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).
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.