Plessix finds unreasonable.

“This lack of consideration on the part of the leaders of the MCH Group unfortunately recalls an era that we thought was over,” he writes.

His demand in the letter is simple. He wants MCH Group to offer full refunds of fees paid for the 2020 event, and suggests that this could be the only option that would garner sufficient support for the show to survive into next year.

Full refunds, he says, “would be the best way to encourage exhibitors who can participate in a future edition of Baselworld. Otherwise, we fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld, especially since the dates chosen in January 2021 are not suitable for the jewellery, gemstones and pearls sector, and that coordination with Watches & Wonders (SIHH) no longer exists.”

Geneva Watches & Wonders has not yet announced its dates for 2021.

5 Comments

  1. It would be useful to read a copy of the original letter to be crystal clear on its contents and tone. Notwithstanding that reading, charging a 15% premium to exhibitors is abominable and unacceptable, and especially considering the postponement came as no fault of their own. However, “demanding” a full refund to all exhibitors on 2020 is pushing the boundaries of one’s authority. Perhaps a strong suggestion, rather than a “demand”, that all exhibitors who, for any reason whatever, cannot participate in the January 2021 event, be afforded a full refund, would demonstrate more equanimity under the circumstances, and no doubt would have the full support of exhibitors. And MCH would be obliged to listen, as the existential threat of killing off their own event is a real possibility.

    “Demanding” reflects a rather imperious posture, a vestige of the hubris that has plagued the industry for too long. And it is indeed another, though smaller, travesty that the rescheduled event appears to have been planned without proper consideration of the jewelry/gem sector, and without any coordination with W&W, especially at a time when the industry really needs solidarity. Collaboration, not confrontation.

    1. Since posting my original comment, I had the opportunity to read the original letter from Mr. du Plessix. I would amend my comment above by saying the following instead:

      Charging a 15% date change premium to Baselworld exhibitors is abominable and unacceptable, and especially considering the postponement came as no fault of their own. I have read the original letter from Mr. du Plessix, and while the displeasure he expresses collectively for the exhibitors is clear and strong, I could not find his tone demanding. It was admonishing and called for much greater equanimity under the circumstances. Moreover, he pointed out the disjointed approach to rescheduling Baselworld, without considering the jewelry/gemstone industry and without any coordination whatever with Watches & Wonders; clearly an egregious blunder on behalf of MCH. All this at a time when the industry really needs solidarity and collaboration. This letter is indeed a sober wake up call, which by its very nature, warns Baselworld of the existential threat it could be visiting upon itself by not being more reasonable about the contingencies of the global public health crisis.

      1. It is challenging to imagine that MCH would want to risk losing its ability to operate such a historic and important show for the watch industry. From the outside it is no doubt easy to poke holes in their communication strategy and how they appear to be reticent to “do the right thing.” I think what we are seeing is a massive failure to effectively communicate. That Rolex and Baselworld have to communicate through such letters is indicative of a lack of having a closer, and perhaps more sympathetic relationship. MCH clearly has priorities and considerations which appear to be unknown to event Baselworld’s biggest and longest-standing partners. Such distance will only create further misunderstandings and the fallout might be that Baselworld, like Watches & Wonders, might need to be an event that is not only intended for the benefit of the watch industry, but also actively managed by stakeholders in the industry. I for one feel that MCH as a third-party is better suited to the politics of a major trade show (than the industry itself), but it is challenging to imagine the context of their business and how monetarily viable Baselworld is in a world where brands expect much more from trade shows, and seem to be willing to pay much less.

  2. I presume the letter was in French and has as usual been misunderstood or mistranslated. If this is the case, “Demander” in French = Ask or Request in English. There’s a big difference…

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder